Many Kenyans still lack access to clean cooking solutions with a majority living in rural areas a demographic that accounts for 93.2 percent of those who depend on solid fuel sources as their primary solution to cooking. I always look at the measures being implemented by providers of solar energy in rural areas as an essential tool in offering interventions that can help scale access to clean and improved cooking solutions.
Two years ago, I traveled upcountry, and the scale of the decentralized renewable energy was taking off. Companies such as d.light were and continue to lead the way in offering those in rural areas with energy connectivity. This has been made easier by efficiency, performance, and economies of scale in relation to solar and energy storage technologies. Such initiatives offer better economic, health, and social-environmental margins compared to alternatives such as backup generators
The use of solar energy in poor and rural households presents an integral step towards decarbonizing our electricity and can be an ideal blueprint in transitioning, responsibly, into cleaner and safer cooking solutions. One of the critical challenges in the sector is striking a balance in the management of supply and demand for cooking solutions at the household level. It is impressive that Kenya’s Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL) Action Agenda recognizes the need to provide universal access to modern cooking solutions to all households.
Traditionally, the cooking solutions that have been pervasive in the country do not have any functional considerations for fuel and thermal efficiency. Some examples are the open U-shaped clay or mud stoves, un-vented coal stoves, kerosene stoves, the three-stone fire, and the metallic charcoal stoves. Attempts have been made to modify some of these stoves, but these still do not take away from the environmental and health impacts the fuels they rely on have on the environments and humans.
The ministry of Energy 2019 Kenya Cooking Sector Study: Assessment of the Supply and Demand of Cooking Solutions at the Household Level gives an analysis of the various findings of which I will highlight some below as they appear in the report:
- 59 percent of households in Kenya use the Three Stone Open Fire compared to 76% twenty years ago, and although the proportion of household users has dropped, the aggregate number has increased from 4.7 million households to about 7.3 million households;
- 64.7 percent (8.1 million) of households in Kenya still use wood as their primary cooking fuel, followed by LPG at 19% (2.4 million) and charcoal at 10% (1.3 million);
- 71 percent of households in Kenya still use a type of wood-stove as either their primary or secondary cook-stove, with a greater prevalence of 92% in rural areas;
- The number of households using LPG has increased about six times from approximately 0.6 million to 3.7 million (54 percent urban and 18 percent rural households now use LPG).
- Annual greenhouse gas emissions for residential cooking fuels are 13.6 Mt CO2 emissions per year, split in a ratio of 2:1 between rural and urban populations.
Small and rural households often rely on small purchases for the fuels, with some buying kerosene for as low as KSh. 20 daily. LPG cylinders retail at a minimum of KSh. 3,000 with refills costing KSh. 800 for the 6 kg gas in Nairobi. These figures can be higher in rural areas. This is where the actual market disruption comes in. Products such as KOKO cookers and fuel remain instrumental in ensuring that new technologies in cooking are easily accessible and affordable. According to the Cooking Sector 2019 study, “households using LPG must travel nearly twice as far to purchase fuel (5.3 km) on average than kerosene users (2.9 km) even though twice as many households nationwide cook with LPG than with kerosene.” It is easier to justify this willingness, but it is also essential to identify it as a bottleneck in the supply-demand equation. It is worth highlighting that KOKO’s bioethanol fuel is primarily produced from the fermentation of crops such as sugar.
Gas ATMs (Refill-at-point solutions) that are affordable remain a critical factor in ensuring that rural households can access cooking gas at prices that take into consideration their purchasing habits. Gas ATMs provide a reliable path towards alleviation of energy poverty.
Efficient cooking solutions represent a front in reducing greenhouse gas emissions with the current rates of scalability targeted to abate potential of 7.3 Mt of CO2 emissions by 2030. This goes a long way in mitigating climate change. A reduction in the reliance on wood can help in increasing the country’s forest cover, which presently stands at 7 percent.
N.B: This post borrows heavily from the ministry of Energy 2019 Kenya Cooking Sector Study: Assessment of the Supply and Demand of Cooking Solutions at the Household Level and I do wish to reiterate the call to action within the report of fundamentally changing the cooking sector into a clean, sustainable and profitable sector and goes beyond the aim of increasing the number of stoves being sold.