- 9th February 2022
By Richard Sieff (Loughborough University), Biraj Gautam (PEEDA), Sam Williamson (University of Bristol), and Will Clements (University of Bristol).
A recent MECS Electric Cooking Outreach (ECO) pilot study in Nepal has demonstrated how the low power consumption of electric pressure cookers (EPCs) enables far greater numbers of people to consistently cook with electricity. 160 households across grid-connected South Lalitpur and an off-grid, micro-hydropower community in Solukhumbu took part in the study, which aimed to see whether EPCs fit the electricity supply and cooking culture of the communities. The project was carried out by the Nepali NGO, People, Energy and Environment Development Association (PEEDA) with project partners: University of Bristol; Kathmandu Alternative, Power and Energy Group (KAPEG); and Access to Energy Institute (A2EI).
eCooking leads to decreasing use of fossil fuels
The project initially distributed EPCs to 30 households in each site and monitored use through cooking diaries, dataloggers and surveys. Once introduced, the use of EPCs was significant and sustained. Figures 1-2 show that EPCs accounted for approximately 30% of cooking events in both sites from the transition (month 2) to the endline phase (month 6). Households also stated they intended to use the EPCs daily after the pilot. The increase in eCooking led to a corresponding fall in cooking with fossil fuels. In South Lalitpur, LPG use fell by 30% and firewood by 5%, while Solukhumbu saw a huge 55% decrease in firewood use, critical given the indoor air pollution from cooking with biomass is responsible for 24,000 deaths in Nepal per year.
Low EPC power consumption unlocks eCooking access
Results from the energy monitoring of EPCs highlighted another crucial benefit of the technology: EPCs have far less impact on the grid than other eCook stoves as they do not draw power continuously once they reach pressure. For instance, a grid which may only have a capacity for 10 x 1 kW hot plates should be able to accommodate more than 30 x 1 kW EPCs. This attribute is particularly important for weaker grids or off-grid systems and enabled the project to add an additional 80 EPCs in South Lalitpur (grid) and 20 in Solukhumbu (off-grid) as part of the project’s market rollout.
Increasing eCooking uptake: two eCook stoves the key
During the pilot, the menu changed little, reinforcing findings from previous studies that eCooking fits Nepali cooking practices. Households liked the EPC’s simplicity and that it didn’t need to be monitored, enabling people to carry out other tasks and cook other dishes simultaneously. These benefits also have potential wider social impacts as one participant highlighted:
“My Old mother has learned to cook rice in EPC by herself now. She is empowered in a way. Cooking is faster now”.
Households mainly used the EPC to cook rice; finding it more convenient than other stoves with no real change in taste. Additional training provided saw some households began using the EPC for other dishes (mainly daal), but the EPC was nearly always used with other fuels to prepare meals and very rarely used to cook dishes consecutively. Hot cases were provided to encourage consecutive cooking in the EPC but had little effect despite being popular. Interestingly, providing a second EPC inner pot (as frequently requested by households in this study and others), did not increase consecutive cooking either as people found the first dish was cold by the time the second had been cooked. However, five households provided with an extra EPC did use the two devices concurrently, supporting the study’s key conclusion that if households had access to two eCook devices, they would cook most of their food on electricity.
Increasing eCooking uptake: power supply and after sales services
In order to expand eCooking further, a more reliable power supply and local after sales services are required. Electricity supply issues were frequent at both sites (notably during the monsoon season) causing households to revert to their previous stoves, while 27 EPCs required maintenance due to insect infestation, malfunction, or accidental damage. To ensure consumers do not lose confidence in the technology, local repair and maintenance solutions are needed which should, in turn, create economic opportunities. Improving supply chains would also help consumer confidence by allowing durable, good quality products to be more consistently available and establish a reputation. Cost is also frequently perceived as a barrier despite EPCs offering significant savings against LPG and firewood (Table 1). For firewood, equivalent labour costs for collecting wood were used, although convincing customers and policy makers of this benefit can be challenging.
The findings from this project further strengthen the evidence base for eCooking in Nepal by showing how the low power demand of EPCs can enable a greater number of people to access eCooking even in off-grid locations or places with irregular grid supply. The project shows how EPCs are an important part of the transition to eCooking, but not the complete solution and that having two eCook devices would lead to households mostly cooking with electricity: a more flexible device (e.g. efficient induction stoves) to compliment the no monitoring convenience and low power demand of the EPC seems the most likely scenario. To realise this potential, policy makers and utility providers need to build a more reliable electricity supply, while a more decentralised supply chain and after sales services is also urgently required. In addition, to enable more equitable transitions to eCooking which are inclusive of lower income households, more trials at different price points are needed to better understand people’s purchasing capacity for an EPC and whether different financing mechanisms (e.g. PAYGO) might address potential upfront cost barriers.
For more information on the study, the PEEDA ECO final report is available on the MECS website.
Featured image, top: Participant preparing chicken gravy in an EPC. Additional training provided led to participants experimenting with the EPC to cook dishes other than staples such as rice and daal (image credit: PEEDA, 2021).