How can enabling “clean cooking” save millions of lives?

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Did you know that:
• 3 billion people cook with biomass and 4 million people die each year from the household air pollution it creates?
• Nearly 2 billion have electricity but do not cook with it.
• In SSA alone $34 billion is spent on charcoal or other polluting fuels and in many cases cooking with electricity would actually save households money!

The MECS programme provides a wealth of support to help make electric cooking devices available across the developing world.

What is driving a global effort to enable people to cook with electricity?

Cooking with wood or charcoal (biomass) as fuel is hugely damaging to health and the environment. Household air pollution from cooking with traditional solid fuels contributes to nearly four million deaths every year.

In many countries, the generation of grid electricity is now exceeding demand. For instance, in terms of electricity generation capacity, several East African countries are currently on course to substantially increase their installed capacity. This is driven by long-term economic growth ambitions and provides an opportunity to expand electrical demand. Recent installations in Uganda have increased generating capacity to 950 MW, creating a generating surplus, for the moment. Power Africa has identified a further 1900 MW of projects for completion by 2030. The World Bank estimate that not only will generating capacity in Kenya double from 2,300 MW in 2015 to 5000 MW in 2020, but the share of renewables will also increase from 65% to 84%. Generating capacity in Tanzania was roughly 1500 MW in 2017, and with a further 1600 MW planned, this capacity is projected to double imminently.

Alongside this, there are substantial programmes across the developing world to roll out electricity access to rural areas with the aim of meeting the Sustainable Development Goal of “Access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all by 2030”. Those working on delivering energy through mini-grids are faced by the difficulty of securing a load expectation that demonstrates a clear return on investment to potential investors which warrants the up-front capital required.

As a result of this, there is a growing interest in driving a transformation of cooking practice away from using biomass as fuel to using electricity or gas. This is of great interest to development agencies and national governments because of its potential to:
• Universally reduce the harm and costs that result from cooking with biomass
• In urban areas, create additional demand for electricity where there has already been investment which provides opportunities for increased revenue generation.
• In rural areas, increase the viability and revenue potential from electricity provision by adding a valuable “anchor load” for electrification programmes.

Not only is there an interest in this, but it is becoming increasingly feasible. Advances in solar photovoltaics, new battery technologies and innovative ‘pay as you go’ business models are opening up new opportunities for transitioning the way people cook. This research and innovation commissioned by the UK Department for International Development (DFID) has looked at the potential for solar panels combined with battery, heating appliance; control panels as a clean, modern energy option for poor households. The promising research, known as ‘eCook’, signalled that cooking from renewables was technically viable and adaptable to standalone and mini-grid situations.

Preliminary economic modelling found that by 2020 the monthly discounted cost of an eCook system could be of the same order as household expenditure on purchased charcoal. Charcoal has considerable challenges in its supply chain, leading to increasing prices, and policies in a number of African countries seek to regulate and limit charcoal production.

The Modern Energy Cooking Services Programme

The MECS programme is leading this change with £40m from the UK Government combining research into the requirements for cooking, modelling solutions, providing challenge funds and working with partners that can put in place finance to support scale up. Our partners include the UN, World Bank, WHO, Clean Cooking Alliance and many national Governments.

Clean cooking in practice, how MECS helps make cooking safer

We are working in-country with key partners. As a result of our discussions, a major pan-African energy access network is looking to procure 50,000 cooking devices to distribute and a national utility country with 6.5m customers is sourcing finance to enable it to make available electric pressure cookers to its customers on a pay as you go basis. We can provide introductions to these and other distributors and large volume customers.

A key part of our work is to carry out cooking diary studies to develop a deep understanding of the cooking requirements of different countries.

The MECS project has undertaken real world trials in Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia and Myanmar to determine the energy consumption of meals cooked using electricity. Combined with stakeholder discussions, focus groups, and discrete choice modelling experiments, the data collected by ‘cooking diaries’ has given evidence of the potential energy, time and money savings associated with a range of electrical cooking equipment. While hotplates can cook ‘tasty’ meals with significantly less ‘fuel’ cost than charcoal (in urban centres), the savings are much greater with multicookers. This initial research has shown that these multicookers (or electric pressure cookers) can undertake more than 80% of the meal recipes that people prefer within the countries of study, including the main staples.

We are keen to make our findings available to support innovation that will deliver new and better solutions to the cooking challenges we are learning about.

If you would like to know more about the MECS programme and discuss how we can work with you, contact Dr Nick Rousseau on

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