MEC India Clean Energy Program- Project Additionality: Common Practice Analysis

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Posted: January 10, 2024

Bolstering the Integrity of Carbon Credits

The concept of common practice in additionality is a critical component in bolstering confidence in carbon offsets and their integrity. MicroEnergy Credits follows a robust process to ensure that all its carbon projects are strictly additional and not common practice.

Common practice analysis helps determine the extent to which a technology is business as usual i.e. has already diffused in a sector and region. Distributed clean energy products in India have been largely successfully deployed through carbon finance. Several programs by multilateral banks, government initiatives, etc. have had limited success for various reasons, elaborated upon extensively later in the article.

In the context of energy access and clean cooking/drinking water/lighting services in rural India, challenges and opportunities converge to shape the landscape. About 840[i] million in India fully or partially rely on traditional biomass for cooking, contributing to indoor air pollution, fire hazards, and adverse health impacts. Limited access to modern and clean energy sources, such as electricity and clean cooking technologies, remains a pressing issue.

The applicable geographic areas for interventions in rural areas of India are characterized by diverse challenges including economic constraints, lack of infrastructure, and geographic remoteness. Many households face challenges in adopting clean cooking technologies due to high upfront costs, limited awareness, and insufficient supply of products.

MEC’s Clean Energy Program reduces emissions by facilitating a transition from conventional fossil-fuel technologies to more energy-efficient alternatives. Collaborating with our partner microfinance institutions, MEC has identified products that meet the specific requirements of each community. These products include solar lighting systems, improved cookstoves (ICS), and water purifiers.

In the period preceding the project's commencement, there was a lack of infrastructure and supportive conditions[ii] for the adoption of renewable technologies such as solar home lighting systems, improved cookstoves (ICS), and water purifiers. The community that the project aimed to assist had limited awareness about these cleaner technologies. Further, the essential products were largely unavailable in the local market, making it challenging for the targeted population to access and benefit from these sustainable and environmentally friendly solutions. Besides that, there was no financing[iii] available on the mentioned products, The upfront cost of these clean technologies was high for a low-income remotely located household. MEC, partnering with MFIs, sought to address these gaps by creating awareness, establishing a supportive ecosystem, enabling financial assistance in the form of microfinance loans, and making these technologies more accessible to the community, thereby contributing to a more sustainable and environmentally conscious way of living.

Projects implemented without carbon finance

Numerous initiatives by the Government of India (GOI) and multilateral organizations have focused on the implementation of biomass cookstoves. Unfortunately, many of these efforts faced challenges and were largely unsuccessful due to a lack of a comprehensive ecosystem development approach. Most of these programs involved the free distribution of improved cookstoves among low-income households. The key issues contributing to their failure included an insufficient emphasis on behavioral change among end-users, limited access to repair and maintenance services, the inadequate establishment of local supply chains, and the provision of technologies not well-suited to local food habits and cooking styles.

Here are a few examples of past programs initiated by the GOI:

Name of the ProgramObjectivesPeriodNumber of stoves distributed
National Program on Improved Cookstoves (NPIC)To disseminate improved cookstoves on a mass scale, through various partners, including state nodal agencies, NGOs, and self-employed workers1983- 200235 million[iv]
National Biomass Cookstoves Initiative (NBCI)To enhance technical capacity, strengthening research and development for ICS2009NA
Unnat Chulha AbhiyanTo promote improved biomass cookstoves across all states and union territories20142.4 million

A study conducted[v] jointly by J-PAL Global, Harvard University, and the University of Chicago on evaluating the long-term impacts of improved cooking stoves in India revealed significant insights into the sustainable outcomes and effectiveness of these state-run cookstove programs. The study was conducted in Odisha, India, in partnership with NGO Gram Vikas, to assess the long-term health and environmental impacts of an improved cookstove program. It was found that while many households accepted the stoves, regular usage was low and declined over time. The stoves did not substantially reduce exposure to harmful pollutants, leading to limited health improvements. The study suggests that real-world conditions significantly affect the success of such state-run interventions, emphasizing the need for testing technologies in realistic settings before massive-scale implementation.

