Places with cold climates need access to a reliable and efficient heat supply for the health of their population. But in developing countries, the majority of rural and peri-urban households do not have access to centralized heating or gas networks, and use traditional heating stoves with traditional solid fuels (coal, wood, and dung) for heating. These stoves are often inefficient (with thermal efficiency as low as 25%-40% compared to 70% or above for efficient stoves) and emit large amounts of pollutants (e.g. CO and PM2.5), causing indoor and outdoor air pollution with negative health and environmental impacts. For example, measurements conducted as part of a pilot project on efficient and clean heating stoves in Kyrgyzstan implemented during the 2016/2017 heating season showed that PM2.5 emissions reach levels of up to 11.5 mg/m3 during ignition and refueling of the stove. As a reference, WHO Air Quality Guidelines for the annual mean of PM2.5 concentration refer to 0.01 mg/m3.   Over half of the children and adults surveyed for the pilot project showed signs of cough, headaches and other discomforts, especially after ignition and refueling of the stoves. Women and children who spend more time at home are particularly impacted by indoor air pollution. Low thermal efficiency of traditional heating stoves means that more fuel will be used (and more carbon emissions if coal is used) and households have to spend more on fuel expenses. A recent survey conducted in Tajikistan shows that the rural households on average spend up to 15% of their total expenditures on energy during the heating season. Insufficient heating with inadequate indoor temperature is also common in the country which itself has health concerns. According to a recent article from the Lancet[1], most of the temperature-related mortality burden was attributable to the contribution of cold.


Countries like China, Mongolia, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are working with the World Bank to find clean and efficient heating solutions that include introducing clean stoves to specific areas. Although each country has its own characteristics, they often face similar institutional, technical, and financial challenges in the sector, and could learn from each other’s example.


From April 17-19, government officials and experts from those four countries were brought together to share their experiences at the Clean and Efficient Heating South-South Knowledge Exchange Event, which had funding support from the Energy Sector Management Assistance Program (ESMAP), and was organized by the World Bank and the Rural Energy and Environment Agency under the Ministry of Agriculture and the China Agricultural University. 



The event was organized in conjunction with China’s 11th Clean Stove Expo. China has the largest clean stoves industry in the world and has implemented various government-supported clean stove programs. The annual Clean Stove Expo brings hundreds of manufactures to showcase their products, providing a good opportunity for participants to see the latest in the Chinese clean stove industry. In addition to visiting the Expo, the event participants also visited the stove testing lab hosted by the China Agricultural University where the pilot stoves used in Kyrgyzstan were being tested. The lab is one of a few labs in the region capable for conducting a full burning cycle test for the key performance indicators such as thermal efficiency, and PM2.5 and CO emissions. The participants also attended a one-day forum to learn the latest stove technology development and discuss key common issues such as how to stimulate household demand, how to support supply side development, how to design incentive mechanisms, and how to develop more effective supporting policies.


Some of the key take-aways from the event include:


  • Country programs need to be designed with their needs and challenges in mind. Although all heating solutions should aim for being clean, efficient, convenient, and affordable, the priority may be different based on the country context. In the case of China and Mongolia where ambient air pollution has been the public top priority, cleanliness should be prioritized and rigorous standard and testing procedures for PM2.5 emissions have been developed for their stove programs. In the case of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan where poor households’ under heating and energy poverty has been a main concern, efficiency and affordability need to be more prioritized.
  • The clean and efficient heating solutions require matching fuel and heating device and the recent stove technology development offers the opportunity to transform the sector. Smoke is unburned fuel and if the fuel can be burned completely, there will be no smoke. The recent stove technology development including the stove prototypes piloted in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan shows that heating stoves using solid fuels can be very clean. The lab tests show that these stoves have very low or even negative emissions, which means that stoves are cleaning the air as it burns the fuel.
  • Incentives are needed to introduce new technologies and stimulate the demand, however, cautions have to be used not to distort the market and a phased strategy with gradually reduced incentives may be appropriate. Experiences from both China and Mongolia show that subsidies to reduce stove prices for households play a key role of introducing new technologies and achieving rapid market penetration. However, high level of subsidies could change household expectations, hurt local producers, and lead subsidy leakages as Mongolia has experienced. Awareness raising and information campaign are also effective ways to stimulate the demand.          
  • Developing clean stove local production capacity is crucial for the market transformation. Right now, except for China, Mongolia, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan are all dominated by artisan producers who require knowledge on how to design a clean stove, technical assistance on how to produce higher quality and lower cost stoves, and finance on working capital and investment on equipment for scale-up production. Due to the small market size, large-scale industrial production in these countries may not be the best solution. Upgrading artisan producers by encouraging joint venture and introducing prefabricated parts to kick off the production may be a good approach. Setting up an association for self-regulation, technical improvement, and quality control has also proven to be an excellent way to facilitate the market transformation.


All participants plan to sustain their efforts in bringing clean and efficient heating solutions to their respective countries because the benefits of promoting clean stoves are many, including cleaner air, better health, improved gender equality, less pressure on the local and global environment, and overall better quality of life.