What's cooking on the solar cooker front by elfphabet3


									        What’s cooking on the solar cooker front?
        Marlett Balmer; Institute for Technological Innovation, Room 7-14 Engineering 1 Building, Faculty of Engineering
        Built Environment & Information Technology, University of Pretoria, Hillcrest 0002. Tel: +27-12-349-229. Email:
        Introduction                                   “someone else” or “someone in Af-           Co-ordination, information sharing
                                                       rica”.                                      and exchange
        The sixth International Solar Cook-
        er Conference was held in Granada,             Subsidies                                   The lack of co-ordination and informa-
        Spain, 11 – 16 July 2006 and attended                                                      tion availability was recognised. It was
                                                       Energy subsidies were discussed in a        noted that little comparative informa-
        by 200 delegates from 38 countries.
                                                       number of presentations, not only sub-      tion was available on solar cooker prod-
        The conference not only brought to-
                                                       sidies received by other fuels in a coun-   ucts and technologies, little perform-
        gether project implementers, cook
                                                       try, but also subsidies and incentives      ance data and virtually no monitoring
        stove designers, producers and govern-
                                                       offered in developed countries for the      and impact data either. It was recom-
        ment representatives but also individu-
                                                       utilisation of renewable energy. Sub-       mended that a database of technical
        als interested in solar cooking from
                                                       sidies for solar cookers became anath-      specifications of existing solar cookers
        a number of business organisations
                                                       ema in the structural adjustment period     was established that ranked each cook-
        (Figure 1). This was the first time that
                                                       of the late 80’s and early 90’s but the     er according to specific requirements
        private businesses showed such a high
                                                       re-emergence of the topic in the de-        to enable promoters to choose the most
        level of interest in solar cooking since
                                                       bate was interesting. It was noted for      suitable cooker for their project.
        the first international solar conference
                                                       example that a number of countries of-         Improved networking and sharing of
        in 1992. What was also notable were
                                                       fer substantial subsidies on fuels such     experiences are generally viewed as es-
        the aesthetic improvements to cookers
                                                       as LPG, IP (kerosene) and electricity.      sential for successful projects. Although
        since the last international solar cooker
                                                       These subsidies benefit those who al-        networking can be very valuable, there
        conference in 2000 in South Africa.
                                                       ready have access to some form of           is scepticism about the willingness and
        This article will reflect on the state of
                                                       commercial fuel as well as those who        ability of people to effectively network.
        the debate around solar cooking as well

                                                       are in a position to afford commercial      Also, there seems to be the notion that
        as the changes that can be observed in
                                                       fuels. Subsidies are therefore benefit-      re-inventing organisations and co-or-
        solar cookers available in the world to-
                                                       ing not the poor and marginalised but       dinating structures would ensure that
                                                       those better off. It was questioned why     they function effectively; there is no
                                                       these (non-renewable) fuel subsidies        recognition that it is not the structures
                                                       were acceptable and subsidies for solar     that fail but the individuals and organi-
                                                       cookers considered so unacceptable. It      sations in the structures that fail to par-
                                                       was recommended that Governments            ticipate fully and network effectively.
                                                       look at existing subsidies and include         Nevertheless, the Africa discussion
                                                       solar cookers.                              group decided to form an umbrella co-
                                                          An interesting solution was offered      ordinating body called “Solar Cookers
                                                       by Grupp (2006) in the form of installed    for Africa”. This group initially aims at
                                                       ‘use meters’ in solar cookers. The use      becoming a web-based resource to sup-
                                                       meter would record actual solar cooker      port, link and catalogue all solar cooker
                                                       use and calculate the amount of fuel        projects in Africa. The advantages in
        Figure 1 A solar cooker cook-out at the Sci-   and green house gas saved, and credit
        ence Park (photo: Marlett Balmer)                                                          identifying all the solar cooker projects
                                                       the user with the monetary value of the     in Africa and placing them in an easily
                                                       GHG savings. Grupp proposed linking         understandable and accessible format
        The state of the debate in                     the use meter to the electricity grid and   are:
        solar cooking circles                          that the credits be given to the user in
                                                       the form of free electricity (for those     •   Technology and knowledge shar-
        Interesting issues                             who are already connected to the elec-          ing will be easier for solar cooker
        There seems to be general consensus            tricity grid.) However, the scheme is           project planners and leaders inside
        on the need for solar cooking, espe-           also perfectly suited to reward the user        and outside of Africa
        cially in areas where biomass energy           in monetary terms, which can be used        •   Work is not duplicated or repeated
        (taken here to include dung, fuel wood         to pay off the solar cooker purchased       •   Project leaders will be able to
        and charcoal) is scarce and/or expen-          on credit, enabling poor households to          assist each other to overcome
        sive. However, for the first time in            purchase a cooker and pay it off out of         challenges faced in each country
        the solar cooking debate, there was an         savings, using CDM (Clean Develop-              or region
        emphasis on the need to “mainstream”           ment Mechanism) funding to provide          •   It would be easier for the rest of
        solar cookers, and to stop seeing solar        the upfront capital.                            the world to assist solar cooker
        cooking as an excellent solution for                                                           projects reducing the amount of

