Ashden 2013 Winners Scaling Access to Clean Cooking Solutions
Progress has been made in recent years on developing life-enhancing clean energy products like cleaner cookstoves and solar lanterns for poor people in developing countries. Yet despite significant technological advances, how to achieve sufficient scale remains a challenge.
Ashden was set up in 2001 to champion and promote practical, local energy solutions that cut carbon, protect the environment, reduce poverty, and improve people’s lives. So it makes sense for us to partner with an organization such as the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves to help build a global market for clean cooking solutions, among our many efforts to increase access to sustainable energy.
We run an annual awards scheme which has so far recognised over 150 business and organisations, of which 21 have worked with cookstoves.
While not all of them are businesses, all of them are using enterprise-based models to plug what the International Finance Corporation has described as the ‘energy access gap’, treating end-users as customers with needs to be met, rather than as passive beneficiaries of charitable support.
Here’s how they are tackling the challenges to scaling up:
Developing the right products. WWF-DRC and D&E have deliberately chosen designs that work in a similar way to traditional local stoves – with the same fuel, size of cookstove, and style of cooking. They have simply made them more efficient, more durable and less polluting. Rapid uptake in both DRC and Haiti shows that customers recognise the benefits – in particular, lower spending on fuel – and are prepared to pay the somewhat higher initial price.
Making products more affordable. WWF-DRC keeps costs low by keeping design simple and working with local artisans. D&E Green Enterprises planned to bring in additional savings by streamlining production in a small factory, but had to go back to manual production after its factory was destroyed in the 2010 earthquake. It is now seeking crowdfunding to enable it to rebuild the factory.
End-user finance is also key to affordability. Many people in Haiti have no fixed address – let alone a bank account – which makes providing microfinance very difficult. D&E is trialing a new system whereby church and community groups can act as guarantors for loans, enabling people to pay in installments.
Gaining customers’ trust. Even with finance in place, people in developing countries can be very conservative in their buying habits. Both WWF-DRC and D&E recognise this. WWF-DRC’s stoves are sold with a one-month warranty, with the stoves replaced free of charge beyond that time if the manufacturer is at fault. It also uses neighbour recommendations and public demonstrations, so people can touch and feel the products.
D&E has a ‘try before you buy’ scheme, as well as providing its customers with a month’s money-back guarantee if they are dissatisfied with the product, and a six-month replacement guarantee against faulty manufacturing.
But while local green entrepreneurs may have the drive and passion to get their product to market, many need support to help them grow even further. That’s where Impact Carbon comes in. This dynamic non-profit works with stove enterprises to access carbon finance, then uses the money to work intensely with them to help them build their businesses and expand markets, making the stoves more affordable for the people who want to buy them.
We’ll soon be announcing our call for entries for our 2014 Ashden Awards. So if you are helping increase access to clean cookstoves and fuels, or know of other pioneering organisations working in the field, please let us know!
Julia Hawkins is PR and Digital Media Manager at Ashden.
Photo Caption: WWF-DRC's Project leader Consolée Kavira demonstrates the Black Power Stove. Credit: David Irwin/Ashden