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'Leveraging Electric Cooking Globally'

13th January 2023

By Dr Simon Batchelor (Gamos Ltd.; Loughborough University)

The Global Cooksafe Coalition (GCC) exists to promote universal access to safe and sustainable cooking by 2030 in new OECD kitchens, 2035 in new LMIC kitchens,  and 2040 in existing OECD kitchens and 2045 for LMIC kitchens.  When we were asked to sign up for some global aspirations on electrical cooking we jumped at the chance.   Let me try to explain why.

In our research on how to game change the enduring problem of cooking with biomass we initially considered multiple modern energy fuels and we firmly believe the consumer should have choices.  However, as our research progressed, the evidence seemed more and more to point to a role for electricity in the kitchen – one that had been neglected in previous ‘clean cooking’ work, and indeed also the ‘future’ kitchen was neglected as a load factor on electrical networks in low- and middle-income countries.

Now, we are not saying that electricity is a silver bullet, but electricity use for cooking should at least be seriously considered by ‘clean cooking’ proponents, and as a demand by electricity network planners, and of course by governments and donors who want to increase access to modern energy generally and tackle clean cooking in line with SDG7.  Until the last decade electricity use in the kitchen in many low and middle income countries was unrealistic, but tremendous gains have been made in the last 10 to 15 years, and countries such as Kenya  and Nepal now have surplus electricity and can create a win win situation by encouraging electric cooking on energy efficient appliances – a win for the consumer as the monthly cost is less than alternatives, less than charcoal and less than LPG, and a win for the utility that has better matching between its supply and demand.  For a country such as Nepal the aspiration is also to move away from relying on a fossil fuel coming from India and utilise its own resources – increased energy security.

But Simon, I hear you say, to have a few specific examples of where electricity fits the concept of a clean kitchen is surely not enough to justify a call for all new kitchens to focus on electricity (in OECD by 2030, in LMIC by 2035), and all kitchens (in OECD by 2040, and LMIC by 2045).

My answer has three parts: – i) Overlay all the above aspirations with some other features of existing electrical infrastructure trends, ii) consider the call for a Net Zero Carbon world and iii) reflect on how slow and how rapid the world can change.

i) Electrical infrastructure is evolving.  Smart demand management is opening new possibilities, demands for electrification of transport is pushing forward learnings in storage and load management, renewable energy technologies are delivering at lower and lower prices per unit, renewables are prompting a decentralisation of national grid networks, new configurations are opening new possibilities.  All this in an environment where there is significant investment.  In India, $54 billion was spent on the electrical networks each year for the last four years, in developing Asia $34 billion, even in Sub Saharan Africa $24 billion (IEA 2022).   Leveraging existing infrastructure makes sense.  Indeed it can be a cheap option for governments to pivot to clean cooking, as evidenced in the recent Nigerian SE4All integrated energy plan.

ii) Low carbon technologies will have to be used.  Our world is facing a crisis, one which seems we are not taking particularly seriously.  COP26 took a shot at the inefficient subsidies of fossil fuels – trillions every year, to keep using a fuel that delivers emissions into the atmosphere.  The future trend must surely be toward decarbonisation, and electricity is a means of utilising low carbon technologies.  If I may digress a moment.  Many African leaders are currently arguing that Africa didn’t cause Climate Change and therefore should be allowed to keep using fossil fuels (mainly gas) to build their economies.  As a headline this seems reasonable for a just transition, but it seems to sidestep those trillions of inefficient subsidies.  If they are removed, then the general price of oil will likely rise.  Consider the recent rise because one source of oil (Russia) was constrained in supplying the world.  What happens if in the next twenty years the oil industry is totally restructured, will Africa be left with stranded assets, and consumers paying high prices for LPG (and reverting to biomass)?  I leave that unanswered and end this paragraph pointing back to the idea that renewables are becoming cheaper, storage technologies are becoming cheaper, energy efficient eCooking appliances are becoming more efficient, decentralised electricity generation is becoming more flexible – they must do to reach  a Net Zero World.

iii) And my third justification for signing up to the GCC statement is to compare where we are with the story of Mobile Money!  If in 2000 (when the London young elite still had small bricks to their ears), we had said that by 2020 most African households will have mobile phones, that alone would have sounded a crazy prediction.  But to add, ‘and they will be able to pay for goods and services with them’, that would have seemed certifiable.  However, such is the nature of an accelerating technological world that mobile money (which is mainly Africa and Asia) has become a trillion dollar a year industry within twenty years.  Mobile phones themselves leapt over frustrating and painful African landline telephones, and mobile money leapt over 5 hour queues at a bank just to cash a cheque.   Mobiles themselves ‘won’ because they didn’t depend on wires like landlines, they were an alternative ecosystem, which had both localised connectivity and satellite fill ins, and they (carefully) bridged the gap between connectivity and financial inclusion – and such that now the banks themselves have better systems too.  Renewables could make similar leap frogs – changing the ecosystem to new configurations that are nimble and adapt with new (decentralised, digital, wireless, smart) infrastructure. 

And so it is statements like the GCC one that will build our aspiration and inspiration to move the world towards such a leap.  If we had stuck with where the discussion about financial inclusion was in 2000, then mobile money would have never existed (until maybe today when digital payments have now become common in OECD countries – but Africa got there first!).  If we hadn’t set the SDG goals, political commitment to alleviating poverty would have been worse than it is.  That’s why we need aspirational statements and at MECS we were comfortable signing up to the GCC statement.

Disclaimer – MECS is funded by UK Aid however the views expressed here are personal and should not be construed as official UK Aid Policy’.

Read GCC’s full report on: The Future of Cooking is Electric
Visit GCC’s home page here: Home – Global Cooksafe Coalition (GCC)
Watch GCC’s inaugural video here: Cooksafe inaugural video

Featured Image Credit: Global Cooksafe Coalition (GCC)

Opportunity: Women in Modern Energy Cooking (WMEC) initiative launched