SPRU - Science Policy Research Unit

Low cost energy-efficient products for the bottom of the pyramid

It’s not energy access that is key to changing people’s lives but how people use that energy that’s important

In recent years, we have seen an increase in activity to provide energy to low-income households and communities in developing countries, through micro-grids and other methods of distributed energy resources. While studies have shown some improvement in people’s lives as a result of the incremental increase in access to lighting, there have been few studies evidencing broader improvement due to energy access. However, access to energy itself cannot change people’s lives; rather, it is what people use the energy for that does change lives: appliance loads such as household devices, workplace machines, clinical/medical devices, etc. These appliances can enhance quality of life, generate incomes and provide huge health benefits. Currently, the limited understanding and attention provided to the many market segments represented by the global poor, and of what types of powered appliances and products might change the quality of their lives (and, ideally, their economic condition) is extremely scarce.

Our research will use energy as the central theme to increase global understanding of the demand from various BoP segments with respect to low-cost energy-efficient technologies, and how such products can be sustainably developed and deployed in developing countries to have large-scale impact. Specifically, we will ask the following research questions:

  • What are the top-priority low-energy devices that have the potential to improve lives at the BoP? What are context and culture-specific design and operational parameters that will govern levels of low-energy consumption? What are acceptable price points and how will the devices be constructed and commercialized at those levels?
  • How can an effective innovation system be created to develop a continuous pipeline of pro-poor energy-related technologies?
  • What types of new partnerships and business models will lead to the uptake of innovative low-carbon clean energy and energy-efficient technologies at required speed and scale?


Focusing on Kenya, this project working with key private and public sector partners will:

  • Conduct a series of in-depth market research on the energy-efficient products and their characteristics that are required by the healthcare sector and in homes across Kenya. This will also identify barriers and opportunities to access to such products.
  • Conduct techno-economic analysis of the identified products as well as review the various business models used to deploy them. This will help to identify the limits of how affordable these energy sources can become (and along what timeline).
  • Prioritize the top-three in-demand products/systems (for used in households, workplaces, or medical facilities) and work with innovation hubs to develop and test prototypes of improved products meeting the demanded characteristics and/or support the development of sustainable business plans for existing products meeting the criteria.
  • Work closely with relevant private sector actors to develop innovative financing models understand consumer behavior, and encourage adoption.
  • Study the medium-term social impact of these products, as well as barriers to adoption.

Impact and Outreach

We seek to accomplish three primary objectives through this project. Our goal is to help improve the lives and livelihoods of the urban and rural poor in developing countries by providing access to clean energy products and opportunities in the following ways: 

  • Creating demonstrable improvements in the lives of beneficiary communities in Kenya, by building and responding to demand for low energy appliances. During the early stages of the project, we will conduct deeper market research in household quality of life, health and livelihoods. From this we will develop and market three relevant, robust, low-cost, energy-efficient appliances and equipment which are critical, but currently simply do not exist. The objective is to develop a product portfolio of cleantech devices geared towards creating cross-cutting impact. 
  • Supporting self-sustaining, job-creating innovation capacity in Kenya, by working with existing innovation hubs, universities and technical institutions, and in particular by leveraging other funding for at least one Innovation Hub in Kenya.
  • Mobilizing private sector investment in similar low-cost energy-efficient products for the poor in developing countries.

Project News

July 2018

An LCT team presented project findings at a final dissemination event arranged by the African Centre for Technology Studies (ACTS) at ICIPE in Nairobi, Kenya on the 17th July. The event was held to share lessons and experiences from the LCT project, which was funded by the EPSRC and DFID. The meeting provided an opportunity for the project team to disseminate results and discuss areas of interest and engage in ways forward with event participants.

June 2018

Work on the Nairobi eCookbook started, looking at a number of participants’ cooking techniques, ingredients and energy use with a select number of dishes. The results will be compiled into a eCookbook, providing tips on how to make energy and cost savings by cooking efficiently.

