Best Practices; Increasing Adoption of Clean Cooking Technologies and Fuels

By Simon Kiragu, Maureen Onyango, Linda Davis Ph.D.

Executive Summary

The slow progress in adoption of safe, affordable and sustainable energy  remains a great concern as more than 40% of the world’s population still lacking access to clean fuels and technologies for cooking, lighting and heating [1].

The slow adoption of clean cooking has been attributed to challenges such as poverty, lack of awareness and also to a lack of engagement of women who are the end users of these cooking technologies and who could be household and community influencers in purchasing decisions. In addition, fragmented evidence on the economic benefits of engaging women across the energy value chain and lack of information on evidence-based best practices  continue to contribute to the slow adoption of clean cookstoves and fuels.

The IWA guidelines for evaluating cookstoves performance on efficiency, safety and the amount of toxic emissions and the WHO Guidelines for indoor air quality identified three categories to help policy-makers, energy and environmental specialists understand best approaches to reducing household air pollution. This paper explores the three categories of cooking 1) traditional 2) improved and 3) modern cooking technologies and fuels .

To increase adoption of clean cooking, we recommend replication of specific women-targeted solutions that have been developed and implemented by the Partnership on Women’s Entrepreneurship in Renewables (wPOWER) [2] and its partners. Through strategic partnership, wPOWER engages sector players including technology providers, implementing entities, multilaterals, advocacy partners, researchers and financial institutions to work collaboratively to advocate for engagement of women across the energy value chain for faster accessibility, acceptance and adoption of clean cookstoves and fuels. By such collaborations, women entrepreneurs have access to products on affordable financial plans, accessed quality products, and have been trained and engaged across the clean energy value chain.

Finally, to justify the urgent need of adopting clean energy cookstoves, we present a holistic social economic impact of adoption of clean energy technologies.


The need for clean and affordable energy is the focus of Sustainable Development Goal 7 [3]. Several  progress reports on SDG 7, indicate that access to clean, efficient and safe fuels and cookstoves  increased to 58% in 2014, a slight increase from 54% in previous years [1]. According to The Global Tracking Framework 2017 [1], which measures the population with access to clean cooking fuels and technologies, more efforts need to be made  to increase access to safe cooking solutions indicating that Africa and Asia- Pacific are lagging behind with only 26% and 51% of their populations with access to clean, safe and modern cooking methods.

The use of solid biomass such as charcoal, firewood and dried animal waste  has had a devastating health impact on women and children. As a result, women – targeted approaches are considered more effective in increasing adoption of safe and efficient household energy technologies to light up the home and provide a cooked meal.

This paper relied on a systematic review of literature and case study analysis, on existing cooking technologies. Cookstoves and  fuels were categorized based on International Workshop Agreement [7]. The 2012 adoption of standards and performance tiers (IWA Tiers) continue to be refined to effectively measure progress in access to clean cooking. In order to consider a cookstove as “improved” or “clean” the product needed to meet the standards stipulated in the IWA framework which rates cookstoves on four indicators [6]. The indicators include; efficiency, indoor emissions, total emissions and safety [7]. To identify factors hindering adoption of clean cooking technologies and fuels, a review of global trends in clean cooking  adoption was done. Finally, solutions drawn from wPOWER strategies and women – targeted approaches in addressing challenges in the adoption of clean energy technologies have been highlighted.   

Categories of Cooking Solutions

Cooking MethodFuel Used
“Traditional” cookstoveDried animal dung, agricultural residues and firewood
“Improved” cookstoveCharcoal, kerosene, briquettes
“Modern” cookstovesLiquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG), ethanol and electricity

One of the major implications of widespread use of solid fuels is its significant impact on human health, particularly that of women and children who spend a lot  of time in poorly ventilated kitchens. Annually, at least 50% of global pneumonia deaths in children under age 5 are attributed to indoor air pollution [4] and 4.3 million people die from illnesses attributable to indoor air pollution [5].

