About the Programme
The full accountable grant is still in play, but due to the turbulent years of 2020 and 2021, the programme was asked to slow its spend for the financial years FY20/21 and FY21/22 and spread the spend in subsequent years so the programme can end in March 2026.
Yes, of course, our research work feeds into other agencies actions. We work closely with CCA which provides a focus for clean cooking, and we try to support their work with research and data. We also work closely with international organisations such as SE4All, Tenn, Africa Foundation, GIZ/Endev, among many others. We are open to making new partnerships.
Yes, of course, our research work feeds into and feeds from other UK and Overseas universities. Where there has been a specific collaboration their work is showcased on the MECS website as well as on their own university websites.
Yes. We made several calls for proposals for specific innovation and piloting research (see ‘Challenge Funds’). Many NGOs applied for these pieces of work. We also have some direct research work connected to NGOs.
Yes. We made several calls for proposals for specific innovation and piloting research (see ‘Challenge Funds’). Many private sector firms applied for these pieces of work. We also have some direct research work connected to the private sector.
We offer our research to governments and work with them to create enabling policies for their specific context.
About the research focus
The focus can be found in the name of the programme. We are focused on modern energy cooking services. We pick up on the SDG7 call for affordable, reliable, sustainable modern energy access for all, and think it should be inclusive of cooking needs.
Yes it has. But in our view there has been a disconnect between SDG7.1, 7.2 and 7.3, and indeed between 7.1.1 and 7.1.2. By making 7.1.1 about electricity, and 7.1.2 about clean cooking, agencies and governments have tended to think about these two issues independently of each other. Planning for grid extension and off-grid technologies has rarely taken into account cooking loads, while planning for cleaner cooking has tended to focus on reducing biomass consumption or switching to a fuel targeted at cooking. Our focus is on integrating the planning of modern energy with the cooking needs of people. And to do that we consider SDG7.2 a focus on renewable energy technology, and SDG7.3 a focus on energy efficiency. For further reading on this consider, the Journal paper ‘Two Birds’, the blog and working paper Electrification and cooking: A case of mutual neglect? and the Journal paper ‘Mutual Support’.
We have found cooking with electricity on an energy efficient appliance is an affordable cost effective viable option for many people and situations, which leverages the significant investments all countries are making in the electrical infrastructure.
True. There are officially 670m people who don’t have access to electricity (although that’s under 10% of the world population), and actually many who are classified as having electricity have weak power supplies that wouldn’t be able to cook reliably. The ESMAP Multi Tier Framework on electricity access is trying to get more nuanced data on how many people have access and at what level access. There are between 2.6 to 4 billion who don’t have access to clean cooking (depending on your definition – see ‘The State of Access to Modern Energy Cooking Services’ MECS ESMAP). At a headline level if only 670m don’t have electricity, then over 2 billion have electricity but don’t cook with it.
True for now but not for the near future. There are between 2.6 to 4 billion who don’t have access to clean cooking (depending on your definition – see ‘The State of Access to Modern Energy Cooking Services’ MECS ESMAP). Many of these 2 billion do have access to a strong reliable grid electricity, and yet continue to use biomass for cooking (particularly in urban areas). It seems a viable strategy to pivot many of these who already have a wire to their house, to use it for cooking with an energy efficient device. However, we said at the start of this answer “True for now but not for the near future”. There is a global commitment to SDG7, and there is renewed impetus to ensure economies are fuelled by low carbon modern energy. And eventually almost all people will have access to modern energy – some of them off-grid. Our strategy leverages other people’s investment in modern energy.
When using energy efficient appliances, and in a market where people are paying for their wood, charcoal, kerosene, LPG etc, grid based electricity is by far the cheapest option for most foods but particularly for what we call ‘long cooking’. Some dishes require several hours of simmering – in these an energy efficient electrical appliance can be one fifth of the cost of alternative fuels. Any of the ecookbooks on our website show clearly the potential savings for their context, and the MECS ESMAP publication ‘Cooking with electricity – a cost perspective clearly shows the cost situation as at 2020 and the range of prices under which electricity is cheaper, and the potential for the future.
