Homemade Reflector Grid

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Oven Box: Insulated to retain heat

Pot Rack or Gimble:

Keeps pot level as oven is tilted toward the sun

Foot or Prop: Allows oven to be tilted to face the sun

Parabolic cookers like this Zomeworks Sunflash can actually get hot enough to fry food. Beside it, a foldable, cardboard Sunspot backpacker's cooker.

Biodiesel Cookers

In less developed countries, it's not fossil fuels that are being burned, but wood. In Ethiopia, 500,000 acres (2,023 km2) of forests are cut each year. The wood is used for fuel and construction, and the cleared land is used for farming. Studies conducted by the United Nations (UN) show that 50 percent of the rain forests being destroyed are used for cooking fuel.

"In some African countries, 80 to 90 percent of the total energy [for cooking] comes from firewood. The wood is rapidly disappearing," says renewable energy advocate Allan Sindelar. "Solar cooking can play a major role in easing people's lives, slowing deforestation, and reducing carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere."

UN studies predict that with the current trends in consumption, cooking fuel shortages will become a serious problem in the near future. Implementing solar cookers as a primary cooking application could help reduce impacts on forests. And, because no fuel is burned, carbon dioxide emissions could be drastically reduced.

"If only 1 percent of the 1.5 billion people affected by cooking fuel shortages today were to use solar cookers seven months of a year, they would save 2 million tons (1.82 million metric tons) of wood," says Joseph Radabaugh in his book, Heaven's Flame. "This would also prevent the release of 85,000 tons (77,350 metric tons) of pollutants, such as sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrous oxides, ash, etc. These savings represent the equivalent of 10 million trees a year."

Homemade Photography Reflector Diagram
This homemade box cooker uses a bamboo oven box and foil-covered cardboard reflectors.

Saving Cash, Gaining Time & Health

Although using a solar cooker may not cause a dramatic change in your utility bills, you'll still save. Keep in mind that the price you pay for electricity is not its actual cost— federal taxes and subsidies pay a large part of our energy bills. According to Radabaugh, in 1989, taxpayers in every household paid US$390 toward energy costs, above and beyond their utility bills. This money is used to subsidize large energy companies.

If you are living off grid and producing your own electricity, solar cooking can help reduce your electric system costs. People living off grid often rely on propane or natural gas-fueled appliances. Using a solar cooker can minimize use of these resources, lowering your gas bill and leaving more money in your pocket.

In developing nations, using a solar cooker isn't so much a financial gain, but a valuable gain of time. In some parts of the world, people spend most of their day collecting fuelwood. As more and more wood is harvested and forests are razed, they must travel farther and farther from their homes to seek fuel.

According to Radabaugh, the costs and time spent gathering cooking fuel can exceed the costs of the food itself. "Relief agencies estimated that for a family of eight, it took 99 hours to collect the firewood to cook food for one week," he says. Eliminating the need to collect firewood frees families to work on other pursuits—more time for parents to spend with their children, or more time for farming and gathering food.

Using wood for fuel takes more than a toll on families' time. Studies done by the World Health Organization show that respiratory infections caused by smoke inhalation from cooking with biomass fuels cause two million deaths each year. Women who routinely cook with biomass fuels have a much higher risk for chronic bronchitis, asthma, and other health problems. Children who live in homes where cooking is done with biomass fuels also are at increased risks for health problems and even death.

Change, One Meal at a Time

One of the biggest obstacles to solar cooking is that it requires some lifestyle changes. Solar cookers cook food slowly—forget about getting a fast-food fix. Instead of heating up your electric range or starting a fire an hour before you intend to eat, you put food in your cooker hours before you want to eat and let it cook slowly all day.

Admittedly, solar cooking does require some planning and attention, and busy lives and schedules make it a bit more difficult. But the benefits beyond the obvious may surprise you. Cooking with the Sun authors Beth and Dan Halacy say that "baking is far superior to boiling as a method of cooking vegetables. The solar oven lends itself beautifully to this nutritious and tasty way of preparing vegetables, legumes, and vegetable casserole dishes."

Of course, an obvious challenge to solar cooking is the weather. When the sun is not cooperating, your solar cooker

Solar cooking pioneer Sam Erwin designed the highly efficient Solar Chef, a solar cooker that combined the features of a box cooker and a parabolic reflector cooker.

Solar cooking pioneer Sam Erwin designed the highly efficient Solar Chef, a solar cooker that combined the features of a box cooker and a parabolic reflector cooker.

Solar Chef Sam Erwin

is out of commission for dishes that require high heat. But you don't have to abandon your cooker completely—even cloudy days may permit some low-temperature cooking.

Perhaps the biggest impediment to the widespread use of solar cookers is the lack of education. People are often reluctant to use a technology different from what they're used to. While the technology is very simple, it is not well known. Educating across cultures can be difficult, but it's imperative. According to Solar Cookers International, one-fourth of the world's population suffers fuel scarcities. Half of the world's population uses wood for cooking.

By replacing biomass fuels, solar cookers can improve the health of people who use them. And using the sun's energy for cooking can help curtail deforestation and curb pollution. In developing countries, solar cooking can help enhance a family's quality of life by reducing the time spent gathering fuel. For those of us in the developed world, using solar cookers means decreasing our dependence on unsustainable, nonrenewable sources of energy and asserting our energy independence, one meal at a time.


Rose Woofenden • [email protected]

Solar Cookers International, 1919 21st St. #101, Sacramento, CA 95814 • 916-455-4499 • Fax: 916-455-4498 • [email protected]www.solarcookers.org • Solar cooking information resource

Sun Ovens International, 39W835 Midan Dr., Elburn, IL 60119 • 630-208-7273 or 800-408-7919 • Fax: 630-208-7386 • [email protected]www.sunoven.com • Solar cookers

Zomeworks Corp., PO Box 25805, 1011A Sawmill Rd., Albuquerque, NM 87125 • 800-279-6342 or 505-242-5354 • Fax: 505-243-5187 • [email protected]www.zomeworks.com • Sunflash cooker (discontinued)

Cooking with the Sun, by Beth & Dan Halacy, 1992, Paperback, 114 pages, ISBN 0962906921, US$9.95 from Morning Sun Press, PO Box 413, Lafayette, CA 94549 • Phone/Fax: 925-932-1383 • [email protected]www.home.ix.netcom.com/~jdhowell/

Heaven's Flame: A Guide to Solar Cookers, by Joseph M. Radabaugh, 1998, Paperback, 144 pages, ISBN 0962958824, US$15 from Home Power, PO Box 520, Ashland, OR 97520 • 800-707-6585 or 541-512-0201 • Fax: 541-512-0343 • [email protected]www.homepower.com

"Solar Cooking in Kenya: Progress at the Kakma Refugee Camp," by Barbara Knudson & Mark Aalfs in HP66

"The Forces for Good Will Organize Around the Sun," by Allan Sindelar in HP31

"Solar Cooking and the Livin' is Easy," by Jennifer Barker in HP88

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  • sm
    How to make cardboard reflector?
    4 years ago

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