Inyenyeri has pioneered an innovative business model that answers one of the great unsolved problems of development: how to deliver truly clean cooking in an affordable, scalable, and environmentally-sustainable way. The problem is massive; every day, some three billion people cook meals over open fires or stoves with solid fuel like sticks or charcoal.
While many clean cooking solutions have been attempted, previous projects have failed to scale. A consistent theme is that the stoves poor people can afford don’t work well, and stoves that work well are not affordable. Inyenyeri’s innovative free lease system avoids this trap.
Inyenyeri leases ultra-clean biomass gasifying cookstoves to customers for free, in return for a monthly subscription contract for wood fuel pellets, which Inyenyeri produces. Urban households buy pellets, replacing charcoal. For poor rural households that do not have cash, Inyenyeri offers an innovative barter system in which customers trade wood (less than they would normally collect) in exchange for fuel pellets, making the model uniquely inclusive.
This model provides solutions to nearly every problem identified in the Sustainable Energy Global Maker Challenge, including access to cheap, low-carbon energy for millions of people in rural, underserved communities. It also reduces toxic airborne emissions by 95+%, uses 85-90% less biomass, costs 30% less, saves women 2-4 hours per day, and is the first universally-accessible clean cooking model. All told, this solution helps meet 12 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.
Inyenyeri’s novel Fuel+Stove system provides essential benefits to some of the world’s most vulnerable people. Inyenyeri’s Tier 4 fan gasifying stove––the world’s cleanest biomass cookstove––slashes toxic household air pollution (HAP) by over 95%, substantially reducing health impacts and respiratory disease-related mortality. The combination of highly efficient stoves and pellet fuel reduces biomass consumption by 85-90%, and can reverse country-scale deforestation––decreasing erosion, deadly landslides, and river sedimentation. Inyenyeri’s sustainable biomass sourcing system, which contracts with small woodlot owners and agroforestry farmers, is helping catalyze Rwanda’s sustainable forestry sector and eliminate destructive charcoal use.
This system also supports the transition to renewable electricity. The stove comes with an onboard battery to power the fan. For rural customers without access to grid power, Inyenyeri includes a free solar panel. After the stove is charged, the USB-enabled solar system powers free LED lighting and charges cell phones.
Both household- and macro-economics are substantially improved by Inyenyeri’s system. Customers reduce cash expenditures by 30%, relative to cooking with charcoal. Poor rural customers who barter wood for pellets need only gather about 50% of the wood previously required for cooking. The cumulative HAP-related drag on Rwanda’s GDP from health impacts and lost labor is around 4-7%. Inyenyeri aims to reduce this drag by at least 50%, given its near elimination of HAP and scalability to well over 50% market share. There will be analogous macroeconomic benefits in any developing country with similar traditional cooking methods.
Gender equality is strengthened significantly by Inyenyeri’s model. In many developing countries, women and children (primarily girls) cook, fetch cooking fuel and water, and wash pots and clothes––taking 2-6 hours per day and exposing them to violence outside the home and the worst cooking-linked health impacts. Inyenyeri’s system curtails cooking and fuel gathering time by 2-4 hours per day. Saving this time enables girls to attend school and women to join the labor force for cash wages, increasing gender equity and household incomes, and enabling families to pay for other necessities, such as health insurance and school fees.
This solution was designed to fit local cultural norms through thousands of in-home visits and interviews. The majority of Inyenyeri’s customer service representatives are women, and most were customers before becoming staff. Inyenyeri regularly visits its customers, conducts surveys, and tracks sales data. Numerous adaptations to the stove and services have been made pursuant to these interactions. In Rwanda, Inyenyeri uses monthly community service events––called 'Umuganda'––to obtain community feedback. It also receives permission from local leaders or village councils when expanding into new communities.
Inyenyeri’s high level of customer service is a major innovation and selling point. It offers free training, lifetime upgrades, and free maintenance. Inyenyeri technicians visit customers’ homes to repair or replace malfunctioning stoves. Inyenyeri provides free fuel delivery via bike taxi, for which customers can pay-as-you-go with SMS and mobile money, and order via text or dedicated call center.
This paradigm-shifting business model facilitates the transition to low carbon energy sources. Each household served represents an approximate eight-ton annual reduction of CO2e emissions, while landscape management driven by sustainable biomass sourcing contracts increases emissions avoidance and carbon sequestration. The resulting increased forest cover helps vulnerable populations adapt to climate change by creating resilience to floods, droughts, heat waves, and (by reducing topsoil erosion) loss of agricultural productivity. Inyenyeri also generates and sells carbon credits, and is the first entity to certify pellet fuel sales as a validated proxy for avoided CO2e emissions. These carbon credit sales, through the Clean Development Mechanism, generate value almost equal to pellet revenue, dramatically increasing the model’s growth, profitability, and scalability.
The feasibility of Inyenyeri’s innovative business model was proven during its successful five-year pilot in Rwanda, where it achieved high levels of market penetration (50-95%) and customer retention (60-99%). Its pilot project with UN High Commission on Refugees in Kigeme Refugee Camp has been such a success that the agency is working to expand it to the entire camp and replicate the model in other camps. Rigorous randomized control trials have confirmed its positive impacts.
Inyenyeri’s business model is uniquely financially sustainable. Carbon credit sales are layered on pellet sales, and the multiple recurring revenue streams enable rapid growth and economies of scale. This will permit the company to quickly achieve financial sustainability and secure traditional funding not accessed by other cooking projects. This sustainability and access to capital enables more widespread scaling and rapid entry into new markets, for highly cost-effective scaled impact. Yet, initial capital is needed to jump-start the model.
The model has a viable pathway to scale. In 2018, Inyenyeri signed an MOU with the Government of Rwanda, specifying 22 actions that five different ministries will take in order to achieve a shared goal of serving 1 million households by 2024. Inyenyeri will build upon this experience and expand across Africa by licensing out its business model and providing services, such as proprietary software and carbon credit management. Once the licensing model gains traction in Africa, it will be expanded to other regions with similar cooking practices.
Inyenyeri’s solution has the potential to achieve transformative impacts on many of the three billion people relying upon solid biomass fuels for cooking, and to reverse deforestation on a massive scale. Extending this model across sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia could reduce two gigatons of CO2e emissions each year.
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