You can but again the key question is, is it cost effective? This depends on the design of the minigrid and the tariff being charged. When cooking is added to a minigrid designed for low power devices such as lights, phone charging and television, with perhaps one anchor productive use, then the tariff tends to be fixed high to recover investments, and batteries are not sized for evening cooking. Early piloting shows that consumers are very responsive to tariff changes, and that if a minigrid is designed for cooking from its start, then it is possible to do cooking cost effectively.
Yes, but the more important question is ‘is it affordable to cook with a solar home system’? Research from Kachione Malawi, shows that a 300W system with Solar PV Panels, Lithium Titanate batteries and an electric pressure cooker costs about $300 available in Malawi (but without distribution costs and profit margin). This system will likely give 15 years of cooking with the only extra cost being to replace the appliance ($30) every five years. The batteries should last 15 years, the PV panels are known to last that long. Is that cost effective? – it depends on how it is financed, and whether the household have monetary income. (and prices will continue to come down). India has a strategy that will prompt private sector to develop systems with 1kW PV, battery storage and an induction stove for less than $800.
Yes. Every tree cut down for fuelling cooking not only releases the carbon in that tree, but also stops that tree sequestrating/capturing carbon for the next 30 years or more. It is said that biomass cooking contributes 2% of global emissions of CO2. However, this figure is based on data from 2009, only took into account above ground carbon (i.e. does not include the rotting of roots of dead trees), and doesn’t take into account the loss of carbon capture. It was calculated that about one third of biomass consumption was sustainable (collection of dead wood, or natural regrowth). However, a significant portion of unsustainable biomass use (for cooking) is associated with charcoal production for use in urban situations. Since 2009, the population of the world has grown by one billion people, most of whom are in the countries that use biomass for cooking. And by 2050 (net zero target date), the world will see another 2 billion people, most of whom will be in the ‘biomass cooking countries’. Our strategy is to move people (particularly urban people) away from using unsustainable biomass to using modern energy.
Yes. Countries such as India, Indonesia and South Africa have coal based generating plants, and using such electricity still improves the climate equation for transition from biomass to clean electric cooking, and also greatly improves the kitchen emissions and the health of the people. In addition, the world is committed to removing coal fired generation from the electricity mix, and as I write this there is a news item pointing to a commitment of $6 billion to help those three countries move away from coal. Indeed, India has now reached 45% renewable energy in its grid mix and has set a new target of 50% by 2030. The cost of grid based renewable energy technologies is now commercially cheaper than most fossil fuel production, and it is likely that those coal based grids will shift across to low carbon renewables over the coming thirty years.
Yes, and we think it needs to be deployed in a very temporary way. It is a by-product of the existing fossil fuel industry, and COP26 has talked about removing inefficient subsidies from fossil fuel production. We think the price of LPG will rise, and we are concerned that some countries might get a technical lock in that is not helpful to their longer term economy. If we believe in Net Zero Carbon by 2050, then we need to find alternatives that give a clean cooking experience with minimal contribution to climate change. To that end we have been funding work on BioLPG which could take municipal waste and make it into LPG.
LPG is often described as a nimble technology that can be quickly rolled out and could be used as a transition fuel. It does seem to be the case that where LPG is available, it can be strengthened and new customers obtained. However, LPG has significant infrastructure behind it, and as the world decarbonises that may change – if the infrastructure is not yet there then it can take multiple years to put in place. LPG price is dependent on the global price of oil, over the decades that fluctuates – recently we have seen the oil price rise due to global events. LPG price will also be tied to the move away from carbon – COP26 said that the inefficient subsidies in the oil industry should be removed (about half a trillion dollars directly and $5 trillion indirectly). What will that do to the price? Countries such as India and Indonesia have had to subsidise LPG to the tune of billions of dollars each year to make it cheap enough for the poor. All in all we have come to the conclusion that LPG could take longer to deploy than some people suggest, could result in a technical lock in for some countries, and could demand ongoing subsidies from governments – therefore while it is our remit to research we approach it cautiously.
Yes, some countries in Africa probably do. But again we are worried about technical lock in when the world is undertaking a thirty year overhaul of the global economy to mitigate climate change and decarbonise. We don’t know the future, and the best we can do is research options as and when they come up.
