SOLAR COOKING AND
The good news is that it is possible to breathe fresh air at the same time as cooking – using a
solar cooker. Solar cooking produces no smoke at all.
In the past, the main reason for people adopting solar cooking was to reduce the environmental
degradation caused by using too much fuel wood. More recently, respiratory diseases caused by
toxic smoke from cooking fires have been recognized as a major health problem. They kill 1.5
million women and children each year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Solar
cookers address these major threats to health as well.
Solar cooking technology has been around for decades, but has been poorly understood and has
not been widely disseminated. Here are some ideas on what solar cooking is about, and its
capabilities – as well as its limitations.
Overcoming barriers to acceptance
Solar energy was promoted as an alternative cooking fuel from the 1980s. Two principal barriers
blocked its initial acceptance, however:
Cultural resistance; people have used wood to cook since the inception of the domestic
fire. Acceptance of so radical a change as cooking with solar energy can only happen
where there is real need. With ever-increasing desertification on one hand and population
increases on the other, the need is growing rapidly.
The other initial barrier to solar cooking’s broad acceptance was the indifferent quality
and/or high cost of available solar cooking equipment, and the lack of experience
introducing it. Today, several efficient solar cookers are available at relatively modest
cost; experience has sharpened advocates’ understanding of how to achieve cultural
Where is solar cooking practical?
A major requirement of solar cooking is, of course, plenty of sun. The US space agency, NASA,
created a database for those wishing to cook with solar energy. This database helps people
determine where there is adequate sunshine. The term ‘insolation’ is a measure of the amount of
sunshine and thus is a measure of how much energy is available for solar cooking. As a technical
rule of thumb, monthly insolation should exceed 4 KwH/meter squared/day on average, to merit
consideration for solar cooking promotion.
Another requirement for successful introduction of solar cooking is the pressing need for
alternative energy. (Places in the world where solar cooking is done as a matter of preference are
few. They occur where there is a well-educated population and rising prices of traditional biomass
fuels.) Otherwise, the greatest demand is where biomass fuel shortages are most severe.
Considerations of health should one day become another strong incentive.
Solar cooking seasons are much longer and the need for alternative energy generally much more
urgent in tropical and semi-tropical areas. These include most of Africa, South Asia, Australasia,
Central and Northern South America. Solar cooking may also be a useful alternative in a band
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