By Victor Gathogo. SNV Kenya; Anne Songole, Clean Cooking Association of Kenya.
The numerous health risks faced by over 2.7 million people who rely on biomass for cooking and lighting increases the urgency to scale up access to clean household energy.
Through Sustainable Development Goal 7, there is a general call for more innovative, feasible, and sustainable clean energy solutions for off-grid communities in Sub Saharan Africa where clean energy poverty remains concentrated.
An important strategy for sector players in clean energy is to share evidence-based best practices. As partners of the Voice for Change Partnership (V4CP), we were part of the V4CP exchange visit in Ghana, in November 2018. This learning visit provided an unique opportunity to learn what sector players in Ghana are doing, how they are doing it, and the successes recorded.
Clean cooking in Ghana is no different from Kenya. In both countries, the populations rely on LPG, firewood, and charcoal. Our first stop during our visit was the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), a cookstove testing facility. Although the testing protocols were found to be similar to those in Kenya, it became clear that having more testing facilities in a country is vital to support the growing clean cooking sector.
Our next stop was at PEG Africa, a progressive mobile-based Pay-As-You-Go (PAYG) solar company. PEG provides off-grid market solutions for communities in rural and low social economic regions. In this model, rural energy demands are met by provision of solar home kits, solar Television Sets, and in some models also clean cookstoves. PEG’s unique model increases access and affordability of solar energy and creates employment for the locals. However, a large percentage of off-grid populations still have no access to clean energy. How can more local solutions be made available to these communities?
A strategic solution is to adopt a multi-tier access approach to planning and provision of energy for household and productive use in off-grid communities. In Ghana, communities living in Pediatokope Island and Koffi Wikrom are among those who have benefited from minigrid connections. For example, with affordable power from a 12kWp Black Star Energy solar minigrid (serving 35 households) a local dispensary at Koffi Wikrom could now operate longer hours.
These solutions are partly led by the private sector, partly by the government. But the question remains how to scale up such solutions and increase access to all off-grid communities. For Kenya, a major concern is how the Kenyan government can be convinced to let mini-grid projects be managed by private sector especially due to the high maintenance/management costs that could make it unaffordable within the local governments.
We also visited Man and Man Ltd in Kumasi region, an improved cookstoves factory whose stove designs are similar to the Kenya Ceramic Jiko. In Ghana, the clean cookstove industry seemed to have more potential for expansion leading to more employment opportunities for Ghanaians compared to Kenya. We feel that a multi-country collaborative approach to tackling challenges facing the clean cooking sector will be needed in order to achieve clean energy goals. This could be done by facilitating more technical exchange visits and opening up markets across African countries.
Our visit made it clear to us that although artisanal cooking solutions have potential to scale access to clean cooking solutions, it is still very difficult for local cookstoves manufacturers to break even without government support and subsidies. Also, we recognised that strong legislative instruments on standards will lead to greater innovation and consumer protection.
On our last day in Ghana, we participated in an advocacy engagement with the Mines and Energy Parliamentary Committee in Ghana. This meeting underscored the value of influencing key decision makers to realise clean energy goals. The multi-country V4CP team shared experiences on the need for clean cooking policies focusing on technical and behavioural approaches needed to transform the sector and act as an impetus for private sector investment and growth. Issues shared included fiscal incentives, taxation regimes, skills development for the sector, availability of resources and support to local manufacturers.
Our final take home from this inspiring V4CP Exchange Visit was clear: innovative solutions promoted through a clean cooking policy can be home-grown, but other communities across Africa can benefit from those solutions and learnings. We could only hope that in the near future, cross-country learning will increase access to improved clean cookstoves and fuels, as well as off-grid energy solutions, also in Kenya.