Yes, we have undertaken some basic research on hydrogen, and are discussing further research with partners.
Yes. Ethanol can give a modern energy cooking experience in the kitchen. However, there are many demands for ethanol, and we worry that the supply chain is vulnerable to seasonal changes and price fluctuations.
Yes. Biogas is a technology that is elegant on paper, but difficult to implement at scale effectively. The upfront costs tend to be quite high and its maintenance can be challenging. New approaches to pay as you go biogas, with smart monitoring of the working conditions within the chamber, open new possibilities. Larger scale plants on municipal waste also hold promise, although they tend to be fed into generators and distributed as electricity. We have funded work on biogas storage for distribution.
About modern energy fuels
At a basic level, the world has recognised stove ‘tiers’ which are defined by their emission levels. The World Bank developed the ESMAP Multi Tier Framework, which defines 6 aspects of cooking stoves and gives greater clarity on how the stoves are impacting the users life (eg use of a emitting stove in a kitchen with no windows is more of a threat to the user than using the same stove outside). MECS defines modern energy cooking as using Tier 5 stoves (ESMAP defines modern energy cooking as Tier 4 and 5).
Clean cooking is the term the world settled on for discussing the Sustainable Development Goals. Tier 3 stoves were considered transition stoves but designated ‘clean cooking’ in the Household use data collection even though they were still emitting particulates. Research throughout the 2010’s showed that the health of the user was still affected by particulates from tier 3 stoves, and so while improved cookstoves somewhat reduce the consumption of wood, it barely touched the health problem. Data also showed that even with that sleight of hand on what constitutes ‘clean cooking’, gains in SDG7.1.2 were not on target for reaching the 2030 goal, and that population growth was outstripping the roll out in Tier 3 and above stoves such that more people were using basic stoves in 2015 than in 2010. When MECS started we wanted to explore a new strategy, one that might address the problem at scale, and part of that was a desire to call the world to the use of Tier 5 cooking appliances.
While the UK Aid official documents include our business plan, you can find an explanation of what we hoped to achieve in this Journal Paper ‘Two Bird, One Stone’. You may also be interested in our progress so far, and this Journal Paper ‘Mutual Support’ gives a good summary of research and evidence to date.
We use MECS in capitals to represent our programme, while we use mecs as a shorthand for the outcome of a modern energy cooking service. (Having said that we are not always consistent!)
No. We had to set limits to what we were going to research, and in order to push ourselves and our partners to a new strategy, our terms of reference for the programme preclude us working with any biomass stoves, even Tier 4 (Rocket, Gasifier, etc).
In ‘The State of Access to Modern Energy Cooking Services’ MECS ESMAP, global data was reanalysed to determine how many people do not have access to modern energy cooking. ESMAP used their definition of Tier 4 and 5 stoves, and the data showed that 4 billion people did not have access to mecs. The 2.6 billion are those who do not have access to ‘clean cooking’ (Tier 3 and above). We are conscious that Tier 3 users still contribute to deforestation, still experience localised emissions, and women still have to spend huge amount of time preparing and cooking.
No. Quite simply it will require investment of billions of dollars to address the ‘enduring problem’ of cooking. How many billions depends on how its calculated, and whether the target is a modern energy Tier 5 experience, or progress towards cleaner cooking. For instance the ‘The State of Access to Modern Energy Cooking Services’ MECS ESMAP reports that to reach mecs for all it would require an expenditure of US$148–156 billion annually over the next 10 years (although $103b would be consumers pivoting their existing expenditure into modern energy fuels). In that scenario the authors conclude that 70% of new mecs users would be using LPG. They also present a scenario which focuses costing on only a Tier 2 + 3 migration using improved cookstoves which requires ‘only’ $10b per year. In that scenario, users of tier 2 stoves graduate to tier 3, tier 3 to 4 & 5 – i.e. all people reach ‘cleaner cooking’ but not mecs. It seems clear that the global political will is not there to commit billions of dollars to even ‘cleaner cooking’ let alone mecs, and we will likely reach 2030, and although we will have seen progress, we wont have reached the SDG7.1.2 goal.
