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The low wattage cooker: the Nepal experience

by Urmila Simkhada, IT Nepal, PO Box 2323, Kalamadi, Kathmandu, Nepal.


Nepal, which has about 6,000 rivers, is rich in water resources. It is estimated that 86,000 MW of hydro electricity can be generated from those rivers and this amount far surpasses the country's needs. At present, only 13% of the total population gets its electricity from the national grid, another 10% is served by micro-hydro electric plants and 77% of the population have no electricity at all. Statistics, shown in Table 1, show that traditional fuels account for the major part of the total energy used.

Table 1: Domestic fuel use in Nepal





Agricultural residue








Commercial fuels like gas and kerosene are expensive due to the high cost of transportation. Solar and wind energies are also expensive. In the hills and mountains the condition of forest is deteriorating and fuelwood is becoming scarce. To prevent further degradation of the environment and to improve the living conditions of the rural people, alternative sources of household energy need to be explored.

Across Nepal there are about 50 rural electrification schemes, which generate between 20kW and 600kW. The power produced by such schemes is mainly used for agro-processing and lighting. It is not possible to feed surplus electricity into the national grid because the distances are too great. As a result, a major shortcoming of rural electrification schemes is that they have a low 'load factor'. That is, the micro-hydro plant can produce more electricity than is currently used at those times of day when demand is low. The low wattage electric cooker can make use of that energy, as it can be used at 'off-peak' times.

Overview of the status of electric cooking in Nepal

In Nepal, traditional fuels still play an overwhelming role in energy supply. At national level there are several issues that relate to the low level of demand for cooking using electricity:

· Lack of policy framework and government commitment to promotion of electric cooking.

· Electric cooking is promoted only by a very small number of NGOs.

· There is insufficient networking.

· Due to high capital and running costs, only 10% of the population can afford electric cooking. In urban areas, kerosene and LPG are more cost effective than electricity for cooking. In rural areas, fuelwood is cheaper. Thus, cooking with electricity is only appropriate in areas with micro-hydro power, where tariffs are cheap and fuelwood is scarce.

· There is a lack of education and awareness of the benefits of electric cooking among those for whom it would be a good alternative.

Specification of Cookers. Bijuli Dekchi (BD) - a low wattage cooker which makes use of off-peak electricity to heat water for cooking. The hot water is especially useful in cooking rice and lentils.

Air Heat Storage Cooker (HSC) - an electric cooking stove which stores off-peak electricity by heating pebbles. The energy is released by blowing air over the hot pebbles. The hot air is applied to the cooking pots for cooking. Since the temperature of the air is high it can be used for frying, unlike the BD.

Bijuli Bucket (BB) - a very low power electric water heater. This provides hot water to households who have very low-wattage connections. Normally they would use electricity only for lighting. With the BB they can have hot water to use in the kitchen, for washing clothes, etc. thus saving on the amount of fuelwood used to heat water.

The original design of low wattage cookers is from Norway. The Norwegian model has been tested and modified in Nepal with a view to fulfilling the cooking requirements of Nepali households. For the last 10 years, the Intermediate Technology Development Group (ITDG), Development and Consulting Services (DCS), and the And-hikhola Rural Electrification Project have been involved in a rural electric cooking programme. Organizations such as the Anna-purna Area Conservation Area Project and the Salleri Chialsa Electrification Company are also involved in promoting electric cooking.

Pilot project in Andhikhola

Andhikhola is in the hilly region about 165 km west of Kathmandu. In 1988, electric cooking was introduced to 64 households which received 200 watts each of electricity. A 50% subsidy was given as an incentive to participate in the programme.

Lessons learnt at Andhikhola

· The practice of cooking at off-peak times was not fully realized.

· The programme did not reach the poorest households of the community.

· There was no apparent economic benefit associated with using electric cookers.

· The limited sizes of the pots (only 2, 4, and 8 litres) provided to each household did not allow enough flexibility for them to be able to prepare meals for guests.

· Two hundred watts was not enough to prepare a complete Nepali meal of rice, lentil soup, and vegetable.

· There was no guaranteed system for the repair and maintenance of the electric cooker.

Despite all the shortcoming of electric cookers, their social benefits were great. They were convenient and clean. The kitchen was free of smoke and the cooking pots did not become blackened with smoke. Time was saved as there was no need to collect fuel-wood.

In January 1995, electric cookers were again promoted in the markets of Andhikhola. This time they were sold on credit with a two year installment plan, a one-year guarantee and no subsidy.

Promotion of electric cookers in Salleri

Salleri, which is about 9,000 feet above sea level, has a population of about 4000. A hydro-electricity plant capable of generating 400 kW is in operation.

In 1989, electric cookers were introduced as a substitute for fuel-wood. Households with 500watt outlets were provided with 450watt cookers. Pots were used to cook rice, lentils, vegetables and some special Sherpa dishes. In Salleri, electric cookers were not used for heating water.