Likewise, a research paper titled "Piloting Improved Cookstoves in India"[vi], advocates for a social marketing strategy. The approach, based on the 4Ps (promotion, product, price, and place), is recommended to stimulate the adoption of improved cookstoves. The authors emphasize the necessity of a holistic strategy that addresses communication, pricing, and placement considerations. To surpass the current low levels of adoption, the article suggests a comprehensive field-testing methodology, exploring various combinations of social marketing interventions. The study is executed in rural India, concentrating on areas with diverse socio-political and biophysical contexts.

Another academic publication by the University of Iowa, USA and Cornell College, USA titled "Why Have Improved Cook-Stove Initiatives in India Failed?“[vii] argues that rural women in India, who are the primary users of cookstoves, do not give priority to improved cookstoves. Meeting the priorities of these women would necessitate substantial investment to challenge established and influential social practices.

A joint research study[viii] “Who is willing to pay for solar lamps in rural India?” by VIT Bhopal University, India, Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, India, and the Boston College School of Social Work, USA underscores the need to increase awareness in the surveyed states, particularly for solar home systems (SHS) and solar water pumps. Given the minimal duration of available electricity, especially during dark hours in Bihar, Jharkhand, and Uttar Pradesh states, the research suggests that solar products can serve as a meaningful solution to address these gaps. Recommendations include promoting awareness through various programs to generate significant interest in solar energy products, ultimately increasing willingness to pay among the population.

Overcoming barriers to clean energy adoption with MEC’s carbon funding

There is also evidence to suggest that giveaway programs (i.e. where clean energy products are given for free) are not successful for several reasons, e.g. limited to no focus on end-user awareness, lack of after-sales service, and no capacity development at an individual or institutional level.  

The MEC program is not common practice as it utilizes carbon finance to overcome challenges, empowering microentrepreneurs to invest in clean energy products. Initially, MEC collaborates with the microfinance institution to devise an appealing clean energy product offering for its microfinance client base, addressing obstacles such as education, pricing, financing, and the availability of supplies and after-sales service. Subsequently, MEC provides training to the microfinance institution for the implementation of the clean energy-lending program. This training encompasses aspects like business planning, capacity building, marketing and awareness campaigns for client education, and supply chain processes. MEC establishes a robust and transparent system for monitoring and tracking carbon credits, quantifying, and documenting the number of emissions reduced by the clean energy program. Lastly, the carbon finance is employed to expand and sustain the clean energy program through activities such as:

  • Client education and marketing
  • Internal training and capacity building
  • On-lending funds to local SMEs producing clean energy systems
  • Aftersales service and maintenance
  • Lowering the interest or principal cost to the client

The common practice analysis conducted in the context of MicroEnergy Credits' carbon programs in India underscores the pivotal role of additional practices in ensuring the integrity of carbon credits. MEC's approach, leveraging carbon finance to overcome barriers to clean energy adoption, stands out as a distinctive and effective strategy, addressing challenges ranging from lack of awareness and infrastructure to financing constraints. By integrating microfinance institutions, client education, and comprehensive monitoring systems, MEC not only reduces carbon emissions but also establishes a sustainable and environmentally conscious pathway for rural communities, thereby contributing significantly to the broader goals of carbon mitigation and sustainable


[i] https://www.iisd.org/system/files/publications/clean-cooking-india-challenges-solutions_0.pdf

[ii] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S221462962030116X

[iii] https://shaktifoundation.in/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/3FINAL-COOKING.pdf

[iv] https://energypedia.info/images/f/f7/Dr._Parveen_Dhamija_%28MNRE%29_-_Unnat_Chulha_Abhiyan.pdf

[v] https://www.ideasforindia.in/topics/environment/improved-cooking-stoves-in-india-evaluating-long-run-impacts.html

[vi] Jessica J. Lewis, Vasundhara Bhojvaid, Nina Brooks, Ipsita Das, Marc A. Jeuland, Omkar Patange & Subhrendu K. Pattanayak (2015) Piloting Improved Cookstoves in India, Journal of Health Communication, https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10810730.2014.994243

[vii] Why Have Improved Cook-Stove Initiatives in India Failed? - ScienceDirect

[viii] Who is willing to pay for solar lamps in rural India?- ScienceDirect

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