This post is the third in our New Directions Blog Series which chronicles some of the exciting changes happening at Potential Energy. This series will take you on a journey with us as we explore new models, markets and technologies for improving the lives of women across the African continent. In our previous post, we wrote about why we’ve chosen to distribute advanced biomass cookstoves in Uganda and Burkina Faso. In this post, we’ll explain how we’re making them affordable and why using these stoves can often make budgeting for education, food and other family needs easier.
Winnie (left) explains the program to a potential member.
The advanced stoves we’re distributing in Uganda and Burkina Faso cost a lot more than the improved stoves we’ve been distributing over the years in Darfur. Each unit, including the solar panel and LED light, costs over $100. For the average household, this is simply unaffordable. So we set out to design an operating model whereby people could take a stove home and start using it immediately, without having to find the cash to purchase it.
What’s emerged as the best solution is a clean energy membership program, where new members pay a refundable security deposit to gain access to a stove and commit to purchasing pelletized biomass fuel to cook with. Not only is pelletized biomass fuel the optimal fuel type for use with advanced biomass stoves, it’s produced locally from sustainable sources like sawdust and agricultural refuse. It’s also cheaper than the large volumes of wood or charcoal needed to cook meals on open fires or with inefficient traditional stoves.
This membership model provides several benefits to customers. Since we don’t require an up-front purchase, if a customer doesn’t like the stove or if the stove malfunctions, they can simply return it for a replacement or repair. It’s a zero-risk proposition. We’re also offering a high-level of convenience and service – members can choose fuel delivery or pick-up, and can schedule follow-up stove training as needed.
Another benefit involves family budgeting. When families have to purchase wood or charcoal on the open market, they’re subject to the fluctuating price of these commodities. In Uganda, for example, most people cook with charcoal. The price of charcoal has been rising rapidly in recent years and will undoubtedly continue to fluctuate. Purchasing charcoal can consume up to 40% of a family’s income and since fuel for cooking is a non-discretionary purchase, other household purchases have to be reduced if fuel prices rise unexpectedly, as is common.
Education-related expenses are unfortunately often one of the first items to be cut from the family budget. Our program reduces the amount families spend on fuel and provides stable, predictable pricing, so that families can confidently allocate more resources towards education for their children.
Our next blog post will be all about the pelletized biomass fuel we’re selling. We’ll delve deeper into what it’s made of, how it’s produced, and why it’s the optimal fuel type. We’ll also explain how selling the fuel enables us to expand the project to serve more families. Stay tuned!