Sunday, December 8, 2019


I was given the task to set the context for India Clean Cooking Forum 2019 in Delhi on 3 December, which motivated me to pen down some of my thinking around 'clean cooking'.

Setting the Context in Inaugural Session (PC: CLEAN, New Delhi)

The theme for ICCF 2019 was 'Creating Impact through Clean Cooking Applications'.

India Clean Cooking Forum is an annual event organised by Clean Energy Access Network (CLEAN), which is a network of stakeholders engaged with decentralised renewables. Therefore it is a given that when we talk about Clean Cooking, we are specifically referring to those technologies that are based on decentralised renewables (DRE) - which in this context are a variety of solid, liquid, gaseous biofuels, a variety of solar technologies, combinations of these, and even geothermal energy in the places that it makes sense to use it for cooking. Therefore, there is no place in ICCF for challenges or success/failure stories, etc., around use of fossil fuels and grid power for cooking. The focus very specifically and unapologetically is on DRE cooking technologies, being used either in isolation or in combination with fossil fuels and grid power.

This is not just an ideological position!

Most people tend to think that once a household has transitioned to 'cooking gas', that is the end of it - it has reached the top of the cooking energy ladder and will now stay there happily ever after. This cannot be farther from reality.

In the climate crisised world of today, the most important survival strategy is for renewables to replace fossil energy in all energy sectors. The cooking energy sector cannot be an exception to this. As a species, we are fast running out of time to make this global and total energy transition. For India this means that we need to rapidly figure out - what are the current LPG and PNG users going to transition to in a fossil fuel free world. However, the government of India is aggressively pushing more and more households towards fossil energy based cooking! The seriousness of the adverse health impacts associated with smoke in the kitchen from use of traditional biomass fuels in traditional cookstoves is the driver for this, but there are non-polluting cooking technologies based on DRE too! Yes, there are challenges of standardisation, commercialisation, scaling up, etc., but that cannot be an excuse for neglecting 'the best option' in favour of the 'readily available option' by a national government!

It would be much more prudent and beneficial to everyone in the long run to push ALL households - urban as well as rural, rich as well as poor - to DRE based clean cooking. The time, effort, and resources would be better spend in urgently addressing the challenges of the DRE clean cooking sector rather than wasting these on expanding the reach of fossil fuel based cooking.

There is another dimension to this.

India is one of the countries most vulnerable to climate change. This means that we need to invest in climate resilience building too. Localisation of basic resources is an important aspect of resilience building. From that perspective, the 'decentralised' in DRE is the key! Localisation and decentralisation go hand and hand, and provide opportunities for better customisation to meet the users' needs.

On this background, the total neglect of DRE based cooking sector since 2000s shows a remarkable lack of foresight and long term thinking on the part of successive governments over the last twenty years.

There was one more important aspect of the ICCF 2019 theme, that must be highlighted.

The theme for the deliberations was not just 'clean cooking' but 'clean cooking applications'. The devices that are loosely referred to as 'cook stoves' are also used for heating bath water, boiling drinking water, heating the house, drying agricultural produce, etc. It is high time we acknowledge that 'cooking' means everything that actually happens around a 'cook stove' in real kitchens rather than just boiling 5 lit of water in 10 min in a laboratory.

The theme therefore highlighted that the we need to bring the needs of the users - the cooks, who are mostly women - at the focal point of the sector. User-centric DRE based clean cooking not only addresses the thermal energy service requirements at the household level, but may also lead to novel DRE solutions suited to a wide range of thermal energy needs. These encompass solutions for the community (e.g., cooking of mid-day meals) as well as for commercial establishments (e.g., food processing units). This approach has a tremendous potential to create 'impacts' not just for women's health and climate change, but also for widespread livelihood generation, circular economy, sustainable production systems, etc.

Glimpses of ICCF 2019, India Habitat Centre, New Dehi (PC: CLEAN, New Delhi)

The ICCF 2019 had a very packed agenda, and each session was a bit too content-rich. I am afraid that there was a bit of an information overload by the end of the day! However, many interesting threads emerged that can be expanded on and woven into a strong case for the DRE clean cooking sector. I hope that future ICCF events will keep on exploring these, and expanding on the narrative, building on experiences from the field.

We still have a long way to go!  

Priyadarshini Karve
Samuchit Enviro Tech


Samuchit Enviro Tech. 

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