for their domestic energy needs, if compared with middle income consumers in other countries. Only the lower income households can be said to use multiple fuels. Non-commercial fuels Much of the biomass used as fuel by low-income households is gathered ‘free of charge’ by householders rather than purchased, which of course has important money-saving benefits for the poor, and may be a matter of no choice for very poor households. Enforced dependence on non-commercial fuels is one the most intractable energy problems in the country, bringing with it a number of sustainability issues – including health impacts, environmental degradation, decreased productivity and energy poverty. In some parts of the country there is an increasing commercialisation of biomass fuels, firewood in particular. Sometimes households purchase firewood because they can afford to do so. For others firewood may be an enforced purchase, because of a local scarcity of wood, or an inability to collect sufficient quantities – this in turn could be as a result of infirmity or shortage of able people in the household, or compounded by the HIV/Aids pandemic. In such cases, the commercialisation of firewood means further energy poverty and deteriorating livelihoods. Factors affecting the use of commercial fuels among low-income households Cost and availability are the most important determinants of poorer people’s choice of commercial fuels. Cost involves not only the cost of the fuel itself, but also the appliances needed to use it. Transport is an important factor too, which affects both the cost and availability of fuel. Rural householders often have to travel significant distances to purchase fuels like kerosene, which adds to the cost of obtaining the fuel; or else they may buy small quantities from local traders, at a considerably higher cost per litre. Where there are several steps in the distribution chain (as is the case for kerosene and liquid petroleum gas) the mark-ups at each step raise the final price, increasing the energy burden on the poor. Close to mining areas, coal is a ‘cheap’ fuel, but it becomes more expensive the further it is transported. Thus coal is widely used by low-income households, but only in some areas of the country.1010These unfortunately include areas with high settlement densities, cold winters, and adverse climatic conditions for dissipating the pollutants from coal fires and stoves, leading to extremely unhealthy local indoor and outdoor pollution levels.
68 ENERGY POLICIES FOR SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT IN SOUTH AFRICA An important factor is the cost and availability of suitable appliances. Very cheap kerosene wick stoves are widely available, but these have poor safety, performance and durability characteristics. The use of kerosene pressure stoves, which are somewhat more efficient than the wick stoves, is also common, but these are also often of poor quality and are as expensive to purchase as a two-plate electric stove. Liquid petroleum gas appliances tend to be expensive for poor families. The cost of appliances, and the fact that they are not