Traditional fuels, normally available locally at low or no cost, are characterized by low combustion efficiency at around 10% [6]. Poor combustion efficiency leads to emission of carbon dioxide (CO2); methane (CH4); and nitrous oxide (N2O) leading to increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. On average, 25% of all black carbon arises from inefficient cooking and lighting [7]. High concentration of indoor air pollution increases the risk of acute respiratory infections (ARI) leading to 4.3 million deaths attributable to indoor air pollution [3].

In developing countries, and in addition to charcoal and firewood, kerosene/paraffin, is commonly used as a cooking fuel but is considered a transitional fuel due to high costs and erratic fuel prices [8]. The pressurized kerosene stove has as higher energy density, is easier to light and cooks relatively faster. Evidence shows that over 500 million households still rely on kerosene as a fuel for cooking and lighting despite WHO warning against household use of kerosene. On the other hand, alternative fuels tend to be more expensive and are characterized by high combustion efficiency of around 30-60%. These fuels are usually more expensive in rural areas due to high import and distribution costs.

Traditional cooking methods

Cooking methods considered ‘traditional’ usually involve the  burning of biomass fuels such as wood, charcoal, animal dung or crop residue in 3 stone open fires or rudimentary metal  stoves. This type of cooking is common in rural households with research data approximating that nearly half of the world’s population. Environmentally, 25% of global black carbon emissions is a direct result of burning of solid fuels with households in developing countries accounting for almost 84% of these emissions [9]. Unfortunately, the poorest members of society share the greatest proportion of the burden [9]. Inefficient cooking technologies have been linked to adverse environmental and health impacts through carbon emissions.

Analysis of Traditional Cookstoves
Cookstoves/FuelEfficiencySafetyEmissions/ Environmental ImpactAffordability
3 stone- stove
Example: Firewood
1. Heat can be retained to warm food after cooking
2. A lot of heat loss
Easily causes hazardous fires1. Emits high levels of smoke
2. Major cause of deforestation
Firewood can often be collected for free

Improved cooking technologies

Improved cookstoves (ICSs) are manufactured with the  goal of addressing the negative health and environmental impacts. Ideally, improved cookstoves are supposed to improve cooking efficiency in comparison to a traditional stove. For example,  improved cookstoves designed to use charcoal would require less fuel than a traditional one to cook the same meal. Similarly, their designs ensure it is high energy intense hence reducing cooking time [10].

The kerosene stove has as higher energy content and is easier to light and cooks relatively faster [11]. Improved cookstoves bear characteristics such as slight functional improvements over traditional technologies, they have  improved efficiency of combustion of fuel hence reduced toxic gas emissions.

Despite clear scientific evidence on the efficacy of improved cookstove innovations, initial efforts to promote these technologies have run into challenges leading to a slow adoption [16]. Specific challenges include the high initial cost of the improved cookstoves that have made it impossible for many people especially those living in low income areas to afford these cookstoves. Examples of available improved cookstoves in Kenya; Kenya Ceramic jiko (KCJ), Uhai jiko, Kuni Mbili, Upesi portable, Rocket stove, Wisdom stoves, Scode stoves, Stamp stoves, Envirofit stoves, Jikokoa and Ecozoom stoves.

Analysis of Improved Cookstoves
Cookstoves/FuelEfficiencySafetyEmissions/ Environmental ImpactAffordability
Biomass Stoves
Examples: Charcoal, briquettes
1. Low burden of heat maintenance during cooking
2. Higher energy content
3. Cooks faster
Safer than open fires1. Has indoor emissions
2. Contributes to deforestation
Fuel can be purchased in small quantities
Kerosene Stove
Example: Kerosene
1. Easy to light
2. High energy density
3. Fast cooking
1. Highly flammable
2. Cooked food smells of kerosene
1. High level of pollution
2. Can cause ill health
1. Sporadic supply due to fluctuating costs
2. Can be bought in small quantities

Modern Technologies

The Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves (GACC) lists ethanol stoves, LPG/gas stoves, electric cookers and solar cookers as clean cooking technologies [11]. Ethanol is a clean liquid biofuel that can be made from a variety of agricultural feed stocks, Adoption of ethanol, is on the increase as supply networks continue to establish [11]. The slow adoption of ethanol cooking  could be related to its high initial cost. In comparison to LPG and electricity, ethanol has a relatively low heating value leading to longer cooking time.

