Fun in the Sun Solar Cooking and Related Technologies for

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					                      Fun in the Sun:

                    Solar Cooking
              and Related Technologies
              Sustainable Environments
               and Poverty Reduction

                           Carole St. Laurent
                           FluidIT Solutions     +1(416)762-2245
    Fun in the Sun:                                                                          FluidIT Solutions
    Solar Cooking and Related Technologies

                                                                                          Quick Facts:
         Imagine reducing poverty, increasing health, increasing
                                                                            ~ 70% of Nigerians live on less than
    productivity, and reducing environmental degradation and                US$1 per day.
    pollution –with as little as a foil-lined cardboard box. This is the
                                                                            * “In some locations, many families are
    impact that adopting solar cooking could have on the people of
                                                                            said to spend nearly a quarter of their
    Africa. Solar cooking is a proven technology that was invented          income on firewood.”
    over one hundred years ago, and has been widely adopted in
                                                                                         The sun is free.
    India in the last thirty years. It was an important means of
    helping refugees cook their food rations in the Kakuma refugee
    camp in Kenya since 1995, where desert conditions, poverty,             ~ Environment and Energy for Poverty
    and isolation made it very difficult to cook using other fuels          Reduction Programme, Government of the
                                                                            Federal Republic of Nigeria and UNDP, May
    (Solar Cookers International 2004). Former residents of the             20, 2004.
    refugee camp have launched a cooperative business called
                                                                            * Renewable Energy for Rural
    SOCOCO, which profitably uses solar cookers to cook food at             Industrialization and Development in
    their hotel restaurant (SCI (EA) 2004).                                 Nigeria, UNIDO, 2003.

                                                      These solar cooking successes offer examples of how
          Sobering Statistics:
                                                 people can harness the free energy of the sun to cook food and
~ Nigeria will be completely deforested          pasteurize milk and safe drinking water, while reducing the
in 2020 at current depletion rates.
                                                 harmful effects of using traditional cooking fuels. These include
~ More than 35 million m /year of                deforestation due to firewood collection and charcoal
firewood is burned in the savannah
region alone.                                    production, the physical hardships of collecting and chopping
                                                 firewood, and suffering and early death due to smoke-related
       ~ UNDP predicts 70% of fuel
                                                 illnesses (primarily affecting women and children; African
wood consumption can be replaced by
renewable energies like the sun.                 Development Bank Group 2004). In addition, as the expense of
                                                 fossil fuels like kerosene and gas increase, so do poverty
Sources:                                         levels.
~ Environment and Energy for Poverty
Reduction Programme, Government of the
Federal Republic of Nigeria and UNDP, May
20, 2004.
    Fun in the Sun:                                                                          FluidIT Solutions
    Solar Cooking and Related Technologies

    Important Drawbacks to Cooking with Firewood
         Nigeria, for example, faces a huge environmental problem due to the depletion of its forests due to
    mining, growing rural populations, and increased farming on previously forested land. If current trends are
    not reversed, Nigeria will have no remaining forests within the next twenty years. Not only is this an
    environmental crisis – it is a cooking fuel wood crisis which will lead to increased poverty levels as
    firewood becomes scarce and expensive, and as families are forced to switch to other fuels. If
    reforestation plans are combined with solar cooking programmes that provide an affordable, renewable
    energy alternative, people will not need to cut down trees to cook, and reforestation efforts can be
    allowed to take root.

       Over 1,100 people die each day in sub-Saharan Africa due to illness caused by cooking smoke.

                                                                   Furthermore, there are significant health
                     Health Facts:                            costs from cooking with firewood. Especially

~ 46% of Nigerians lack clean water.                          when cooking fires are inside, where women tend
                                                              them with their youngest children on their backs
* Diarrhoea is the third largest cause of children’s
                                                              or in the room, the smoke causes emphysema
deaths in Africa, as well chronic malnutrition and
indirect deaths.                                              and other respiratory illnesses and eye problems.
                                                              An estimated 1.6 million deaths per year in
        + Solar cookers can pasteurize water and
          prevent diseases and untimely deaths.               developing countries are caused from diseases
                                                              related to cooking smoke (AFRO-NETS 2004).
~ Environment and Energy for Poverty Reduction                Therefore the potential health benefits of solar
Programme, Government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria
                                                              cooking can be literally life saving.
and UNDP, May 20, 2004.
                                                                   It is clear that for environmental, economic,
+ Solar Cookers International (see
                                                              and health reasons, reducing dependence on
* Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council
                                                              firewood and conventional fuels, and increasing
(WSSCC), 2005. Women, Water and Hygiene Are Key to
Change in Africa.                                             the use of free and renewable solar energy, are
                                                              important goals.
Fun in the Sun:                                                                            FluidIT Solutions
Solar Cooking and Related Technologies

