Promoting Energy-Efficient And Solar Stoves In Huehuetenango, Guatemala

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The vast majority of rural households in Guatemala rely on firewood for their cooking and heating. Of these, considerable numbers collect most of their firewood from the neighbouring forests. The aim of the project was to contribute to the reduction of this firewood consumption and its associated impacts by supporting a market for energy efficient and solar stoves and to raise awareness about the technical and economical viability of these and other sustainable energy solutions that can adequately address the problems of rural communities in Guatemala. The implementing organisation CEIBA has been working for more than twenty years in rural indigenous villages in Guatemala, mainly in the fields of health and agriculture. With this particular project CEIBA wanted to initiate activities related to sustainable energy by building on their longstanding relationship with the indigenous community and by using their well-established mechanism of revolving funds.

Technology, Operations & Maintenance

Improved biomass stoves and different designs of solar stoves were proposed to tackle the significant reliance on fuel wood. The ‘Zeta’ design of biomass stove was promoted; a design which was already in use by a small minority of households in the Department of Huehuetenango and was commercially available. This stove is an advanced version of the well-known ‘Pollo’ stove, which is a closed fireplace that is installed in the kitchen and improves the cooking experience. As this kind of design had already been tested in the region, the main task of the project was to disseminate information and provide financial options for meeting the upfront costs through a revolving fund. In terms of the solar stoves, CEIBA originally intended to promote commercial cookers already available in Guatemala and Mexico. However, during the implementation phase it became clear that relying on imported stoves would lead to high retail prices in excess of the target population’s financial means. As a result the project was modified to develop, produce and promote a low cost solar cooker from locally available materials and products. This development meant that a significant amount of time and resource was invested in developing and testing self-made prototypes. This finally resulted in two designs for low cost solar cookers with relatively low efficiency: one similar to a conventional parabolic cooker and one panel cooker. The new designs can provide enough energy for certain traditional cooking tasks. However, they are also limited in the same way as almost any type of solar cooker: a) the cooking has to be done outside and b) the cookers only work on sunny days.

Financial Issues & Management

The promotion mechanism comprised two components: the creation of a revolving fund and a variety of diverse training activities. CEIBA maintains a system of revolving funds, which is a form of giving credit without charging interest. This system works by providing materials to meet a specific need to a family who then, after a given time, returns either the same type of material or something of equal value. For this project it was established that the returning funds would be monetary and divided into two tranches. During the implementation of the project several training and awareness-raising activities were undertaken. These included workshops designed to raise awareness of solar stoves and provide training on their operation, training courses for the construction of improved biomass stoves, coordination meetings for agreements on the operation of the revolving fund and dialogue with local authorities.

Environmental Issues

The need for fuel wood as a primary source of domestic energy is one of several factors driving deforestation in Huehuetenango. The use of the improved biomass stoves can halve the fuel wood need for households that still use open fires in their kitchens. Additionally, the promoted design includes a chimney to draw the smoke out of the kitchen, which contributes to better health conditions for the users. The use of solar cookers also results in a reduction in deforestation and improvements to health conditions for users. However, in the context of Guatemala, one of the most prominent limitations is the climate. While sunshine is almost guaranteed during the dry season (January to May), cloudy days and rain are limiting factors for the application of solar cookers during the rest of the year.

Social Issues

The promotion of the improved biomass stoves was facilitated by the fact that having a ‘Pollo’ in the kitchen is already a status symbol for most of the population. Providing access to initial capital through the revolving fund mechanism proved to be effective in accelerating the uptake of improved biomass stoves. Promoting the adoption of the solar cookers proved to be more difficult. As well as the fact that they have to be operated outside the kitchen, they cannot fully replace other cooking devices. Solar cookers must be seen as complementary alternatives that can perform certain cooking tasks (e.g. boiling water or cooking beans) on sunny days.

Results & Impact

By the official conclusion of the project, 81 improved biomass stoves and 17 parabolic solar cookers had been installed and around 60% of the original sum of the revolving fund had been repaid. The installation of the biomass stoves also involved training the local population in their construction and maintenance. 12 village leaders were also given training in the construction of parabolic solar cookers. The project helped CEIBA to integrate energy issues into its traditional programmes, which address broader topics such as food security, the empowerment of local organisations and gender issues.


The broader uptake of improved biomass stoves in Huehuetenango (and in Guatemala in general) can make a significant contribution to reducing deforestation of the remaining forest and the related ecological impacts. Revolving fund mechanisms such as the one implemented by CEIBA can help to achieve that goal, particularly when local associations or other community organisations with some experience in the management of such funds already exist. These finds generally offer simple and cheap loan options that even the poorest can afford. However, the long term financial sustainability of such funds is often not assured as the financial resources tend to diminish over time, due to factors such as repayment rates below 100% and the application of no or very low interest rates. Regarding the solar cookers, the project showed that there are still many aspects that have to be tackled before they become accepted as a complementary cooking technology in Huehuetenango.

Lessons Learned

Promoting improved biomass stoves compatible with designs that were already known and well accepted facilitated the dissemination process. The revolving fund mechanism proved to be effective for facilitating the uptake of the improved biomass stoves among the poorest households. Solar cooking technologies should be regarded as complementary alternatives to other cooking technologies. Sound validation of the usability of solar cookers in the region is needed. This should take into consideration the variable amounts of sunshine during the year, the different cooking tasks that are commonly undertaken during the day as well as practical knowledge about how to integrate the use of solar cookers into those daily practices.

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