Household Energy Consumption Behaviour

Exploratory user research on energy consumption behaviour using design ethnography methods was conducted in Makueni district of Kenya.

This immersion exercise focusing built upon existing knowledge of Base of the Pyramid (BoP) informal cash based markets, operating environment, consumer behaviour and rural purchasing patterns and household financial management.

Sampling was done based on two attributes - one, source of income and its predictability on a continuum ranging from full-time employment on a fixed salary (schoolteacher) to water seller and unemployed construction worker seeking odd jobs and two, variation in energy and fuel consumption such as a rural hotel running its kitchen throughout the day versus a farmer's homestead where one primary meal would be cooked.

While choice of fuel changed according to urban or rural locales, patterns of behaviour remained the same across the sampled population. Daily juggling between “fast cooking” and “slow cooking” items i.e. cheaper fuel for things that take longer to cook and expensive fuel for speed or convenience (morning tea before rushing to work), those in small market towns and rural areas tend towards a combination of firewood and charcoal, while housing structures force urban dwellers to use charcoal and kerosene. Firewood is forbidden and/or simply not available as it is on the shamba.

Long standing habits and behaviour migrate along with upward mobility however, and it may be interesting to take a closer look at why existing behaviour is so hard to change and the correlating influence of business models among the emerging middle class consumers.

One of the reasons that kerosene is so hard to dislodge as the fuel of choice among the "floating middle class” is that it can be purchased on demand, on a pay as you go basis. That is, it can be purchased by quantity (as little as 1/4 litre) or cash amount (give me 5 shillings' worth) as and when required. There is no imposition on the customer to purchase any fixed minimum quantity or cash amount.

That is, the end user has a significant degree of control over the timing of a payment, the amount paid, the periodicity and frequency of such payments and that each time payments can be of different amounts.