“Back in the days, I was using charcoal or paraffin for cooking. At times, either the paraffin would be out of stock, or charcoal would become scarce and expensive. You really had to go far to look for it. It was really cumbersome,” says Edda Agolla, a small-scale business woman selling clothes in Nairobi, Kenya.
“But now, I am using only SmartGas. I came to buy the idea of using SmartGas, because of the many challenges I was going through,” she explains.
Hundreds of millions of people in sub-Saharan Africa cook primarily using solid fuels, such as wood, charcoal or paraffin, which can be hazardous to their health – deadly, even.
A new GPS-enabled system, SmartGas, is one of the first liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) services that allows local customers to pay only for the amount of gas they need to cook, even if they cook only one meal. The “pay-as-you-cook” model allows customers to pay for LPG with mobile money through a GPS-enabled SmartGas valve. Consumers prepay for gas, activating the valve to supply the purchased amount, and notifying customers before the valve is turned off.
“Cooking with clean, modern fuels, such as gas, remains for many far from reality,” says David Small, Envirofit Managing Director for East Africa. “But through SmartGas, we make liquefied petroleum gas, or LPG, accessible to those who otherwise would not be able to use it.”
“SmartGas is really a pioneering technology which enables the consumer to use gas as they need it on a daily basis,” says Mr Small.
Although LPG ends up being cheaper than most solid fuels, one of the main challenges that keeps the usage low in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa that it has to be bought in bulk.
“While low-income families are able to save up money for their daily use of fuel, they often are not able to save for a month’s worth. And so the only alternative that these customers have at the moment is using charcoal or kerosene,” explains Small.
“When you use charcoal, and even if you do a little cooking, a lot of the charcoal goes to waste,” says Ms Agolla. “And when you use paraffin, it produces fumes. Your house, your clothes, everything smells. It is not a pleasant thing. But with SmartGas, cooking goes very fast, it is pocket friendly, it is healthy and it has given me back my passion for cooking.”
“With only 50 Kenyan shillings (0.5 USD) I can cook a meal for the family,” says Agola. This is compared to the 100 shillings or more she would pay to use charcoal or paraffin. “When I want to top up, it is very convenient. I just use my phone and pay through mobile money.”
Some of the savings went to her business, but since gas also cooks faster, she is able to spend her money on different types of foods – beans, for example – that she would never buy when she had to cook with charcoal or paraffin, just because it would take too long. So another benefit apart from saving money, is also the ability to cook a wider variety of foods that she can serve the family.
The aim of SmartGas is not only to give customers access to clean and affordable cooking fuel, the company also wants to make sure its clients use LPG in a safe and secure manner.
“When a consumer enrolls for Envirofit’s service using an app, we schedule a technician to safely install the cylinder and the cooker together with our smart meter. The meter enables the consumer to pay for gas as they need it and as they use it, using their mobile phone,” explains Small. “Our technology also allows, when the gas is nearly running out, to send a text message to our consumer, notifying them when their credit is almost depleted or when a replacement of the gas cylinder is due before he or she actually runs out of gas.”
“When I committed myself to SmartGas, I was really impressed by their customer care service,” says Edda. “They deliver the gas at your doorstep, they have very professional technicians who install it, and from time to time, they come and check to see how the stove is, the conditions and everything.”