By Purna N. Ranjitkar
According to the final report of the National Census 2021, the energy ladder of Nepal shows the dominant sources of household cooking energy as being firewood (51.0%), Liquefied Petroleum Gas known as ‘LPG’ (44.3%), and only 0.5% of the population using electricity for cooking purposes. It is to note that firewood users are decreasing while LPG users are growing. So far cooking in electricity has increased below desired level.
Although electric cooking devices for domestic cooking purpose include electric rice cooker, electric pressure cooker, hotplates, heater, electric kettle, toaster, microwave woven, woven, these days, electric cooking just has become a synonymous of induction cooktop in Nepal. It sometime represents infrared cooktops as well.
In order to prevent health of women and children caused by indoor air pollution, smokeless cooking system has been a ‘big need’ for Nepal. In the past, it was considered that improved cook stoves such as mud brick stoves and metallic stoves can reduce indoor air pollution, as these stoves consume less amount of firewood and produce less amount of smoke which let smoke go out through a designed chimney pipe. Similarly, gas produced by biogas plants can replace use of firewood. Lately, the country ‘moved’ to cooking by electricity. A small segment of well accessed population chose electric cooking as an alternative of LPG to tackle the problems in the southern border causing fuel supply in 2015.
It is worth mention that, all policies and plans such as the Constitution of Nepal 2015, Clean Cooking for All, Sustainable Development Goals, Energy White Paper, 5 year national plans have included clean cooking solutions for the people living in Nepal with enough room for electric cooking. So as, the head of state, head of government, ministers, planners and energy professionals are stressing need of electric cooking and its benefits. So as one of the SDG targets is to limit the use of LPG to below 40%, but apparently by 2030 it seems more than 50% of the population would be using LPG.
Thus, despite of ambitious plans and programmes, the promotion of electric cooking could not have touched a good level, showing that electric cooking has been used by 0.5 per cent of population as of November 2022.
It is also to remember that Government of Nepal through Alternative Energy Promotion Centre (AEPC) had provided technical and financial support to install 1.5 million improved cookstoves – both mud brick and metallic and more nearly 450,000 domestic size biogas plants. Lately, the centre has been mobilising Green Climate Fund to install 500,000 electric cooking devices (induction cooktops) in the Madhesh Pradesh. The centre has received Rs 2.55 billion from the United Nations to promote the use of electric stoves and other clean cooking systems. Similarly, since a few years back, some non-government organisations engaged in climate and women and children health are also promoting electric cooking systems for common households.
A recent news on import of electric cooking device says that Nepal had imported 86,513 units of electric stoves in the first seven months of the current fiscal year (during the period between mid-July and mid-February). That is a total of 84,512 units of induction cooktops and 2,001 units of infrared cooktops.
Doubtlessly, cooking in electricity is the best option for Nepal as it is non-polluting, that means it cannot cause harm to health of the users. Electric cooking practice reduces consumption of firewood. That is environmental benefit from another point of view. Similarly, this practice reduces use of imported LPG. That means it reduces imports fossil fuels including LPG as the country has to pay a huge amount of money, causing wide gap in the balance of payment. Electricity used in the country is generated by renewable resources as such it is a measure to support domestic production.
Government of Nepal had announced various plans including plan that every family to have electric cooking device. At this point, the number of users should be expanded at an appreciable extent. This expectation is also supported by the registration of number of electric cooking devices at the border points. However, there is a gap of 18 months between census time and the revelling of the final report which is a crucial period for the growth of electric cooking devices distribution. Thus, it can roughly say that some 300,000 families are practising electric cooking with all preparation to switch to LPG with a fear that electricity supply may be cut any time for short while or long hours. So that it is reality that consistency and quality of electricity supply is one of the problems.
Another reason is that the Government had announced one electric cooking device to each household. Commoners simply understood that the Government is providing them freely. They also had seen or heard that projects and programmes provide induction cooktops to the users free of cost in some places and with sizable subsidy in many places. So they simply wait for their turn to get freely or at a minimum cost.
The Government authorities are saying that 94 per cent of households have been connected with electricity supply through the national grid. At this point, it is easy for laymen to understand that once the consumers get electric cooking device, they would use them. But, this did not happen as per the connection extension to so many users. Most of the consumers have 5 ampere connection and weak in house connections so they cannot use electric cooking – induction cooktop or infrared device. They need to upgrade to suit the connection quality.
Thus, the authorities and professionals may be suggested to review the promotion methodologies on realistic ground. So as electricity supply through the national grid or mini-grid or isolated systems should be deployed for reliable electricity supply. Tariff on electricity uses should be worth review as well as laymen still consider that cooking in electricity is not cheaper and the device and utensils cost extra. Repairing of the device takes long time to fix which cause reluctance to users. By this time the micro finance institutions, credit providing mechanism thought to have been successful in rural areas turned failure due to high rate of interest. Thus, a new credit mechanism needs to be introduced.
After all, cooking in electricity is beneficial to the consumers, support to climate activities, reduce import of fossil fuel and also reduce balance of trade.