May 2018

The second round of the cooking diaries study began on the 21 May in Kenya. Twenty households meticulously recorded data on the cooking details and energy consumption of meals, using firstly the participants’ pre-existing fuels and devices, followed by a longer period using LCT provided electrical appliances, attached to an electricity meter. The study, which took place over 6 weeks, ended in July, with data analysis undertaken shortly thereafter, and a report forthcoming.

January 2018

In Nairobi and Mombasa, two womens cooperative groups were trained to make Wondabags. These non-electric portable slow cookers (hotboxes) allow food to continue to cook for up to 12 hours after being removed from the stove, leading to savings on fuel. The workshops were delivered with input from the LCT business mentor over eight days in January.

December 2017

An LCT team presented project findings at the Understanding Sustainable Energy Solutions (USES) conference in Nakuru, Kenya from 6th – 9th December. The conference was held to share lessons and experiences from all 13 projects of the USES network research programme, a major UK government research initiative, funded by the EPSRC and DFID. The meeting provided an opportunity for the project teams to meet and discuss areas of connection and potential collaboration moving forward as well as hear the latest updates.

November 2017

A new LCT report ‘Demand side contextual drivers of inclusive innovation: the case of Kenya’s energy efficient appliances sector, M.Cheruiyot, R.Hanlin, S.Batchelor, N.Scott (2017)’ was presented at the 3rd AfricaLics international conference held at University of Oran 2, Bir El Djir Algeria between 27-29 November.

April 2017

A cook stove designed by LCT project partners at the United International University (UIU) in Bangladesh won first prize at a Power and Energy Hackathon organised by the Ministry of Power, Energy and Mineral Resources (19-20 April 2017). They won with their fan-driven improved cook stove design that is currently being piloted in Kenya by Rachuonyo Environmental Conservation Initatives, with mentoring support from LCT partner organisation ACTS.

The project was the work of Prof. Rezwan Khan (Vice Chancellor of UIU in Bangladesh), his Research Assistant Arif Talukder, and several undergraduate students. The award was accompanied by USD 650 (Taka 50,000) prize money, and has garnered substantial media coverage, including The Daily Star and Daily Sun.

October 2016

The project team reached a big milestone in our Universal Clinics Project, which aims to deliver quality, affordable primary healthcare to rural communities, via a hub-and-spoke delivery model enabled by a system which combines biometric-enabled medical records, integrated point-of-care diagnostics, configurable clinical protocols and workflows, and telemedicine. Over the past many months, our team has been working closely with our partners at Mobilitas to get the first version of the product tested by a group of nurses and physicians in Kenya. The project team are delighted to announce that the user feedback has been very positive, and that we can confidently declare this a success. The progress to date allows us to begin the process of rolling out the technology to clinics in Kenya, Pakistan and India. We are aiming to get clinics up and running with this technology by February of 2017, and gradually ramp up from there.

The LCT team also held a successful workshop with cookstove engineers and technicians in Nairobi Kenya at the Desmond Tutu conference centre on 3-4 October. The two day programme bought together 26 participants who where shown prototypes of new types of electric stove and discussions on the pros and cons of this technology were held.  Existing improved cookstove designs where compared against new designs.  The workshop also saw participants considering the benefits of passive cooking bags and induction cookers. The highlight of the workshop was a ‘cook-off’ between several of the prototypes against existing improved cookstoves to see which could boil water and cook rice the fastest. For further information, see the Next Generation Ideas Workshop report [PDF 1.41MB].

May 2016

New survey report out! The LCT project team are pleased to present the results from the first choice modelling survey of low cost energy efficient medical and domestic appliances in Kenya.  The survey investigated public perceptions of the design choices of a range of appliances. The results will be used to help design more consumer friendly and energy efficient medical and domestic appliances for the Kenyan market.  The report can be accessed here. The results of the survey have already started to be disseminated and further information of the first of these efforts can be found here

April 2016

Survey dissemination seminar held with solar entrepreneurs in Nairobi. A half-day seminar was held at Kenya Climate Innovation Centre, Strathmore Business School, Nairobi, Kenya today to provide details of the LCT survey to entrepreneurs working in solar PV, cookstoves and other renewable energy industries.  A presentation was made of the key results of the choice modelling survey conducted in late 2015-early 2016. The survey focused on understanding consumer preferences for key design features of improved cookstoves, solar/ passive fridges and solar water pumps together with an integrated suite of energy efficient healthcare technologies available in a 500w ‘clinic in a box’. 

