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This blog argues that research should be conducted now, with the intention of an affordable solar electric cooking product to be rolled out at scale in Africa by 2020.

The purpose of this blog is to stimulate debate among actors working in policy and practice in sustainable energy. It draws attention to the 3 Billion people who continue to use solid fuel (biomass, coal or dung) for their cooking needs, and suggests that this ongoing need for clean energy might now be filled by a solar electric system. It argues that the price of solar panels, batteries and simple electric hob equipment has come down significantly over the last 18 months, and a tipping point will be reached in 2020. The cost of the solar electric system will be within reach of African and Asian households.

Based on UK retail prices today, a solar electric cooking system can (and has) been brought together for £1000. Prices are based on 300Watt solar panel, 100Ah deep cycle battery and a 500/1000Watt electric hob with appropriate controllers. Allowing for mass production and with a little effort, even at today’s prices one might bring this down to $800 retail in Africa and Asia.

Such a system could be a cooking resource for a small family, but certainly wouldn’t work for all families.

However by 2020, after research has been conducted and an appropriate commercially robust integrated system has been designed and sold at scale, the overall cost is likely to halve again. At least half of the 3 Billion spend more than US$8 per month per household on cooking fuel. This suggests that the above system could leased to households as an alternative utility model and find a ready market of substitution expenditure.

It is not just falling costs that contribute to the tipping point. Business models combining leasing with microfinance have become well proven. Machine to machine (M2M) capabilities for controlling home systems has enabled service delivery approaches and mobile payments platforms have simplified payment mechanisms.

Two caveats.  While recent advances in battery technology mean that affordable deep cycle batteries are now available, battery lifetime remains a challenge particularly with rapid discharge and higher ambient temperatures.

We note that the successful adoption of solar electric cooking will depend on more than costs and technology. In many cultures, men take decisions about capital equipment while women carry the main burden of solid fuels— any intervention by public or private sector to encourage this product will need to take this into account.

So there is work to be done—technical and social research.

Our scan finds no evidence that development institutions or private sector are currently considering the possibility of solar electric cooking. This is possibly because, even 18 months ago, the cost of such a system was nearer $3000, which was unlikely to find a market among the 3 Billion. The direction of the cost curve suggests that now is the time to discuss the idea, to commission designers to create integrated systems, and to explore partnerships that can take the production and distribution to market and to scale, in a gender sensitive way.

Lives can be saved by migrating biomass cooking to clean cooking

Data justifying the above statements can be found in a longer version of this note at http://www.gamos.org.

The synthesis paper funded by DFID.   “SOLAR ELECTRIC COOKING IN AFRICA IN 2020. A SYNTHESIS OF THE POSSIBILITIES”.

For more information or to discuss the idea, please contact Simon Batchelor: Research@gamos.org.

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