        24                                                                                                 Boiling Point No 53 2007
    time and cost of getting support           quality of the product becomes
    - communication in Africa is often         important and promoters can-
    difficult, expensive and even im-           not expect users to pay a high
    possible at times.                         price for a solar cooker that looks
The approach to solar cooking
popularisation                                The commercial approach to solar
                                           cookers was not entirely popular and is
Solar cookers have sometimes been          still not accepted by all proponents of
called a solution looking for a problem.   the technology. They argue that their
However, solar stoves can: supply free     target groups are too poor to afford a
energy, save fuelwood, save trees, save    solar cooker and rely on subsidisation.     Figure 2 Homemade solar cooker with foil
                                                                                       and clothes pegs (photo: Marlett Balmer)
the environment and free women from        They further argue that the poorest
wood collection. Furthermore, they of-     require a basic solar cooker that must      in terms of appearance and manufac-
fer a simple solution to their intended    work and be as cheap as possible. When      turing processes.
beneficiaries, mainly poor, rural wom-      the performance of a solar cooker is in-       In summary, the approach to solar
en without adequate energy sources for     creased, so does the cost, so in order to   cooker manufacturing and dissemina-
cooking. The underlying vision of so-      keep the cost down, only a basic cooker     tion evident at the conference seems to
lar stove projects in the 1950’s-1960’s    is required. However, experience from       divide proponents into 3 groups:
were simple: many families in Third        other projects has shown that the most
World countries had limited fuel for       important factor is to offer a variety of   •   The advocates of the homemade
cooking and solar stoves could be made     quality products and let the user choose        “make your own cooker” ap-
to cook without fuel (GTZ & DME,           what suits his needs and is affordable.         proach; utilising available mate-
2002a). During this period solar stoves       Supporters of the commercial ap-             rial, sometimes free of charge, to
were crude devices, neither extremely      proach argue that the more affluent              make your own cooker (Figure
efficient nor produced in great num-        target groups, such as farmers and en-          2).
bers. Also, promoters argued that the      vironmental enthusiasts, require a so-      •   The advocates of disseminating
stoves should be as cheap as possible,     phisticated product, able to compete            (not necessarily selling) solar
subsidised or better yet, given away for   in performance and appearance with              cookers to extremely poor house-

free. A number of projects also focused    gas and electric cooking devices. If            holds and those in extreme disas-
on teaching people to construct their      adequate demand can be generated for            ter situations; the poorest of the
own solar cookers using inexpensive        high quality solar cookers, prices will         poor cannot afford to pay for the
materials.                                 eventually decrease and the poor will           technology and must therefore be
  During the 1990s a number of solar       benefit from low-cost, high-quality              subsidised. The focus is therefore
cooker proponents argued that solar        solar cookers. Proponents of the com-           on extremely cheap cookers with
cookers should not be subsidised or        mercial approach further emphasise              the highest possible efficiency.
given away for free, but sold on a com-    that everyone who cooks should own a        •   The proponents of a highly com-
mercial basis, for profit, as any other     solar cooker, whether they are living in        mercial approach; requiring very
cooking appliance. This implied that       the northern or southern hemisphere. It         high quality products, well made,
solar cookers should not be viewed         is argued that energy efficiency is eve-         attractively packaged and sold
as an appropriate technology product,      rybody’s business and solar cookers can         in a wide range of shops, sup-
aimed at the poor, but as a consumer       reduce energy consumption in cooking,           ported by sophisticated marketing
product, for sale in an open market        regardless of your financial status, and         campaigns.
where anyone (rich or poor) could buy      even if used once a week can contrib-
the product if it appealed to them. A      ute to reducing fossil fuel demand with       There is clearly a place for all three
number of further implications flowed       concomitant environmental benefits.          approaches, and the challenge is how
from this approach:                           From the conference, the divide be-      to structure the debate at a conference
                                           tween the commercial approach and           to ensure maximum benefits for all
•   Solar cookers should be sold on a      the humanitarian approach seems to be       three groups.
    commercial basis, implying that        growing. Although both sides agree on
    the product should adhere to ac-       the need for quality cookers, the hu-
    cepted commercial norms in terms       manitarian approach sees the answer in
    of appearance, quality, product        decentralised, small-scale, local manu-
    support, packaging, marketing,         facturing while the commercial ap-
    durability and functionality;          proach sees the answer in mass produc-
•   A commercial approach implies          tion. The attendance of the conference
    that users pay the full price (cost    by two industrial designers sponsored
    plus profit) for solar cookers and      by a business organisation was an in-
    that no subsidies are available in     teresting signal; that a strong, business
    the product chain;                     organisation recognises the potential of
•   If customers are expected to pay       the product but it requires fine-tuning      Figure 3 The Mexican HotPot (photo: Marlett
    the full price for the product, the                                                Balmer)

