An app for eco-friendly cooking

July 03, 2017 12:00 AM

By Kavitha Srinivasa

Introduction

Kitchens in semi-urban and rural India are full of fumes. Households choke as thick air rents the air. Cooking a meal is anything but comforting. Globally, residential combustion of solid biomass for cooking contributes about 40% of black carbon emissions; in rural India, where StoveTrace takes place, biomass cooking contributes as much as 50%. About 160 million India households are cooking with polluting solid fuels (National Family Health Survey for 2005-2006, As cited in  Venkataraman, C., Sagar, A.D., Habib, G., Lam, N. and Smith, K.R., 2010. The Indian national initiative for advanced biomass cookstoves: the benefits of clean combustion. Energy for Sustainable Development14(2), pp.63-72.).

Problem / Challenge

It’s a known fact that clean cookstoves is an eco-friendly option, as it lowers the dependence on firewood customarily used for cooking. As it also reduces the smoke emitted during the cooking process, the members of the household are less prone to a smoke-filled atmosphere. Advanced clean cookstoves burn locally available biomass and reduce harmful emissions. Yet, not all Indian households can afford clean cookstoves that approximately cost Rs 2,700-Rs 6,500 (US $42-$100) each. In an effort to create a market for eco-friendly cookstoves, registered carbon credit programmes have sprung up world over and offers financial incentives to promote clean cookstoves. However garnering carbon credits is a challenge because clean cookstoves is an expensive proposition. It’s also difficult to actually measure the extent of pollution reduction.

Coming to the Indian scenario, 2017 statistics reveals that India with a population of 1.27 Billion has a mobile penetration of 79.6%. Naturally, it makes sense to link mobile services with clean cooking and that’s where StoveTrace fits in. It aims to bring about Sensor-enabled Climate Financing (SCF) as a method to empower women to pay for improved cookstoves.

Women can take loans through SCF to buy these stoves. Every month, the woman receives usage-based payments from a climate fund for the carbon emissions she mitigates by using the clean cookstove. A fraction of her monthly payments are used to repay her microloan for up to two years. This system has been devised to enable women from extremely low-income groups to afford clean cookstoves.

Solution

StoveTrace is a state-of-the-art wireless temperature sensing application that verifies the use of a clean cookstove with accuracy.

This is how it works. A thermal sensor connects to the StoveTrace device, which uploads data to a cloud analytics server over the cellular or GPRS networks. When the clean cookstove is lit, the temperature probe traces the cooking event, stores and uploads cooking event data. The temperature data is wirelessly uploaded from the StoveTrace sensor device, and the data is ultimately displayed on a web-based dashboard, which displays the number of times a stove is used and its duration. This data enables remote verification of the stove usage.

The StoveTrace dashboard provides beautiful visualizations on stove usage that is simple for anyone to understand. The dashboard is color-coded: green squares represent that cooking is taking place; the blue square represents that no cooking took place, and grey squares represent that the sensor is either broken or not connected to the cellular network. Within the green squares, a number indicates how many events took place, and when you click on a green square more data appears to show how long a person cooked that day.

Sensor data is objective, and to make claims on stove usage and adoption, objective and continuous monitoring is needed. In addition to that, sensor data must be supplemented with surveys. For example, the sensor data may show that a household does not use their improved cookstove. That explains the “what,” but not the “why.” In order to understand adoption, sensor data is used to follow up with households to understand the “why.” The StoveTrace dashboard makes this part easy because surveyors can access the StoveTrace dashboard on their tablet or Smartphone, and see each household’s monthly cookstove usage.

One of the greatest challenges of the current Nexleaf sensors is their dependence on a cellular signal to upload data to the StoveTrace dashboard. Many users live in areas with little or no cellular signal, so Nexleaf is developing a new sensor which does not upload in real -time. Instead, the new sensor stores the data locally and uploads it whenever an agent carrying a Smartphone with the StoveTrace app comes around to collect the data. The app features a very simple interface which allows the agent to extract data from the sensors and upload it via the Smartphone’s connection whenever a signal is available again.

