Archives for category: Clean Cooking

— By Vikash Singh (Acara Corps Fellow)

“About one-third of the world burns wood and other biomass for cooking, heating, and lighting, accounting for 13 percent of global energy consumption. When burned in traditional cooking stoves, the toxic emissions result in 1.6 million premature deaths each year, according to World Health Organization estimates. Children younger than five account for half of the fatalities.”

Last year at the end of December, India launched the National Biomass Cook stoves Initiative (NCI) to develop the next-generation cleaner biomass cook stoves and deploy them in all Indian households that currently use traditional cook stoves.  The initiative has set itself the lofty aim of providing cleaner energy services like clean sources of energy such as LPG but using the same solid biomass fuels commonly used today.

This initiative by the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy has been envisaged to be structured differently from the earlier National Program on Improved Chulhas, although it builds on the several successes of that program while also drawing lessons from the experience gained from its implementation.

The socio-economic and health implications of this form and scale of energy use are enormous. The starting point of the current exercise is the user. The solution on offer should, first and foremost, be easy to use and maintain and conform to local cooking habits across the country. Its adoption must make economic sense to the household. The program is conceived not as a handout to poorer households, but rather as an economically sustainable business solution.

This new initiative is also based on the recognition that that cook stove technology has improved considerably in the past few years. But further advances are still possible and, indeed essential. The aim is to achieve quality of energy services from cook stoves comparable to that from other clean energy sources such as LPG.

And on the climate front, many products of incomplete combustion that are emitted from traditional cook stoves have greenhouse implications—while each household might emit only a small amount, together these cook stoves can add up to a relatively sizeable contribution, although still only a fraction of the emissions from fossil fuels that supply energy for wealthier people. (There also remains some uncertainty about the exact global warming potential of black carbon, a greenhouse pollutant emitted, among other sources, from biomass combustion that recently has received increasing attention. But it is clear that shorter-lived pollutants from biomass combustion contribute to atmospheric heating on regional scales—and, therefore, their reduction will result in tangible national benefit.)

The approach that is being envisaged by this initiative focuses on all elements of the innovation chain, not only emphasizing development of cleaner combustion units and improved biomass-processing technologies, but also focusing on issues such as innovative delivery models. By partnering with academia, the private sector and non-governmental organizations, the program draws upon the strengths of these various groups. Such an approach, hopefully, will increase the likelihood of success of this initiative and also allow the development of technologies and delivery models that would find applications in other parts of the developing world.

The program, therefore, has the potential to serve as a flagship model for how to meet sustainable development and climate goals simultaneously. And this is exactly the kind of initiative that the government should be emphasizing in the global climate arena—one that puts sustainable development centre stage instead of focusing merely on “targets and timetables”, as our recent constructive position has done.

This promising new cook stove initiative, therefore, must be seen not only as an initiative that can help improve access to clean and high-quality energy services for the poor and the vulnerable, but also contribute to climate mitigation.

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Starting this week, we will profiling the stories of teams and individuals from our various partner schools in India and the US. Our first story is of an interesting team from Somaiya and Cornell, who took up Clean Cooking as the community issue they wanted to solve.  The members of this team include Mona Mahesh, Vikash Singh, Thomas Murray, Anirudha Kandharkar, Kristin O’ Planick, Ashish Wagle, Rachna Gadekar, Hasang Cheon and Hitesh Gandhi. I interviewed Vikash and this is what he had to say.

Q. What is the exact problem your team is working on?

Vikash – “Our team has focussed its scope of research and work plan to the area of Fuel combustion while keeping the fuel source intact (in our case-Wood). The traditional method of cooking involves Open-air set ups with wood as a major source of fuel. The process is inefficient and cumbersome causing high cost cooking, environmental pollution and community health hazards.”

Q. Any reason why you chose this problem?

Vikash -“The motivation behind choosing the above area of problem lies in the scope, reach and ease of operations to address the problem. Feasibility analysis and sustainability of business were key things which were kept in perspective.”

Q. What is the solution that your team is proposing? Do you think it’s feasible and scalable?

Vikash – ” The solution our team proposed was two folds: a. Modifying the collection of the fuel and consumption quantity; and b. Increasing the efficiency of cooking process through efficient stoves and cooking methodology. The feasibility of the solution came out of prior experience of collaborative models through association with NGOs and other non-profit organizations and suppliers of efficient stoves. With a collaborative network of local influencers, NGOs and partners, the model fairs well on the sustainability metric. A pilot project over 5 households and the scope of its replication throughout the community and the neighbouring areas makes the project promising.”

Q. Can you tell us something about the community you have been working with?

Vikash – ” Here is some data about the community –

  1. Type of Community– Rural
  2. Strength of community– 22 households (each household comprises of 7-8 individuals on an average). Total population is 158.
  3. Major occupation– Farming
  4. Average income/household– Rs. 3000 (The figures are conservative as they were reluctant to share the information)
  5. Energy consumption area under study – Cooking energy at household level.
  6. Fuel used– Major fuel used is wood, use of LPG is very limited and is used on special occasions only.
  7. Mode of fuel consumption – Collection of woods through an cutting trees.
  8. LPG cylinders are supplied from Panvel (an area in Mumbai )and used in rare occasions.
  9. No solar cooker establishment in any household.
  10. Frequency of fuel collection– Monthly. Bullock cart load of wood (Rs. 700-800 per cart).
  11. The produce of farming sold are in Panvel, as it is the major market near this area.
  12. Neighbouring community– Banghar Rural Community (160 households).
  13. Fuel used in households includes cooking processes like boiling water, meal preparation etc.
  14. Target community content with the present setup primarily because of lack of proper information on alternatives available
  15. Area of plausible business – Wooden stoves reducing the monthly spending from Rs 700-800 to Rs 400 and Exhaust improvement/efficiency.
  16. Community covered by NGO – Shantivan.

Q. What did you learn as a team by participating in the Acara Challenge?

Vikash – ” As a Team, we learnt to ideate, collaborate, plan, and develop models and research to extreme ends. Overall, ACARA Challenge has moulded the minds in a direction and the teams have learnt to follow that path.”

I want to take this opportunity to thank Vikash and the rest of the team from Somaiya and Cornell for sharing such interesting insights with us. If you are interested in getting your story as a team or an individual on our blog, do get in touch with me on BaseCamp.