The next big challenge to solve: rolling out “green stoves”

Africa, and Rwanda in particular is at the height of a historic process. While hundreds of millions of people across the continent are still living without electricity in their homes, many African governments have announced national plans to eradicate the phenomenon and provide hundreds of millions with access to safe, sustainable electricity.

The number of Rwandans connected to different power solutions in their homes (both on-grid and off-grid) soared from 9.7 per cent in 2010 to 34.1 per cent in 2017 (according to the World Bank).

Albeit an astonishing step forward, the energy needs of the population do not end with domestic electricity. The time has come to address another problem, one that has a huge impact on the lives of every person across the continent: home cooking.

Millions of deaths every year

As vast parts of Africa lack basic infrastructure, hundreds of millions are forced to cook on an open fire, using mainly wood and charcoal. While city dwellers have different solutions available (like LPG that is available in gas stations or the central gas distribution), the real need lies in the rural communities, that have no other options than using bonfire for cocking. It is estimated that more than 95 per cent of Rwanda’s population uses these means to cook in their homes.

Although being natural materials, their use is expensive, not environmental, and life-threatening: According to the World Health Organization, living in a house where cooking is made using a bonfire, is equivalent to smoking 2 packs of cigarettes a day (!).

 The ramifications are daunting, with tens of millions of Africans suffering from respiratory infections and diseases strictly related to the smoke. The number of deaths associated with these infections is estimated at 4.3 million people annually, many of whom are children.

These terrible numbers must change. Now, with simple and inexpensive means, we can revolutionize home cooking, while saving money and environmental damage, and most importantly, human lives.

Simple, non-expensive solution

Sometimes, the best solution to a problem is also the simplest. This is the case with the “green stoves” for domestic use, designed specifically for maximizing energy, resulting in a tremendous saving of over 50 per cent of the consumption of combustion elements (the woods or the coals). Since this is a fairly cheap product, using a “green” stove saves each family meaningful amounts of up to 50 per cent of spending on cooking today, which accounts for a significant share of the average household expenditure in Rwanda.

Extensive use of the stoves on a national scale will help Rwanda meet the UN’s Sustainable and Development Goals (SDGs) and especially SDG 3, aiming to achieve good health and well-being for all. It will also lead to a significant reduction in the cutting of trees and a reduction in air pollution in the country. But above all, reducing the use of bonfires for domestic cooking will lead to a massive reduction in respiratory diseases among the population, and will save millions of lives each year.

Earlier this year, Ignite Power started to supply families in rural communities in Rwanda with green stoves. To our delight, we see how families understand the tremendous importance of the product, its economic savings, and its health effects, as they happily replace the open fire.

This is much more than an additional product in the market, but a real revolution in Rwanda, and soon in the entire continent. The sector of the green stoves is still in its infancy, as most of the continent’s population, especially the rural communities, still light fire in their homes daily. But in the near future, we are expected to see a vast amount of systems all over the country, leading to great savings in environmental costs, pollution, and most importantly; saving lives.

The writer is the founder of Ignite Power, a solar power firm in Rwanda

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