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Over the past three decades, the majority of the focus in the cooking sector in Southeast Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa has been on promoting improved cook stove technologies rather than on a fundamental transition of the underlying energy sources or fuels being used; this can be seen in the many of the national energy strategies recently developed, notably in sub-Saharan Africa. While the promotion of more efficient cookstoves remains an important interim solution and has delivered impressive results in certain countries, this report argues that focusing on improved cookstoves is neither a truly long-term nor a truly sustainable solution to the challenge of cooking.

In light of these various interrelated challenges, this second edition of the Beyond Fire report sets out to build on the report’s first edition, which was originally published in 2016. This revised edition draws on new data and analysis to provide an update on how the economics of cooking with electricity in a stand-alone solar home system (SHS) as well as in a mini-grid context have evolved since then.

Clearly, overcoming the economic cost barrier is only part of the challenge: sustainable cooking technologies must be well adapted to individual communities’ way of life, and must be able to be easily integrated with prevailing cooking habits. This means that the transition to other fuel types, whether electricity or otherwise, is likely to be a gradual process, underscoring the need to increase efforts to accelerate this transition now. Raising awareness of the alternatives, and better adapting solutions to people’s actual behaviors and cooking preferences, is critical.

In order to provide a comprehensive comparison of existing cooking options and of alternative cooking pathways, this report calculates the costs range for cooking with various different appliances and presents them in hanging bar charts in order to provide a snapshot of their relative cost-competitiveness. As can be seen, the costs of cooking with electricity both in mini-grid contexts and via solar home systems is now well within the range of cost competitiveness of other cooking alternatives, a significant improvement from three years ago when the first edition was published. Also, similar to the first edition, this report finds that biogas-based cooking remains an economically attractive option, particularly for households with livestock or other suitable feedstocks.

A key improvement of this revised edition is that it sheds light on the tremendous cost-saving potential of using higher efficiency cooking appliances, in particular appliances like slow cookers and pressure cookers:

  • Over a one-hour cooking period, a pressure cooker uses approximately one quarter (¼) of the electricity of an electric hot plate.
  • Over a 4-hour cooking period, the gains increase further: a pressure cooker is twice as efficient as a slow cooker, six (6) times as efficient as an induction stove, and fully seven (7) times as efficient as an electric hot plate.
  • In terms of costs, there is currently a 3-to-4-fold cost differential between a solar home system dimensioned for use with high-efficiency cooking appliances versus one that is dimensioned for use either with hotplates or induction stoves.

Given the limited financial resources available to most households currently cooking with firewood and charcoal, it is therefore critical to focus on deploying high-efficiency end-use appliances, despite their slightly higher upfront cost, as the system-level cost savings pay for themselves multiple times over.

In light of these substantial cost savings, using high-efficiency end-use appliances has the potential to lead to a similar "inflection point" as the emergence of LED lighting technologies on the off-grid solar sector.

The figure below provides a summary of current cost ranges, in EUR/GJ, of the various cooking options considered within the report.

There are two main reasons why the revised cost analysis has seen such a significant improvement in the economic viability of electricity-based options:

  • First, the cost of both solar modules and batteries has come down significantly. Since early 2016, the costs of solar and storage systems have come down by between 30-50%, and continue to decline as markets scale-up and technologies improve;
  • Second, this analysis applies an updated methodology: in particular, it moves away from the 1 GJ per person per year benchmark in terms of final energy use, and models much more precisely the actual electricity consumption of different end-use appliances. Instead of needing 308 – 397kWh per person per year of electricity, as assumed in the first edition, this revised analysis finds that the per person electricity consumption when using a higher efficiency slow cooker or pressure cooker ranges from 61 – 131kWh. Such energy efficiency savings make it possible to significantly reduce the overall size (and cost) of both the solar panels and the battery bank required to enable electric cooking.

These two changes recast the economics of cooking in a new and far more competitive light than the first edition.

One key finding that emerges from this updated cost analysis is that cooking with electricity (whether with solar home systems or in a mini-grid context) using high-efficiency appliances can even make cooking cheaper than what many households currently spend on firewood and charcoal. The World Bank’s bottom-up research from across Sub-Saharan Africa indicate that households spend on average between EUR 1 – EUR 31/month on cooking fuels.

With slow cookers and pressure cookers enabling household cooking costs of between EUR 15 and 21/month for SHS and between EUR 3.56 – 9.53/month for mini-grids, the economics of cooking with high efficiency cooking appliances are becoming increasingly compelling.

It is hoped that this revised analysis helps put electric cooking more firmly on the map.

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