The Sustainable Development Goals 7 calls for universal access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, modern energy for all by 2030. But in 2016, a year after the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was adopted by all United Nations Member States, 3 billion people (41% of the world’s population) were still cooking with polluting fuel and stove combinations.
In sub-Saharan Africa alone, 550,000 people die prematurely every year from respiratory diseases related to indoor cooking. “We are nowhere near to addressing the problem,” said Peter Scott in Wexford, Ireland last week, for the second edition of the Pathways to Clean Cooking conference. Scott is the founder and CEO of BURN Manufacturing Co. He is also one of the world’s leading experts in cookstove commercialisation. His company has sold over 330,000 clean burning cookstoves since 2013, impacting the lives of more than 1.7 million people by helping them reduce charcoal consumption by 56% and fuel expenditures by $150–200 per year.
Cooking over polluting, open fires or inefficient stoves emits one-quarter of global black carbon emissions, the second largest contributor to climate change after carbon dioxide. In many countries, especially in the Global South, cooking over open fires or inefficient stoves is the norm. These methods entails burning fuels like wood, charcoal, coal, and kerosene, all of which releases harmful, climate-warming emissions. If current trends continue, it is estimated that 2.3 billion people will continue to use traditional cooking methods in 2030.
Polluting the planet and the people
The health and well-being of some 3 billion people are still adversely impacted by the lack of clean cooking fuels today. This is especially true for women and children, who are typically the main procurers and users of household energy. The use of solid fuels with inefficient stoves for cooking leads to high levels of household air pollution, which cause severe pneumonia and respiratory infections in children.
The solution lies in transitioning to cleaner fuels and technologies, like gas and electricity, and improvements in stove efficiency. Replacing polluting, open fires or inefficient stoves with “cleaner” stoves and fuels reduces emissions and personal exposure, lowering the burden of disease, especially among women and children, as well as preserving the environment.
Anne Osinga is a product engineer and entrepreneur with over 25 years of experience in the field of mass produced products aiming for social impact. One of his venture, Mimi Moto, develops efficient and affordable biomass cooking stoves to make cooking more healthy in emerging markets. His product is an affordable forced air gasifier cookstove specifically designed to burn cheap, locally produced biomass fuel such as wood pellets. By gasifying wood instead of burning it directly (like on an open fire) the extracted gasses burn as a nice and clean flame.
A diversity of solutions and a solution that fits the people
Before we can see any of the health progress, we need to drive consumer demand for cleaner stoves and fuels. Unfortunately, it is estimated that about 2 billion people will still not be able to afford the current solutions by the next decade. “50% people in Malawi live below the poverty line; they can’t afford clean cooking stove” explains Yamungu Botha, CEO of Sunfire Limited, a social business, that has reached about 135 thousand households since 2016.
In order to achieve international goals on human health, climate and energy justice and environmental quality we need a diversity of energy solutions. “When it comes to clean cooking, there is no one size fits all solutions,” emphasise the experts in Wexford. Every community is different, they have different priorities.
It goes without saying that the solutions proposed to the customers need to be appropriate to their culture and habits, it needs to be a good fit. It hasn’t always been the case, “we all have sad stories of unsuccessful projects” recalls the experts who remember piles of abandoned cook stoves in villages where projects weren’t well-rolled out. “Having good information can make the difference for the success or not of the project” explains Jaime Navia Antezama, an expert from Mexico. Having a good idea on the user’s perception on the clean cookstoves is essential. “People need to know how the products work, how to fix them, and why they are better alternatives for their health and for the environment,” he continues.
Gathering that information and working on understanding what is going to work best for the users is one of the main mission of Nexleaf Analytics, an organisation that works on evaluating a basket of solutions in a defined region. Time and information are key to success. “If you are an organisation working to provide clean cooking solutions to households around the world, don’t take shortcuts! We have a responsibility towards the women” concludes Tara Ramanathan, Clean Energy Program Director of Nexleaf Analytics.
For many of the experts in Wexford, “the technology is here” and there is not really a need for more innovations. However, we still need to address issues of affordability and lack of consumer awareness about the benefits of clean cooking, and we need a viable model to scale these solutions so that really no-one is left behind.
— Words by Anne-Sophie Garrigou