Your web browser is out of date. Update your browser for more security, speed and the best experience on this site.

Update browser

Is Electricity Really too Expensive for Cooking?

22nd June 2022

by Jon Leary and Beryl Onjala (Gamos East Africa).

At home, many of us have been encouraged to cook with anything but electricity. This advice is often based on historical perceptions of old-fashioned, inefficient appliances that would eat up your tokens in a flash or leave you with a huge bill at the end of the month. In those days, it was almost laughable to imagine a world in which cooking a meal with electricity from start to finish would cost less than other popular cooking fuels such as charcoal.   The rising cost of cooking fuels and new developments in the electric cooking appliance market mean that it is now worth taking another look at cooking with electricity. Today’s modern energy-efficient appliances are not just a technology of convenience for the wealthy, but also an increasingly affordable way for the common mwananchi to get dinner on the table.

The perception of electricity as ‘too expensive for cooking’ is not entirely unfounded. Cooking with inefficient electrical appliances such as a hotplate or an oven does consume excessive amounts of power. This will be expensive and will likely add to the cost of living for households switching from other fuels. for those of us with mixed fuel stoves, we would sooner pause cooking activities to refill the gas cylinder than switch to using the hotplate portion of the cooker.

However, with the evolution in technology, modern energy-efficient appliances that are capable of producing the same delicious food with a fraction of the energy consumption are now available. For example, the Kenya eCookbook, compiled by researchers in the Modern Energy Cooking Services (MECS) programme, shows how the electric pressure cooker (EPC) is seven times cheaper at cooking heavy foods such as beans versus an electric hotplate. This is because of its insulation (which keeps the heat in), pressurisation (which makes boiling much faster) and automation (which turns off the power as soon as it reaches the correct temperature). Since the publication of the eCookBook, charcoal prices spiked after the logging ban, kerosene prices were increased to prevent the adulteration of petrol and diesel; and LPG prices have shot up with global supply chain challenges and the reimposition of VAT. Meanwhile, the cost of power is still roughly the same at around 17 bob per unit for lifeline customers and 23 for regular households.

Results of an experiment to determine the relative costs of boiling beans with different fuels and cooking devices.
Source: Kenya eCookBook, MECS programme.

These findings have also been confirmed by other institutions, including the Kenya Renewable Energy Association Energy (KEREA), the Efficiency for Access Coalition/60 Decibels and the World Bank. The recently released KEREA Price Index found that it is cheaper to cook using electricity than LPG.

The World Bank’s ‘Cooking with Electricity: A Cost Perspective’ report compared the cost of cooking with electricity with other popular fuels in four countries, including Kenya. It concluded that many Kenyan households could save money by adopting energy-efficient electric cooking appliances. At the time of publication, when gas prices were much lower, cooking all your food with electricity was found to be slightly more expensive than LPG, but still much cheaper than charcoal for households in Nairobi. Meanwhile, when assessing outcomes from a program in which 5,000 households purchased EPCs, the Efficiency for Access Coalition found that 35% of customers self-reported a decrease in overall household expenses and improved savings after acquiring the EPC.

“The cost has gone down from buying a sack of charcoal at 1,450 shillings to now spending an extra 150 shillings on electricity.” – Female, 31, featured in Uses & Impacts of Electric Pressure Cookers, Insights from Kenya, Efficiency for Access Coalition, and 60 Decibels.

The widespread concern that electricity is too expensive for cooking is also addressed in a working paper by Nigel Scott (Gamos Ltd.) and Matthew Leach (Gamos Ltd., University of Surrey). The study analysed collated data generated by the MECS programme on both energy consumption and costs of cooking associated with a range of fuels and devices. Results show that cooking with charcoal uses 15 times the energy used by an electric pressure cooker (EPC) and cooking with LPG uses four times the energy used by an EPC. Based on aggregated data from multiple countries and the range of fuel prices found in the study countries, the cost of cooking with an EPC is approximately one third the cost of using LPG, and less than 20% of the cost of using charcoal.

One may raise concerns about the upfront cost of obtaining electric cooking appliances, especially the modern energy-efficient appliances that can enable you to make big savings in the long run. A typical ceramic charcoal stove may sell for 500 bob, whilst an EPC will be at least 5,000. The short answer to this is that the low cost of cooking offsets the cost of obtaining these appliances. However, there are now a growing set of options for consumers to break down this high upfront cost into affordable repayments. Nairobians can use LipaLater to take home an appliance today and pay in monthly instalments. Outside of the city, Bidhaa Sasa already sells EPCs on credit through a network of women’s savings groups in rural Western Kenya. What is more, pay-as-you-go solar systems can now be found across the country because they can lock out the device if a customer hasn’t kept up with repayments. A growing number of companies, including MKopa and PowerPay, are now exploring how similar digitally-enabled business models can be applied to the electric cooking sector.

To conclude, whilst you may have saved money in the past by sticking to charcoal, you’re now likely burning a hole in your pocket if you continue to ignore the array of digital cooking technologies we now have on our doorstep.

A version of this article was published in the Daily Nation on 3rd June, 2022.


Featured image, top: Pressure cookers from different companies on display at the model kitchen in the e-cooking hub, Nakuru County (image credit: Ruth Wambui, Gamos East Africa, 2022).