Monthly Archives: July 2015

Are we in danger of just doing what we always have done?

In the recent report THE STATE OF THE GLOBAL CLEAN AND IMPROVED COOKING SECTOR by ESMAP and GACC, they seem to have lost sight of electrcity???

In the forward to the main report Rihot Khanna states:-  “This is a moment of great opportunity for the clean cooking sector. [Agreed]  While experts have been working for decades on improving cookstoves and scaling up access to clean cooking fuels and technologies, only recently has this issue become a major priority on the global development agenda. The world has woken up to the serious health, environmental, and economic impacts of continued dependence on biomass for cooking. At the same time, rapid progress in technology and new financial mechanisms to support this sector have made real change possible.”  The forward notes that “The three overarching SE4ALL goals to be achieved by 2030—universal access to modern energy services, doubling the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix, and doubling the rate of improvement of energy efficiency—have now been broadly accepted, including by 82 developing countries that have opted into SE4ALL.”

And yet as the report progresses there is little reference to electricity as a potential modern fuel for substituting for biomass, the great smoke killer.  Radha Muthiah, Chief Executive Officer, Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, appeals in his opening for a vision:- “Consider, for a moment, the simple act of cooking. Imagine if we could change the way nearly five hundred million families cook their food each day. It could slow climate change, drive gender equality, and reduce poverty. The health benefits would be enormous.”   He goes on to note that “Four years ago, when the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves (Alliance) was first launched, the issue of household air pollution and the enormous health toll that the smoke from traditional cookstoves and fuels took on the lives of women and their families in the developing world, received far less attention and funding than it deserved. Hundreds of millions of women were literally risking their lives each day to cook food for their families over inefficient cookstoves and polluting open fires, and spending hours gathering fuel often at great personal risk.”  And he rightly points to the progess “With growing global attention and a shift from an aid-driven approach to a market-based one that is built on the premise of sustainability, there are now at least 20 million additional households using cleaner and/or more efficient cookstoves and fuels around the world.

While we agree progress has been made, we see a shortsightedness that does not set the poor up for 2030.  The world seems to be currently overlooking new options for clean modern fuels for cooking and this report exemplifies the emerging challenge.  The momentum of local industries creating clean cookstoves that are more efficient and less polluting than open stone fires, is in danger of focusing donor and market interventions on more of the same.  Without stepping back and considering what the world will look like in 2030, we will not be able to put in place the technology and market systems to move the majority of biomass consumers to clean modern fuels.

Dare I say that the Alliance for Clean cookstoves would do well to consider electricity as a potentially transformative fuel for cooking, and that this includes both grid and off grid renewable systems.

How much energy does it take to cook with electricity? Part 2

So in the last blog How much energy does it take to cook with electricity? I settled on 1.2kWh per day for a family of four.

This is important assumption because double the energy required (Balmer) and you double the cost – no brainer.

Arguably this is base load, and one may perhaps to prefer to design for peak load.  But what is peak load?  When 6 adult relatives descend for a 5 day visit?  I would argue that under these conditions the charcoal stove is brought out of retirement.  The literature points out that even in cases of improved stoves, people retain their old stoves for special occasions.  In a standard kitchen in the West we have at least 6 devices for cooking (kettle, toaster, stove, oven, etc).  Therefore it seems reasonable to design for the base load at the start and leave the peak loading to other devices – until electricity has become so common and so cheap that all cooking can be catered for (excuse the pun).

