What is Solar Cooking and Benefits

Solar cooking is a way of cooking food which uses solar power instead of using the traditional natural gas, wood or charcoal. Not only is Solar cooking safe, simple and convenient but also it needs only sun to perform its desired work. Therefore solar cooking can be easily used at most of the places as it has minimal requirements.

Solar cooking harnesses solar potential for the means of cooking food. Solar cookers convert the solar energy into heat which is subsequently used for heating food. Solar cookers are affordable and easy to use.

How Solar Cooking works?

Solar cooking works on the basic principle of soaking solar energy and converting it to heat energy. This heat energy then cooks up the materials present in the solar cooker. Solar cooker has to placed in an outside location where there is ample of sunlight. The place should not be too windy and should be covered to be protected from rainfall.

Solar cooker uses the principle of dark surfaces being heated up faster than the lighter ones. Therefore sunlight, acting as a fuel, heats up the solar cooker which contains food in thin metal with dark lids. Solar cookers further have a heat trap which helps in solar cookingretaining heat. These are mostly transparent lids which help in creating a barrier for the outgoing heat. Also the solar cookers use a reflective surface to provide extra heat to the contents of the solar cooker.

Solar cooker comes in a variety of types. Majority of them can be broadly divided into the following three categories-

  • Box cookers – Box cookers are most widespread solar cookers. They have been used for a couple of decades now. Box solar cooker are available in a number of sizes and can accommodate multiple boxes.
  • Parabolic cookers – Parabolic cookers are curved cookers. These cookers being curved help in cooking up the food fast to a high temperature. They are yet to be used on a wider scale and have the issue of frequent adjustment of the base of the cooker.
  • Panel cookers – These are a mix of box and parabolic cookers. Not only are they cheap but they are also simpler to operate.

Benefits of Solar Cooking

Solar cookers have wide ranging benefits. This innovative technology is helpful environmentally and economically. The solar cooking technology is flexible and easy to use and implement. It also has various health related benefits. According to WHO research, around 10% deaths are caused by unsafe water and indoor air pollution due to use of solid fuels. Thus another benefit of solar cookers is the fact that it disposes the use of such unhealthy and costlier sources of fuels. Major benefits of the ground breaking technology is listed below:

  • Environmental Benefits – Solar cooker helps in saving of precious non-renewable fuels as well as does away with the air pollution related with using those fuels. Sun being a renewable and vast source is more than competent to provide enough energy to cook food faster than any other fuel.
  • Health Benefits – Around two billion people in the world totally rely on wood and charcoal as their cooking fuel. Biomass and petroleum based fuels causes air pollution and add up to global warming. Moreover it prevents indoor pollution and keeps the kitchen cool and clear of any kind of harmful toxic gases.
  • A major benefit that the solar cooker provides is for the millions of people who have to walk miles to collect fuel wood for cooking purposes. This is a major benefit for people who do not have access to fuel.
  • Economic Benefits – Solar cooking provides an economic edge over other fuels .The initial investment of solar cookers is not as substantial as compared to other rising solar products. It is estimated that the poverty stricken people in developing and underdeveloped countries spend as much as 25% of their income on cooking fuels.
  • Convenience -Solar cookers are convenient and flexible to use. They have various sizes available and can also be used for cooking several dishes easily. Solar cooker requires the user to place the dishes in the container and with time the container heats up itself. Therefore there is very low burden on the users for carrying out the entire cooking process. Also at moderate temperatures, there is no possibility of the food being burnt or being spoiled. The solar cooker can be left unattended after initial placement.
  • Alternate uses- Solar cooker has other alternate usages. Major alternate usages include-

    • Use for food preservation
    • Vegetable drying or baking
    • Jam making (usage in winter season)
    • Making Ghee
    • Killing insects and germs( Solar Food Processing)

Limitations of Solar Cooking

Solar cookers are considered to be a modern technology despite the technology being used for a decade now. There is a problem of awareness among people about the various aspects of the technology which causes skepticism about its usage. Though solar cookers are highly efficient, cost effective and environment friendly they do have their share of limitations:

  • Usage problem during night and cloudy days – Solar technologies have an inherent problem of being void of any usage in the night-time as well as in the times where there is lower amount of solar energy available. Solar cookers are advised to be used when the sun is at the highest point as only then does it provide maximum efficiency.
  • Size – Though solar cookers are now available in a variety of sizes, in many areas solar cookers are still available in their bulky hard to carry form. Carrying such solar cookers can be a very tedious job. Smaller sized solar cookers have their own sets of limitations. They take up more time for cooking than the normal large sized solar cookers.
  • Incomplete cooking – Solar cookers being used in the middle of the day may still not be able to provide full and complete cooking due less sunlight or interference from a shade. This proves to be a major obstacle as the solar cookers are thus unreliable for efficient cooking.

Solar Cooking at Large Scale – Case Study

Shirdi Solar Cooking System, Shirdi, India

One of the world’s largest Solar Parabolic systems was commissioned in 2009. The newly upgraded system which is now fully functional cooks 50,000 meals per day. A total of seven months were required to construct and implement the structure. The investments of the solar cooking systems was estimated to be around INR 30 million rupees.

Similar successful cooking systems have been developed by the same technology providers in Gujarat and Ladakh regions in India and also in the Middle East and Europe.

Summing it all up ..

Solar Cookers is a very promising technology which holds promise for future.  The solar based technology has numerous benefits and is cost effective as well. Having been introduced for some years now, the solar cookers are yet to show the results which were expected right from the launch time.

An easy working, flexible usage, important applications and cost-free energy source help the solar cooker generate awe among the consumers. Though there are limitations still lurking around, there is a promise that this technology would develop technically sounder, evolving with various new variants and helping people cook better food!