Connecting the Dots With Mobile Money: How Digital Finance Can Foster a Clean Energy Transition in Ghana

Bags of charcoal for sale at Amasaman, Accra, Ghana. Photo credit: Darby Jack

Approximately three billion people around the world rely on traditional fuels (wood, kerosene, animal and crop waste, and coal) for cooking. The results are staggering: millions of premature deaths each year, an unsustainable drawdown of forest resources, and climate warming emissions (primarily CO2 and black carbon).[1] In Ghana, air pollution from cooking ranks as the second-highest risk factor for death and disability.[2],[3] The burden of traditional fuels falls heavily on women and children, whose responsibilities often include gathering firewood in rural areas and cooking in enclosed spaces where they are exposed to harmful emissions.[4]

The primary alternative to traditional biomass fuels in Ghana is Liquid Petroleum Gas (LPG). However, there are significant barriers to the adoption and sustained use of LPG, especially for those in rural and peri-urban areas. Such barriers include the significant entry cost of purchasing a stove and cylinder, distance to LPG suppliers, and high supply costs, which results in high prices in rural and peri-urban areas.[5],[6],[7] In the near future, the Government of Ghana will implement a market system where users have to purchase LPG by exchanging (instead of refilling) full cylinders. This improves safety but adds an additional cost for low-income households, as they will have to save up to purchase a full cylinder. Despite ambitious policy goals targeting LPG use and numerous programs to increase adoption, dependence on traditional fuels (i.e., charcoal and firewood) remains high, particularly in rural and peri-urban areas. Digital financial services (DFS) may help transition current traditional fuel users to cleaner alternatives.

Ghana has recently become the fastest-growing mobile money market in Africa, with 40.9 million registered mobile money accounts and 17.5 million active accounts in 2021.[8] Typically, mobile money is used for personal banking or person-to-person transactions. Paying for services such as electric and water bills or cooking fuel has not traditionally been a function of mobile money. Cooking fuel expenses, however, lend themselves very well to mobile money transactions, as they are recurring, moderate outlays of money.

In our research, we assessed the potential for mobile money to bridge the gap between LPG supply and demand, increase access to and use of cleaner cooking technology, and ultimately improve women’s health by decreasing their overall time spent procuring fuel and cooking. We aimed to understand the general viability of utilizing mobile money to purchase LPG and which mobile app features would be most interesting and useful to the consumer. Our ultimate goal is to enable a smooth transition to clean energy for more households. To investigate this, we conducted a series of six focus group discussions with LPG users and charcoal users, as well as a targeted survey of 100 primary cooks (92% of whom were female) in peri-urban Accra.

We elicited stated demand for several features, including 1) savings incentives (e.g., cash rewards for consistent contributions to the mobile wallet), 2) a credit mechanism whereby consumers can borrow small sums if they run out of fuel but lack the money needed to purchase LPG, 3) a loyalty rewards program, 4) home deliveries of LPG, 5) group discounts for coordinated delivery, 6) discounts for scheduled delivery service, and 7) the ability to contribute to LPG wallets of family members and friends. The most popular features—delivery services, loyalty programs, savings incentives, and access to credit—reflect and address some of the key constraints to using LPG: cost and accessibility.

Delivery services provide a convenience factor and could potentially reduce the overall cost and time associated with procuring LPG. A savings incentive program whereby customers are reminded to save a small amount each day/week and receive rewards for doing so, as well as access to small amounts of credit, allows users to reduce the upfront cost of LPG. Savings programs, or “susu” in the local language, are well established in the surveyed communities. Many focus group participants reflected that having a dedicated mobile wallet for LPG makes inherent sense, as one respondent said, “It would be extremely helpful in times when I do not have enough money when my gas gets finished. By saving small amounts of money, the accumulated amount by the time my gas runs out will surely be enough to cover the cost of the refill.”

Through our focus group discussions, we also learned that having a record of gas purchases could help women with intrahousehold communication and planning and saving for the future. We heard from one participant that purchasing LPG with a mobile money wallet “will prevent conflicts between spouses since it serves as proof of the current prices. It prevents doubt about cheating and saves time and transport fares because everything about whatever refill we are going to make is there to see on the platform.”

Interestingly there is a sharp decline in demand for features that involve coordination and planning by the user. As seen in the figure above, receiving a discount for coordinating a delivery with your neighbors or scheduling a delivery for a set date proved less desirable for LPG and charcoal users. In the focus groups, the charcoal users had a slightly more positive take on the idea of coordination, stating that some already try to do this for other purchases. However, the majority expressed that coordinating refills with neighbors can be challenging, as one participant stated, “I do not think it will be possible to refill the cylinder together with neighbors because the time that one person’s gas is likely to finish will vary from the time the other person’s gas will be finishing.” Mobile app features may help lower these coordination difficulties, allowing more distant neighbors on the same delivery route to economize on delivery fees.

Overall our research has shown that linking LPG purchases to digital financial services has the potential to reduce overall transaction costs, thereby making the transition to cooking with cleaner cooking fuels easier. The key to this transition is enabling and encouraging consumers to save toward larger purchases and ensuring access to LPG by developing a robust delivery program. Cooking with LPG reduces exposure to harmful cooking fumes and frees up time to pursue other endeavours, ultimately offering women more opportunities.

This work is part of a larger project funded by the Columbia World Projects. Findings will inform a full-scale randomized controlled trial during which we plan on testing core features of a mobile app for LPG purchases as a contributing factor to increasing the uptake of LPG in peri-urban areas.


[1] World Health Organization. (2018). Opportunities for transition to clean household energy: application of the Household Energy Assessment Rapid Tool (HEART): Ghana.

[2] GBD 2019 Risk Factors Collaborators. (2020). Global burden of 87 risk factors in 204 countries and territories, 1990-2019: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2019. Global Health Metrics, 396(10258), 1223-1249.

[3] The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME). Ghana.

[4] World Health Organization. (2016). Burning opportunity: clean household energy for health, sustainable development, and wellbeing of women and children.

[5] Agbokey, F., et al. (2019). Determining the Enablers and Barriers for the Adoption of Clean Cookstoves in the Middle Belt of Ghana—A Qualitative Study. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 16(7), 1207.

[6] Abdulai, M., et al. (2018). Experiences with the Mass Distribution of LPG Stoves in Rural Communities of Ghana. EcoHealth, 15(4), 757-767.

[7] Dalaba, M., et al. (2018). Liquified Petroleum Gas (LPG) Supply and Demand for Cooking in Northern Ghana. EcoHealth 15, 716-728.

[8] Yaw, N. (n.d.). Mobile Money in Ghana. AZA Finance.


Heather Lahr, UC Santa Barbara, Bren School of Environmental Science & Management

Kelsey Jack, UC Santa Barbara, Bren School of Environmental Science & Management

Darby Jack, Columbia University, Mailman School of Public Health

Flavio Malagutti, UC Santa Barbara, Bren School of Environmental Science & Management

Linnea Graham, Columbia University, Mailman School of Public Health

Edward Tsinigo, Innovations for Poverty Action, Ghana

Eric Tawiah, Innovations for Poverty Action, Ghana