Note: This is a joint post with Sandra Baquié, a Ph.D. student in Sustainable Development in the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University.

One of today’s great energy crises is the continued use of traditional biomass for cooking by one-third of the world’s population. When people use firewood and other forms of biomass to cook inside their homes, they generate huge amounts of indoor air pollution, and the World Health Organization estimates that over four million deaths a year can be attributed to the damage done.

What can be done to solve the problem? Modern cooking fuels and technologies, such as efficient cookstoves, can substantially reduce indoor air pollution. The problem is that households – mostly rural – in different countries are not using these so-called “improved” technologies. If people consider modern technologies too expensive or inconvenient, they will not use them, regardless of what public health experts say.

In a recent paper coming out in Energy for Sustainable Development, we assess the relationship between modern cooking fuels and households’ subjective satisfaction with their cooking arrangement. The goal of this analysis is to test a simple but important hypothesis: households with access to modern cooking fuels are happier with their cooking than other households.

For the data analysis, we use the freely available ACCESS dataset of energy access among 8,568 rural households in six Indian states. We estimate statistical models to test whether access to modern fuels – most importantly, liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) – is associated with subjective satisfaction. In our dataset, 19% of households report using LPG for cooking.

The results are striking: LPG access is by far the most important predictor of subjective satisfaction. Households with LPG at home are much more satisfied with their cooking arrangement than other households, and the key reasons appear to be reduced smoke, faster cooking, and ease of cooking.

The very strong association that our data reveals suggests that modern cooking fuels can be very convenient and beneficial for rural households. Based on this reasoning, it seems that the cost of cooking with LPG might be a more significant obstacle to adoption than any perceived problems with the technology. There is, after all, nothing to prevent households from “stacking” biomass and LPG whenever necessary,

Our simple result is a first step, and future studies should rigorously investigate the causal impact of modern cooking fuels on subjective satisfaction, along with more objective indicators. Given the very strong association between subjective satisfaction and LPG access, there is every reason to be optimistic about the desirability of LPG as a clean cooking fuel in rural India.

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