African Clean Energy was founded on the mission to enable affordable access to clean energy in regions of the world that are still battling energy poverty. We do so by distributing the ACE 1 Solar Biomass Cookstove, an accessible high-tech cooking solution that doubles as an energy source for powering LED light and charging mobile devices.
From the very beginning, we knew that if we wanted to bring positive change, it would be imperative to build proximal relationships with the people we want to serve. By collecting data from customers in Lesotho, Cambodia and Uganda, we are able to gain reliable insights into the real impact that energy has on each household and their family life. By breaking down the meaning of energy in each of its comprising benefits, we have been able to build our product for maximum utility and bring forward solutions to the most pressing day-to-day concerns associated with energy poverty.
So, what has our customer data revealed so far? What are the top five benefits that come with stable access to clean energy?
Health is at the forefront of improvements brought by enabling stable access to energy. In the absence of a clean cooking solution, families are constrained to cook on open-fire: a hazardous practice that puts them at risk of consistent smoke inhalation. This task is often left to the women and children and thus the health burden often weights more heavily on them.
Four million people die every year of health problems related to exposure to Household Air Pollution (HAP), more than AIDS and Malaria combined. However, since smoke is a silent killer, and often its effects are long term, it is not portrayed with the same sense of tragedy and urgency as other (also very serious) issues. The risks are often also experienced as less pressing, and therefore many can not prioritise improvements over other household expenses.
“I had a cough, because of that smoke. My father’s brother, who died of the smoke, we had the same problem. Me and that man who died. Eyes and inside our chest. Life has changed now. With this stove, really I can cook. Just a little bit of wood and I cook for the kids. It’s nice. It’s easier now” – M’e Liemang Mohale.
Gaining access to clean energy means families will not have to use open fire for cooking anymore – thus protecting them from the fumes that are detrimental to their health.
Open fire cooking also has an strong economic disadvantage: it burns inefficiently, leading to a low energy yield. Families often spend up to 25% of their monthly income solely on fuel for cooking, let alone other energy needs. It is an immense financial burden, but also indispensable, which leaves no choice but to remain in this continuous and expensive cycle.
Access to clean, renewable energy lifts this burden and allows families to allocate their monthly income on the things that really matter to them: education, home improvement, agriculture, etc.
Masefeleea Chabalala is a small business owner selling goods from her tuck-shop. Her investment in ACE 1 helped her save more time and money, and allowed her to focus more of her resources on her business.
As mentioned in the previous point, the fuel used for sustaining an open fire takes up a lot of a family’s resources. It also takes up a lot of time. Predominantly women and children spend hours every day looking for biomass fuels to be burned on the fire. The time wasted in the process restricts our customers’ ability to improve the quality of their own lives, a critical limitation which keeps them trapped in a routine of living in order to get energy, and getting energy in order to live.
With access to clean, renewable energy, the time gained can be used in more productive ways that would lead to development and opportunities for families.
Masalemone Motlomelo is 57 and lives with her husband. Together, they care after 12 children and grandchildren. She told our sales team that for her, the greatest advantage of using the ACE 1 is being able to save time on collecting fuel, which she can now spend taking better care of her family.
In a world that is becoming increasingly more digitalised, leaving a segment of consumers off the grid poses a huge limitation to their potential to develop and grow. Even with mobile technology becoming increasingly affordable, the difficulty has been to ensure consistent energy access to charge the battery, limiting off-grid customers to pre-smart phone technology with longer battery life.
Communication and connectivity are also enablers of economic growth in under-served regions, opening the doors to agricultural collaboration, better governance control, alternative education and mobile finance solutions. The positive impact of mobile devices in the developing world is increasingly evident, meaning energy access and energy independence in off-grid communities is vital in order to ensure an uninterrupted connection.
Mathato Chaba had to walk more than one kilometer every day to charge her mobile device. Sometimes her phone would be off for a week because she couldn’t find the time to walk the distance. She invested in the ACE 1 mostly to ensure she can stay connected at all times.
Education is the most important factor in supporting the sustainable development of under-served regions. It is vital in the long-term uplifting our customers’ quality of life. However, oftentimes the biggest impediment to education is not having enough access to lighting during the night! Children, for instance, go to school during the day and assist their parents with chores before the sun goes down. Once it is dark, they cannot see anymore to write, read or study.
By distributing the ACE 1 with an LED light, we’ve found that this small accessory to our stove can make a huge difference in people’s lives and encourage education. Also, with 25% of our customers say their first priority for saving is for school fees and education, we can see what impact fuel savings can have on their ability to help their kids learn.
At African Clean Energy, we continue to work every day to grow our reach so that customers in emerging markets have access to clean, renewable energy, and thus also to these five benefits (and many more) that come with it. Our first priority is the last mile customer.