SPRU - Science Policy Research Unit

Modern Energy Cooking Services Programme

University of Sussex academics are developing a method to help build socio-technical innovation systems that have the potential to transform poor women and men’s access to clean cooking services.

Prof David Ockwell, Dr Rob Byrne and Research Fellow Jacob Fodio Todd are part of a £39.8 million programme, funded by the Department for International Development (DFID), aiming to transform Modern Energy Cooking Services (MECS) in the Global South. If successful, the five-year programme will see significant moves away from biomass-based cooking, such as charcoal and wood, towards modern energy-based cooking using electricity and gas.

More than a third of the world’s population uses unsustainable and polluting fuel to cook, causing more deaths than malaria, HIV and TB combined.

Furthermore, using charcoal and wood to cook contributes three per cent of the global CO2 emissions every year, and 34 per cent of biomass fuels come from unsustainable sources.

Prof Ockwell, Head of the Geography Department and Sussex lead, said, “Achieving the move to modern energy cooking services demands nothing short of a transformation, part of which means the international community adopting a new understanding of innovation and technological change, grounded in the context of low-income countries and the lived realities of poor and marginalised women and men”.

In line with this, the MECS Programme researchers will work to understand the interaction of technologies, social practices and innovation systems around cooking to ensure that cleaner technologies fit with people’s everyday lives and offer new benefits, such as improved health and reduced costs.

At the official launch of the MECS Programme in April 2019, MP Harriett Baldwin said, “By using British expertise from world-leading UK research institutions and the private sector we can bring together the right technology, ideas and researchers to help tackle climate change and prevent millions of unnecessary deaths”.

Dr Byrne, Senior Lecturer at SPRU - the Science Policy Research Unit said, “Examples of successful transformation are those that  are grounded in a solid understanding of the social context, using this to inform subsequent innovations around technology. Successful interventions have also been underpinned by upfront public investment to build and strengthen innovation systems around technologies in specific low-income countries”.

The University of Sussex will be working with Kenyan partners the African Centre for Technology Studies (ACTS) and independent researcher Elsie Onsongo on their part of the project, which is worth £500,000 over three years and commenced in July this year.

The project will adapt previous research conducted through the STEPS Centre at the University of Sussex that focussed on improving access to sustainable energy. This includes analysing existing socio-technical innovation systems around clean cooking in Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda to identify the actors involved, strengths and weaknesses of the systems, and the pathways towards transforming those systems in favour of modern energy cooking services.

Jacob Fodio Todd, Research Fellow in SPRU, said, “We have seen potentially transformative opportunities for new energy-efficient electric cooking technologies in East Africa. This project will seek to understand the financial, social, political and innovation system dimensions of technological change in order to enable poorer households to access modern energy cooking services”.

The MECS Programme is being led by Loughborough University who are working with a number of other UK research institutions in addition to the University of Sussex and a host of Southern partners.