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Domestic biogas in a changing China: Can biogas still meet the energy needs of China's rural households?

Xia Zuzhang

Report/paper, 30 pages

China's domestic biogas programme has now reached around 100 million people, supplying a quarter of rural households with biogas digesters. This technology allows households to convert manure into clean cooking fuel and organic fertiliser, providing an effective and non-polluting alternative to fossil fuels, firewood, and chemical fertilisers. Strong investment from the national and local governments and financial assistance from international organisations have played an important role in the large-scale dissemination of biogas technology, and a variety of biogas digester models have been developed in different regions of the country.

It seems that domestic biogas development in China is now at a crossroads, and government investment is likely to decline. Government subsidies can be a double-edged sword – they may promote social welfare by correcting market failures or distort the behaviour of market players, which in turn may lead to inefficiencies. Without one-size-fits-all solutions, due efforts should be made to maximise the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of government subsidies.

From a broader perspective, small-scale biogas digesters can be an appropriate technology for rural areas of many developing countries. Leaving aside biogas's multiple benefits, if the majority of the rural population in developing countries were to shift their primary energy supply from local renewable energy sources to commercial fossil fuels, it would have a huge economic and environmental impact; it could affect the security of energy supplies at a national or even global level. For this reason, due efforts should be made to overcome the various barriers and emerging difficulties to create a more favourable enabling environment for the robust and sustainable development of the biogas sector.

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Publication information

  • IIED code: 16553IIED
  • Published: Sep 2013 - IIED
  • Area: China
  • Theme: Energy
  • ISBN: 978-1-84369-955-2
  • Languages: English, 中文

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Zuzhang, X. 2013. Domestic biogas in a changing China: Can biogas still meet the energy needs of China's rural households? IIED, London.

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One in five people around the world – 1.3 billion people – lack electricity to light their homes or run their businesses, while wealthy countries consume vast amounts of electricity every day. IIED’s energy team works to promote access to sustainable energy for the poorest communities and a more equitable consumption of energy resources. Energy access is an area of great inequity. Access to sustainable modern energy services underpins health, education and livelihoods and increases resilience to climate change – yet millions of people have no access to electricity and use dangerous and unhealthy fuels for lighting and cooking.

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