MECS is a research programme, and we undertake research and data gathering. The programme was designed to explore alternative strategies, and the programme document can be found here. UK Aid official documents. You can find an explanation of what we hoped to achieve in this Journal Paper ‘Two Bird, One Stone’. You may also be interested in our progress so far, and this Journal Paper ‘Mutual Support’. At the heart of our theory of change is that an incremental improvement in using biomass of cooking will not get us to SDG7.1.2, and that there is more potential in leveraging the gains in modern energy access to include cooking needs. Progress has been made in energy access, but our political analysis showed a ‘mutual neglect’ between professionals working in SDG7.1.1 and SDG 7.1.2. We are working to pivot this into a ‘mutual support’ with clear integrated modern energy planning inclusive of cooking needs and loads.
We are working with governments and international agencies to try to get planning of modern energy access to include future cooking loads. SE4All have taken up the challenge and their 2022 report on Nigeria illustrates that leveraging investment in electricity is by far the least cost scenario for getting people access to modern energy cooking services. In contrast, Nepal which is now interested in ecooking, has a grid and local transformers that cannot take the high power loads of cooking, and has to consider upgrading the infrastructure – if cooking had been considered when the grid was extended, the costs would have been a lot less. So we would like all modern energy planning to consider cooking loads and think ahead.
Is that a question or a statement? It is true that there are the 670m people who don’t have access to electricity, and indeed there are many more who have access only to a weak supply. But we look to the future. Returning for the moment to the question of investments. It is said that only $130m is invested each year in clean cooking, even though to reach SDG7.1.2 it will need billions. SDG7 tracking reports a financial flow of $11b to improve clean energy access, however, we note that for the last four years an average of $24b has been invested in Sub Saharan Africa for electrical energy provision, maintenance, improved access and upgrading – to keep the lights on. $32b for developing Asia. $54b for India. All these billions invested in electricity could be used for cooking. There are billions invested in providing a wire to a household (and business) that can deliver a clean fuel (electricity) that could be used for cooking. Renewable energy technology is becoming cheaper, energy efficiency is becoming more attainable, the world is pushing towards Net Zero Carbon and electricity will be at the heart of that.
Yes. A recent Nature Energy paper said just that, and used data to illustrate it. MECS tries to identify and analyse the modern energy situation for every country it works in. We try not to assume two countries are alike. We talk about ‘jigsaws’, where the enabling framework, the private sector led supply chain and the consumer demand have to fit together. But we use the term jigsaw because we don’t need each element to be in place one after the other – we can work for instance on the enabling framework even if the supply chain is not there yet.
Yes. We undertook a Global Market Assessment to determine which countries might be favourable to our approach. And we are constantly assessing and re-assessing the details of the market as we move forward, both for ourselves and for partners like Endev.
Yes. Each country is different, so we scan the situation and try to work with local partners to determine what research could be conducted that might enhance understanding of mecs. Cooking is a highly emotive subject – you don’t mess with peoples food, and taste is such an important thing to almost everyone. So we are particularly concerned to ensure that any suggested mecs can cook food to an acceptable taste. You will find our research includes doing both Controlled Cooking Tests (i.e. repeatable recipes) and getting data from day to day use and cooking with the new appliances, in a real life situation. Many of those findings are captured in the range of ecookbooks.
We work at different levels in more than 20 countries. However, we have several countries where we have seen a significant uptake of our research, and that are now considering a scaled use of our findings. Examples include Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, India, Nepal, Cambodia, Bangladesh. We are also in significant discussions with programmes across Sub Saharan Africa and in the ASEAN region, and we invite new partnerships.
About electricity for cooking
Not if the users are already paying for their cooking fuel, either charcoal, LPG, purchased wood, or ethanol, then electricity can be cheaper. Obviously that depends on the local prices, including the tariff for the electricity, but in general using an energy efficient appliance like an electric pressure cooker for a ‘long cook’ like beans or stew, costs about one fifth of the alternative fuels. The MECS ESMAP publication ‘Cooking with electricity – a cost perspective is beginning to date now, but shows the range of cost effectiveness for electricity.
