Q: What is Potential Energy? What happened to the Darfur Stoves Project?
Potential Energy is registered with the IRS as a 501(c)(3), and is the parent organization of the Darfur Stoves Project. We have the same staff and partners. We’ve changed our name to reflect our expanded role as a technology catalyst – disseminating cookstoves outside of Darfur as well as other technologies to the world’s poorest. Our experience in Darfur has convinced us that the opportunity is ripe; that there are many technologies out there just waiting to be refined, adapted, scaled and distributed. The many groups working to help poverty-affected people – engineers, humanitarian organizations, local distributers – are awaiting a uniting force to help unleash the full potential of their efforts. Potential Energy is that uniting force.
Q: What are you doing in Uganda? How / why did you expand to this new country?
In 2015 we launched pilot operations in Uganda in which we lease cookstoves and solar lights while selling safe and sustainably produced fuels via a home-delivery model of the fuel on a regular basis. Our model offers women and their families the ability to utilize best-in-class stoves at little-to-no upfront cost – allowing them the opportunity to transform the way they cook and light their homes while improving their health and economic well-being. Unlike our work in Sudan, where we have been distributing one stove model, our efforts in Uganda focus on consumer choice. We therefore offer a range of stoves, including African Clean Energy (ACE), Burn Stove, Philips, and Mimi Moto.
These stoves use charcoal briquettes which are sustainably produced locally in Uganda. Charcoal briquettes can be made from charcoal dust that accumulates in charcoal markets and is otherwise wasted, or they can be made from carbonized organic waste such as sugar cane stalks, maize cobs, and other agricultural residues. This fuel can be used in place of charcoal with similar, if not better, performance. We partner with Green Bio Energy as our supplier of high quality briquettes.
In addition to the stoves and fuel supply, we provide a solar lighting home system including two lights, a battery, a solar panel, and phone charging capabilities from Philips. Using this system, the customer is able to further reduce indoor air pollution by eliminating the need for dirty, smoky, and fire accident-prone kerosene lanterns. Families are able to save $100 per year by charging phones at home instead of with pay-per-charge vendors and by eliminating the need for expensive kerosene.
Q: Why not use solar stoves?
A solar stove is more like an oven than a stove – it works best with food that is cooked slowly over several hours with no stirring (such as rice). In Darfur, traditional meals are continuously stirred over high heat. The promotion of solar ovens would require a complete change of cooking styles, food eaten, and available ingredients – a logistical and psychological feat. In addition, solar ovens cannot be used to cook a morning meal (because there is not enough sun) – and this meal would still require firewood. Given the low durability of low-cost solar ovens (based on cardboard), and the comparable amount of firewood wood that could be saved, we favor durable fuel-efficient cookstoves that can preserve cooking traditions and are more likely to be integrated into Darfuri households.
Q. Why not clay or mud stoves?
In controlled settings, some well-made clay stoves use less fuel than the traditional open fire, and raw materials are cheaper than for a metal stove. However, tests of clay stoves in the field show that they save minimal (if any) fuel in actual use. It is too difficult to retain subtle but key design features as clay stoves are built by unskilled workers. Construction of a clay stove is laborious, and the cost and production time increase dramatically if a highly skilled craftsman is required. Metal stoves can be cut quickly and accurately, and then assembled by an unskilled worker in a way that does not compromise performance. Extensive lab and field testing of well-made clay stoves also shows that metal stoves save more fuel, even in controlled settings.
Q: How much do the stoves cost to make?
The cost of assembling Berkeley-Darfur Stove flat-kits, shipping them by boat to Port Sudan, and transporting them overland to the camps and rural areas is approximately $20. This cost fluctuates depending on the production level of workers in the assembly shops, as well as the variable prices of fuel and steel.
Q: How can I obtain a stove?
Currently we are only selling Berkeley-Darfur Stoves to wholesalers and retailers in India and Uganda. If you are in either country, and would like to purchase stoves, please contact us at email@example.com
Q: Can you expand to my area?
The Berkeley-Darfur and Berkeley-Ethiopia Stoves have been specifically designed to fit user preferences and local customs, and would need to be modified for users in other places. Because we have only satisfied a small portion of the demand in our current project areas, we are continuing to focus our efforts there. As Potential Energy grows, we will gradually expand our efforts and introduce a cookstove project in a third location as well as new technologies.
Q: How do you measure a stove’s impact?
The impact assessment surveys we conducted in 2010 have enabled us to quantify the impact of the Darfur Stoves Project on the livelihoods of women in Darfur. For example, the survey revealed that in order to avoid the risk of attack when gathering firewood, 80% of stove users in Zam Zam camp (the largest displacement camp in Darfur) now purchase firewood from vendors. The data from this survey indicates that by far the most significant impact of the stove is on livelihoods, with families saving $0.95 per day on firewood expenses. The Berkeley-Darfur Stove is predicted to last five years, which means that over the lifetime of the stove, it can save a family in Zam Zam more than $1,700. We continue to work with our partners to strengthen monitoring and evaluation, aiming to provide further insight into the impact of our work. For more information on laboratory testing please visit our partner, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s cookstove website.
Q: Why don’t you produce the Berkeley-Darfur Stove in Sudan?
We conducted a supply chain study which revealed that the full production of stoves in Sudan would be extremely costly due to lack of access to the correct materials and equipment and a lower production capacity. The study also revealed that shipping fully assembled stoves from India would be significantly more costly than assembling them locally in Darfur. For this reason, we chose to use a hybrid approach combining aspects of mass manufacturing and local production. Shri Hari Industries, the Mumbai-based factory that stamps the stove design into flat sheets of metal can produce 60,000 stove “flat-kits” per year with a single shift of workers. To keep costs low, the flat-kits are shipped to Sudan and assembled locally at the Berkeley-Darfur Stove assembly shop.
Q. Why firewood? Shouldn’t you distribute a stove that uses a different fuel source?
The team of engineers who developed the Berkeley-Darfur Stove explored several options during their initial fact-finding mission to Darfur in 2005. In other parts of the world there are currently projects underway converting agricultural waste and animal dung into fuel pellets to be used as cooking fuel. However, in the context of Darfur this is not feasible as there is very little agriculture and very few livestock. Even when these resources are available, developing these alternative fuel sources requires establishing an elaborate supply chain, setting up manufacturing facilities and distribution channels to supply a steady stream of fuel to end users. It is a long term effort that we keep in mind and will work toward. Charcoal is readily available for purchase in the camps in Darfur but is relatively expensive, with many households using it as a minor fuel, principally for brewing tea. Producing charcoal is also extremely fuel-intensive. Most of the chemical energy of wood is not retained in the charcoal that is produced from the wood, making it more efficient and beneficial to use firewood at this time.
Q: Doesn’t shipping the Berkeley-Darfur Stove kits from India to Sudan cancel out the stoves’ reduction in carbon emissions?
In the lifecycle of a stove, there are four major sources of carbon emissions: raw materials, manufacturing, transportation, and stove use. Of these sources, transportation actually accounts for less than one quarter of one percent (.22% exactly) of the total carbon emissions produced over the 5-year lifetime of the stove. As a result, the carbon emissions from transporting the flat-kits are cancelled out after about 8 days of using the Berkeley-Darfur Stove.