Technology: Integrated Domestic Energy System (IDES)

April 2015

While 1.3 billion people in the world lack access to electricity, more than double that number (nearly 2.7 billion) lack access to modern, clean cooking technologies, depending instead on traditional forms of fuel like wood, dung, coal and other biomass for their energy needs. However, while many countries are making efforts to tackle the energy access problem, their approach has mainly been concentrated on electricity centric interventions with a specific focus on extending centralized grid facilities to the energy poor communities. In this scenario, energy required for cooking often takes a back seat, reflected by the fact that while the majority of energy poor communities have electricity or access to clean lighting technologies, only a fraction of those have access to alternatives for clean cooking.

Introducing clean cooking alternatives has not been easy, because any improved or modern energy option has to compete with non-expensive traditional cooking methods, in this case stoves similar to a three stone fire, which require smaller investments and have negligible operational costs. Also, even though improved cook stoves have been in the market for some years now, their technology is still in a state of evolution with several adoption issues that make it hard for them to gain acceptance with the rural poor. As manufacturers developed models that were technically efficient fuel burning machines, the "one size fits all" concept failed to take into account diverse functional and cultural preferences - making it a difficult product to introduce and disseminate into all markets. Other key concerns included, finding a willing manufacturer to produce stoves on a large scale, setting up dedicated supply chains and assembly lines, keeping costs to a minimum and getting assured buyers. There were also issues of quality that needed to be addressed in order to make the cookstove a durable and efficient product. The improved cookstove as a stand-alone product came with a solar panel and a battery. However, in most cases, although the stove itself was durable and made of steel, there were inherent quality issues with the solar panel and battery, as these were non-standardized components and had no operational guarantees.

Therefore in order to compete with non-expensive traditional cooking methods, in addition to price subsidies and customizable models there is also a need for innovative dissemination and marketing methods that position an improved cookstove as a useful, transformative and economical alternative, worth spending the extra money on . Experience from the field, particularly through a number of TERI initiated projects, has shown that cooking energy options can successfully reach deprived households by piggybacking on other clean energy options as an 'add-on' component. For instance, if lighting options were integrated with cooking energy alternatives, then the integrated option becomes relatively more attractive than merely trying to sell the stove as a stand-alone product to the community.

This field experience and feedback prompted TERI to work on developing an integrated household system that addressed lighting and cooking energy requirements through a single unified system and resulted in the creation of the Integrated Domestic Energy System (IDES). The system incorporates the improved cookstove into the solar PV based lighting solution and is customizable through a wide range of cooking energy options that can be configured to serve individual household requirements at a very nominal extra cost. The IDES also adheres to required benchmarks of thermal efficiency and emission factors and by making the improved cookstove a part of the larger standardized lighting solution, it takes care of the quality aspect of components as well.

The IDES therefore concentrates on three key areas to enhance and improve the dissemination and adoption of improved cookstoves:

  • Cost: An improved cookstove, at INR 4200, was an expensive commodity to buy at the local market. Even after being heavily subsidized, the cookstove costed INR 2700, where the stove alone was for approximately INR 1000, the solar panel for INR 1200 and the regulator for INR 500. Most end users did not see a value in purchasing such a costly product, that too when an improved cookstove was not even a primary requirement as far as energy needs were concerned. Therefore, the first step in making the product affordable was to replace the steel body with a locally available cheaper alternative - such as cement or mud, drastically reducing material and manufacturing costs.
  • Supply Chain: Owing to slow adoption rates of commercially produced improved cookstoves, it was important to create a system that ruled out the large manufacturer and his limited distribution networks and pave the way for local, energy enterprise (EE) level assemblies. All EEs under the Programme underwent skill development trainings, making them self-sufficient and well equipped to produce cookstoves on order at zero risk. This not only made it possible to modify the cookstove based on end user preferences and usage behavior but also allowed flexibility in terms of multiple size options and production volumes.
  • Standardization through Integration: A major shortcoming of the improved cookstove were the non-standardized regulator and panel components. By integrating the cookstove into the popular solar home lighting solution, TERI ensured that the cookstove now became a part of a standardized and properly assembled system that accounted for the stove's energy requirement and provided a longer backup as well as reliable clean cooking solution. This also translated into a monetary benefit for the end user, who would now get a clean cooking alternative with their solar home lighting solution at a much cheaper price of INR 600.

The IDES is a first of its kind innovation in the field of clean energy access that brings the clean cooking issue at the same level of attention as clean lighting in a consolidated, responsive and viable format. Since its introduction in July 2014, TERI has successfully disseminated and installed nearly 8000 IDES systems in rural households across Uttar Pradesh, Orissa, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Meghalaya.

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