Developing test centers and enforcing standards as key steps to help reduce greenhouse gases
When the EU-funded SWITCH-Asia project Improved Cook Stoves (ICS) began in February 2013, testing of cookstoves on efficiency and emissions was set as a key priority. Without the capacity to test stoves, it would not be possible to develop, define standards and agree on performance criteria and it would not be possible to know whether the project's stove actually posed any quantifiable benefits to consumers or market it effectively with reference to its improved performance.
Although there were a number of ceramic stoves on the market before the EU-funded SWITCH-Asia intervention, there were previously no quality standards for cookstoves in Lao PDR. There were variations in quality both between and within the different stoves on the market, and no proof of which ones worked more efficiently than others.
During the pilot phase preceding the EU SWITCH-Asia ICS project, the first stove testing facilities were established in 2011 in Savannakhet, and in 2012 in Champassack. The European Union's SWITCH-Asia project made it possible to establish another laboratory in Vientiane in 2013, and it enabled the ongoing capacity building activities provided by project partners and international stove test experts. The project is also facilitating peer training among testers and it finances a part of the costs of the testing activities at the different laboratories. The project involves capacity building support from the GERES cook stove project in Cambodia, which started also as a EU-funded SWITCH-Asia project and stove test experts from Aprovecho in the USA and the Global Alliance of Clean Cookstoves.
In setting up the labs and training lab staff, the project worked to develop the technical capacities of government partners under the Ministry of Science and Technology, who own and operate these labs. Setting product standards and enforcing them in the market is not a regular practice in Laos, so in this respect the project also paved the way for other products to follow. In September 2015 the Department of Standardization endorsed the stove design standards of the project.
Testing results prove that all competing stoves currently available in the market are inferior compared to the ICS and the tests show how design parameters and materials impact efficiency. These laboratory tests and field trials lead to innovations and new stove designs offered on the market.
Initially, the test centres ran a series of tests on cook stove models in order to develop a better design and to measure how and if it performed superior to existing models of the stoves on the market. The ICS consumes 29% less fuel compared to the popular traditional stove, and it saves 20 minutes per cooking time. These findings are is based on field tests and the laboratory test following the Adapted Water Boiling Test, which is an international cookstove test protocol. In essence, the fuel amount is kept standard and the testing protocol monitors the temperature flow in a pot with 4 litres of water from ignition until the water drops 3 C below the boiling point.
Field tests show that a household with a traditional stove consumes 1.13 kg of charcoal per day, while similar households after the introduction of the improved cook stove consume on average 0.9 kg of charcoal per day. This means a reduction of 0.23 kg per time. In terms of greenhouse gases this can amount to nearly 1 tonne of CO2-equivalent per stove per year (according to Gold Standard methodology Technologies and Practices to Displace Decentralized Thermal Energy Consumption Version 2.0), which is substantial. To put it in perspective, an average gasoline car emits a similar amount of greenhouse gases when driving 7,000 km. Over its four-year period the project will reduce as much as 150,000 tonnes CO2-equivalent. Thanks to the testing agencies, data like this will continue to be collected to spur the project on for the next two years of innovation.
The test results are also explained in intelligible wording to retailers to better promote the stove to consumers, and to the representatives of the Lao Women's Union, who help to promote the improved stove at festivals and holiday events.
Another key responsibility of the three testing centres is to ensure standards, consistency and quality of production from the 19 stove producers around the country. In Laos the practice of testing and the development of standards is new, so the project has introduced consistent standards for the ICS based on the stove dimensions that have been designed to be both efficient and user-friendly. The testing facilities in each province take random samples of stoves from each producer and measure the dimensions, to make sure it matches the standard size and shape, and test the stoves to validate fuel savings. If producers' stove samples match the standards of the project, then the producers are allowed to use the recognisable project-created blue 'Superman' stove label on their stove.
The labs take samples of stoves from different producers over time to be sure that standards are maintained and that the signature blue ICS label comes with a true guarantee of quality.
Ms. Khounmy and Ms. Anousone are two Technical Officers who have been working on stove testing at the Department of Science and Technology in Savannakhet for three years. Ms Khounmy explains: "Since I am working on stove testing I learned that there is a great difference in performance among stove models on the Lao market." These labs are equipped with scales, thermometers and perform certain protocols under stable conditions to assess heat transfer.
From January 2013 to July 2015, 50,000 stoves have been sold, and 19 producers have passed accreditation. In the project areas 12% of households now have an ICS in their kitchen. However, this still leaves some 200,000 households without. The SWITCH-Asia project has given an important boost to a market that is yet to be conquered. Project partners are constantly looking for ideas to improve the stove models and new design possibilities based on the results from test centres.
After the project ends in 2017, a mechanism will be put in place to ensure continuation of testing practices for the verification of quality standards and R&D, financed by climate finance, and by a financial contribution of the producers who in turn will charge this to the price of the stove.
Author: Bastiaan Teune
Editor: SWITCH-Asia Network Facility