A boost for clean cooking, from smokeless stoves and smartphones

African Clean Energy hopes data from cookstoves can shine a light on this under-resourced area.

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SHORTLIST (Technology Innovation Challenge)

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People across much of the world still use open fires or inefficient cookstoves to cook meals every day. These simple sources of heat churn out sometimes harmful and even deadly fumes and smoke, while burning through unsustainably harvested fuel.

In Cambodia for example, where half the population relies on rudimentary cooking methods, around 12,000 people die every year from illnesses caused by household air pollution. Fueling these basic cookstoves, meanwhile, is a major driver of deforestation.

Relevant Sustainable Development Goals

African Clean Energy (ACE) has come up with an affordable hybrid device to tackle this problem, a small but powerful smokeless stove, ACE One, that also provides off-grid homes with solar electricity. The company sells this clean energy system in Cambodia as well as three markets in sub-Saharan Africa (Lesotho, Uganda and Kenya), where it started operations in 2014. 

While electricity accounts for the bulk of energy expenses for rural, off-grid households, cooking and heating account for over 95% of KWh demand. Despite this, thermal energy technology receives little investment compared with electrification, slowing progress and technological innovation. More than 90% of the global population enjoys access to electricity, compared with just 60% for clean cooking. 

ACE hopes to attract more investment to this under-resourced area by providing a clearer picture of how clean cooking can benefit people’s health and the environment. To do this, the company has added a microprocessor to its cookstoves that can connect with Android smartphones, revealing usage data for the first time.

Data drives impact

The more information companies have, the easier it is to cost and fund new projects. Electricity providers, for example, already enjoy good access to consumption data, which has played a key role in the drive for global electrification.

Insights into the energy habits of its customers will help ACE develop its own business model, while providing a more accurate picture of the impact generated by each ACE One sale. This information could be used to create new investment products, helping channel more money into clean cooking tech from donors and impact investors. 

Currently, there are no dedicated investment products for thermal energy, even though a report from Sustainable Energy For All, an independent organization affiliated with the UN, has estimated that the sector needs US$4.4 billion every year to deliver affordable and clean energy by 2030, one of the UN’s sustainable development goals.

ACE is rolling out an ACE Connect package, which includes an Android phone and an ACE One clean energy system, in all markets. The next step is developing a sustainable supply chain for biomass fuel, to displace the need for environmentally damaging firewood and charcoal.

African Clean Energy was shortlisted in the ‘Efficient clean heating/cooling solutions’ category for the ADB’s Energy Sector Technology Innovation Challenge.

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Ruben Walker

Ruben Walker

CEO, African Clean Energy

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