- 7th December 2022
By Syprose Ochieng1, Beryl Onjala1, Christina Kiwiri2, Jon Leary1, Stewart Craine3
- Gamos East Africa
- Kenya Power and Lightening Company
- Village Infrastructure Angels
In this blog, we aim to highlight the new opportunities that were shared at the virtual dialogue on the 8th of November 2022 “the state of the art of the emerging solar eCooking sector”. This is part of a series of dialogues run by the eCooking Community of Practice (CoP), which is co-convened by the African Centre for Technology Studies (ACTS), Kenya Power, Gamos East Africa, and the Clean Cooking Association of Kenya (CCAK) and supported by UK Aid via the Modern Energy Cooking Services (MECS) and UK PACT programmes.
Continuous usage of inefficient fuels generates an array of health risks and climate-damaging consequences. Greenhouse gas emissions from incomplete combustion of biomass fuels for cooking and deforestation aggregate 1 gigaton of carbon dioxide per year, representing about 2 percent of global emissions, commensurate with emissions from aviation and shipping . An affordable alternative to this now exists.
Solar energy has brought new opportunities to marginalized people in off-grid areas around the globe. Solar photovoltaic (PV) panels transform sunlight into electrical energy, which can be either used directly with DC appliances or stored as electrical power in batteries or as heat in thermal storage.
Solar thermal cookers and ovens have been in existence for centuries . In Kenya, for instance, thousands of refugees in Kakuma refugee camp have been using low-cost, sun-fueled ovens after an intervention by an American NGO Solar Cookers International in January 1995. This initiative dissuaded the refugees from their reliance on the speedily dwindling forests of Northwest Kenya. Over 22,000 families and more than 100,000 people benefited from the solar cookers. Surveys of the refugees disclosed that solar cookers allowed them to save 27% of their firewood on average, while others saved up to 70% among other things like better health due to less air pollution and fewer burns . However, solar thermal cookers have struggled to reach scale in mainstream markets as they require substantial changes to the way you cook, such as cooking outside and only cooking in the daytime when the sun is out.
Despite rapidly expanding access to electricity through both grids, mini-grid, and solar home systems, most Kenyans still rely on biomass energy for cooking. This slow uptake is attributed to several barriers, particularly on the main grid. Among those barriers that have been frequently highlighted is the belief that electric cooking is expensive, and unreliable . Cultural beliefs and internal household decision making notably in Sub-Saharan Africa where women are not the primary decision-makers on energy preferences are also among the hindrances experienced ; .
However, new opportunities are opening for cost-effective and reliable eCooking solutions due to the ongoing reduction in price for solar photovoltaics (PV) and lithium-ion batteries, the development of energy-efficient DC eCooking appliances, and the success of PayGo and other digital financing models. What is more, solar eCooking can also enable access to other popular energy services, such as TV, radio, and phone charging, which will prove critical in persuading male decision-makers to make a purchase.
Solar eCooking contribution to social, economic, and environmental concerns
This session brought together many of the key actors in Kenya’s emerging solar eCooking sector, highlighting how solar eCooking can provide an innovative solution to the multifaceted social, economic, and environmental concerns surrounding biomass use.
Stewart Craine of Village Infrastructure Angels through his presentation on comparative cost analysis of solar eCooking with other popular fuels such as LPG (Liquid Petroleum Gas) kerosene, wood, charcoal, and bioethanol, observed that solar eCooking can now provide a cost-effective alternative and the solar lithium battery titanate has up to over 20–30-year life at maximum. Their study showed the discounted cost of solar electric cooking could be up to 80% cheaper than expenditures on cooking fuels. The retail price for Athel Technology’s ecoMpishi is $500-800, which translates to about 2 to 4 years of typical current urban fuel expenditures on charcoal or LPG (Liquid Petroleum Gas) gas. Additionally, the automation of cooking processes is possible with electric cooking which is not the case with many other cooking energy options, hence enabling multi-tasking and creating even more time savings. However, it is important to note that solar-powered eCooking appliances can only be affordable if accompanied by appropriate consumer financing options.
In another presentation by Anastacia Kamau of SCODE on solar electric cooking system pilots in rural areas of Nakuru county, the findings also echoed Stewart’s view that the cost of solar eCooking was favourable compared to other fuels. This programme has improved women’s and men’s health, food security, and income levels due to fewer hours spent fetching firewood, burning air-polluting fuels, and time spent cooking. However, the study also highlighted the need to ensure accessibility of the appliances in the market, financing mechanisms for eCooking appliances, quality assurance, and after-sales service.
Athel Technology represented by Omina Wandera presented on their ecoMpishi solar eCookers, which are already commercially available on the Kenyan market. Like other panellists, Omina noted that “solar eCooking solutions are the future” and through EcoMpishi households are cooking for free, they are reducing emissions and deforestation among the communities they work with.
Lastly, Sandra Banda, from Strathmore University shared their project on Productive Use in Rural African Markets using Stand Alone Solar (PURAMS). The project aims to address the challenges caused by traditional cooking methods that rural African communities face.
It is being implemented in Kenya, Rwanda, and Mozambique as part of the LEAP-RE (Long-Term Joint Research and Innovation Partnership on Renewable Energy between the European Union and the African Union) programme and aims to develop a solar-powered clean cooking solution designed around local cooking needs in these countries.
In conclusion, solar eCooking could offer nations such as Kenya with sizeable off-grid populations a new route to achieving sustainable development goal number 7 (SDG7) by tackling one of the key barriers to electric cooking – the lack of access to grid electricity. Kenya is still not the best market for solar eCooking due to the inflated costs of fuels in general, however, putting in place eCooking financial mechanisms that are fit for the Kenyan market and that have realistic payback periods could encourage more manufacturers and investors into the market. More innovation is needed.
1-IEA, IRENA, UNSD, World Bank, WHO (World Health Organisation), “Tracking SDG (Sustainable Development Goals)SDG (Sustainable Development Goals) 7: The Energy Progress,” World Bank, Washington DC, 2022.
2-UN Climate Technology Centre and Network (CTCN), “Solar Cooking,” [Online]. Available: https://www.ctc-n.org/technologies/solar-cooking.
3-Inter Action, “Success Stories from our members in the field, American Council for Voluntary International Action, Global Partnership for Effective Assistance”.
4-IEA, “WEO-2017 Special Report: Energy Access Outlook,” 2017.
5-G. Miller and A. Mobarak, “Gender Differences in Preferences, Intra-household Externalities, and Low Demand for Improved Cookstoves,” NBER Working Paper No. 18964. 18964, 2013.
6-E. Brown and et.al, “eCook: what behavioral challenges await this potentially transformative concept? ” Sustain. Energy Technol. Assess., no. 22, 2017.
Featured Image: Image by SunPot Cooker