LPG has a high heating value and like ethanol, also provides heat as soon as it is ignited. LPG is a byproduct of natural gas extraction and crude oil refining [11]. LPG has an almost complete combustion of the fuel therefore releasing fewer pollutants than any other fuel except for electricity. LPG emits lower greenhouse gas emissions at 5 -16 times per prepared meal compared to solid fuels [12]. In Kenya, according to reports available in Petroleum Industry subsector in Kenya, LPG consumption has increased to 59% between 2003 – 2016 [13].

Electricity is categorized as clean energy fuels but are unaffordable to many due to high costs and unreliability. Globally, 1.2 billion people lack access to electricity while at least 2.7 billion people (38% of the global population) rely on traditional use of biomass for cooking [14].

Analysis of Modern Cookstoves
Cookstoves/EnergyEfficiencySafetyEmissions/ Environmental ImpactAffordability
Gas cookers
LPG gas
1. High energy efficiency
2. Faster cooking
3. Lights instantly
Highly flammable in case of leakageNegligible emissions1. Unavailable
2. Limited distribution networks
3. Unaffordable for poor households
Ethanol Stoves
E.g. Ethanol (gel oil)
1. Heat available immediately after ignition
2. Lower heating value
3. Long cooking time
1. Highly flammable
2. Fire outbreaks difficult to extinguish
Negligible emissionsUnstable supply networks
Electricity cookers
1. Easy to light
2. High energy density
3. Fast cooking
Relatively SafeNegligible emissions1. Electricity is expensive
2. Stoves are expensive
3. Many homes are not connected to the grid
Solar cookers
1. Longer cooking times
2. Not suited to cooking all traditional meals
3. Heat intensity depends on weather conditions
1. Relatively Safe
2. Accidental burns
3. Affects eyesight if the sunbeams are reflected on users’ eyes
Negligible emissions1. Cannot be used during cold/rainy seasons
2. Higher initial cost of stove

Factors hindering adoption of clean energy fuels

According to World Health Organization, as at 2017, the annual rate of adoption of clean energy stands at 0.5% with over 150 countries globally still relying on biomass to meet their energy needs. There are several factors that determine the selection of cookstoves to be used in a homestead. Interviews conducted on the end users confirmed that women tend to be the decision makers on type of cookstoves to be used. Accordingly  decisions on the type of cookstove to be used in the household depended on;  availability, affordability, speed of cooking, suitability to cook variety of food and suitability for most pot sizes [16].

Factors that hinder adoption of clean cooking technologies and fuels include; financial constraints, lack of engagement of women in development of alternative solutions, fragmented evidence on engaging women as promoters of improved or modern technologies within their communities and lack of widespread understanding on the best practices to increase adoption to be replicated.

Let’s examine the constraints in some detail.

Financial constraints are  a major impediment to adoption of clean energy as many of the clean energy cookstoves are unaffordable and may not be readily available to consumers especially those in rural areas and urban dwellers  with low income [15].  Lack of consumer financing for clean cookstoves makes it difficult for end-users to cover the high initial cost of clean cookstoves [16]. Similarly, with fewer manufacturers and developers of cookstove technologies, the lack of competition is tends to keep prices high especially when compared to solar lighting solutions that have seen prices steadily decreasing. The few manufacturers are forced to keep product prices high to ensure that they get a return on their investment. The high product costs then impacts  demand which in turn limits the amount of investment by manufacturers to increase supply [22]. This cycle results to expensive improved and modern  cookstoves remain unaffordable for most households.

wPOWER’s work has observed that low sales of cookstoves is attributed to their initial high cost. The average buying price of most improved cookstoves ranged between KES 2,500 (USD 25.00) and KES 1,000 (USD 100.00), and is unaffordable for many rural women. The locally made charcoal and briquette burning cookstoves (clay or cement insulated) retailed at KES 300 (USD 3.00) making them more affordable for most households.