Benefits of Solar Cooking
        Food cooked from solar energy is more nutritious because the lower cooking temperatures preserve
more of the food’s vitamins and enzymes. Solar energy can be used to pasteurize water and milk, thereby
preventing diseases such as diarrhoea, the third largest cause of children’s deaths in Africa, and the
underlying cause of half of children’s deaths (WSSCC 2005). Solar cooking also provides economic
benefits. For families that purchase cooking fuel, adopting solar cooking will reduce household expenses.
This may positively impact females, who often suffer the most when a family has insufficient funds for
adequate food or school fees for children.

        In Africa, primarily women and girls are responsible for collecting firewood and cooking. They are the
ones who suffer the negative impacts of deforestation with respect to ever-increasing distances required
to travel for firewood, and most of the health problems associated with smoke inhalation. Therefore they
will be significant beneficiaries of cleaner, cheaper and easier solar energy. If solar cooking is adopted in
the home through mothers, daughters will learn these methods as well, one generation of women
teaching another.

Types of Solar Cookers
        There are three main types of solar cookers: panel cookers, box cookers, and parabolic (or curved
concentrator) cookers. Within these types there are many variations on designs. Our solar cooking project
in Nigeria used all three types of solar cookers, which are shown below. Many other designs are available
on Solar Cooker International’s website.1 The principle is similar to a greenhouse – the sun’s rays pass
through a glass or plastic cover, hit the black pot, get converted to heat, and the glass or plastic provides
a layer of air around the pot to keep in the heat. A black pot gets much hotter than pots of other colours,
particularly silver. In partially cloudy weather, the more insulation the solar cooker has, the hotter it stays.
A black metal tray in the bottom of the cooker is very effective at increasing the heat being transferred to
the pot; rocks painted black also help keep the cooker warm. My favourite solar cooker was a large
cardboard box cooker with a glass lid, a black metal tray bottom, and 3” walls filled with crushed
newspapers as insulation. An extra panel to reflect more sunlight into the box would make it even hotter.

        Note: To see photographs of the solar cookers used in this project, please download a
        version of this document with photos (www.fluidITsolutions.omc/sc-concept.pdf, 544 Kb). To
        see a wide variety of solar cookers, please visit

Fun in the Sun:                                                                            FluidIT Solutions
Solar Cooking and Related Technologies

Water Pasteurization with Solar Cookers
        Dirty water causes a lot of illness, and even deaths, especially for children. Boiling water makes it
safer to drink, but it is expensive for people who must purchase fuel, and time consuming for people who
gather their own firewood. Solar cookers can provide the same health benefits as boiling water by using
the sun’s free energy. You can also use a solar cooker to heat milk and juice, making them safer to drink.

        When you are using a parabolic cooker, the liquids will in fact boil, so it is easy to see when they are
safe to drink, or “pasteurized.” The other types of solar cookers do not reach boiling temperature, but they
do get hot enough to kill the harmful elements in water. In order to tell when the liquid is pasteurized, you
can use a wax temperature gauge that melts when the water is safe to drink. Solar Cookers International
sells these “water purification indicators,” which they call “WAPIs” for short.2 They recommend that you
purchase them rather than make your own, to make sure that they are sealed so that wax will not get into
the water. Also, different waxes melt at different temperatures, and they use a wax that melts at the
correct temperature. If it is impossible for you to buy WAPIs because of costs, I can help you find out how
to purchase the correct wax for homemade WAPIs. WAPIs can also be used to tell when liquids are
pasteurized on traditional stoves without boiling them – therefore saving fuel.

