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Cooking clean: the innovative energy system that's helping the environment and improving Salao’s life

Salao saves time and money through the ACE cookstove she purchased with her Kiva loan

Like many of her neighbors in northwestern Cambodia, Salao used to gather firewood to cook meals for her family. When kindling ran short, she would supplement with costly coal, which took even longer to ignite and emitted toxic pollutants into her home and village.

“I had to wake up early in the morning just to start the fire with the stoves I had used,” says the 33 year-old teacher, recalling the dirty smoke that billowed through the rooms as she cooked porridge. 

“When you use it, your house tends to not be just as clean as it could be. There are black marks all over the place.”

Salao’s Kiva loan allowed her to finance an ACE One cookstove from Kiva Field Partner African Clean Energy (ACE). ACE One cookstoves fire up quickly, minimize smoke emissions, and use 50 to 85 percent less fuel than traditional cookstoves. Outfitted with a small solar panel, the stoves also feature a USB port that charges phones and the LED lamp included in the kit, reducing household energy costs even further. 

"It saves almost fifty percent of my expense on stove fuel."

“This stove manages to curb some expenses for me such as purchasing firewood, since I do not have enough to go look for around my house. It saves almost fifty percent of my expense on stove fuel,” says Salao, who used to have to buy at least two bags of coal a month to fuel her cooking.

How ACE One cookstoves help the environment

The ACE cookstove powers up fast and minimizes harmful smoke emissions.

Designed to burn any solid dry biomass fuel, ACE One cookstoves protect the environment by reducing toxic smoke emissions and curtailing the need for unsustainably harvested wood from nearby ecosystems.
Examples of sustainable biomass are:

  • Small amounts of coal
  • Small sticks
  • Crop clippings
  • Animal waste

The ACE One uses a highly-efficient combustion chamber to burn fuel without any fumes, making it a safe, affordable way to cook. Here’s how:

  1. Biomass fuel is placed in the burning chamber and lit.
  2. A ventilator blows oxygen into the chamber from both the top and bottom.
  3. The oxygen increases the temperature inside the chamber to 1000°C (1832°F), causing the solids to turn into gas.
  4. The hot gas floats to the top of the chamber where it interacts with more oxygen and combusts completely, leaving nothing but a few ashes behind.

The ACE One also helps the planet at another level: The stove’s solar-powered battery generates and stores electricity, giving users access to a sustainable energy source that charges their phones and lights their homes with the stove’s LED lamp attachment.  

Health benefits of clean cookstoves

ACE One stoves help users breathe cleaner air

In addition to reducing pollution and helping the environment, ACE One cookstoves also greatly benefit the health of the people who use them—as well as their families and communities.

Around 2.6 billion people on the planet cook using open fires or inefficient stoves, according to the World Health Organization. The household pollution created by this results in 3.8 million premature deaths each year: 

  • 27% due to pneumonia
  • 18% from stroke
  • 27% from ischaemic heart disease
  • 20% from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • 8% from lung cancer

Cooking fumes have the worst effect on children: Exposure to household air pollution greatly increases the risk for childhood pneumonia, and 45 percent of all pneumonia deaths of children younger than five years old are attributed to soot inhalation in the home. 

By providing a clean, smokeless cooking source and affordable clean energy access, ACE One stoves have helped hundreds of thousands of people breathe cleaner air. In addition to improved air quality in their homes, ACE One customers also reported:

  • An average savings of 83 percent on energy expenses
  • 63 percent now use clean energy exclusively
  • 59 percent say they no longer have to spend any money on energy

Cleaner air and cheaper energy add up to a better quality of life, and these cookstoves are more accessible than ever through ACE’s partnership with Kiva.

Fund an earth-friendly loan

It can be difficult for customers to accumulate the lump sum of cash needed to invest in clean energy tools like the ACE One with irregular, inconsistent or unpredictable cash flows. Loans allow them to afford this investment which ultimately leads to longer-term savings on fuel costs. Flexible repayment schedules allow them to pay off the loan over time with their income.

How her new stove improved Salao’s life

Salao works as both a school teacher and a vendor to support her all female family

"It’s more convenient, and it’s quicker."

As an elementary school teacher, Salao is the primary breadwinner in her home, bringing added responsibility and demands on her time. 

“There are four people in my family these days; my mother, myself, my daughter, and my niece. It’s an all-female family,” she explains. “Only I have a job.”

Salao reports that her ACE cookstove has saved her time and money by eliminating the need to hunt for or buy firewood and providing free solar energy to charge the family’s phones. She loves that it lights fast and doesn’t give off any toxic fumes.

“Since I have been using this stove, there is no impact at all except benefits. It’s more convenient, and it’s quicker,” she says.

“And our house can stay cleaner with less dust and smoke. Without those black marks on the wall!”

Best of all, the clean-burning stove has increased her joy of spending time in the kitchen. After seeing her daughter through graduation, Salao plans to open a small restaurant in her compound and make meals for her neighbors and visitors.  

“On a given day, what I like most—apart from teaching—is cooking,” she attests.  

“The moment I have free time, I like to cook. Even when there is already food around, I would just cook for the next time.”

Loans like Salao’s and partners like ACE make it possible for more people to access clean energy and reduce pollution in their homes and their communities. When the loans are repaid, they can be used to fund another stove for a new borrower. This multiplying effect is just one way Kiva lenders help the environment and improve lives, one loan at a time. 

Fund an earth friendly loan

About the author

Jessica Leigh Lebos

Jessica Leigh Lebos is Kiva's Senior Storyteller and an award-winning writer based in Savannah, Georgia, USA. Covering social justice, cultural equity, sustainable growth, financial literacy, and always celebrating others' success, she is thrilled to help share Kiva's mission—and the stories of the people it connects.