Prior to 2005, the women of the Iridimi refugee camp in Chad, Africa, had to walk long distances through dangerous terrain to collect wood for cooking. Utilizing a traditional three-stone fire, they inhaled unsafe amounts of smoke as they prepared daily meals and were on a fast track to severely deplete an already limited wood supply. Then solar cookers were introduced to the camp.
Soon, most families were cooking their traditional meals with the odd-looking contraptions. Health problems diminished, free time increased, safety improved and environmental damage was reduced. It’s clear that for these people and others in developing nations, solar cookers are a viable and beneficial alternative to traditional cooking methods, which is why international organizations are promoting and distributing them.
But it’s not just those in developing countries who are cottoning to solar cookers. People all around the globe have begun to reap the economic and environmental benefits. Continue reading to find out how you can, too.
Solar cooking has many benefits over conventional cooking that relies on wood, coal, oil, or natural gas (or the electricity produced by one of the above or nuclear power). For example, it:
- Conserves natural resources that would be used for cooking fuel
- Saves money that would otherwise go for fuel;
- Emits no harmful emissions;
- Frees up time for individuals, especially in developing countries, who otherwise would have to search for scarce fuel supplies:
- Is safer than cooking with gas, microwaves, open fires and other potentially dangerous sources; and
- Helps preserve nutrients in food that diminish from cooking at high heat.
How They Work
All solar cookers operate on the basic principle that sunlight is converted to heat energy and is retained for cooking. According to Solar Cookers International, the three most common kinds of solar cookers are heat-trap boxes, curved concentrators and panel cookers:
- Heat-trap boxes cook at moderate to high temperatures and often accommodate multiple pots. Worldwide, they are the most widespread, with several hundred thousand in India alone.
- Curved-concentrator cookers, also known as Parabolics, cook fast at high temperatures, but require frequent adjustment and supervision for safe operation. Several hundred thousand exist, mainly in China. They are especially useful for large-scale institutional cooking.
- Panel cookers incorporate elements of box and curved-concentrator cookers. They are simple and relatively inexpensive to buy or produce.
Where Do I Start?
Sounds great, right? Before you start shopping around or studying how-to diagrams to build your own, first consider how much sunlight your neck of the woods receives. Without this crucial knowledge, you may be setting yourself up for failure. So how much is enough?
Those living in the northern portions of countries such as the United States, Europe and Asia will get limited use out of a solar cooker. Most of the year, the sun will lie at too low of a trajectory to provide enough solar energy to cook with. Conversely, those living nearest to the equator will receive optimal rays throughout much of the year. In addition to latitude, weather and cloud cover will affect usability. For instance, arid regions, which have little cloud cover, provide for an ideal locale from which to cook with the sun’s rays.
Should I Build or Buy?
Solar cookers come pretty cheaply, ranging anywhere from $50 to $350, depending on how serious you want to get. If you just want to test one out and impress your friends on your next camping trip, then the $49.99 Scott Resources SR-GS4702 Solar Oven is a good choice.
For those wishing to explore a major sea change in their food-preparation routine, then a host of better built and more versatile options exist.
- The Global Sun Oven, which sells for under $200, is not quite as portable, with a weight of 21 pounds, but can reach temperatures into the upper 300 degrees, and may work well for those not on the go.
- At just over $300, the Sun BD Hybrid Solar Cooker isn't inexpensive, but it does have space for four pots and an electrical backup allowing it to be used on cloudy days and at night.
- The $200 SOS Sport Solar Oven Combo is lightweight and comes with two pots, a thermometer, manual, recipe booklet and WAPI (water pasteruization indicator).
But for those with gumption, building a solar cooker may be well worth the effort. With a little patience, cardboard, aluminium foil, plastic and some basic tools, nearly anyone can construct a basic cooker.
Want to buy or build a solar cooker, or donate to an organization that helps supply these eco-friendly cooking machines? Then check out the following websites:
- The Solar Food Projects site provides easy step-by-step directions for building you own solar oven. It also sells pre-built ovens and offers solar cooker recipes
- Solar Cookers International (NGO) accepts donations to help “people living in arid, fuel-scare regions” obtain solar ovens.
Also, the book, Sunny Side of Cooking - Solar cooking and other ecologically friendly cooking methods for the 21st century, is a great guide to choosing a solar cooker. It also contains dozens of solar cooking recipes.
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