Unlocking electric cooking on Nepali micro-hydropower mini-grids

Electric cooking has the potential to improve quality of life for people who cook using biomass, both by improving health by eradicating harmful emissions and by removing the need to collect fuelwood, thus freeing up time for other activities. This paper reports on a study that introduced electric cooking as an alternative to biomass-based cooking in 10 households in Simli, a rural Western Nepali community, to assess its feasibility in rural off-grid contexts. Quantitative and qualitative data from a cooking diary study and electrical mini-grid data were collected, assessing the compatibility with micro-hydropower grids and Nepali cooking practices. Datasets of Nepali cooking practices and meal energy requirements were generated, revealing that generally two meals are cooked per day and that, on average, electric cooking consumes 0.25 kWh/day and 0.14 kWh/meal. Participants simplified their cooking practices and found chapati hard to cook on the induction hobs due to inexperience with the cookers. Conversely, dal and rice were found to be easy and fast to cook in pressure cookers on the hobs, leading to a switch from cooking chapati-vegetables based meals to dal-rice based meals. Fuel stacking was common, with participants reverting to their biomass stoves to cook chapati, and due to a lack of reliable electricity supply. Participants found that the transition to electric cooking provided more time for households, due to the reduction in length of time to cook a meal and less time required to collect firewood, and enjoyed cooking on the stoves due to elimination of indoor air pollution. The electrical data analysis showed that control issues, voltage instability, and limited micro-hydropower plant capacity provide obstacles for electric cooking, especially as it becomes more widely practiced. Nepali people typically cook at the same time as peak demand for electricity, exacerbating the problem of limited capacity in villages like Simli. Only three households continued to use their electric stoves regularly due to a lack of reliable electricity supply, showing that widespread adoption of electric cooking is currently unfeasible. The running costs of electric cooking were lower than the effective labour time costs of fuelwood collection, but initial capital expenses for the electric cooking system and monthly electricity costs are a further barrier to adoption in rural Nepal.