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The Chinese National Improved Stove Programme (CNISP) which in the literature is seen as the most effective programme among projects aiming on the distribution of improved cooking stoves (Qiu, 1996). The aim of the programme was to provide rural households with improved biomass stoves in order to ease deterioration of the ecological environment due to the collection of wood fuel. Thereby, the government proposed the policy of self-building, self-managing and self-using (Qiu, 1996). This meant that the government actively promoted publicity and training courses for improved biomass stoves and mainly relied on the household’s own efforts in constructing their stoves. However, regional and local governments supported them and were responsible for quality control. The CNISP aimed at dynamic market transformation as it incorporated R&D, training and capacity building of stakeholders parallel to the diffusion of improved designs, courtesy of the informed research beforehand.
In 1982, the Chinese government launched the Chinese National Improved Stove Programme (CNISP). It reached out to 860 counties within China, and according to the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture, it had provided 185 million of China’s 236 million rural households with improved cooking stoves by 1998.
The objective of the programme was to disseminate as many improved biomass stoves as possible to rural households. Most stove designs were developed by research institutions under the Ministry of Agriculture in the 1980s. These design types were mostly adapted or even re-designed by local stove designers or the County Rural Energy Organisations (CREOs) in order to make them fit to specific local conditions determined by such factors as locally available materials and fuel or local cooking practices. Therefore, the CNISP introduced Best Not yet Available Technologies (BNAT) through supporting R&D on improved cooking stoves and helped to mainstream these technologies in rural China through its dissemination activities. The dissemination of improved biomass cooking stoves were characterised by the participation of different institutions on all administrative levels and the incorporation of households (Qiu 1996).
Although independent sources (Qiu 1996; Sinton et al. 2004; Smith 1993) suggest that this number is partly exaggerated, they confirm that the overall performance of the programme, in terms of its outreach, has been outstanding compared to similar projects in other countries. It managed to improve households’ energy efficiency by about 50 per cent. This extensive success of the programme mainly resulted from its organisational structure and administrative capacities. One key factor contributing to this success was the direct link established between the national and county levels. The ownership of households, combined with effective promotion, demonstration and competitive activities, can be seen as another important factor. The majority of the programme’s costs were contributed by households themselves, followed by local governments. Mainly, national funds were used for co-ordination, promotion and R&D activities. The extensive involvement of actors on the local level, including promotion and demonstration, ensured technological adaptation according to local conditions and local acceptance of the measures. Although stove designs differed from region to region, it is estimated that thermal efficiency could be doubled to about 20 to 25 per cent. In addition to this level of improved energy efficiency, and the entailed material efficiency, most households could profit from reduced indoor smoke and reduced cooking times.
Critics of the scheme merely derive facts from the inconsistencies in the designs of delivered stoves and from the neglect of environmental issues related to coal use promoted by the programme in certain regions.
While the success of the programme is clear in terms of the number of distributed improved cooking stoves, quality assurance and recent development can be seen as a challenge for the programme. After the programme’s closure, lack of funding of further R&D and quality control, as well as switches in fuel structure and habits of households, partly obscured the benefits of the CNISP. A major problem is the switch by many households to the use of coal as a cooking fuel, which entails severe burdens on the environment and human health, and therefore confounding desirable impacts. Furthermore, lack of governmental support for further R&D in the field of improved cooking stove and lacking quality controls of available technologies on the market led, and still leads, to the distribution of disadvantageous designs, such as “improved” coal stoves without flues (Sinton et al. 2004).
In principle, biogas might have been an alternative to improved coal/biomass stoves. However, gas plays a minor role in the households of rural China and is only rarely used for cooking. Biogas was hardly used in any household at the time of the programme, as figures from 1998 show. Energy programmes in rural China focus more on renewable energies today and emphasise biogas among other renewable fuels (Sinton et al. 2004).
Rural household energy use in China is predominately fuelled by biomass. In 2002, wood and crop wastes accounted for 84 per cent of the fuel used by households in rural China (Sinton et al. 2004).
In the late 1970s, the Chinese government started to pay attention to energy efficiency challenges in the country. Among others, in rural areas, concerns about over-harvesting of China’s wood resources by the present level of biomass use existed. A strategic energy programme was set up to meet the country’s energy challenges. Next to efficient use of the energy provided by the state, this programme aimed to actively exploit local renewable energy resources, adopt up-to-date technology for energy generation and conservation and the set up of a sound energy system for rural energy supply and utilization (Qiu 1996).
Widespread rural biomass fuel shortages in the early 1980s again pushed these efforts to improve efficiency levels of energy use by households in rural China (Sinton et al. 2004).
