By Dr Nick Rousseau
People often say to me that the developing world isn’t yet ready for Electric Cooking. The prices are still too high, the benefits to the consumer are not clear, and electricity access is too erratic and unreliable. Maybe in a few years electric cooking would have potential.
So, I wanted to bring together observations that we’re seeing in a number of countries that suggest the change will be sooner than many think. There is a growing number of major organisations that are putting significant weight behind a belief that electric cooking is the way forward even in the short term, if we can mobilise the actors well enough. Utilities are really seeing the potential value to their interests of a growth in eCooking!
So here are a few observations from our work in India. I will post a subsequent one shortly on our work in East Africa.
The Government of India prioritised reducing deaths from household air pollution for many years, and as such, they have been in the forefront of investing in clean cooking solutions. Most notably, the Prime Minister Ujjawala Yojana programme (PMUY), which provided 80 million free LPG based gas connections for poor households.
This has resulted in very widespread adoption of LPG cooking across India – in March 2019, 94% of households were using LPG for cooking. However, the refill rate for the cylinders was much lower than you would expect if they were cooking with LPG regularly. And on our trips to India, we have repeatedly heard of households shifting away from LPG due to its increasing cost and reverting to fossil fuels or dung to save money. Significantly, these households have had the experience of cooking within a cleaner environment and so they really appreciate it and can understand that there are better options out there. We have also seen rural households that are using electricity where they can.
The Government of India also recognises that cooking with LPG is a major burden on the exchequer and has recently removed the subsidy for low-income households.
On my first visits to India in 2019, we were exploring the landscape and the key players, and at the time, the reactions to the idea of eCooking were a little muted – some could see it as a reality in the near future, others only saw the challenges. But things have changed dramatically in the last three years: at our India Modern Energy Cooking Forum in September 2022, the 50 or so, top level delegates were united that eCooking was the way to go. Building on India’s gains in electrification and access makes sense. They were equally united about the need to find solutions to the challenges and that this is the right approach at this time.
This is extremely encouraging, and we continue to benefit from the support, encouragement, and investment of resources of many great players in India.
In fact, we’ve seen proactive utilities such as CESC in Calcutta, already promoting electric cooking and encouraging us to look at the possibilities of street food vendors or even slum dwellers cooking with electricity. And they have helped us to start exploring the potential particularly with street food vendors of transitioning to eCooking (and possibly also eCooling).
We have spoken to many different stakeholders, from Government down to grass roots, and they all can see the value and that this would be a sensible step for street food vendors in India. A major funder that we are working with, is planning a baseline study to identify the interventions that will be needed to make that happen.
Many that were sceptical asked for evidence to persuade them, and we have delivered. The India eCookbook that Finovista developed showed that the Indian cooking can be cooked very well with electric pressure cookers as well as induction stoves, and that there are significant cost savings for consumers. Further, research yet to be published by GIZ India, demonstrates that the demand on the grid from eCooking would require only a small investment in additional infrastructure, the cost of which would be rapidly outweighed by the income generation that result from households cooking with electricity.
Colleagues at the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) used national data to investigate the current penetration of electric cooking in India, its usage pattern, its cost effectiveness compared to other clean alternatives, and households’ perception of switching to eCooking from their prevalent cooking fuels.
Armed with this evidence, we’ve been having very constructive dialogues with quite a range of ministries about eCooking, from the Ministry of Power to Ministry of New and Renewable Energy to the Ministry for Rural Development and the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs. In particular, we’ve developed a very positive relationship with the Prime Minister’s Principal Scientific Advisors office.
They recommended that we work with the National Institute for Advanced Studies (NIAS) in Bengaluru as it is highly respected by Government and their recommendations and analysis carry a lot of weight in informing national and State level policy.
We are now working with NIAS on a policy and evidence workshop to bring key stakeholders and experts together to identify which policy options could drive the transition and where the gaps in the evidence exist that need to be filled. This will inform a major study into the eCooking landscape and energy ecosystem.
This should go ahead alongside a programme we’re developing with the Global Green Growth Institute, to support large scale interventions to test and refine a roadmap for the National adoption of eCooking.
Finovista’s work with the business community in India has also been very effective and catalytic. Their Entrepreneurship Development Programme, that supported a group of leading eCooking entrepreneurs, has created a community of collaborative businesses and has been effective as a source of new ideas and inspiration. Many are now seeing substantial growth in their businesses.
This community of businesses has provided excellent opportunities to really engage with the realities on the ground of households and their cooking practices and preferences.
We’ve been learning how to mobilise grass roots groups to support the uptake of electric cooking and supporting IIT Mumbai to develop a supply chain of cooking solutions into Bihar.
We’ve also been supporting the recently endorsed Surya Nutan solar cooking device, developed by IndianOil and endorsed by Prime Minister Modi himself as a major new solution. This faces some significant challenges in the market, and we are helping them to think through their options and to develop new approaches at all stages of the supply chain, and again I think this is confirming that we can offer a lot of value as we partner with the Government of India in this journey.
As an example of this, the Bureau of Energy Efficiency that runs the GO Electric campaign, funded by the government of India, has invited us to work with them to develop a campaign which extends their current focus on Electric Vehicles to include electric cooking.
We are implementing the partnership with the EESL to run the first bulk procurement of eCooking devices – starting with 20,000 induction stoves and electric pressure cookers shortly, and EESL has announced a call for Expression of Interest: seeking proposals on solar based induction cooking solutions for Indian cooking applications through Carbon Financing.
Featured Image: Modern Energy Cooking Forum (India). September 2022. Photo credit: Finovista.