FluidIT Solutions’ Solar Cooking Project in Nigeria
        In 2005, FluidIT Solutions collaborated on a solar cooking training program in Nigeria with Fantsuam
Foundation and Oke-Ogun Community Development Network (OCDN). The project built and tested solar
cookers, and created training videos in two local languages, Hausa and Yoruba. FluidIT Solutions taught
the two participating NGOs how to make training videos for the first time as part of this project. Local
entrepreneurs are being trained to build solar cookers, and others are being trained to solar cook.
Building upon this, promotional programs such as showing the video at the local doctor’s office are being
investigated, and community solar cooking groups are being created. Dr. Azukaeme from Kafanchan,
Nigeria, who learned about solar cooking from this project, is particularly interested in solar stoves for
water pasteurization for his own medical practice, as well as for his patients’ health. Future project plans
include outreach programs at the local college of education and other venues. You can read more about
this project on our website.3

Fun in the Sun:                                                                        FluidIT Solutions
Solar Cooking and Related Technologies

      Another result of our solar cooking project was the creation of a new online discussion group about
solar cooking. This discussion group was started to help people in Nigeria to learn and collaborate on
solar cooking, and it is open to anyone. You can read the past messages and see our files and photos by
visiting the Solar Cooking Nigeria Yahoo! Group at
You are welcome to click the “Join This Group” button if you wish to participate, or send an email to

Lessons from Past Projects
      Learning from other solar cookers is very important. Solar Cookers International, with its extensive
website about solar cooking, is a valuable source of information, inspiration, and lessons learned from
around the world.4 They also sell solar cookers, WAPIs, training books and cookbooks.5 The Programme
for Biomass Energy Conservation (ProBEC) in Southern Africa6 includes solar cooking as one of its
strategies. Their experience and documentation provide helpful insights for new solar cooking projects.

      Adopting new habits is not easy. It often takes five years to achieve 15% adoption rates of solar
cookers (Dennery 2005). In exceptional circumstances, such as in refugee camps, adoption rates can
reach 98% in shorter time frames (Dennery 2005). To attain better success rates, solar cooking projects
should be customized to local environments. One must consider whether to build or buy solar cookers;
what designs are best given locally available materials, costs, weather and cooking needs; training
programs to teach people how to build solar cookers and to develop businesses to sell them;
microfinance options to help families purchase solar cookers, and training and support to teach people
how to use them safely.7 Lifestyle changes such as preparing meals in the morning due to slower cooking
times, and preparing safe drinking water, take a lot of encouragement before they are adopted. Therefore
solar cooking must be considered as a large, long term project – but one that I believe is worthwhile.

Fun in the Sun:                                                                           FluidIT Solutions
Solar Cooking and Related Technologies

Related Energy-Conserving Technologies
     Solar cooking is great, but it cannot be done when the sun is not shining. In these cases, retained
heat cookers8 can be locally made from recycled and waste materials to save fuel, while providing new
income opportunities. For example, a basket insulated with feathers can provide new sales for basket
weavers, new income for poultry farmers for feathers that are thrown out now, and the resulting retained
heat cooker can reduce the cooking fuel needs of families. Rice, beans, and other foods can be brought
to a boil on the stove, then left to cook in the retained heat cooker for up to two hours with no attention. It
will remain hot even longer. These small measures will likely become appreciated time and fuel savers for
women in charge of food preparation. Other materials such as pillows stuffed with rice husks or hay, or
boxes lined with newspapers and cardboard covered with silver wrapping paper, can also be used. A tight
seal on the pot and the retained heat cooker are important. Also, when cooking meat in a retained heat
cooker, always bring it to a boil again before eating it for food safety.

     In addition to solar cooking, solar food drying9 is a readily available technology to increase food
preservation, food security, and nutrition. In Nigeria, I dried mangoes, papaya, and garden eggs on a
simple solar dryer designed in Malawi. I also met some people in Nigeria who are testing other solar dryer
designs. Friends have told me that most of Nigeria’s mango harvest spoils because no local preservation
methods are in use. At the same time, dried mangoes are a delicacy in Canada. This led me to
investigate solar drying as an inexpensive way to preserve fruits and vegetables, increasing food
production and income opportunities for African families.

