High-tech sensors to monitor low-tech cook stoves

woman cooking on stove
Copyright: Tanvi Mishra

Speed read

  • Biomass burning accounts for 40 per cent of global black carbon emissions
  • Study installed a sensing system that uploads data to a cloud-based software
  • Uploaded cooking data facilitates carbon credits directly to users

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[NEW DELHI] High-tech wireless sensors that measure cook stove usage can make cleaner cooking technologies more affordable for the global poor, a study finds.  
The study, jointly conducted by researchers from the US-based Nexleaf Analytics and the University of California San Diego and the India-based The Energy and Resources Institute, supports climate financing efforts to encourage the use of improved cook stoves that ensure better combustion and hence, lesser pollution.
Globally, more than three billion people burn solid biomass in inefficient stoves, producing a toxic combination of particles from incomplete combustion of fuels brimming with black organic carbon. Biomass-burning accounts for about 40 per cent of global black carbon emissions — half of it from rural India. Further exposure to these particles indoors is estimated to be responsible for 3.5 million deaths every year.
The research team installed sensing systems in more than 4,000 Indian households and remotely monitored improved cook stove usage in 456 households. By continuously monitoring the temperature of the improved cook stove, the solar powered sensing system, StoveTrace, tracks daily usage of the stoves by the minute.
The data is transferred to Nexleaf Analytics’ cloud-based software that analyses usage statistics and converts them into climate credits. The system allows Nexleaf Analytics and their field partners to make data-driven decisions to improve adoption of cleaner cooking technologies. This is the first time that users are being rewarded for their role in fighting regional and global climate change.
Already, the sellers or distributors of improved cook stoves receive financial incentives.

Data collected over 17 months has provided new insights into user behaviour, chief among these are that users significantly overestimate or underestimate usage of improved cook stoves. The researchers also found out that the actual climate pollution mitigation potential of improved cook stoves was just a quarter of projections — which correspond to a scenario of complete adoption of improved cook stoves.
“The system continuously uploads data on cooking events in a home, giving improved stove stakeholders access to use measurements in near real time, without additional field visits. It also enables rural women to receive cash payments on carbon markets for using improved cook stoves,” says Tara Ramanathan, StoveTrace programme manager at Nexleaf Analytics.
Ramanathan’s team’s studies also suggest that climate credits do encourage people to adopt cleaner technologies.
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s South-East Asia & Pacific desk.