Vodafone mPesa, a mobile money provider, enables remittance of the carbon market payments directly to the clean cookstove user. With this, women are not just gaining economic empowerment but are also gaining valuable skills in money management. The innovative approach to providing women with direct mobile payments was nominated for a Global Mobile (GLOMO) Award for “Best Mobile Product, Application or Service for Women in Emerging Markets” by GSMA (2017)

Impact

The programme rolled out in the Azamgarh region of Uttar Pradesh. That’s because the average usage of the improved cookstove was less than one hour/day which is ¼ the amount that these communities generally cook. Nexleaf made its first data-informed decision to visit the households with its partner, TERI, and understand why the usage was so low.

Upon surveying the region it was found that these communities had to pay for the wood they needed to cook on the improved cookstove, and they preferred to save their money to purchase LPG, which they had access to. TERI began to identify a new region without access to LPG and ideally with access to free wood. All these requirements indicated that Odisha was the ideal location. With Nexleaf’s support, TERI installed StoveTrace devices in households in Odisha. The average stove usage was double the amount of the usage in Uttar Pradesh.

This led to the second data-informed decision to expand in 29 villages in 4,038 households in Odisha.

With support from Qualcomm Wireless Reach, StoveTrace. During the project, which concluded in April 2016, those households cooked for over 141,000 hours on clean cookstoves, which translates to a reduction of over 382 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent or CO2e.  Regular usage established these stoves as eco-friendly, yet they required require after-sales service to prevent women from returning to their traditional cooking methods. This insight resulted in the third and most recent data-informed decision to start a new phase of the program which includes infrastructure to provide after-sales service on cookstoves and to select cookstoves that are both clean and usable. StoveTrace launched this new phase in the Notarpalli village in Nayagarh District in Odisha, (the remaining 28 villages were in the first phase of work in conjunction with SauntaGaunta Foundation, the NGO partner of Nexleaf.  Since then, new programmes have been initiated along with NGO partners Sambhav, SauntaGaunta Foundation, and Hand in Hand. Since April 2016, these SCF StoveTrace deployments have measured CO2e mitigation of over 53 metric tons. Individual women users have received more than 71,000 INR in climate credit payments for their efforts to reduce harmful emissions by switching to clean cooking.

StoveTrace has helped women in more than 700 households afford clean cookstoves, and women in seven villages across two states in India are currently receiving payments for their clean cooking. It is intended to scale up in phase-wise fashion for each new project site selected to ensure that the programme is appropriately adapted for considerations such as local cooking styles and partner capabilities. After small, well-controlled pilots to see how things work under ideal conditions, it is hoped to move to medium-sized deployments to test the scalability of the model, and if successful, move to large-scale deployment. A number of prospective locations and partners have been identified.

The StoveTrace data has also enabled clean cookstove implementers like NGOs, manufacturers and entrepreneurs to detect mechanical breakdowns, thereby allowing implementation teams to quickly repair the stoves resulting in resumed usage by the families.

The Gold Standard Foundation, Nexleaf Analytics, and the University of California San Diego among other experts in climate and development, have collaborated in launching a pioneering methodology for quantifying and monitoring emissions from black carbon and other short-lived climate pollutants which will drive finance into projects that provide an immediate and measurable impact on mitigating climate change at a local level.

Let’s face it, women need user-friendly and robust stoves. While some stoves reduce emissions significantly when used perfectly, they don’t meet the cultural and practical needs of women and are therefore unlikely to actually be used correctly or consistently. Stoves that break easily, don’t accommodate existing cultural cooking practices conveniently, malfunction with normal use, or damage cooking equipment (like blackening pots) are not adaptable and thus don’t solve the problem they were created to address. 

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Culinary skills get a whiff of carbon credits through StoveTrace

StoveTrace has been created to support Project Surya, which is a Qualcomm® Wireless Reach™ - supported initiative to mitigate climate change by integrating clean cooking technologies with innovative sensing and climate financing for reduction of carbon dioxide and black carbon. Project Surya is an International collaboration between the University of California, The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) and Nexleaf Analytics.

Erin Ross, Communications Manager, Nexleaf Analytics gives a sneak peak into the StoveTrace operations in Odisha

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