Cooking with renewable energy in Africa

© Photo byvCLASP/StoryxDesign

On Wednesday 9th June, the Climate Parliament held an international virtual parliamentary roundtable on the theme of clean cooking. The session featured Dr Simon Batchelor, the UK Research and Innovation Coordinator for the Modern Energy Cooking Services (MECS) research programme. MECS centres on cooking as a key component in the strive to achieve ‘access to affordable, reliable, sustainable modern energy for all’. Parliamentarians from Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe participated.

The meeting focused on the use of Electric Pressure Cookers. Early use of electric cooking in Africa was found to be expensive and also faced problems with grid reliability. The EPC solves both of these issues: it is tailored to African foods and it cooks them in a highly energy-efficient way. Renewable energy technology is now cheaper than fossil fuels. To get to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, cooking is very important. Cooking must be discussed in the same room as electrification. Increased electricity demand from cooking could make renewable energy mini-grids more affordable across Africa.

It is estimated that around 2% of global carbon dioxide emissions comes from cooking. But that 2% is only one aspect of the contribution of cooking to climate change, because of the amount of wood actually burned or converted to charcoal. Charcoal is more helpful to the individual as there is less smoke, but it is terrible for deforestation: 3 tonnes of wood are needed to make one tonne of charcoal. Patterns of deforestation reported by FAO show that where there is a dense population, there is a spread of deforestation surrounding it.

Health problems linked to cooking with wood and charcoal are very serious. Between 3 and 4 million women and children are estimated to die annually from indoor smoke inhalation. This is an annual ongoing crisis that is solvable. People still do not appreciate the health hazards of cooking: often women’s health problems are misdiagnosed as malaria or typhoid, when in reality they have been made ill by cooking with charcoal and wood in poorly ventilated spaces.

Currently, those in rural areas can’t afford the clean energy needed for electric cooking, but people in urban areas can. We must find how to make this transition cheaper in rural areas. Here Malawi is leading the way, adopting the next generation of rechargeable batteries – lithium titanate. In 2015 lithium titanate ion technology cost $3000-$4000 per KWh: now it is only $200. We also need results-based financing; governments must realise how subsidising this capital expenditure will save huge health costs. Countries can apply to the Clean Cooking Fund to accelerate progress toward universal access to clean cooking. The electrification sector in Africa has received $26bn per year: we need to integrate cooking into this if Africa is to reach the scale and speed necessary for it to tackle the lethal but solvable problem caused by cooking smoke.

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