The main aim of the CNISP was to provide rural households with improved biomass stoves in order to ease deterioration of the ecological environment due to the collection of wood fuel. The objective was to disseminate as many improved biomass stoves as possible to rural households.
The CNISP is a national policy instrument, nevertheless the biggest part of the responsibilities are delegated to the regional and local level.
The programme focused on biomass cooking stoves on the household level. Traditional, inefficient stoves were replaced by various improved designs which were more energy efficient, decreased burdens for human health and the environment.
Although traditional biomass stoves in China vary from region to region, their design is characterised by large combustion chambers, large feeding doors, inappropriate smoke outlets and no grates. Thermal efficiency of these traditional stoves ranges from 10 to 12 per cent. In contrast, the various types of improved biomass stoves are characterised by the addition of chimneys, grates and baffles, the reduction of the size of the feeding door and the redesign of combustion chambers. These measures improved the thermal efficiency of stoves on average in the range of 20-25 per cent (Qiu 1996).
The CNISP targeted the dissemination of improved cooking stoves in rural China. Thereby, the government proposed the policy of self-building, self-managing and self-using (Qiu 1996). This meant that the government actively promoted publicity and training courses for improved biomass stoves and therefore mainly relied on the household’s own efforts in constructing their stoves. However, regional and local governments supported them and were responsible for quality control.
The CNISP was designed to reach out to a large number of beneficiaries while reducing costs at the same time. In order to meet this goal, stakeholders on all levels were involved in the project’s implementation and its financing, and the promotion and demonstration of benefits played a central role. The programme’s design allowed top-down control and local adaptation of stove designs to meet local needs through a direct interaction between national and county level. In the beginning of the programme, only such counties were chosen as pilot countries, which provided ideal circumstances for a successful implementation. These pilots quickly became best practice examples for other counties. Rural energy companies operating on the county level were set up to facilitate the diffusion of stoves, employing about 30,000 employees. At the end of the programme, subsidies by the national government were cut and further distribution of improved biomass stoves realised through the use of market forces (Smith 1993).
Necessary structures to ensure the successful dissemination of such a large number of cooking stoves, as achieved through the CNISP, were established by the programme itself. Key institutions for its success were the rural energy network, which consisted of rural energy offices and rural energy service providers transmitting information, providing installation services, supporting co-ordination and supply issues, ensuring funds - if necessary - and organising demonstration sites and competitions.
Agencies or other actors responsible for implementation
The CNISP comprised agency involvement on the national, regional and local level. On the national level the Department of Environmental Protection and Energy under the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) was responsible for the programme and contracted counties across the nation annually, agreeing on technical contracts with county governments who committed themselves to complete the programme within a given time period of three years. Initially in 1983, the programme was conducted in 100 pilot counties and later on extended to further counties adding up to a total of 786 counties.
Financial aids from the national level were provided to the counties, which signed a contract with the MOA. However, the main part of the funds used for the programme came from the households themselves. They contributed 83.9 per cent, while the regions contributed 13.4 per cent and the national funds amounted to 2.7 per cent of the total expenses (Qiu 1996). Between 1983 and 1990, national spending on the programme amounted to 28.9 million Yuan (USD 11.2 million) for 786 counties or about 37,000 Yuan (USD 14.000) per county over three years (Sinton et al. 2004).
The programme was assigned by the Department of Savings and Integrated Utilisation of Resources, the State Planning Commission in 1982. It was put under the direct charge of the Department of Environmental Protection and Energy under the Ministry of Agriculture, which contracted county governments for the implementation and diffusion of the programme. In this way, the administrative system of the CNISP made sure to include decision makers on all levels guaranteeing a successful dissemination of improved cooking stoves to 144 million households (Qiu 1996). The programme had a pilot phase, in which 100 counties were selected for implementation of the programme after having applied to become a pilot county. County governments obliged themselves to complete the dissemination within three years. When the time elapsed, participating counties were tested on their achievements and became demonstrative examples for other counties after proving their successful implementation. Since 1983, 860 counties signed such contracts during 8 rounds of county selections. The selection of counties followed criteria, such as potentially beneficial environmental impacts and reduced biomass use, local officials willingness to implement the programme and dependency on biomass of households.
The CNISP can be seen as the first and second of three policy phases in favour of improved biomass stoves in China (Sinton et al. 2004):
The first phase, from 1983 to 1992, focused on rapid dissemination with major subsidies to counties, households, and technical institutions in order to face energy shortage in rural areas as quick as possible. During this first phase, mainly richer counties were chosen as pilots since the programme design asked counties to substantially contribute to the programme.
