matola2_Per-Anders PetterssonGetty Images_malawi cooking Per-Anders Pettersson/Getty Images

Electrification and Clean Cooking Go Hand in Hand

Promoting clean cooking and closing the electricity access gap are both chief concerns for the international development and climate communities. But there has been too little appreciation of how each effort can be leveraged to support the other through more integrated planning strategies.

LILONGWE – Almost one-third of the world’s population – 2.4 billion people – cook with solid biomass, which has devastating consequences for their health and the environment. Worldwide, the use of traditional cooking fuels is estimated to cost $2.4 trillion per year, owing to its associated health problems, lost productivity, and climate-driven damages. But with 733 million people still lacking access to any electricity, biomass fuels are often the only option.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Promoting clean cooking and closing the electricity access gap are two of the key targets of the seventh United Nations Sustainable Development Goal, which calls for “access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all” by 2030. But these two pillars of energy access tend to be treated as discrete issues, which is reflected in the disparate levels of investment that each receives. Clean cooking and electrification each attract a different set of stakeholders, who then develop separate strategies for closing each gap.

But they are not discrete issues at all. When people have access to sufficient electricity (preferably provided by renewable-energy sources), they can avail themselves of the kinds of cooking (e-cooking) technologies that are already widely used in the Global North. Ensuring access to both electricity and clean cooking options thus would go a long way toward helping the Global South tackle its energy, climate, and development challenges.

As matters stand, electric stoves and cookers have not made significant inroads in developing countries, owing largely to a lack of energy infrastructure (both on- and off-grid). But, as developing countries and their partners seek to expand and clean up national electricity systems, they have an opportunity to drive wider adoption of e-cooking, too. They can thus stimulate electricity demand and improve the business case for new on- and off-grid connections and other infrastructure upgrades.

But to make the most of this opportunity, governments must develop integrated energy plans (IEPs) that set clear goals for both electrification and clean-cooking access, and that direct resources effectively toward meeting them. Policymakers must look at the energy system holistically when mapping out how both household and institutional access to electricity and clean cooking (including e-cooking) will be improved.

The governments of Nigeria and Malawi have already recognized the power of IEPs. Working with Sustainable Energy for All, the Global Energy Alliance for People and Planet, and the Rockefeller Foundation, Nigeria has developed an Integrated Energy Planning Tool that will play a vital role in helping it achieve its energy-access goals by 2030, on the way to its net-zero goal for 2060. And Malawi launched a similar tool this week.

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Powered by extensive geospatial modeling and data, these interactive platforms provide actionable intelligence for government and private-sector stakeholders, so that they can deliver least-cost solutions for expanding access to electricity and clean cooking. For example, Nigeria’s IEP estimates that 3.5 million households can afford and are likely to adopt e-cooking solutions, which would result in annual incremental electricity demand of 1,100 megawatt hours. Seizing this opportunity would require an investment of just $83 million, mostly for cookstoves.

For its part, the Malawi IEP shows that e-cooking has the potential to reach 4.1 million households when the country achieves universal electrification – and that figure includes only grid-connected homes. In addition to delivering better health outcomes, this level of adoption would also improve the economics of the grid expansion projects being carried out by the Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi.

IEPs are indispensable for illuminating a country’s potential market for e-cooking. They identify customers’ location based on their current and anticipated electrification status, which is essential business information for clean-cooking companies. Because electrification efforts take time to bear fruit, an IEP also provides an indication of where e-cooking solutions may not yet be feasible for local populations. In these cases, the focus can shift to interim clean-cooking solutions, such as improved cookstoves or liquefied petroleum gas.

In any case, the minimal progress made toward improving access to clean cooking underscores the need for new, better-informed strategies. The launch of Malawi’s IEP this week marks the start of a new chapter of evidence-based decision-making in the country. The IEP is easily accessible online for use by government institutions, the private sector, development partners, and the public.

At COP27 this year, many African countries will emphasize the need for greater international financing and investment to support their clean-energy development. The World Bank’s recent $1.5 billion commitment to finance electricity and clean cooking in Nigeria shows that an IEP can be a catalyst for mobilizing such support.

All developing countries should follow Malawi and Nigeria’s lead by embracing integrated energy planning. Doing so will allow them to seize the twin opportunity that clean e-cooking offers: electrification and better health for their people and the environment.