Boiling Point No 53 2007                                                                                                          25
        The products                                    The Way Forward                                  success;
                                                                                                    •    Re-deploy existing fuel subsidies
        The products have also changed and              The Conference saw the creation of               to include solar cookers;
        developed in a number of ways. Less             the “Solar Cookers International Asso-      •    Upscale solar cooker targets;
        prototypes were exhibited and more              ciation” affiliated with Solar Cookers       •    Utilise effective marketing strate-
        cookers of which a significant number            International. The purpose of the As-            gies;
        have been sold, were displayed at the           sociation is to improve health, econom-     •    Ensure that projects include some
        conference. For example, the “Hotpot”           ics, societies and environments through          form of monitoring and verifica-
        from Mexico, seems very promising,              collective actions to spread solar cook-         tion to enable impact measure-
        a high quality product with reported            ing, pasteurisation and food processing.         ment and results of solar cooker
        sales of more than 2500 in a little over        The Association will consist of found-           programmes;
                                                        ing members (organisations and indi-        •    Form regional and local chapters;
                                                        viduals who support the purpose and         •    Look at minimum quality stand-
                                                        pay annual dues), a steering committee           ards.
                                                        consisting of volunteers to facilitate
                                                        collective action, co-ordinate commu-          The recognition of the high social and
                                                        nication and allocate and monitor use       environmental costs attributed to the
                                                        of funds for collective actions.            use of certain energy sources is becom-
                                                          Regional networks and regional net-       ing increasingly recognised, for exam-
                                                        work leaders were selected in the fol-      ple the South African Government has
                                                        lowing regions: Asia/Australia, Ibero-      initiated the development of a strategy
                                                        Latin America, Africa and Europe and        to optimize the use of household fuels.
        Figure 4 Ulog’s camping cooker (photo: Mar-     non-Latin Americas.                         These and other positive policy-related
        lett Balmer)                                      Furthermore, collective action groups     developments, coupled with progres-
                                                        in the following areas were also formed:    sive developments in the solar cooker
                                                        education, health, business, humanitar-     field may push solar cookers from the
                                                        ian, advocacy, technology and food          fringe into the mainstream of clean
                                                        processing.                                 household cooking technologies.

                                                        Conclusions and                             References

                                                        Recommendations                               Grupp, M. 2006. GHG reduction incentives
                                                                                                    based on direct on-line monitoring of solar cooker
                                                        The International Conference on Solar       use. Presentation delivered at the International
                                                        Cooking and Food Processing of 2006         Solar Cooker Conference, Granada Spain, 14 July
                                                        successfully showcased exciting de-
        Figure 5 The Japanese take on the SK. Note      velopments, not only in solar cooker           Poggiolini, D. 2006. South Africans don’t warm
        the high quality finishes, legs and pot holder   design but also in the debate of popu-      to solar cookers. In African Energy, Vol 8, Number
        (photo: Marlett Balmer)                                                                     1. February 2006.
                                                        larising solar cooking across the globe.
        2 years (Figure 3). The product is also         The conference recognised that solar           GTZ & DME. 2002a, Solar Cooking Compendi-
        relatively affordable at around $45. It                                                     um. Volume 1. Scarcity of Household Energy and
                                                        cookers have not been made visible          the Rationale of Solar Cooking. GTZ:Eschborn.
        is supplied with a well written recipe          and accessible to the millions of people
        book and cooking instructions.                                                                 GTZ & DME. 2002b, Solar Cooking Compendi-
                                                        who need them. Urgent problems, both
                                                                                                    um. Volume 2. Social Acceptance of Solar Stoves
          There were also a number of excit-            human and environmental continue to         in South Africa. GTZ:Eschborn.
        ing improvements to existing cookers.           accelerate and solar cookers can be
          At present it seems to be the middle          among the solutions to alleviate prob-      Profile of the author
        (Figure 4 & 5) of the range products            lems, such as indoor air pollution relat-
        (Sunoven, Sunstove, SK series) that             ed illnesses, fuel scarcities, smoke and    Marlett Balmer holds a Masters degree in
        are enjoying the most commercial suc-           water related illnesses and fuel collec-    Development Studies, a B.Comm Honors
        cess (Figure 6).                                tion burdens of women. The message          (Energy Studies) and a B.A Honors de-
                                                                                                    gree from the University of Johannesburg
                                                        was clear: start at home and use a solar
                                                                                                    and is currently registered as a PhD stu-
                                                        cooker as often as possible everyday to
                                                                                                    dent in the Institute for Technological In-
                                                        aid the spread of this valuable technol-
                                                                                                    novation, University of Pretoria. Marlett
                                                        ogy.Some specific recommendations            has been working in the energy field for
                                                        are summarised below:                       more 15 years and has completed more
                                                        •   Integrate solar cookers into other      than 60 energy and development related
                                                                                                    research projects. She received the Es-
                                                            solutions to address fuel and envi-
                                                                                                    kom eta award as Woman in Energy 2003
                                                            ronmental problems;
                                                                                                    for her contribution towards the energy
                                                        •   Investigate the income generation
                                                                                                    sector in South Africa. For more infor-
                                                            possibilities of solar cookers;         mation please see www.pdc1.co.za.
        Figure 6 SK’s/Koch cookers/IZola                •   Training and demonstration of
        (photo: Marlett Balmer)                             solar cookers are essential for

        26                                                                                                   Boiling Point No 53 2007

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