The second phase, from about 1990 to 1995, was characterised by the reduction of subsidies to households and a push to more commercialisation. Tax and loan benefits to rural energy companies, along with administrative support and trainings, should ensure further dissemination of improved biomass cooking stoves.
Since the third policy phase, after 1995 and following the ending of the CNISP, policy engagement was restricted to extension efforts such as advice and demonstration together with certifications for energy-saving devices.
Since its inception, monitoring and evaluation activities have been part of the CNISP. The Rural Energy Offices were in charge of the monitoring activities working together with “checking-teams”, which visited households to ensure the quality of stoves. The provincial offices are reported to have had a sufficient level of independency to successfully perform their work (Smith 1993).
The CNISP defined certain standards to evaluate the performance of the programme on the county level. In order to pass the test, a county had to prove that more than 90 per cent of households in the county used improved biomass stoves having a thermal efficiency greater than 18 per cent. A sample of at least 200 households of a county was drawn to perform the test. Out of this sample, at least 30 households were selected again to perform a water boiling test. At least 90 per cent of this selection was to pass the thermal test in order to make the county pass inspection (Qiu 1996).
The overall cost efficiency of the programme is widely seen as a great success. Costs and funds for the diffusion programme are reported to have been lower than in any developing country (Qiu 1996).
Next to improved energy efficiency which is derived from improved stove design, the CNISP led to health benefits, improved material efficiency and time savings. Cooking with improved biomass stoves reduces cooking time, indoor pollution and biomass input compared to cooking with traditional stoves.
The organisational capacity of authorities and the sophisticated design with participating stakeholders from national to household level made the CNISP the most successful project of its kind worldwide. Critics merely derive from inconsistencies in the designs of delivered stoves and from the neglect of environmental issues related to coal use promoted by the programme in certain regions. The CNISP only focused on the distribution of improved cooking stoves, while impacts on environment and health seemed to be secondary. Assessments conducted after the closure of the project found that many stoves (2/3 in the area assessed) distributed during the programme or in the aftermath of the programme lacked flues, which are essential to achieve positive health effects. Moreover, coal was promoted as fuel for the stoves in many cases, neglecting the negative environmental impacts of its use. Next to the efficient dissemination of improved cooking stoves future instruments should pay more attention to environmental and health aspects related to the design of improved cooking stoves.
CNISP aimed at providing improved biomass stoves to 90% of all households in each county. Thermal efficiency (boiling water test) of each stove were requested to rise at least to a level of 18 per cent.
An overall target year was not set by the CNISP. Counties chosen by the programme as pilot counties signed a contract to implement the diffusion process within the time period of three years.
It is estimated that traditional stoves prevailing in China before CNISP had a thermal efficiency between 10 to 12 per cent, while thermal efficiency of introduced improved biomass stoves ranges between 20 and 25 per cent (Qiu 1996). No conclusive data on the amount of energy savings per household or for the programme overall are available.
In total about 144 million improved biomass stoves were installed in rural households, while 860 of the country’s 2,126 counties were supported by CNISP before the end of the programme. In 1998, MOA claimed that over 180 million rural households benefited from the programme (Sinton et al. 2004). It is estimated that about 62 per cent of the Chinese market has been penetrated by the programme (Qiu 1996).
Financial aids from the national level were provided to the counties which signed a contract with the MOA. However, the main part of the funds used for the programme came from the households themselves. They contributed 83.9 per cent, while the regions contributed 13.4 per cent and the national funds amounted to 2.7 per cent of the total expenses (Qiu 1996). The annual budget support by the national level averaged US$ 1.4 Million while local governments contributed an additional US$ 17.9 million a year.
No data on the incremental purchase price for the households to buy the improved cooking stoves are available. Improvements in efficiency, as well as the other benefits for households such as increased security and reduced cooking times, were mainly achieved through sophisticated designs, to the extent that any increment in purchase price was probably quite small.
There is no data available about the value of the energy savings to a household, or the time saved for collecting wood or crop residues.
The CNISP was expected to reduce pressure on forests and improve the living conditions of rural people by reducing health risks and time spent on fuel wood collection and cooking itself.
Although no explicit figures can be found with regards to cost-effectiveness, the predominant opinion in literature is that the CNISP provided an outstanding performance in terms of its cost-effectiveness. The programme allowed the diffusion of superior cooking technology to the very large number of 144 million households at a minimum of public funding of about US$ 18.3 million, which is only 13 cents per household (Qiu 1996; Sinton et al. 2004; Smith 1993). This is also due to the fact that more than 80 per cent of the costs of the diffusion programme were contributed by the households themselves (Qiu 1996).