Potential Energy: fueling the cookstoves markets in East Africa

Potential Energy

DIV Stage 2 | $1.5 million | Darfur & Ethiopia

 Many models for high-efficiency stoves exist to replace traditional open fire methods, but few have achieved widespread use or commercial sustainability.

The Solution: Potential Energy’s high efficiency stove, developed as part of the Berkeley Darfur Stoves Project, is the product of extensive market-testing and end-user feedback. Using lessons learned from early work on cookstove adoption in Darfur, Potential Energy is pursuing a market creation strategy in Ethiopia. The organization will grow its distribution and marketing network and develop innovative pricing models and flexible financing options for consumers. With support from Development Innovation Ventures, Potential Energy and partners will assess the group’s impact and the relative effectiveness of the different marketing strategies it pursues.

Potential Cost-Effectiveness: Because the Berkeley Darfur Stove requires half as much firewood as traditional cooking methods, users save more than $300 per year in fuel costs, or half the labor time and effort gathering firewood. Over the five-year lifespan of the stove, this savings is approximately $1700 per household.


2,000,000 people die each year from illness related to breathing smoke from cooking fires. This figure is equal to that of the entire AIDS epidemic and three times as large as annual deaths from malaria. In addition, many women are exposed to violence as they travel up to 7 hours a day, 3-5 days a week in search of usable fuel wood with which to cook their food. Many models for high-efficiency stoves exist to replace traditional open fire methods, but few have achieved widespread use or commercial sustainability.

Originally the Darfur Stoves Project, Potential Energy was founded as a volunteer organization in 2005 by Dr. Ashok Gadgil, Faculty Senior Scientist and Director of the Environmental Energy Technologies Division of Lawrence Berkeley National LaboratoryDr. Gadgil led a team of Berkeley scientists and engineers in the development of a Berkeley-Darfur stove, aggressively pursuing market-testing and end-user feedback in Darfur. With the Berkeley Darfur Stove, users require half as much firewood, saving them more than $300 per year in fuel costs. Over the five-year lifespan of the stove, this savings is approximately $1700 per household.

In 2012 Potential Energy established itself as an independent 501(c)3. The organization has thus far distributed more than 22,000 fuel-efficient stoves in Darfur; most were donated to women in IDP camps in North Darfur in the wake of the humanitarian crisis, however in the past year the organization has moved to a market-driven approach and the remaining stoves have been sold to women in urban and rural locations outside of the camps.

Through its work, Potential Energy has developed critical partnerships with organizations like Oxfam America and Plan International, increased the capacity of local organizations in Darfur, built its distribution and marketing network, and is developing innovative pricing models and flexible financing options for consumers. Based on its success in Darfur, Potential Energy will replicate its market creation strategy to develop and sell stoves in Ethiopia in 2013.

The $1.5 million, three-year grant from USAID’s Development Innovation Ventures Initiative supports Potential Energy’s transition to a social enterprise approach by supporting it to test pricing strategies and market and distribution channels via local organizations. Potential Energy is collaborating with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s Institute for Globally Transformative Technologies for research and development, and has engaged with the Center for Effective Global Action (CEGA) to assess the project’s impact and relative effectiveness of different marketing strategies.

To learn more:

  • See what the stove looks like
  • Track Potential Energy’s progress on its website
  • Learn the backstory with this video on the Darfur Stoves Project

Last updated: August 14, 2015

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