Story Highlights
  • ESMAP launches its first online course on clean cooking – The Hidden Side of Energy Access: Understanding Clean Cooking ¬– exploring the state of access to modern energy cooking solutions (MECS).
  • Learners will uncover that four billion people lack access clean, efficient, affordable, convenient, reliable, and safe cooking solutions.
  • Participants will gain a fundamental understanding of the negative effects of continued reliance on biomass fuels and basic stoves, MECS access rates around the world, demand- and supply-side dynamics, the role of the private and public sectors, and recommended actions for actors working in the sector.
  • Accelerating access to clean cooking and measuring progress require a nuanced and contextualized approach that is rooted in careful consideration of household and country. context.
A Recipe for Success: A New Interactive E-Course on Clean Cooking
March 19 2021

A Multi-dimensional View of Clean Cooking: Abuya's Story

In The Hidden Side of Energy Access, ESMAP's first comprehensive online course on clean cooking, we ask the learner to envision a kaleidoscope when reflecting on household access to modern energy cooking services (MECS). This cognitive exercise is meant to provoke thoughts on what household-level access to modern stove-fuel technologies actually looks like. Does access mean that modern solutions reduce emissions? That they are consistently affordable? That they are reliable? To answer these questions, you will meet Abuya, a young mother living in rural Kenya.

Abuya cooks for her family three times per day. In the past, Abuya was forced to walk for two hours each day searching for fuelwood and would subsequently stand over open fires inhaling smoke while cooking. A few months ago, she decided to make a change. Pooling her savings, she purchased a durable cookstove and invested in the monthly purchase of briquettes, a compressed biomass fuel that is better for her health and the environment. Her cooking solution is now much "cleaner" – it is more efficient and produces lower emissions levels. Has Abuya reached the threshold for modern cooking?

With our kaleidoscope in mind, we must investigate further. We soon uncover that Abuya spends 10% of monthly household expenditure on her briquettes. It is a significant amount and likely to be unsustainable over time. We also learn that the briquette supply at the corner store is unreliable, forcing Abuya to purchase charcoal at even higher prices. Finally, Abuya engages in fuel-stove stacking – this means that despite using her modern stove, she continues to cook on open fires to prepare some dishes out of habit and preference. We ask again, can Abuya's cooking practices be deemed as "modern"?

In the past, the answer would have been yes. Historically, progress on the clean cooking agenda – ensuring universal access to affordable, reliable, and modern cooking services – has been evaluated through dichotomous thinking. Cooking solutions were divided into "clean" and "non-clean" categories based on efficiency and emissions criteria. This simplistic polarity failed to acknowledge the many contextual aspects of household decision-making about fuel and stove usage. Beyond emissions reductions, households value affordability, reliability, convenience, and safety—aspects that, if left unmet, will mean that even the "cleanest" solutions fail to be adopted and progress on the clean cooking agenda stalls. Abuya's cooking solution is expensive and unreliable, challenging the notion that modern cooking has truly been achieved. Adopting a more comprehensive, multi-dimensional vision of modern cooking – envisioning a kaleidoscope – is the first step of the course's learning journey.

The Learning Journey

This course is designed to tell the story about clean cooking – how it has evolved, where it stands today, and where it aims to be—as a supplement to the newest State of Access report published by ESMAP. The course will tell you that, at a glance, clean cooking is far away from being achieved. Four billion people – half the world's population – lack access to modern energy cooking services (MECS). However, behind this first glimpse is a much graver reality, one in which households—and particularly women—face immense tradeoffs in time and health to feed families daily. So does our planet: non-renewable woodfuels produce up to 2.3% of global greenhouse gas emissions for cooking.

In this course, you will explore the Multi-Tier Framework (MTF), a tool that allows development practitioners to adopt a user-centered lens when tracking progress on the clean cooking agenda. The MTF is what we applied when investigating Abuya's cooking solution. Using data collected through this framework, you will uncover fuel and stove use trends among several regions. For example, in Sub-Saharan Africa, access to MECS remains staggeringly low, while in Latin America and the Caribbean, over half the population cooks with modern technologies. The term "stacking," the simultaneous use of multiple fuel-stove combinations that we saw in Abuya's case, will be made familiar to you. Stacking behavior has complicated our ability to determine whether households have indeed progressed to a threshold of "modern cooking."

Essential dimensions of ESMAP's newest report are the complex demand- and supply-side barriers that constrain and drive universal uptake of clean cooking solutions. The course seeks to elucidate these dimensions to you in a comprehensive manner, first by addressing affordability, convenience, availability, and safety considerations that households make in choosing fuel-stove combinations. The other side of the coin is the supply of those fuel-stove combinations – what does the market for cooking solutions look like, and what are the key challenges? As you will uncover, the clean cooking ecosystem is complex and fragmented. Clean cooking enterprises face difficulties in profitability and scale. Nonetheless, there is reason to be hopeful, as almost three-fourths of clean solution providers expect revenue increases in the future.

In the next section, we will take you through the evolution of the clean cooking sector. Consensus has gathered around the notion that programs must account for various factors that shape unique household- and country-level cooking contexts. It is demonstrated by the least cost, best-fit approach to clean cooking. This strategy makes the case that clean cooking programs should center around user needs, comparative advantages, and market conditions. The public sector's role is critical here and will be examined through various national-level programs that have sought to improve MECS access around the world.

At this point, you have a firm understanding of what clean cooking means, how progress is defined and measured, what constrains and drives adoption of modern cooking solutions from demand- and supply-side dynamics, and how the sector has evolved through time. The course's final section builds on these fundamentals and asks you to reflect on a series of recommended actions for national governments, donors, development partners, entrepreneurs, and private investors. How can we examine intricate household dynamics, unique country contexts, adoption drivers and barriers, and existing national programs to move the needle forward in ensuring universal access to modern cooking solutions? Progress will not come easy, nor will it occur without the concerted mobilization of efforts, resources, and investment.

Looking Ahead

While the course aims to be comprehensive with several key takeaways, the core lesson that should remain with the learner throughout her journey is that clean cooking is a complex development challenge. Simply defining what is meant by the term "clean cooking" is no easy task, and in the past, simplified definitions have halted progress rather than induced it. The far-reaching impacts on gender inequality, health, climate, and the environment span multiple development objectives, often leaving the clean cooking agenda hanging in tandem: where should our efforts go? What should we prioritize? The answers to these questions are not straightforward. They involve a multi-dimensional assessment of user needs and country capacity. While this may feel unsatisfactory, it produces a level of nuance in policy response that is commensurate with the complexities of the challenge at hand. With this introduction, we invite you to launch The Hidden Side of Energy Access: Understanding Clean Cooking.

This course came to fruition thanks to the tremendous support of the World Bank's Open Learning Campus (OLC), the learning platform hosting the four modules. The course benefited from funding from ESMAP and the Republic of Korea, Ministry of Economy and Finance under the OLC's Korea Program for Operational Knowledge.

For any questions regarding this e-course, please contact Franck Gbaguidi, Adviser to the Managing Director of IFC ( and Franziska Deininger, Consultant for ESMAP (