Electric Cooking and Sustainable Development: Experimental Evidence from Eastern DR Congo.

Around 2.6 billion people remain dependent on biomass fuel for cooking. This has severe health, budgetary and environmental consequences. Electric cooking is a healthier, cheaper, and cleaner alternative. It has also become a feasible one, given recent improvements in reliable electricity access. But, while both development and environmental actors are now seeking to untap the potential of eCooking, very little is known about barriers to its adoption, and whether it can deliver on its promises.

In this experiment, involving 1,500 households, we ask whether electric cooking can replace cooking with charcoal. We randomly distribute Electric Pressure Cookers (EPC) to households connected to a green electricity grid in the city of Goma, North-Kivu, where over 90% of the population relies on charcoal for cooking. The majority of this charcoal is illegally produced in protected forests and is an income source for armed groups.

We use a distribution model with a 100% subsidy provided by Virunga Energies, the green electricity provider. To overcome information gaps and learning costs, we organize demonstration sessions in which beneficiaries learn about the EPCs’ financial and health benefits and can test the cooker. Furthermore, we cross-randomize two additional treatments: (1) a free electricity bundle (5usd) that allows households to try out the EPC at home, and (2) an environmental and peace nudge that seeks to increase EPC use by highlighting its social benefits.

Research Design

Expected Results

We expect to be able to test the hypotheses that (1) receiving an EPC along with proper instructions will increase electric cooking and decrease charcoal consumption, (2) receiving a free electricity voucher will increase EPC use, (3) receiving a pro-social nudge regarding the impact of illegal charcoal production will lead to higher environmental awareness and higher EPC use.

Research Progress

A pilot study in the fall of 2021 showed that households used the eCooker and increased their electricity consumption considerably. In July 2022, we implemented the baseline survey, and in August 2022 a first batch of 500 eCookers and associated cook books were distributed during demonstration sessions. Ambassadors were trained to visit and guide beneficiaries, and collected some data during those visits. In October 2022 we registered our pre-analysis plan. A first follow-up survey is planned for March 2023. We expect to organise the distribution and demonstration sessions for a second batch of 500 cookers in Spring 2023.

Collaborations & Funding

This project was co-created with Virunga Energies and Virunga Foundation’s Monitoring and Evaluation Department. The other primary investigators are Sebastien Desbureaux, Lara Collart, Marijke Verpoorten, Raphael Soubeyran, Mathieu Couttenier, Natsuno Shinagawa, Jean de la Croix Kembere Mulwahili, and Christine Musharhamina.

To implement this project, we received funding from Research Foundation Flanders, Private Enterprise Development in Low Income Countries, and the Fund for Innovation in Development.