TAKORADI, GHANA—I saw a woman selling kelewele (a Ghanaian snack composed of fried plantains mixed with roasted peanuts) using LPG (Liquid Petroleum Gas-see note below) instead of charcoal to cook. Most street vendors use small charcoal stoves so I wanted to hear her story.
She said that she used to use charcoal for cooking but switched to LPG because of her health. “The charcoal had too much heat,” she said. I asked if she meant “smoke” but she said, no, smoke wasn’t the main problem. It was the heat that irritated her. I am not sure if this is a common health complaint, but I have heard that gas stoves are much more efficient than charcoal stoves. Perhaps she was referring to the heat radiated from charcoal stoves: lower efficiency means that charcoal stoves radiate lost energy to the air around them in the form of heat. In a place on earth where the daily highs are always above 90˚F perhaps the heat becomes a problem.
Moreover, LPG is a cheaper energy source. The woman explained that she pays 12.50 GHS (Ghana Cedi) for LPG every four days. [Based on the price, this is probably 14 kg of LPG.] Before, she would pay 9 GHS for a sack of charcoal every two days. Still, she complained that LPG was expensive.
The reason for charcoal’s popularity may be caused by the capital costs of using LPG. At a small LPG accessory store the salesman told me the small tank with the burner goes for 38 GHS (the burner by itself is 11 GHS). The large tank is 58 GHS and a single large burner costs 17 GHS. The kelli-willi vendor had the large tank and the large burner which would be an initial investment of 75 GHS (or 52 USD).
Here is the small LPG cylinder which holds about 5 kg of LPG. In a place where most people do not have cars, transporting goods can be a challenge. So, I was excited to see these small cylinders that would be easy to carry.
But it seems that strong Ghanaian women can even carry large cylinders on their heads. The size of the cylinder may not be such a big issue.
The BIG Picture: The availability and usage of LPG is good news for biogas in Africa! First, the infrastructure (filling stations, LPG tank shops, etc.) is in place and customer acceptance is apparent. This paves a path for marketing biogas. Second, a wide variety sizes are available with and without stoves. I was encouraged to see that the cost for switching from charcoal to biogas might not be that high. For only the equivalent of 27 USD a family could buy a small tank and stove. We want our clean biogas to be accessible to as many people as possible and these small stoves can make that happen.
Note: Liquid Petroleum Gas is the kind of gas used in your grill at home and comes in sturdy metal tanks. It burns with a blue flame. It is easily compressed to liquid form, making it highly transportable. If you have a gas stove at home, the fuel there is most likely Natural Gas. It does not compress easily so it is usually brought to your house via underground pipelines. Natural Gas and Liquid Petroleum Gas have essentially the same burn characteristics so deciding between the two usually is based on the distribution method. In Ghana, there is no underground pipeline services individual houses, so LPG is used (in every case that I have seen).