Cooking up a storm at the Modern Energy Cooking Services Programme Launch

By Dr Joni Cook

On 4th April 2019, academics, researchers, private sector representatives and UK government officials gathered in Loughborough, UK, to celebrate the official launch of the five-year, Department for International Development (DfID) funded Modern Energy Cooking Services (MECS) programme. Led by Loughborough University and the World Bank’s Energy Sector Management Assistance Programme (ESMAP), the £39.8 million MECS programme aims to rapidly accelerate the transition from biomass (wood/charcoal) based cooking to modern, clean, low carbon energy-efficient alternative methods that utilise renewable sources of electricity such as solar photovoltaic systems.

Testing electric cookstove prototypes, Myanmar.

What is really exciting, and valuable, about this programme, is its future contribution towards addressing multiple, pressing sociocultural and environmental issues as outlined by the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Whilst the MECS programme predominantly contributes towards achieving affordable and sustainable energy access (SDG7) and improving health (SDG3), it is also highly relevant towards addressing some of the underlying causes of climate breakdown. With 3% of global carbon emissions currently attributed to biomass based cooking methods, accelerating the transition towards clean alternatives will contribute towards collective global efforts to address climate action goals (SDG13 and Paris Agreement) through reduced cooking-derived carbon emissions, and illegal deforestation rates (linked to SDG15) – 34% of wood and charcoal fuel is currently obtained from unsustainable sources.  

MECS researcher Dr Jon Leary discusses cooking economies with Harriett Baldwin MP, whilst demonstrating a newly developed electric cookstove prototype.

The official launch event, visited and officiated by the Minister of State at the Department for International Development Harriett Baldwin MP, showcased current and future clean cooking research and innovation agendas by key UK partners of the MECS research programme. Participating partners include Loughborough University, Gamos Ltd., University of Sussex, University of Strathclyde, University of Birmingham, De Montfort University, Durham University, University of Liverpool, University College London, Newcastle University, and the University of Surrey. Displays showcased a range of clean cooking methods being developed and honed.

The demonstrated recipe, Njahi bean stew, is one of a range tested and honed by 20 Nairobi cooks for a newly published cookbook designed for end users.

The launch event was preceded by a workshop held on 3rd April for key research partners of the MECS UK team, which aimed to ensure that strong connections are present between different MECS research strands. Morning events included an update on programme progress led by MECS Research Director Prof Ed Brown, an overview on programme administration by MECS Project Manager Dr Louise Medland, followed by interactive group work on ‘changing the narrative’ for clean cooking.

Cartoons by workshop participant and illustrator Bill Crooks (Mosaic Creative Ltd.) visualise the outcomes of workshop discussions.

The afternoon’s events included a discussion session on progress on the use of modelling in the MECS programme to understand energy access and use from household to national grid levels, and two sessions of group work discussing countries of interest and country-specific theories of change. A closing discussion session, led by MECS UK Research and Innovation Co-ordinator Dr Simon Batchelor, summarised what needs to happen at the global scale to ensure the long-term success of the MECS programme.     

Group work discussing and mapping countries of interest for current and potential future collaborations for the MECS programme.