Sparking a cooking revolution:
catalysing Africa’s transition to clean electric/gas cooking.
About the Modern Energy Cooking Services (MECS) Programme
Modern Energy Cooking Services (MECS) is a five-year programme funded by UK Aid (FCDO).
By integrating modern energy cooking services into the planning for electricity access, quality, reliability and sustainability, MECS hopes to leverage investment in renewable energies (both grid and off-grid) to address the clean cooking challenge. MECS is implementing a strategy focused on including the cooking needs of households into the investment and action on ‘access to affordable, reliable, sustainable modern energy for all’.
Existing strategies are struggling to solve the problem of unsustainable, unhealthy but enduring cooking practices which place a particular burden on women. After decades of investments in improving biomass cooking, focused largely on increasing the efficiency of biomass use in domestic stoves, the technologies developed are said to have had limited impact on development outcomes. The Modern Energy Cooking Services (MECS) programme aims to break out of this “business-as-usual” cycle by investigating how to rapidly accelerate a transition from biomass to genuinely ‘clean’ cooking (i.e. with electricity or gas).
Worldwide, nearly three billion people rely on traditional solid fuels (such as wood or coal) and technologies for cooking and heating. This has severe implications for health, gender relations, economic livelihoods, environmental quality and global and local climates. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), household air pollution from cooking with traditional solid fuels contributes to three to four million premature deaths every year [i] – more than malaria and tuberculosis combined [ii]. Women and children are disproportionally affected by health impacts, and bear much of the burden of collecting firewood or other traditional fuels.
Greenhouse gas emissions from non-renewable wood fuels alone total a gigaton of CO2e per year (1.9-2.3% of global emissions) [iii]. The short-lived climate pollutant black carbon, which results from incomplete combustion, is estimated to contribute the equivalent of 25 to 50 percent of carbon dioxide warming globally – residential solid fuel burning accounts for up to 25 percent of global black carbon emissions [iv]. Up to 34% of woodfuel harvested is unsustainable, contributing to climate change and local forest degradation. In addition, approximately 275 million people live in woodfuel depletion ‘hotspots’ – concentrated in South Asia and East Africa – where most demand is unsustainable [v].
Africa’s cities are growing – another Nigeria will be added to the continent’s total urban population by 2025 [vi] which is set to double in size over the next 25 years, reaching 1 billion people by 2040. Within urban and peri-urban locations, much of Sub Saharan Africa continues to use purchased traditional biomass and kerosene for their cooking. The provision of Liquid Petroleum Gas (LPG) has some penetration within urban conurbations, however, the supply chain is often weak resulting in strategies of fuel stacking with continued use of traditional fuels. Even where electricity is in use for lighting and amenities, it is rarely used for cooking (with the exception of South Africa). The same is true for parts of Asia and Latin America. Global commitments to rapidly increasing access to reliable and quality modern energy need to much more explicitly include cooking services or else household and localized pollution will continue to significantly erode the well-being of communities.
Where traditional biomass fuels are used, either collected in rural areas or purchased in peri urban and urban conurbations, they are a significant economic burden on households either in the form of time or expenditure. The McKinsey Global Institute [vii] outlines that much of women’s unpaid work hours are spent on fuel collection and cooking. The report explores the economic potential available if the global gender gap embodied in such activities were to be closed. The findings show that if women were able to more fully participate in the labour market, as much as $28 trillion, or 26 percent, could be added to the global annual GDP in 2025. Access to modern energy services for cooking could redress some of this imbalance and release time into the labour market.
To address this global issue and increase access to clean cooking services on a large scale, investment needs are estimated to be at least US$4.4 billion annually [viii]. Despite some improvements in recent years, this cross-cutting sector continues to struggle to reach scale and remains the most in-doubt element of achieving the SE4All targets by 2030 [ix], as well as one of the biggest challenges in delivering the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 7 on access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.
Against this backdrop MECS draws on the UK’s world-leading universities and innovators with the aim of sparking a revolution in this sector. A key driver is the trajectory of costs that show cooking with (clean, renewable) electricity has the potential to reach a price point of affordability with associated reliability and sustainability within a few years, which will open completely new possibilities and markets. Beyond the technologies, by engaging with the World Bank (ESMAP), MECS will also identify and generate evidence on other drivers for transition including understanding and optimisation of multi-fuel use (fuel stacking); cooking demand and behaviour change; and establishing the evidence base to support policy enabling environments that can underpin a pathway to scale and support well understood markets and enterprises.
The five-year programme combines creating a stronger evidence base for transitions to modern energy cooking services in FCDO priority countries with socio-economic technological innovations that will drive the transition forward. It is managed as an integrated whole, however the programme is contracted via two complementary workstream arrangements as follows:
- An Accountable Grant with Loughborough University (LU) as leader of the UK University Partnership;
- An amendment to the existing Administrative Arrangement underlying FCDO’s contribution to the ESMAP Trust Fund managed by the World Bank.
The intended outcome of MECS
The intended outcome is a market-ready range of innovations (technology and business models) which lead to improved choice of affordable and reliable modern energy cooking services for consumers. We will seek to have the MECS principles adopted in the SDG 7.1 global tracking framework and hope that participating countries will incorporate modern energy cooking services in energy policies and planning.
This data and material have been funded by UK AID from the UK government; however, the views expressed do not necessarily reflect the UK government’s official policies.
[i] World Health Organization, http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs292/en/, 2014.
[ii] World Health Organization, http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs094/en/ and http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs104/en/
[iv] Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves. http://cleancookstoves.org/impact-areas/environment/
[vii] McKinsey Global Institute. The Power of Parity: How Advancing Women’s Equality can add $12 Trillion to Global Growth; McKinsey Global Institute: New York, NY, USA, 2015.
[viii] The SE4ALL Global Tracking Report shows that the investment needed for universal access to modern cooking (not including heating) by 2030 is about $4.4 billion annually. In 2012 investment was in cooking was just $0.1 billion. Progress toward Sustainable Energy: Global Tracking Report 2015, World Bank.
[ix] The 2017 SE4All Global Tracking Framework Report laments that, “Relative to electricity, only a small handful of countries are showing encouraging progress on access to clean cooking, most notably Indonesia, as well as Peru and Vietnam.”