Some other random notes:-

  • Much of our food here in UK is pre –processed. Pasta takes so little to cook because it has already had energy invested in it during manufacture.  There are reports on how much energy it takes to cook pasta, but these are not so relevant to Africa.
  • Before I found Cowan 2008, which gave me experimental real world data on how much energy a meal took to cook, I undertook my own theoretical compilation of energy requirements. I gathered all the recipes I could find for African meals from the internet.  Unpacking the stated recipes into its stages ‘bring to boil’, simmer for 1 hour’ etc, I assigned energy per minute to each stage.  The result was the following graph.  However this is based on certain assumptions about the energy for each stage, so changing simmering from say 150W to 200Wmakes a lot of difference.  Spreadsheet available.
  • graph of african recipes and energy
  • 150W or 200W for simmering. This actually depends on whether there is a lid for the pan or not.  And this moves into behaviour change territory.  The actual energy used per meal will depend on whether households can be encouraged to adopt energy efficient behaviour.  The lid is the case in point!  Putting  a lid on simmering food makes a huge difference.  Therefore I am assuming that an educational campaign is attached to any roll out of electric cooking, showing people how they can maximise the use of the energy they have (and minimise the consumption).
  • Colleagues in Bangladesh and Nottingham have taken this thought one step further and have worked on insulating the immediate cooking area (not the pot per say but retaining the heat near the pot). A student project in Nottingham was able to reduce the energy required for cooking by 60%  (electric heating of a pan of soup).  Potentially then, the 1.2KWh could be reduced.  I see this as a latter stage to any planned scaling of shifting households from biomass to electricity.  I assumed we would start with a simple hot plate that would take any existing pot.

Cowan 2008   Alleviation of Poverty through the Provision of Local Energy Services APPLES (Project no. EIE-04-168) Project Deliverable No. 17: Identification and demonstration of selected energy best practices for low-income urban communities in South Africa

Balmer, M. 2007. Energy Poverty and cooking energy requirements: The forgotten issue in South African energy policy? Journal of Energy in Southern Africa, Vol, 18, No.3

How much energy does it take to cook with electricity?

This is a very key question for the proposition.  Most writing about African cooking is based on biomass cooking.  Even with improved stoves control of the cooking process is nowhere near to that given by LPG gas, Kerosene, even ethanol gel, and of course electricity.  It is this control that reduces the amount of energy required.

A key revision of energy required for cooking is found in Balmer (2007).  He states:-

“The World Energy Council (1999) found that daily cooking energy consumption per capita varied from 11.5 to 49 MJ, based on field measurements. Despite a wide range of locations and conditions, the range of consumption is quite small. In households where modern cooking energy sources and equipment are used, and the preparation of partially cooked food is common, specific fuel consumption is found to be in the region of 2 to 3 MJ/capita/day.”  Balmer 2007

However, even here although he acknowledges that modern energy requires a lot less than biomass, he does not dig into the details of the amount of energy required with modern cooking.  Indeed I am not sure where he gets his 2 to 3MJ/capita/day which is 2.2 to 3.3KWh per day per household of 4 person.

As you will know electricity is barely used in Africa for cooking, even among the elite.  The reasons include price but are more often stated as variations on the theme of unreliability.  I would argue that also Governments do not encourage use of electricity for cooking because it inevitably would add to the peak load, which they are already struggling with.

The one exception to the rule ‘Africans barely use electricity for cooking’ is South Africa.  With a steady supply and a level of wealth higher than many other African countries, it is possible to find people cooking with electricity.  To me this is important as it speaks to the effect of the price point (IF reliability is there) and to the behavioural change question.  Also from South Africa we can nuance how much energy it takes to cook an African meals.

The key work I have found is Cowan 2008.  Bill Cowan from University of Cape Town, as part of a EU funded project, actually got 80 households (household of 4) to cook with various fuels and measured their consumption.  He tried different categories of meals from rice and pasta, to the long slow cook of offal meat.  I attach an extract of his outcome.

Cowan energy graph

The bottom line to me is that a meal that has good meat takes about 0.5kWh (of electricity to cook), while a long slow simmering of offal or very poor cuts of meat can take over 1kWh.

Other works tell us that the norm for poorer sections of Africa (and indeed the world) is two meals a day, while the poor can sometimes be reduced to one meal a day.  It is true that aspirational is three meals a day, but I don’t believe a design should be based on this.

Logic then suggests that these two meals are unlikely to both be long slow simmering of offal.  One may be a long burn, while the other is a reheat of yesterdays food.  Similarly, there may be two rice based meals.

I have therefore in my calculations and notes so far taken 1.2kWh of useful electricity as my average requirement per day for a household of four.