Propane Gaining Popularity, but Kerosene Still King in Africa

African fisherman employing a unique technique using kerosene lamps to attract fish. Definitely a cool method, but the lamps emit hundreds of thousands of tons of carbon emissions annually into the air and the fishermans' lungs. (image: siemens.com)

Despite a strong push from African leaders for residents to heat, cook, and light their homes with propane, many are still using wood and kerosene, the Standard reported this week. Governments are touting the many benefits of propane, an undeniably cheaper and cleaner fuel in the long term. It’s associated with far less respiratory illness and destructive deforestation. So why is the African public resisting the change?

“One of the key challenges in the uptake of LPG has been the subsidizing of competing fuels, which makes it easier for LPG to compete on a fair and equitable basis,” said energy consultant Chris Holmes. Holmes spoke at the World LPG Association East African World Summit in Nairobi last week, explaining that even modest increases in propane usage could save millions of trees.

In the Sub Saharan regions of Africa where the push for cleaner fuels isn’t yet a priority, groups have undermined propane expansion by subsidizing kerosene and illegally refilling gas cylinders. Strategists have repeatedly asserted that if propane usage and infrastructure is to grow, propane must be the fuel that is subsidized – or at least more affordable.

With plans to construct an LPG storage facility in Mombosa, Kenya has been one of the more aggressive propane proponents. The nation is optimistic that its current usage of 100,000 tons used annually will triple by 2013.

However, in nations like Tanzania that use very little LPG, Energy Ministry officials warned that as the population and economy grow, measures must be taken to stop consumers from ravaging forests for firewood. Uganda consumes approximately the same meager amount of propane as Tanzania.

“In Uganda, biomass accounts for 90% of fuel consumption while LPG accounts for less than 1%. Among the challenges that we face is that LPG is treated as a peripheral product unlike other products,” said Uganda minster for energy and water Irene Muloni. “We also lack LPG infrastructure and consumers perceive it as a dangerous source of energy.”

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