‘Long cooking’ is where foods such as beans need to be boiled for more than an hour. Many users of LPG switch back to charcoal for a ‘long cook’ meal. They find that it is too expensive to cook with LPG so they revert to using charcoal. An electric pressure cooker is ideal for a long cook because it raises the food to pressure in a pot that is partially insulated, controls the input of energy during the pressure phase often switching off the input, and cooks quickly retaining nutrients. In general using an energy efficient appliance like an electric pressure cooker for a ‘long cook’ like beans or stew, costs about one fifth of the alternative fuels.
African utilities seek to deliver electricity to the same standard as anywhere else. Indeed the equipment is often provided by global organisations. They supply 220V AC and almost all EPCs will work with this. There is some work on ‘off-grid’ mini grids, and Solar Home Systems. These decentralised renewable energy systems seek to provide electricity where the grid will not reach. EPCs can work with mini grids as most of these are AC and provide 220V. Solar Home Systems tend to be DC, and we are working on DC versions of EPCs. There is no technical reason why these cannot be produced.
Yes. We have been working with utilities to consider how to integrate cooking loads onto their grids. This is important from many different angles – it is a possibility to stimulate demand (some utilities have surplus generating capacity, and are reluctant to extend the grid as the more remote people are the less then spend on electrical goods); there are possibilities for utility led finance (adding the appliance cost to the cost of connection seems a win win); they have a ‘reach’ into communities and therefore can undertake demonstrations locally and in their offices. If we go back far enough in developed economies, utilities stimulated demand at the start of their development by renting out electrical devices such as fridge and cookers. As the ‘shape’ of utilities changes with decentralisation and greater use of renewable energy, and a greater demand for energy efficiency, we hope we can work with utilities to serve their communities effectively.
Electric pressure cookers can fry. Their frying function (often called Sauté) is not as high a temperature as a conventional hot plate or using gas on a Wok. The EPC also does not have a clear advantage over other stoves such as induction, infrared or even hotplates – for meals that require only a few minutes cooking. The duration of the cooking is so short that the advantages of insulation, pressure and control are not utilised. EPCs ‘win’ when the food requires simmering for 10 minutes or more, and for something like dried beans which require hours of cooking the energy savings are very significant.
For a short duration cooking, an induction stove is as efficient as an EPC. An induction stove is said to be more efficient than a hotplate (resistive heating element), because it transfers the energy directly to the pot via magnetic fluctuations. Hotplates (resistive heating element) can have big losses because the pot does not cover all the heating element, or the heating element is exposed downwards, or the pot does not sit flat on the element. All of these cause heat to be lost during the heat transfer process, and can be avoided by induction. However, induction does not avoid the losses from a full pan simmering, radiating from its sides and its top. So for short duration cooking these radiating losses can be minimal, but for long duration they become significant.
Induction stoves are more efficient than hotplates (resistive coils used as the heating element to heat the pan). Fifteen years ago induction stoves were touted as efficient, and this idea was picked up by some energy planners. The classic example is the programme in Ecuador. Once one group of professionals, or a government, uses a technology, it builds its own mythology, and so when ecooking was being discussed around 2018, advisers suggested induction as the appliance of choice. But many don’t understand the advantages and disadvantages of induction. For instance the EPC uses a resistive heating element. The tight fit between the pan and the element, inside a partly insulated housing means that it gives as good a heat transfer to the pot as an induction stove. Nevertheless you hear the ‘partially informed’ suggesting that induction is the only way forward – which we disagree with.
No, but our research shows that it can cook 90% of the daily menu of typical households in East Africa. The food is cooked in a deep pot, and so cooking a chapati where you want a shallow pot to flip it half way through presents a challenge (although some households have learnt how to cook chapati in an EPC). From that point of view induction stoves are more flexible, as long as you make the investment in a broad set of steel pots – induction only works with iron based cookware.
No. EPCs have been around for more than twenty years, and were initially championed by Instapot. In 2010 there were a few hundred in use, by 2015 there were hundreds of thousands in use across the developed economies. They were, however, marketed as time saving and convenient, an extra appliance for the modern kitchen. MECS saw the potential in them as energy efficient device and since our publication of research data and in the current energy crisis, people now acknowledge their energy saving potential.
