By Krishna Adhikari
Nepal’s fossil fuel consumption is galloping at an alarming rate. Economically unsustainable petroleum imports constitute 160% of the entire Nepali earnings from all the goods exported and is a wholly unnecessary drain on its balance-of-payments, including foreign exchange. In the Fiscal Year 2021-22, Nepal imported over 280 billion rupees worth of petroleum products, including 60 billion rupees worth of LPG for cooking.
Nepal is on the verge of achieving surplus in hydroelectricity generation in both wet monsoon months as well as daytime supply. Currently, Nepal has around 2,100 MW of installed electricity generation capacity. This is a result of Nepal’s ambitious focus on electricity production in recent years. Furthermore, Nepal has set a 15,000 MW electricity production target by 2030 in its revised Nationally Determined Contributions (2020). By FY 2026-27, almost 4500 MW are expected to be added to the country’s grid while peak demand at present is around 1500 MW. With such an increase in electricity generation it is hoped that electric cooking proliferates in order that power demand keep up with supply and export to India.
There is a strong body of opinion that suggests that the value added to Nepali economy is much greater (86 cents/kWh) if electricity is used within Nepal than if exported to India (6 cents/kWh). As a result, there is an urgent need to find and develop new markets within Nepal for the surplus electricity generated. Given that domestic cooking and transport are among the highest fossil fuel consuming sectors, it makes most economic sense shifting to electric cooking at the first “low hanging fruit” to be tapped. The country’s increasing investment in renewable energy generation capacity and expected surplus capacity provides room for extensive promotion of E-cooking technology, particularly for those connected to the grid. However, promoting electric cooking is still in a preliminary stage with practice fluid and evolving in Nepal. Initial pilot efforts as well as efforts from GoN, development organizations, private sector and other stakeholders is vital for providing momentum and upscaling the promotion.
Each year 24,000 Nepalese lose their lives to chronic illnesses caused by indoor air pollution. Every year, thousands more Nepalese, especially women and children, begin to suffer from these air-borne illnesses, including pneumonia, lung cancer, asthma, cardiovascular disorders, tuberculosis, acute respiratory infections, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, etc. This is a tragedy constantly unfolding across Nepal, and every minute people suffer because of it. To address this intolerable situation, the Government of Nepal has prioritized access to clean cooking for all citizens. However, past interventions were primarily based around wood-fueled cooking, which does not deliver the health benefits initially hoped for. Therefore, efforts to promote electric cooking in the country are still in an early stage. As per its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) commitments, Nepal aims to promote electric cooking as a primary cooking method in 25% of households by 2030. This commitment also supports Nepal’s aim of increasing national forest coverage to 45% and reaching net-zero deforestation by 2030.
The emerging technology of e-cooking has the potential to revolutionize cooking habits within Nepal. By reducing the air pollution created by traditional cooking methods, e-cooking promises to deliver significant health improvements to millions of Nepalese. However, the success of e-cooking is not yet guaranteed. Although electricity generation has increased in recent years, the transition away from biomass to electric cooking has not yet occurred. Most Nepalese lack the required awareness of the benefits of e-cooking: doubts remain over the affordability and availability of e-cooking appliances.
Fuelwood is the primary energy source for cooking and heating in rural areas of Nepal. According to Central Bureau of Statics (2017), around 63.6% of the total households of Nepal use biomass for cooking, out of which 52.4% solely use fuelwood as the main cooking fuel. The fuelwood used for cooking is obtained from private farmlands and forests. Cooking with fuels like fuelwood, cow dung cake, agro-waste etc., in inefficient, traditional stoves induce indoor air pollution. This results in critical health issues primarily related to respiratory and eyesight diseases. In Nepal, women are traditionally responsible for domestic labour, including cooking. This makes women more vulnerable to air pollution induced illnesses such as lung cancer, asthma, and heart disease. World Health Organization (2016) survey reveals 24,000 people annually die due to indoor air pollution in Nepal.
Liquefied petroleum gas is non-toxic, highly flammable liquefied mixture of propane and butane which is used all over the world for cooking, transportation, and heating. The calorific value of LPG is 2 to 3 times larger than that of fuelwood. It also emits less CO, and particulate matter than either coal or biomass. This explains the popularity of LPG as a cooking fuel in Nepal. Studies show LPG use reduces indoor air pollution by 90% compared to a traditional biomass (WHO, 2011). Furthermore, the use of LPG aids in minimizing deforestation and desertification. However, the major and unavoidable downside of LPG is its negative environmental impact due to excess CO, emissions reliance on LPG is not sustainable in the long term due to its non-renewable nature as a fossil fuel and the cost of importing the fuelwood.
In Nepal, around 53.3% of urban and 8.7% of rural populations use LPG for cooking, making it the second most used fuel. As per the report of Ministry of Finance, Nepal had imported about 4,51,029 metric tons of LPG, worth NPR 30.73 billion, in the FY 2019-20 (2076-77). These imports arrive exclusively from India. This dependency of Nepal on fossil fuel created massive disruption in the everyday lives when the border blockade in 2015 caused an acute shortage of LPG. The subsequent crisis highlighted the fragility of Nepal’s dependence on imported LPG.
Electric cooking offers the benefits of efficiency, convenience, affordability. safety and availability. Unlike firewood, electric cooking does not produce smoke and so indoor air quality is not affected. The convenience of e-cookers is unmatched. For example, cleaning e-cookers is incredibly simple, and features such as automatic off, keep warm, pre-set cooking, and delay cooking add flexibility during cooking. To be used as primary cooking stove, cooking devices must be able to cook at least 50 % of commonly prepared local dishes, In the Nepalese market there are three common devices that meet this standard, They are the induction cooktop, infrared stove and electric pressure cooker. GoN has adopted an integrated electrification-clean cooking approach with 2020 NDC, target of 25% of all households using electricity as a primary mode of cooking by 2030. The country has made massive strides in its electrification with current access to electricity to 93%. Moreover, GoN, Ministry of Energy, Water Resource and Irrigation’s “Present Situation and Roadmap of Energy, Water Resource and Irrigation” White Paper has explicit provision for electric cooking, which has been included in the long-term vision of AEPC activities, 15th Plan Approach paper (2019-20 to 2023-24) and the Clean Cooking Solution for All (CCS4ALL). This White Paper has provided directives for promoting cooking with electricity across households under the “one electric stove in every household” mandate.