- 1st December 2021
By Joanes Atela, Victoria Chengo, Joel Onyango (African Centre for Technology Studies (ACTS))
Cooking with electricity presents a strategic opportunity for a large scale clean energy transformation in Kenya in line with SDG7’s goal to achieve universal access to energy. With over 73% of households already connected to electricity and plans for reaching those remaining (KPLC, 2018), there is a real opportunity now for eCooking. This blog underscores how strengthening the linkages between Kenya’s well-established clean cooking sector and its thriving electrification sector is key to unlocking opportunities for transforming the clean cooking agenda.
The clean cooking challenge
In Kenya, over 70% of the population still depend on biomass energy forms for cooking (ESMAP, 2020), with most people depending on firewood, charcoal, and kerosene (GLPGP, 2019). Kenya has put in place multiple efforts towards achieving a clean cooking transition from biomass to cleaner options such as improved jikos. This has also been followed by the emerging efforts by the private sector and Government to support the uptake of LPG through initial subsidies and strengthening the distribution chain.
The country’s efforts towards clean cooking have historically followed the narrow techno-centric path where clean cooking is seen as an isolated venture rather than a wider developmental issue. This meant that, in practice, technologies such as clean cook stoves, LPG, etc., were deployed with little connections to the wider developmental opportunities, such as the increased access to renewable energy. With the exception of LPG, most of the historically promoted clean cooking options have overtime failed to produce long-term transformation and the anticipated economic, health, environmental, and gender benefits.
The opportunity for e-cooking in Kenya
The ambition to achieve universal clean cooking in Kenya is developing at a time when the country’s electricity supply is rapidly expanding, presenting a fresh path towards sustainable growth. The country has made enormous progress on electrification, with coverage increasing from 29% to 73% in just 5 years (KPLC, 2018). The Last Mile Electrification programme has extended the national grid into rural areas and densified the network to reach low-income households. The majority of Kenya’s grid electricity i.e., over 70%, is generated from renewable sources, with geothermal being the most significant source (GoK, 2021).
The increased electricity connectivity combined with the ambitious clean cooking targets present a new window of opportunity around electric cooking. Cooking with electricity (e-cooking) provides Kenya with an opportunity to connect clean cooking into the progress made by the country’s thriving electrification sector, thereby supporting the achievement of both the electricity access and clean cooking dimensions of SDG7 simultaneously. Brokering strategic partnerships between actors in the electricity access and clean cooking sectors could play a vital role in catalysing this transition.
Some of the intervening opportunities to catalyse e-cooking
First, a key challenge to e-cooking adoption in Kenya is the lack of integrated partnerships and coordination between clean cooking and electrification programmes. Strengthening partnerships and coordination between these stakeholders could unveil new opportunities for addressing the bottlenecks constraining e-cooking adoption.
Second, Kenya has a rich policy ecosystem which is supportive of the transition to e-cooking across sectors, but there is still some mismatch in priorities in various policy-agencies within the energy sector. Some agencies are already promoting e-cooking e.g., KPLC, but others are still championing traditional options such as clean cookstoves. There is also weak coordination across agencies. Kenya’s new Integrated Energy Plan could potentially address this issue, provided it offers clear messaging. The Plan provides a framework for linking clean cooking to opportunities in the electrification sector and to create multi-sectoral benefits.
Third, the country still relies on just a few companies to develop e-cooking appliances. This has meant that either e-cooking appliances are not easily available in various outlets or are expensive especially for the low-income earners who are largely still stuck with traditional cooking fuels. To address this concern, there is need to strengthen partnerships between local actors and emerging international players involved with e-cooking appliances. Furthermore, linking them to financiers could help to spread the high upfront cost into manageable repayments, as well as advocate for policy incentives that could expand the manufacturing and supply capacity.
Fourth, e-cooking is still perceived to be expensive due to the high initial costs especially for the low-income earners. Developing or tapping into existing pro-poor financing instruments such as Pay-as-you-Go and soft loans could help unlock the relatively big market for e-cooking available in the low to middle income earners who form 80% of energy users in Kenya. Achieving this might require brokering or strengthening partnerships between local groups such as women groups with microfinance entities, e.g., SACCOS. Further, linking e-cooking entrepreneurs to large financial platforms can spur the development of start-ups and business models that can create consumer and supplier confidence. Exploring additional opportunities in the climate change space, e.g., e-cooking emission reduction standards, can attract GCF funding and align e-cooking to mitigation and resilience building.
Finally, although there are a number of well-established awareness platforms facilitating knowledge exchange and better coordination for stakeholders in the clean cooking and electrification sectors, respectively (e.g. the Clean Cooking Association of Kenya and the African Mini-grid Developers Association), there is little coordination and awareness between these two sectors. Addressing this challenge through stakeholder engagement may include building on existing platforms to create national and county level e-cooking knowledge exchange platforms (or e-cooking hubs). These platforms could offer research data, stakeholder databases including who is doing what, projects/initiatives, opportunities, etc, and engage mainstream and social media as well as food bloggers to widely disseminate information to the public. A community of practice could build on the e-cooking platform to further accelerate the adoption of e-cooking.
This blog highlights that stakeholders are key to unlocking and enabling opportunities for transforming the clean cooking agenda, not just as a standalone pursuit, but by connecting it to Kenya’s successful electrification sector. The blog demonstrates the multiple opportunities to enhance the adoption of e-cooking and transform the clean cooking agenda for Kenya by brokering strategic partnerships between actors in the clean cooking and electrification sectors.
Featured image: Hannah Blair/CLASP/Efficiency for Access