Inception Studies for Biomass Energy Supply Opportunities

From energypedia
GIZ HERA Cooking Energy Compendium small.png

Cooking Energy System | Basics | Policy Advice | Planning | Designing and Implementing ICS Supply | Designing and Implementing Woodfuel Supply | Climate Change | Extra

What is an Inception Study?

Inception means the start of something. At the beginning of each improved cookstove (ICS) program, there is a need for a starting workshop where the program design is developed and the partners discuss their roles and responsibilities. This workshop is commonly called the inception workshop and is where one should identify the technologies, the markets, the target groups as well as the actors, stakeholders, partners and their roles and responsibilities. In order to have all this necessary information available at the inception workshop, one or several studies can be commissioned beforehand. The results of this/these study/ies are presented at the inception workshop.

In other words, the “inception study goes beyond a conventional baseline study as it comprises both the situation of the ICS market as well as an overview on the actors, initiatives and stakeholders of the sector."

Prerequisite: Comprehensive Assessment of the Wood-fuel Value Chain

Measures to promote sustainable wood-fuel supplies should always be synchronized with the modernization of the entire wood-energy sector in recognition of the fact that wood-based energy is an environmentally friendly/renewable, socially adapted, and clean/low‐risk source of energy. Promoting wood-energy on this basis calls for a stepwise, holistic approach, aiming for the continuous, gradual refinement/adaptation of pertinent framework conditions, organizational and procedural aspects, and technological development. Political will is pivotal to this end.

In order to enhance a sustainable, pro-poor, regional woodfuel supply complying with criteria of ecological sustainability and fostering a local economic upswing, a holistic analysis of the whole woodfuel value chain is required.

Fig.1 Holistic analysis.jpg

The following list of questions is not exhaustive but indicative. It outlines salient issues that enable dignosis and analysis leading to better project design and implementation.

It should be kept in mind that all measures aiming to enhance the wood-fuel supply chain are based on common principles and draw on the assumptions that:

  • Substantial quantities of wood-fuel can be produced sustainably without undue impacts on food production,
  • Appropriate technologies for conversion and utilization exist or can be introduced,
  • Biomass use provides environmental benefits by way of substituting non-renewable fuels, thereby contributing to GHG mitigation,
  • There exist potentials for enhancing economic benefits in terms of added value and employment.

It should be noted, that in regard to ICS interventions a specific list of questions can be viewed here: Content of Planning Cooking Energy Interventions.
When analyzing and comparing data it is of utmost importance to ensure that adequate conversion factors are applied and local units are converted to international standards equivalents.

Information Required On...

Political and Legal Framework Conditions

It is increasingly recognized that sound wood-fuel sector development must be an integral component of comprehensive environmental and development policies and planning processes. Although the forest sector is closely linked to many other sectors, there is a lack of coherent policies. Woodfuel production, transportation and distribution often remain informal and unregulated – rendering them inefficient, wasteful and risky.

  • Is wood energy recognized as an important pillar in the future energy mix of the country?
  • What are the existing policies, strategies and major programs (poverty reduction strategy (NPRP), national environmental strategy, forest and/or energy sector strategies etc.) relevant to the biomass energy sector?
  • Do forest legislation/by-laws and regulations adequately address woodfuel supply issues and are they clearly and unambiguously laid down?
  • Are woodfuel supply issues adequately coordinated between forest legislation and other pertinent laws?
  • Is there a biomass strategy where wood energy is adequately addressed?

Information Needed On...

Control and Law Enforcement

Pertinent provisions in forest laws are frequently not applied, due to lack of resources and capacities for supervision and law enforcement. Unregulated access to and use of forest resources curtails any improvement of the wood-fuel value chain, because it breeds overexploitation, market distortions and, by extension, systematic undervaluation of wood-based fuels.

  • Is law enforcement systematically organized?
  • Are there reliable records (case files and statistics) of breaches of the law, imposed sanctions, and their enforcement?
  • Are mandates for forest governance, law enforcement, persecution of offenses and legal redress clarified, well coordinated and effective?

Demographics and the Socio-economic Setting

Demographics and trends of urbanization are salient determinants of energy demand.

  • Are population size, annual growth rate and projected size known, in terms of both rural and urban populations?
  • Are demographic patterns known?
  • Are occupational patterns and livelihood characteristics sufficiently understood?
  • Is the rural population motivated to get involved in woodfuel supply business?
  • Is enough man-power available?

The Current Energy Situation and Future Prospects

Planning requires critical reflection on the current energy needs and the future prospects so as to justify long-term investments in forest management and economic benefits.

  • What are the trends in supply of wood energy (past, present and future)?
  • What is the energy balance by type of energy and use patterns, differentiated for rural and urban areas?
  • What are the comparative advantages of woodfuels in comparison to other energy sources?
  • What is the per capita consumption of fuelwood/charcoal?
  • What kinds of subsidies are allocated to the different types of energy?

Land Use Planning

Sustainable forestry requires good planning. Good planning starts with a strategy. A good strategy should include an integrated land-use plan, which seeks to balance the economic, social and cultural opportunities in a specific area of forest with the need to maintain and enhance the condition of the area’s forest.