The seminar at KCIC focused on survey results relating to domestic appliances. Over 40 entrepreneurs and other stakeholders expressed interest in the event and requested a copy of the report with 26 attending the event today. The results were discussed in depth with participants providing feedback on the usefulness of the survey results for their business plans, the gaps in the research (and made a strong recommendation for a second round) as well as providing some explanations for a few anomalies found in the results. One participant stated, ‘this is the first time I have seen a project that starts from what people need’.

February 2016

The LCT project held their annual project meeting in London on the 22nd and 23rd of February. The meeting discussed the results of a survey conducted with over 700 respondents in Kenya using choice modelling methodology.  The survey provided details of what technological, financial and practical parameters were deemed important for users with regards a range of energy efficient technologies for use in healthcare facilities, farms and households in Kenya. Day two of the meeting was attended by several representatives from the UK’s Department for International Development, the Low Carbon Energy for Development Network and the Open University. Based on the discussions at the meeting, the project will start stage two of the project. Stage two comprises prototyping and field testing of various energy efficient technologies with a view to working with companies to develop viable commercialisation plans by the end of 2017. Throughout these activities allied social science research will continue to understand better the barriers and opportunities for technology brokering and commercialisation of energy efficient technologies in Kenya. 

The project is funded by EPSRC-DFID USES programme and runs for three years from 2015 to 2017. Further details of the project are available on the Development Policy & Practice website, and details of the survey can be found on this Facebook page.

January 2016

Survey fieldwork is almost complete. We are pleased to present some initial feedback on the survey process in this report and some initial findings of a desk survey on the energy sector in Kenya and the domestic energy appliances market in this report.

October 2015

Team members are in Nairobi and Kisumu this week pilot testing the choice modeling survey for the project. Two days of training in Nairobi of 8 survey enumerators will be followed by pilot testing of the survey at a Nairobi market and the national nurses conference in Kisumu. Details of the choice modeling survey and updates on the survey itself can be found on this Facebook page.

September 2015

Two members of the project team, Terry Cook and Simon Batchelor, presented the project at the annual USES network workshop in London. The USES network brings together all the projects funded by the EPSRC-DFID USES programme. The annual meeting provides an opportunity for the projects to meet and discuss areas of connection and potential collaboration moving forward as well as hear updates on each project.

For more project updates, visit the Solar Electric Cooking blog and Low Cost Technologies Research Facebook page. 

Partners and Links

Professor Joanna Chataway, Principal Investigator

Jacob Fodio Todd, Research Assistant 

Partnered institutions:


LCT Demand side contextual drivers of inclusive innovation: the case of Kenya’s energy efficient appliances sector, M.Cheruiyot, R.Hanlin, S.Batchelor, N.Scott (2017) [PDF 1.6MB]

LCT Market Research Studies (Kenya), S.Batchelor, N.Scott (2016) [PDF 2MB]

LCT Survey report - Progress, challenges and lessons learnt to date, M.Cheruiyot (2016) [PDF 145.67KB]

LCT Desk Assessment of current products and players involved in the development and sale of domestic energy-efficient products in Kenya (2016) [PDF 213.47KB]

LCT Improved Cookstoves: Next Generation Ideas, Workshop report (2016) [PDF 1.41MB]

LCT Universal Access to Electricity: Closing the Affordability Gap, Mitra, S and Buluswar, S (2015) in Annual Review of Environment and Resources Vol. 40 (261-283)

LCT The Universal Clinic: A New Paradigm for Rural Health Care? Mitra, S (2016) blogpost

Cookstove workshop at the Desmond Tutu Conference Centre, Nairobi, Kenya (3 & 4 October 2016)

Wondabag training workshops, Nairobi and Mombasa, January 2018

The LCT Dissemination workshop, Nairobi, 17th July 2018