Challenging the status quo and ‘business as usual’ scenarios for e-cooking in displacement settings

Donations and small-scale projects and programmes to distribute ICS technologies in situations of displacement have historically often been led by organisations with minimal expertise on market-based energy access and have often failed to reach scale. This tends to result from either short-term project design dependent on donor funding, or as a result of poor end-user follow up and continued support, such as after-sales services and ongoing maintenance. Many clean cooking programmes have also neglected partnerships with refugee-led organisations, thus missing the opportunity to benefit from the advice of those with lived experience of displacement, able to articulate the most pressing needs and preferences. As mentioned in the previous section, such collaborations are indispensable in designing locally relevant, culturally fit and contextually appropriate energy solutions in displacement settings.

Various recent initiatives aiming to provide modern cooking solutions in refugee camps have been called into question, including the sustainability (in every sense) of bulk purchases and free distribution of stoves and fuels to refugees by humanitarian agencies. Examples include Cox’s Bazar (Bangladesh) and Mahama Refugee Camp (Rwanda) where the provision of a cooking solution in the form of LPG will only last so long as UNHCR receives sufficient donor funding to continue the free provision of fuel to households. The moment the funding is cut, the operations might be forced to scale down or cut supplies, leaving refugees with limited or no access to clean cooking, often having to resort to self-collected or purchased biomass.

It is commonly, and mistakenly, assumed that Modern Energy Cooking Services (MECS) technologies offered under market-based approaches are beyond the reach of last mile communities, and particularly refugee populations, due to their cost, limited availability (if at all), and minimal awareness of their benefits. However, there is evidence of latent demand and a willingness to pay for MECS among displaced populations in SSA. Due to local scarcities, a significant proportion of refugees pay for their biomass cooking fuel (e.g. USD 18 per household per month in Kakuma and Kalobeyei (Kenya), USD 12 in Nyarugusu (Tanzania), and USD 11 per refugee household in Uganda). The per-kilo prices paid among refugees are up to three times higher than those paid elsewhere in the host countries, mainly due to the distances needed to collect and transport biomass from an ever-widening circumference around what can be city-like camps in existence for >30 years. Consequently, the purchase of cooking fuels can account for up to 50% of refugee household incomes.


The price of solar e-cooking and experience to-date in displacement settings

If we assume that a 1 kW solar PV system generates 4 kWh per day and costs USD 1,000 then this equates to less than USD 0.10 per kWh amortised over 10 years. E-cooking requires 2-4kWh for daily cooking for a family of 5 (if energy efficient appliances are used), meaning daily cooking costs are around USD 0.20-0.40 per day. This is far less than current biomass fuel expenditure in the average baseline scenario.

Cooking on PV-supported electric cookstoves or electric cooking systems (e.g. PV-powered pressure cookers) has been shown to have the potential to reach a competitive pricing level for those already paying for LPG or charcoal. In Malawi, Kachione LLC have demonstrated the feasibility of cooking with electricity on low-power SHS, with a significantly lower CO2 emissions and competitive cost against LPG and comparable cost with charcoal or firewood.

It is also important to highlight that e-cooking offers benefits beyond access to a clean and modern cooking solution. As asserted by Matola and Ogunbiyi, electrification and clean cooking should (and do) go hand in hand. Offering access to electric cooking can be paired with, and thus enable, access to electricity for other needs, such as lighting or phone charging. Conversely, the provision of access to electricity through solutions such as PV mini-grids that have been rolled out in refugee settlements (e.g. in Kakuma and Kalobeyei) can be paired with a scheme to offer affordable access to e-cooking systems as well as productive uses of energy (PUE) applications to power income generating activities. Such market creation strategies open up further avenues for bankability of energy access solutions and higher levels of demand among both households and businesses.


Excerpt of: Powering progress: market creation strategies for solar e-cooking technologies in off-grid and displaced communities (United Nations Environment Programme 2024).


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