Cooking landscape in India

Approximately 40% (2.8 billion people) of the global population still cooks with either wood, dung, coal, or charcoal. Nearly 84% of rural Indian households cook on stoves that use solid or biomass fuels. In India, women spend an hour every day collecting firewood. This time dedicated to collecting firewood and cooking limits their ability to attend school and generate income. Moreover, women are exposed to toxic pollutants released from the burning of solid fuels (wood, charcoal, etc.).

Also, the burning of solid fuel in inefficient traditional stoves is responsible for the emission of various indoor air pollutants, which have direct and indirect impacts on the health of women and children. According to the Global Burden of Disease estimation, solid fuel burning for cooking accounted for 6 lakh premature deaths in 2019 in India. Thus, it is need of the hour to transition to electric cooking solutions which include access to electricity, and cleaner, more efficient stoves.

Benefits of Electric Cooking

Electric cooking is cost-effective, safer, more energy-efficient, requires less maintenance than conventional cooking methods, and is free of emissions. Additionally, Electric cooking can also make use of solar power in both urban and rural areas. Presently, about 24% of the electricity consumed in India is generated from renewable resources, and planning to expand it to 40% by 2030. This will be more viable in rural areas where the electricity grid may not be very reliable but solar energy is easier to provide.

Some of the key benefits of electric cooking are:

1 Speed – Cooks food 50% faster
2 Energy efficiency – savings in energy consumption and reduction energy usage cost
3 Easy & Precise Control – Achieve desired temperature
4 Safety – No flame, no gas leakage
5 Low maintenance –Change of burners, pipe, and regulators on periodic basis not required
6 Compact – Can be easily transferred from one place to another
7 Improves health – Prolonged exposure to smoke arising from conventional indoor cooking methods adversely impacting health

Despite the benefits of electric cooking only ~5% households use electric cooking devices today.

Moreover, there is a high willingness to shift to electric cooking, however, there are certain barriers which needs to be addressed. Let’s understand what are these barriers!

Barriers to transition to Electric cooking

Getting consumers to adapt to new technology is a tricky proposition anywhere, but when it comes to electric cooking, its adoption remains riddled with more challenges. Affordability remains the topmost one, especially for a household that relies on biomass fuel which is available for free. An electric cook stove (induction to be precise)uses electromagnetism to heat cookware, which means that the utensils have to contain enough iron to generate a magnetic field around them. For a consumer, this not only means bearing upfront costs, as well as maintenance costs, but also the cost of switching to compatible cookware. This is something the majority of the households might not be willing to bear when their existing utensils and source of fuel are working to their convenience.90% of Ujjwala beneficiaries still use solid fuel for cooking.

The flame-based cooking offered by LPG and biomass is an important barrier that needs attention and resolution as chapatis, an integral food item of an Indian meal does not get cooked properly on an electric cookstove. According to a survey conducted by the Stockholm Environment Institute, majority of Indian women surveyed in rural area said they preferred cooking chapatis the traditional way in a clay oven, or over open fire, because it tastes better.

Another critical barrier is thelow-level perception for electric cooking mostly in rural areas. This issue is especially important, because it is this that is at the heart of the successful adoption of electric cooking technology. Consumers are sceptical about electric cooking appliances in terms of meeting their daily needs, durability and safety. Even though, firewood and LPG based cooking is quite unsafe.

In urban areas, there is lack of motivation to use electric cooking appliance. The incremental reduction in cooking cost is not of much interest as there is a high level of satisfaction and security in using LPG/ PNG.

The government of India has made efforts to enhance access to clean cooking energy through the ‘Go Electric’ campaign, launched by the Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE) talks about spreading awareness of the benefits of electric cooking in India. The draft National Energy Policy by NITI Aayog also aims to achieve access to clean cooking energy for all by 2022, emphasizing on electric-based cooking. However, this impetus from the government for widespread penetration and adoption of electric cooking is still limited. There is an elemental issue to the government’s plan of powering India’s cooking through electricity which is lack of electricity supply. While huge strides have been made in the area, power supply in most rural areas remains irregular at best. According to news reports, 10 states receive less than 20 hours of power, with nearly 30 million households that don’t receive power. Which brings us to the question — how can electric cooking be adopted if people can’t use it?

Way forward

To help adoption of electric cooking appliances it is important that traditional practices around cooking is understood and either accepted or countered when introducing electric cooking. The value proposition of electric cooking needs to be rightly communicated which requires focused and customized marketing strategies for electric cooking appliances. The varying acceptance patterns for electric cooking by men and women need to be understood and used for targeted communication. Hence, there is a need to build awareness about electric cooking which is not linked to only product features. There is a need for electric cooking industry to invest in social and behavioral research and use the information for product design, diversification and variety and also for marketing communication drive the transition.

Moreover, the potential end-users needs to be correctly identified. Pushing the economically stressed rural households with intermittent power supply may not be the right stakeholders for to start electric cooking uptake. If it has to then it needs to be supported by right financing mechanism. Rather it could be the urban population (including hotels, hospital, office canteens, schools and other institutions) with stable electricity supply that can be targeted for mass adoption. Possibly India may not transition completely to electric based cooking but both forms can co-exist with electric becoming the primary source of cooking. Moreover, if the Government of India develops a dedicated program to promote electric cooking with the participation of all State Governments, electric utilities, and all other related stakeholders and civil society associations to an aim to make electric cooking affordable and user-friendly for lower strata of the society, then electric cooking definitely will see a brighter future.

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