Variability in the Household Use of Cooking Fuels: The Importance of Dishes Cooked, Non-Cooking End Uses, and Seasonality in Understanding Fuel Stacking in Rural and Urban Slum Communities in Six North Indian States

World Development

Conditionally Accepted

C. Gould, S. Jha, S. Patnaik, S. Agrawal, A. T. Zhang, S. Saluja, V. Nandan, J. Urpelainen


Expanding the use of clean cooking fuels has been a priority for the Government of India in recent years to obtain potential public health and women’s empowerment benefits. Evidence to date suggests most recent clean fuel adopters continue to use polluting biomass for some household energy needs. However, the specific ways households use both polluting and clean fuels together, known as fuel stacking, is not fully understood.

We use survey data from 2,765 households in rural communities and urban slums in six north Indian states to detail fuel stacking practices. Half of rural and one-third of urban slum households stacked a clean and polluting fuel together. We classify stackers into four groups based on their reported primary and secondary fuels (e.g., primary gas and secondary firewood). We observe significant variations in the intensity of secondary fuel use among households in the same stacking group. Across all stackers, about half use their secondary fuel daily, while about one-fifth use it less than once per week. Non-cooking energy needs, like space and water heating, motivates 40% of biomass users to use polluting fuels. Seasonality is another important consideration as 75% of fuel stackers reported switching their primary fuel across seasons of the year, with nearly 90% primarily using gas during the rainy season.

Our results highlight considerable heterogeneity in fuel use behaviors among households in the same stacking category. We also underscore that cooking gas is popular and able to meet all cooking needs, but it is important to consider the use of biomass for non-cooking tasks to enable a complete transition to clean cooking fuels. These results signify the need for more nuanced fuel stacking information in policy design and program evaluation.