Cooking is necessary for survival since only humans use fire to cook food. Unfortunately, many households still depend on non-renewable fuels, such as coal and wood, to cook their food, which can be detrimental to health and deforestation. Renewable energy is a necessity in many parts of the world.
Stimulating the widespread use of renewable energy sources for electrical power appliances can also contribute to universal electrification. For example, distributive solar energy grids in a place like Haiti ensure that local communities have a steady supply of electricity while reducing the cost of energy per household. But providing a steady supply of electricity to Haitians is not the only thing that Earthspark, a nongovernmental organization that focuses on using renewable energy for cooking, is doing.
CLEAN COOKING IN HAITI
In Haiti, poverty, which affects half of the population, is accompanied by significant energy poverty. Roughly 75% of households in the country are not connected to electricity grids. The few people with access to electricity in their homes face an extremely unreliable system, where the efficiency of the energy grid is approximately 50%. In Latin America, Haiti ranks last, with less than 39% of Haitians connected to an energy grid. The result is that most cooking in Haiti is done with charcoal, a fuel derived from wood harvested from the limited trees in the country. The country is one of the most deforested in the world, and less than 1% of Haiti’s original forest is still standing.
And that gets us to the story of Earthspark, which started in Haiti in 2010 after the nation’s capital, Port au Prince, was destroyed by a massive 7.0 earthquake. Since its creation, Earthspark has pioneered the use of renewable energy to support women to use solar energy as a fuel for cooking. It has received funding from the US Agency for International Development, the Government of Norway, the UN, and National Geographic.
What makes Earthspark stand out is its application of a Sparkmeter, a device that allows people to purchase electricity they need rather than rely on a national power grid for electric power that is expensive and unreliable. Also unique is the organization’s focus on feminist electrification: bolstering the participation of — and benefits to — women in newly electrified areas through infrastructure planning, training, and employment. The focus on women is also logical because active participation by women is essential for promoting widespread access to electric-based cooking appliances.
Bringing a gender lens to electrification ensures that women have opportunities to reduce carbon emissions, prevent further deforestation, and move toward a more healthy source of energy.
Unlike the efforts to promote clean cookstoves that use Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG), Earthspark’s power comes from two distributive solar grids in Les Anglais and Tiburon, coastal provinces of Haiti, resulting in a more efficient and reliable source of renewable energy for cooking. In addition, by using solar power over LNG, Earthspark’s clean cooking techniques are at the forefront of sustainable and clean cooking. As a result, Earthspark has connected over 450 homes and businesses to their microgrid in Les Anglais and Tiburon. This has given families access to electricity-based cooking appliances, which have a significant potential to boost economic opportunities through new job prospects, increased productivity, inclusive economic growth, and improved local resiliency.
Les Anglais and Tiburon were also impacted by the August 2021 earthquake that destroyed large parts of Haiti’s southern coast. Still, Earthspark’s grids were only minimally damaged, and the organization was able to power the towns through the tragedy. This was very important as this area was without power for weeks, with the exception of Earthspark’s solar grid and commercial generators. By building energy-related business models that leverage clean energy, storage, smart grid, and customer participation, Earthspark has plans to increase community microgrids from 2 to 24 grids and impact over 80,000 people in the next four years.
EMPOWERING HAITI’S WOMEN
Earthspark’s efforts in supplying clean energy benefit not only the environment but also Haitian women, which is evident from the data. Out of the approximately 4 million people who die from indoor pollution yearly, most are women due to the deeply rooted gender social norms worldwide that dictate that women are responsible for cooking. On the other hand, women who use cleaner fuels and technologies in their homes are 50% less likely to suffer from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. This is likely one of the reasons why the issue of clean cooking is often overlooked: most of those affected are women.
Bringing a gender lens to electrification ensures that women have opportunities to reduce carbon emissions, prevent further deforestation, and move toward a more healthy source of energy. Furthermore, since electrification in these cities is often a new endeavor with significant positive outcomes and high desirability, all genders can partake in working with the new technologies. As a result, through feminist electrification, local women-led businesses, domestic energy use, and community resources are impacted, reducing extreme poverty for men and women and increasing the viability of rural electrification, all while bolstering women’s agency to transform their realities.
THE POWER OF CLEAN COOKING
In one study conducted by Earthspark in Haiti, electric cooking reduced the time preparing meals from 32% to 53%. This freed up time for women to go to school or work on other projects in their community, which enabled the cooks to spend more time conducting other activities. Clean cooking conducted through microgrid electrification is, therefore, a win for the women of Haiti and a win for clean energy.
Earthspark has also collaborated with Enèji Pwòp, a Haitian social enterprise that focuses on improving cooking technologies, demonstrating the positive effects of engaging with local organizations. As a result, it was named “Sustainable Energy Initiative of the Year” in 2022 by Island Innovation and The Clinton Global Initiative.
Clean cooking is also directly connected to the UN Sustainable Development Goal 7: ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all. However, clean cooking is often seen as an entirely separate issue from providing access to energy or a greener climate. That is precisely why Earthspark bridges the gap between these two issues.
Allison Archambault, president and CEO of Earthspark International, noted that “energy planners need to merge the concept of cooking with renewable electrical energy.” While cooking is considered the responsibility of women in the home, empowering them through clean cooking tools that allow them to save time and be more active in their communities could lead to gender equality as well.
Beatrice Neal de Souza is a recent graduate of American University’s School of International Service, where she focused on international development. She will be starting as a Presidential Management Fellow this Spring.
Johanna Mendelson Forman is a Distinguished Fellow, Stimson Center, Washington, DC, and Adjunct Professor, School of International Service, American University.