After some time the project was discontinued for several reasons:

· Electric cookers were not widely disseminated in Salleri due to the lack of organizational continuity and proper follow up.

· The project failed to emphasize educational or motivational aspects.

· The potential users were not well informed about the use and availability of the cookers.

· The use of an expensive Swiss standard system also discouraged electric cooking in Salleri.

Field tests on Air Heat Storage Cookers in Salleri showed positive results. The advantages of an HSC are that it is suitable for a small family (3 adults and 2 children), easy to operate, reliable, and technically sound. It is possible to fry food on an HSC and to cook all Nepali dishes. However, dissemination was difficult due to the high installation cost of an HSC.

In 1995, the Bijuli Dekchi was promoted successfully in Salleri, using the approach adopted in Adhikhola. It can now be bought by instalment payments, and repair and maintenance facilities are made locally available.

Figure 1: Suka Thapa using a bijuli dekchi cooker

ITDG/Caroline Penn

Cooking using electricity in Ghandruk

The village of Ghandruk lies in the Annapurna region of Nepal and is a famous tourist centre set at an elevation of 6000 feet. The population of about 1500 lives in 270 households. Agriculture is the main occupation, but at least one member of each household has joined the British or Indian Armies over the years. In addition, there are about 20 hotels/lodges managed by local entrepreneurs and their families. All these activities contribute to the economy of Ghandruk.

In Ghandruk electric cooking has been very successful in reducing the pressure on forest resources caused by the large number of tourists who visit the every year. A hotel consumes between 60 and 100 kilograms of firewood each day of the tourist season. In 1993, the Bijuli Dekchi (BD) was introduced by the Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP). The project encouraged people to conserve forest resources by using electricity to cook. The 50 kW hydroelectric plant of Ghandruk provides power for cooking.

At first, the idea of cooking using electricity was introduced to the villagers by various means including dramas and informal group meetings. Before the demonstration programme began, the potential users were well informed about the uses of BD. During the implementation phase, the project provided a strong support system.

In Ghandruk the practice of storage cooking is fully utilized. The eight litre pot is used for heating up water during off-peak hours, and the two and four litre pots are used for cooking rice and lentils using hot water from the eight litre pot. The hot water is also used for cleaning, washing and preparing animal feed.

The Bijuli Dekchi Impact Study (1994, ITDG) shows that the BD programme resulted in a savings in firewood consumption. The BD is successful in Ghandruk for the following reasons:

· Power supply is reliable.
· The cost of electricity, just Rs. 0.50 per unit, is very cheap compared to the national rate.
· The project provides strong support services after it sold the Bijuli Dekchis.
· The project educated the villagers about resources conservation.
· Of the households in the area, 75% have a regular cash income
· Firewood is used commercially.

A Bijuli Bucket (BB) field trial was also carried out in Ghandruk. The buckets were from 100 watts (12 litres) up to 1000 watts (120 litres). The field test indicated that users liked BBs. They used water for washing clothes and utensils as well as themselves and for preparing animal feed. Although it is difficult to quantify the economic benefits of Bijuli Buckets, the users found them advantageous. The demand for them increased, and in 1996, 22 were sold in Ghandruk.

Figure 2: Instructions on how to use a Bijuli Dekchi

ITDG/Caroline Penn

Bijuli Dekchi in Sikles

Another Gurung village in the Annapurna region, Sikles is a non-tourist village, with about 2000 people the majority of whom are engaged in agriculture. Many have also joined the British and Indian Armies. There are no tourist lodges,, and only a few tea shops for local people. Cooking is done using firewood. In the beginning of 1995, ACAP introduced the Bijuli Dekchi in Sikles. Of the 400 households, only 83 find Bijuli Dekchi feasible. At first, 43 households purchased BDs, but the number of BD users have since increased.


In rural Nepal, the use of electric cookers is a big step from a traditional world to a modern one. Villagers are reluctant to change their cooking habits due to socio-economic reasons

· They can only be used to cook a limited quantity.
· They cannot be used for all the meals traditionally cooked.
· Firewood is still cheaper than other commercial fuel.
· Villagers collect fuelwood by themselves during the agricultural off seasons free of cost.

There are many villages where fuelwood is extremely scarce and people spend many hours to collect a bundle of firewood. Even in such places, experiences have proved that credit and low-interest loans are required to promote electric cookers. In the typical village situation, villagers do not perceive the economic benefits of using the time saved in fuelwood collection in economic activities. Unless there is a subsidy, they will not invest money on electric cookers. Lack of capital is a major constraint on rural households' use of electric cookers. Facilities for maintenance and repair should also be available locally.

A cooking system must meet multiple criteria. At the consumer level, it must be easy to operate, relatively quick and convenient to use. Neither the initial cost nor the operating cost should be too high. The fuel supply should be reliable and affordable to the majority of households. At national level, a policy framework should be developed for electric cooking. It should provide policy guidelines and the formation of institutional frameworks and economic incentives for creating markets.