     A Nigerian teacher, Mohammed Bah Abba, designed a “refrigerator” that is made of two clay pots,
one inside the other, with a layer of wet sand between them. It is called the zeer pot.10 These locally
made, inexpensive coolers do not rely on electricity or other fuels, and effectively keep food fresh and
water cool from the hot sun. I used a modified zeer pot in my mud hut in Nigeria, where it maintained a
temperature between 73 – 79 degrees Fahrenheit when the surrounding temperature was 83 – 90
degrees Fahrenheit. My outer pot was shorter than the inner pot, but with better fitting pots, I expect the
temperatures would get even cooler. My zeer pot was sufficient to keep cucumbers for a least a week,
avocado pears for at least 4 days. Reducing food spoilage will save families money, and going to the
market less often will save women time for more profitable activities.

  See - Retained Heat Cooking
Fun in the Sun:                                                                              FluidIT Solutions
Solar Cooking and Related Technologies

Project Recommendations
        You may find these ideas helpful if you start a solar cooking project:

                  Consider the project requirements from start to finish, including how to get solar cookers
                  (e.g., build or buy them), make people aware of them, test local recipes, train people to use
                  them safely, and provide ongoing support. Remember that it takes five years under normal
                  circumstances to get solar cooking well established in new areas.

                  Keep organizations that can help promote solar cooking informed of the project (e.g.,
                  Teachers’ Colleges’ home economics departments, women’s groups, youth groups, health
                  clinics, and public schools). Government ministries for women, for renewable energy, and for
                  economic development might be able to assist you.

                  Plan to involve perhaps ten local cooks who will become good role models and future
                  trainers. Provide them with solar cookers, training and support while you investigate which
                  solar cooker is best for your area. They will help you work out the details about setting
                  prices, adapting local recipes, and cooking times. Ask them to track their solar cooking
                  usage, and the time and money it saves them compared to using other fuels.

                  Develop appropriate training materials with the cooks (songs, diagrams, dramas, printed
                  materials, or videos), and training programs that include demonstrations. Also, the trainers
                  may need financial support to be able to invest time in the project.

                  Involve the organizations that you have already contacted to help promote solar cooking,
                  through “train the trainer” programs, demonstrations, etc. Try to get radio or television

                  Hospitals and health clinics may be interested in providing solar cookers for overnight
                  patients and their families to use, to pasteurize water for their own practices, and also to
                  sterilize medical equipment.11

                  Students at boarding schools and living away from home to attend universities are good
                  candidates for solar cooking.

                  Consider how to support entrepreneurs who will build or import solar cookers, or how to
                  partner with other organizations to do so.

Fun in the Sun:                                                                         FluidIT Solutions
Solar Cooking and Related Technologies

             Consider how to help families pay for their first solar cooker, through microfinance,
             instalment payments, or savings clubs. Again, other organizations may be able to help with
             this aspect of the project.

     I hope you found this information interesting, and I especially hope you try some of these ideas,
including retained heat cooking. Feel free to share this information with others who may find it helpful. I
would be pleased to help you design a joint solar cooking project, and welcome questions. Best wishes
and good luck as you get cooking!

                                                           Carole St. Laurent
                                                           FluidIT Solutions


Fun in the Sun:                                                                   FluidIT Solutions
Solar Cooking and Related Technologies

   African Development Bank Group (ADBG). 2004. Indoor Air Pollution. ADB FINESSE Africa program
   newsletter Vol 1(4). (accessed Feb. 10, 2005)

   African Networks for Health Research and Development (AFRO-NETS). 2004. Indoor Air Pollution -
   The Killer in the Kitchen. (updated Oct. 15,
   2004; accessed Aug. 12, 2005)

   AFRO-NETS – See African Networks for Health Research and Development.

   Dennery, Pascale from Solar Cookers International, Sacramento, California. 2005. Personal email,
   August 26, 2005.

   Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ) and Department of Minerals and
   Energy (DME), South Africa. 2004. Solar Cooking Compendium: Challenges and Achievements of
   the Solar Cooker Field Test in South Africa.

   GTZ – See Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit.

   Solar Cookers International. 2004. Final Kakuma Evaluation: Solar Cookers Filled a Critical Gap.
   Solar Cooker Review, Vol 10(2).

   Solar Cookers International (Eastern Africa). 2004. Slow But Sure. SuNews, Vol 2(4).

   Solar Cookers International. Undated publication. 5 Steps/5 Years to Solar Cooking. Sacramento,
   CA: Solar Cookers International.

   Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC), 2005. Women, Water and Hygiene
   Are Key to Change in Africa. (updated Sep. 14, 2005;
   accessed Oct. 14, 2005)

   WSSCC – See Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council.

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