eCooking: Low carbon cooking for schools and other institutions

Learn about the challenges of preparing food for large groups, like students in school, in the Global South, and the potential for ‘eCooking’ (electric cooking) to be transformational, with far-reaching climate, health, cost and time benefits.

December 19, 2022 by Anna Clements, Modern Energy Cooking Services - FCDO
5 minutes read
Cooking beans on a 40L electric pressure cooker in Tanzania. Credit: TaTEDO/MECS
Cooking beans on a 40L electric pressure cooker in Tanzania.

Fuel for cooking is a large component of global energy demand, and the need for greater progress in energy access for cooking is a major and often overlooked component of SDG 7 – “access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all”.

The UK Aid (FCDO) funded Modern Energy Cooking Services (MECS) program is focused on catalyzing the transition from biomass cooking to genuinely ‘clean’ cooking using modern cooking fuels. When we think of energy for cooking, we commonly focus first on the household context, but cooking is also a very common activity in institutions such as schools, health centers, prisons and other community-centric buildings.

In the Global South, children often get a big portion of their daily food intake from meals they get at school, and for that to happen, this means cooking is happening behind the scenes – usually with dirty, polluting, health and environment damaging fuels.

In this blog post we consider the challenges of institutional cooking in the Global South, and the potential for ‘eCooking’ (electric cooking) to be transformational in terms of far-reaching climate, health, cost and time benefits.

Research shows that most schools across East Africa use firewood to cook for students, or in some cases charcoal. Biomass cooking contributes to rising deforestation and climate change – 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions and 25% of global black carbon emissions (a short-lived climate warming pollutant) are estimated to be caused by burning biomass for household energy needs.

Figure 1: Benefits of switching to eCooking for institutions such as schools.
Figure 1: Benefits of switching to eCooking for institutions such as schools.

It also has negative health impacts on cooks due to exposure to harmful smoke and other particulates released during burning – approximately 4 million premature deaths a year are estimated to be caused by household air pollution.

As if this weren’t already bleak enough, there is a significant time burden on students or parents who are often asked to contribute firewood, which they typically collect.

Due to advances in technology, increased electricity access, and, for off-grid regions, the falling costs of electricity access components (Photovoltaic (PV) panels and batteries), eCooking is now a viable alternative for biomass cooking in many contexts, including for institutions.

Electric pressures cookers (EPCs) are revolutionizing the concept of eCooking, making it affordable to cook with electricity due to high thermal insulation and cooking at pressure, compared to inefficient devices such as electric hotplates. Figure 1 shows a summary of the benefits of switching to eCooking using EPCs.

Switching to eCooking means no smoke or adverse impact on the health of cooks, and the process of cooking is faster and requires far less oversight, freeing up time. Time is also saved by eliminating the need to collect firewood, and if firewood is instead being brought, or schools are using charcoal or being encouraged to switch to gas.

Cooking with electricity saves money. Environmental degradation due to deforestation and climate warming pollutants caused by burning biomass are reduced.

Potential cost savings of eCooking

At the household level, cooking with electric pressure cookers is:

  • 60% cheaper than firewood
  • 70% cheaper than gas
  • 82% cheaper than charcoal

(Results from an overarching analysis of data gathered in Asia and Africa on cost and energy of cooking).

These devices are now available in larger sizes suitable for schools and other institutions. They are suitable for the cuisine – over 90% of the typical Tanzanian menu can be cooked on EPCs, over 80% of the typical Ugandan menu, and tests by Tanzanian cooks in Dar es Salaam found that a 40 Litter electric pressure cooker can successfully cook many of the staple meals in Tanzanian institutions.

An ongoing pilot in Kenya will test large EPCs in schools and reception centers in refugee communities, building on a positive feasibility study for off-grid institutional eCooking. This and other ongoing pilots in Rwanda and Lesotho will gather data on cooks’ experiences of transitioning to large-scale eCooking, including time and costs of the transition, providing learning on how to enable this transition at scale.

To scale up eCooking in institutions, alongside gathering user experience data and time, energy, and cost data, there are several other challenges to address.

The upfront cost of these devices can be unaffordable for institutions, with ex-factory prices in the range 250-600 USD depending on the size. This could be mitigated through import tax and VAT exemptions (as is found with solar equipment in many countries), as well as innovative finance mechanisms such as selling on credit or integrating PAYGO technology so payments are gradual.

There is also the potential to tap into carbon credit markets to mitigate the upfront cost and provide revenue through usage.

Alongside the upfront cost, the underdevelopment of the supply chain is also a concern – which the MECS program is working on through engagement with global suppliers, manufacturers, and distribution partners in focus countries. Part of this includes ensuring after-sales support is available for customers, such as repair and maintenance services.

TaTEDO, an NGO in Dar es Salaam, have set up 3 support centers across Tanzania, have trained technicians, and are supporting local supplier SESCOM to stock spare parts. As these devices are relatively new to the market, it remains to be seen how long their lifespan can be – so far as a program, we conservatively use 5 years in our modelling, but expect that when quality is controlled and repair services available, they will operate for longer.

The MECS program continues to work with partner organizations to generate the data needed to inform the transition to low carbon cooking through eCooking for institutions. This is a potentially transformative clean cooking solution to improve the lives of students, teachers, and cooks, improve the environment, and contribute to climate change mitigation.

For more information, browse the MECS website at or contact the author at @email.


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Considering the cost of Electricity, e-cooking equipment, maintenance, poverty levels, and low access to electricity in many parts of the global south like East Africa/Uganda: How viable is this option (e-cooking as a substitute for traditional biomass)? [Oscar is currently a doctoral student researching climate Change, courts, and the law at Makerere University.)

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