Smart Cookstoves Help Communities Cut Down on Air Pollution

A new high-tech project in India distributes solar-powered stoves

About 3 billion people in the world's poorest places cook their meals using traditional stoves, which pose problems for the environment and human health. The inefficient stoves, which require lots of firewood, dried dung, or crop waste, generate soot that contributes to global warming and has been linked to acute respiratory infections, lung cancer, and the deaths of young children. Organizations such as the UN Foundation's Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves have distributed improved stoves only to find that people don't use them. A new high-tech project being tested in eastern India provides both the stoves, via a loan, and an incentive to use them.

By Eliza Strickland

May 4, 2018

Through an international collaboration called  Project Surya, Indian nonprofit groups distribute efficient cookstoves that burn less fuel and produce much less soot.

Through an international collaboration called Project Surya, Indian nonprofit groups distribute efficient cookstoves that burn less fuel and produce much less soot. These "forced draft" stoves channel air into an enclosed cylinder in which fuel burns hotter and cleaner. The groups give rural women loans to purchase these stoves.  

One of the collaborating groups, the U.S. nonprofit Nexleaf Analytics, pairs an improved cookstove with a thermal sensor that determines when the stove is in use. The system uses the cellular network to upload usage information to the cloud. The local distributor can see, in real time, whether women are using their new stoves and can send out troubleshooting educators and technicians if they're not.

Project Surya's system uses  a solar panel to power  the sensor and its  communication tech.

Project Surya's system uses a solar panel to power the sensor and its communication tech.

As each woman uses her more-efficient cookstove and thus reduces her household's carbon emissions, she's rewarded via a climate micropayment system. The mobile banking system M-Pesa deposits rupees into her bank account based on her stove usage. The woman receives notification of the payments on her cellphone and receives the cash through a local agent. The money allows her to pay back her stove loan in monthly installments—and keep the change. 

This article appeared in the May/June 2018 edition with the headline "Kitchen Makeover."

Infographic by Brown Bird Design