Yes. Induction is more suited to Asian cooking, with its relatively short duration for cooking, (although Daals etc are better on an EPC). The Indian ecookbook gives a good insight into the foods best suited for the different appliances, and the relative costs. We would also consider infrared stoves, and we are working on a Solar Home System that uses resistive heating in a highly insulated environment, and a multi cooker that will be able to cook every type of food but will have tight energy control and strategic use of insulation to get maximum energy efficiencies.
By best we assume you mean most energy efficient? Recently we analysed the data across many of our research pilots, and came up with a simple guide based on the evidence. Compared to an average hotplate on the market which has a resistive heater, Induction stoves and Infrared stoves can save the user 10 to 20% of their energy use. An EPC can save 50%. This is real people using these devices over months of use, and across all their different cooking needs. (In another question we said an EPC uses one fifth of the energy of a hotplate – but that is for a long duration cooking of a single meal. Saving ‘half the energy’ compared to a hotplate is using an EPC for short and long duration cooking.)
That would be great, but we assume that people will be able to only afford one appliance? The cost effectiveness report shows how a combination of LPG and EPC is very cost effective, as would be an induction stove and EPC. That would give maximum flexibility for all cooking, but would incur possibly twice the upfront cost for the appliances. We are working towards a double plate appliance that incorporates the flexibility of induction with the advantages of an EPC, without demanding excessive power consumption.
The retail price of an EPC tends to be more than twice that of an induction stove of similar quality. However, the induction stove has to be used with pots and pans that have iron in them, and so often a person getting an induction stove also has to buy new pots. In which case the costs of induction plus pots is comparable, since the EPC comes with a pot.
We have worked with households and families, and with minimal training (like one hour of showing the family the buttons and what they do) most households can use an EPC. Most African households have at least one mobile phone and they are technically illiterate. (Perhaps with the exception of Granny who cant quite get her head around this ‘new fangled stuff’)
Air fryers are indeed very energy efficient. They are a simple rebranding of a fan oven, and the use of fan ovens in developed economies has been shown to lead to energy saving. By making a small fan oven (and calling it an ‘air fryer’) the kitchen appliance industry has indeed created an alternative to large ovens that use energy to heat a large metal box. Once again though, air fryers are great at cooking some foods, but not all.
The upfront cost of an appliance can be a challenge for households. It can be overcome by offering credit either through traditional Microfinance options or as ‘Pay as you go’. Some of the devices we are now working with have built in monitoring of the power consumption, and this can be used to confirm PAYG use. We have also developed a method which leverages this monitoring to access carbon finance which can reduce the initial cost and mitigate the ongoing fuel costs. It is worth noting that the initial cost of the equipment is a small fraction of the overall fuel costs of 10 years cooking, and so the savings created by the energy efficient appliance pay back the device very quickly.
Yes. Even where electricity is generated by fossil fuels, there are a saving of carbon emissions when compared to unsustainable biomass. We have leveraged the ease by which the use of the device can be monitored to create more accurate verification of the appliances use. See here.
Very much so. Our answers to the questions above may seem very technology orientated, but our research looks at all the socio-economic factors that affect this cooking space. Gender dynamics are particularly important as it is women and children who are disadvantaged by the current situation. Since we are trying to encourage a scaled response to our proposed strategies we engaged deeply with policy frameworks.
On what support we might offer
At the start of the programme, we had a number of challenge funds for innovation of technology and business models. As the technology and business models have matured, we have pivoted the more recent challenge funds to focus on the supply chain and system design including mini grids. We are open to giving small grants for innovative ideas and you can send ideas to Mecs@Lboro.ac.uk – however, please ensure you give sufficient information as to the idea and how it fits in the global challenge regarding the enduring problem of clean cooking, and please make sure the idea is not a duplication of other research on our site.
No, the MECS programme does not offer grants for any type of personal study. Loughborough University is committed to higher education and does host PhDs, but you would need to approach Loughborough University through the usual channels.
MECS is part of the Ayrton Fund of the UK government. The Ayrton Fund is a £1b commitment to energy access. A new website that enables a search for resources across the whole of the Ayrton Fund will be available, but here is the UK Govt based introduction. We regularly work with other agencies such as ESMAP, GIZ Endev, SEforALL, GEAPP among others, all of whom have programmes and funding for energy access.