A man cooking for his family in a village around Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
A stove to cook healthily and to reduce carbon emissions
Text by Thomas Deflandre
Today, we are going to speak about a social entreprise we really enjoyed visiting. The team is cool, their idea is amazing and their impact is incredible.
ACE : African Clean Energy is a social entreprise which started, as its name mention it, with a project in Africa, their headquarters in Amsterdam Impact Hub and now with a new offices in Cambodia.
Laura working at Impact Hub in Amsterdam we had the opportunity to meet Ruben Walker, one founder of ACE, 6 months before our trip. It was super exciting for us, at that time, the meeting with Ruben was our first appointment for a project we were planning to visit. It was in a way making the whole Aasha Mission concrete! Ruben gave us an introduction of his company, their challenges, their successes and quickly we understood that ACE on top of coming with a great idea for off-grid communities is a family idea, a family business. His brother Daniel is in Cambodia and he's the one leading the local office, so the one we're going to meet.
Phnom Pen office and the local ACE team
6 months later here we are. Arriving to Phnom Pen wasn't a piece of cake (a story you can find here) but once there finding our way to the ACE office was simple thanks to instructions shared by Daniel.
9am in the morning, Daniel, Joshua and Othe were waiting for us at the entrance of the building. Nothing fancy here but everything is there to be productive and work in a good atmosphere. They leave upstairs, work downstairs in a big kind of meeting room with 3 others colleagues. If you removed the heat you could have the feeling to be in a Californian start up.
It took us less than 5 minutes to break the ice, at the exit of the taxi, still in the street we were already speaking about our trip, Aasha, ACE and Daniel was taking components to explain their technologies.
What is the history of ACE
As explained earlier, ACE is a family story. Their father used to work for Philips in Africa and started the first stove concept to allow rural population in Africa to cook and heat their home thanks to biomass.
The brothers then developed and improved the original design, they came with a lot of ideas to provide a stove to off-grid communities which is much more than a stove. They worked on the electronics, the efficiency and the quality of every components to finally release the ACE 1. The ACE 1 allows to burn any kind of biomass for cooking leading to 50-85% reduction in fuel use, it reduces smoke emission improving health conditions and it gives access to solar electricity for mobile charging and lighting.
Their latest idea was to deliver the stove with a smartphone. Why? Myriad of reasons but the key ones are first of all to educate and give access to the internet to their customers, allow new paiement model, improve customer service delivery thanks to a customer services app. Last but not least, it brings data. Data from the stoves such as location, energy consumption to quantity impacts and identify areas of improvements for their upcoming new developments.
The social enterprise employs more than 100 persons and does the manufacturing of the stoves in their factory in Lesotho.
Banana leaves, waste biomass to burn in the stove like coconut shells, freely available.
One day with the sales team
As usual we want to go on the field, listen to feedbacks from customers and assist to the sales demonstration made to customers.
Joshua drove us to a small village where Srey Pov, Kimleng and Tola (the sales team) were waiting for us before to start their tour.
The first stop we made was at the entrance of a large house, we sat there with the 2 ladies and their kids, and Srey was setting up the demonstration. She burned few branches she found around and thanks to the embedded fan it was really a piece of cake to get a good fire without or barely no smoke. The owner of the house was curious and asked a lot of questions, it was hard to follow the discussion due to the language barrier but also because the kids wanted to discuss with Laura, Joshua and I (the foreigners of the team).
After roughly 30min the deal was done, she wants to buy a stove and even better her friend who also joined the demo wants to buy one too! A fruitful day for ACE.
On our way back we stopped to one of their customer in the neighborhood, here the living conditions were much more modest, a bigger family, lot of animals walking around and only wooden houses. When we entered the property one man was cooking with the ACE1. For the anecdote, he was cooking a dog's leg...yes in Cambodia as they say: "we eat everything except humans"
The man bought the stove 1year ago and uses it every day. He's really happy about the product and he appreciates the battery and the solar panel to power up his cell phone.
ACE in Cambodia
One of my first question to Daniel was why developing ACE in Cambodia after Africa. I mean the situation is really different, in Cambodia energy doesn't seem to be a challenge whereas in Africa it's already difficult to find biomass to burn. But Daniel, Ruben and the team have ambition, they want impacts, to provide energy solutions but also financial support and services to every remote households and Asia is definitely an area where they can contribute.
That's what we experienced during our stay, even if houses might already have electricity or stoves, ACE is a game changer and sales shows it was worth to give it a try. Now, they have opened new offices in Siem Reap with a new local sales team and they are planning to open a factory in Cambodia to optimize their supply chain and continue to grow in Asia.
We left Cambodia full of hope. Daniel, Joshua, Othe and the rest of the team are amazing persons, it's not only a product it's also all the activities they do to coach their teams, empower women, support educational program (they for instance also launch a solar library with Signify as the one we visited in India) and always with a smile.