  • What are the current land uses and areas (e.g. forest, crops lands)?
  • What major land use changes occurred in the past, in terms of – inter alia – deforestation, expansion of agricultural or urban areas?
  • Do forest areas exist with either no or non-clarified tenure rights (open access areas)?
  • Do land use plans identify a permanent forest estate, i.e. areas dedicated to forestry as the sole permissible land use?

Land Tenure and User Rights

Secure land tenure is pivotal to sustainable forest management and to investments in forest protection or reforestation. As forestry implies considerably longer production periods than e.g. agriculture, insecure land tenure creates a formidable disincentive for private investment in forest management. This holds true also for wood-fuel production by rural smallholders.

  • Are the ownership and usufruct rights of forests, trees, other forest products, and forest concessions unambiguously documented?
  • Is information available on customary usufruct rights of forest resources?
  • What types of tenure do exist, and how are they documented (either customary or statutory, individual or communal, titled or non-documented)?
  • Are mechanisms established to transfer management responsibility for state-owned forest resources to local communities/forest dwellers or individuals?
  • Are forest land boundaries of the communities demarcated?

Woodfuel Resources and Production Systems

Bureaucratic and administrative barriers (e.g. overcomplicated forest management planning requirements, complex fiscal systems and land tenure procedures) may inhibit development, and thus warrant critical reflection.

  • What kind of wood production systems are already introduced, e.g. closed and open natural forest management, plantations, agro-forestry?
  • Do statistics document the stocking volume of woody biomass, are the respective areas known, and are they stratified in terms of their ecological characteristics?
  • Are the strengths and weaknesses of wood production systems in interaction with different stakeholders (state, companies, NGOs, communities) analyzed?
  • Are harvesting volumes (annual off-take) reliably documented in relation to both, growing stocks and annual increment?
  • What kind of accessibility constraints of forest stock are encountered (e.g. protected areas, limited physical or economical accessibility)?
  • What are the competing uses (timber, poles) so as to define the share of woodfuel?
  • What are the climate change projections (relevant for choice of tree species)?
  • What additional environmental services have to be fulfilled through sustainable forest management (soil and water protection, conservation of biodiversity)?
  • What is the environmental impact of woodfuel & charcoal use?
  • What are the producer costs (e.g. costs for sustainable management, tree planting, stumpage fees, harvesting)?

Woodfuel Flow (Conversion, Transportation and Marketing)

The economic, social and environmental impacts of down-stream processing are pivotal to the design of production systems.

  • How is the charcoal business traditionally organized (self-employed - fulltime, part-time; employed by – traders, transporters; wholesalers, retailers etc.)?
  • Are charcoal makers organized, registered?
  • What methods and technologies for charcoal production are currently used (earth mound kilns, pit kilns)?
  • What is the average output per kiln?
  • What rates of efficiency do current production/conversion systems achieve?
  • What kind of packing is used and what is the average weight?
  • Have improved kilns already been introduced (e.g. Casamance kiln, brick or metal kiln)?
  • What is the adoption rate of improved conversion technologies by charcoalmakers ?
  • What economic, social and environmental impacts are expected from the use of more efficient conversion systems?
  • What kind of transport is used for fuelwood/charcoal deliveries?
  • What is the type, size, condition and maximum load of the most common vehicles?
  • What are the average distances covered for fuelwood/charcoal deliveries?
  • What are the restrictions and regulations (e.g. permits, taxes)?
  • What is the frequency/quantity of deliveries incl. seasonal variations?
  • What other deliveries are made by suppliers?
  • What are the costs for production and transport; taxes and fees;
  • What is the current buying/selling price per unit?
  • What are the cost margins for producers, transporters, wholesalers and retailers?

The Institutional Setting

According to forest legislation, forest administrations commonly have a prominent role in forest governance and forest law enforcement. However, forestry administrations often lack the capacities and resources to fulfill their legal mandate.

  • Does the network of administrative units of the forestry administration adequately cover the concerned areas?
  • Is the forestry administration willing and prepared to promote and establish participatory structures in forest management?
  • Does the forestry administration actively seek co-operation with different state administrations to pursue common interests?
  • Are there non-governmental organizations (NGOs), which claim a mandate in forest sector development?
  • Are there organized interest groups (e.g. concessionaires, forest owners, charcoal-makers, local user groups) in the woodfuel supply sector?
  • What kinds of conflicts exist between the different stakeholders?

Gender Issues

Wood supply interventions should seek to support women's rights in sharing both, responsibilities and benefits from community land resource management related to woodfuel. Wood energy projects are intended to be of immediate value to women in assisting them to meet their strategic needs. Information that should be gathered includes:

  • What is the legal and actual land holding situation?
  • What rights to use communal or state land do women enjoy?
  • What are general problems facing women?
  • How are women currently involved in the wood energy business?
  • What kind of access to and control of resources (land, money, credit, etc.) and benefits do women enjoy?


This article was originally published by GIZ HERA. It is basically based on experiences, lessons learned and information gathered by GIZ cook stove projects. You can find more information about the authors and experts of the original “Cooking Energy Compendium” in the Imprint.

Top of the page

--> Back to Overview GIZ HERA Cooking Energy Compendium