The lack of engagement of women across the energy value chain due to perceptions on the energy sector being capital-intensive, large-scale have kept women from becoming major players. Financial constraints and  the lack of empowerment have also impacted the widespread participation of women across the value chain. Many initiatives have treated women as merely end-users failing to factor in the role of women as promoters of the adoption of clean cooking technologies.  The need to build capacity for women in clean energy has been overlooked despite the fact that women are the most vulnerable when it comes to the negative health, social and economic impacts of inefficient cooking and lighting technologies. Ignoring the role of women and lack of consultation with local women who are community influencers as well as the end users has led to failure of well – intentioned policies or strategies as women’s needs and preferences were not directly considered.

The lack of awareness on clean energy technologies is a major factor for the slow adoption of clean cooking technologies although improved cooking and lighting solutions have been proven to drastically reduce the effects of black carbon and greenhouse gas emissions. Because of the slow adoption, the cookstoves sector can be poised for tremendous growth, however, fragmented evidence on the impacts of clean cookstoves has historically contributed to few commitments by governments, development organizations and donors to secure the necessary investment, technology development, and support for implementation [15]. Additionally, there has been a shortage of compelling evidence regarding clean cookstoves specifically on the critical role of women in increasing adoption of these clean technologies. While this is now starting to emerge and requires further strengthening, the historic lack of evidence has resulted in the cookstoves sector failing to take a lead in promoting adoption of clean technologies through strong policy interventions, awareness and capacity development.

Once the cookstoves sector consolidates its  evidence base and best practices identified, broad-based advocacy campaigns should be  launched in collaboration with partnerships such as governments, multilateral agencies, non-profit, faith-based, and financial organizations, as well as cookstove manufacturing or distribution businesses.

To this end, wPOWER has engaged in various activities in a bid to create awareness and send out advocacy messages to not only enhance visibility on the role of women in clean energy, but to also increase the number of households choosing clean energy technologies. Such activities included radio campaigns, exhibitions and documentaries.

Fragmented implementation devoid of  best practices can result in squandered community goodwill if deployment of clean cookstoves fail especially if poor quality issues and fuel stockouts  are a factor. wPOWER analysed various successful strategies used by several partners and developed a set of 8 principles  that could be adopted to accelerate adoption of new safer technologies. These 8 principles summarizes specific actions that organizations in clean energy sector can adopt to scale up.

wPOWER Best Practice Principles

Best practice principles that underscore success in clean energy entrepreneurship.

Conclusions and Recommendations

Even though displacement of fuels like charcoal, firewood and kerosene with modern fuels such as LPG and electricity is likely to increase as the economy flourishes and urbanization gathers pace, biomass is projected to remain the main source of cooking energy for many years to come especially in rural households due to low incomes, cost-free wood, the deterrent high initial cost of acquisition and poor distribution infrastructure for modern fuels.

Acceptance of globally recognized testing protocols for cookstoves and fuels  is one of the very effective measures that have been taken to advance the development of a thriving market for clean cookstoves. Quality is often compromised when there is no enforcement of regulatory benchmarks to what defines a clean cookstove or fuel. Without adoption of these standards, consumers are not aware if they are buying a quality or reliable product. Similarly, the role of women in adoption of clean energy technologies must be considered if these initiatives are to be successful. Considering the above, it is imperative for organizations and governments to have universally recognized cookstove standards and quality testing processes to avert the efforts being made in cookstoves adoption. There is also a need to create economic opportunities for alternative fuels in the market such as ethanol, briquettes and pellets as a replacement to the prevalent use of  charcoal and firewood fuel.


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