Achieving Large-Scale Transition to Clean Cooking Solutions in India

Picture: The Clean Network

70% of the Indian population continues to depend on biomass and other unprocessed/unclean fuels for their cooking requirements [1]. Over the last three decades, India has seen the launch of several clean cooking programs to address this issue with a limited amount of success. In the last five years, there has been an increased push in the promotion of LPG, specifically under the Prime Minister’s initiative, Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana, as an alternative to traditional chulhas and unprocessed biofuels due to it being a low carbon fossil fuel.

Most rural households in India still practice stacking fuels for meeting their cooking requirements. Fuels like unprocessed biofuels, kerosene, and LPG, among others, are used in varying degrees depending on multiple factors. Some of these include availability of fuel, income level, intra-household power relations, and cultural preferences.

Factors hindering large-scale uptake of clean cooking solutions:

For low income households, financing remains a major disabler. While some solutions like improved cookstoves are more affordable compared to others (e.g. Solar PV based cooking solutions), unprocessed biofuels like firewood are available for much cheaper or even free of cost in many regions. This ease of access makes it harder to bring about a lasting behavioural change in preferred methods of cooking.

Previous negative experiences, whether personal or of peers, with clean cooking technologies can be a demotivating factor to transition. Negative experiences of early adopters may have a cascading effect on the community. This could be due to the unsuitability of the technology to the cuisine of the region, low user friendliness, lack of after sales services, unreliability, or the short life cycle of the application.

Gender roles and intra-household power dynamics can also hinder uptake. In households where women have limited decision making powers, it is often more challenging to transition from traditional cooking methods.

A mismatch between technological characteristics of the solution and cooking preferences of the region results in abandonment of the solution.

A lack of monitoring and evaluation frameworks may also lead to abandonment of the solution. Region specific user feedback and response via required tweaks are necessary for long-term adoption and transition.

A number of initiatives by NGOs, private and public sector have resulted in increased awareness about the need for clean cooking solutions over the years. However, awareness regarding the available solutions, especially the newer ones, is required to scale uptake.

Enabling Transition to Clean Cooking Technologies:

In order to achieve large-scale transition to clean cooking solutions, these economic and social deterrents need to uptake, and usage patterns need to be addressed. One way of doing this is to provide end consumers with the freedom of choice in the form of multiple solutions available under the same umbrella scheme. This fuel/technology agnostic approach could help in providing readily and locally available solutions to end consumers without requiring huge changes in cooking habits.

Awareness campaigns will enable consumers to orient themselves with new technologies that are available in the market and explore options more suited for their needs. Setting up demonstrations at district and village fairs can be an effective way to carry out awareness campaigns.

Engaging with the local community has been noted to enable transition. Positive experiences shared by early adopters can inspire their peers to switch to cleaner technologies. Increased involvement of women community leaders can also increase uptake. Jayalakshmi, a beneficiary of CLEAN Match Bluematch, is one such success story from Karnataka. Collecting firewood and cooking on a conventional cook stove consumed 7 hours of her time, every day, causing her severe eye soreness and coughing. When Bluematch’s Ecostove, which uses pellets for fuel, was introduced to her, her life changed. She could cook faster and her health improved drastically. Thereafter, she has been taking a lead on educating women on adopting a healthy cooking lifestyle by using clean cookstoves. Similarly, NGOs working at the grassroots level can be incentivized to engage with the community and carry out awareness campaigns.

Given the differing price points of clean cooking technologies, subsidies need to be devised accordingly. A uniform subsidy can be counterproductive to large-scale transition. Targeted financial support can ensure steady uptake and play a role in cultivating ownership of the solutions in end consumers.

A major impediment to transition has been the easy availability and cost effectiveness of unprocessed biofuels. Ease of access and reliable services need to be provided to end consumers to ensure they do not switch back to traditional cooking methods or rely on it as their primary fuel source. Limiting access to unprocessed biofuels at the policy level will further push consumers to transition to clean cooking technologies.

Durable and reliable solutions which cater to the cooking preferences of the geography play a major role in ensuring that consumers do not switch back to traditional fuels and technologies. Experts have often emphasized that end consumers are not opposed to paying more for quality products. Breakdown of products has often led to end consumers abandoning the technology. It also discourages their peers from adopting cleaner solutions.

Collecting feedback from consumers during early stages is also important to ensure continued use of clean cooking solutions. This can ensure timely monitoring of on-ground performance and tweaking the solutions, based on feedback.

Developing partnerships between the public and private sector to create a market based approach is also crucial for enabling transition.

Utilization of locally available resources can ensure creation of a long lasting solution for the community. One such model has been developed by CLEAN Member, Gram Oorja, in the form of a cooking grid in rural Jharkhand.

Harhi village is located in rural Jharkhand with approximately 50 households. While LPG connectivity is available, the rising prices of LPG and the long distances the villagers had to travel in order to procure the LPG cylinders meant that the villagers stuck to traditional firewood resources. However, while these resources are dwindling in the local region due to overconsumption, the village has cattle, in abundance.

During its initial assessment, Gram Oorja’s team identified that cattle manure can be utilized to provide access to clean cooking energy for the village. In order to do so, the team has developed a biogas cooking grid with a distribution line spanning approximately 2 kms.

The flexible biogas plant has a capacity of 50-60 m3 and a feed capacity of 1.25 – 1.5 tons/day. Presently, the cooking gas supply is available for three hours during morning and evening peak cooking hours.

A Village Energy Committee (VEC) has been established which manages the collection of feed, monthly bill amount, and other activities for running the plant. The VEC also sets the cost/unit for the village. The amount collected from households each month is used to pay the salaries of employees who work on the biogas plant and the rest of the money is set aside as savings and used for servicing and maintenance whenever required.

Utilization of such locally available clean energy resources can enable India to drastically reduce the dependence of the rural population and semi-urban population on traditional unprocessed biofuels.

Authored by: Ananya Saini

[1] Aggarwal, S.; Kumar, S.; Tiwari, M.K. Decision support system for Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana.
Energy Policy 2018, 118, 455–461


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