Solar Cookers: How They Can Provide Food Access Across the World


Solar Cookers: How They Can Provide Food Access Across the World

November 1, 2019

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Thousands of villages across the world lack access to clean, safe food. For some however, going back to an old cooking method that uses the sun has proven to be life-changing.

Around the world, people living in rural villages come home from a long day of work, only to leave the house again. They’re not leaving to have fun or just to head to a local store. They need to gather wood, because if they don’t have it soon, they won’t be able to cook for their families. 

These people need a better way to cook. Their health depends on it. 

Many experts are finding that one of the best solutions isn’t a brand new piece of technology–it’s something that has been around since the dawn of man. Ever since around 300 B.C., humans have been using magnifying glasses to create fire with sunlight. Today, solar cookers are doing this on a larger scale, and it’s expanding access to a core necessity of life: cooked meals.

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Billions Worldwide Lack Access To Cooked Food

The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates there are about 2.8 billion people across the world who lack access to modern cooking fuel. Furthermore, 1.1 billion people don’t have access to reliable electricity to run cooking appliances.

Most people who can’t obtain reliable cooking fuel or electricity live in rural areas. For many, heating up food means leaving home and hunting for wood to start a fire. This process is draining, especially if there isn’t wood close by, and ultimately contributes to the cycle of poverty. Not only does it take extreme time and energy to get, but in the event they can’t get wood, families may be forced to eat uncooked foods. Eating raw food can be extremely dangerous – from causing sickness to being fatal. So what kinds of solutions can ensure these people don’t have to hunt for wood to cook their food?

Solar Cookers Can Be A Solution

Solar cookers cook food using trapped heat from the sun’s rays. That means no fuel necessary! They’re inexpensive and relatively easy to build. You can even build some solar cookers using materials as simple as a cardboard box and aluminum foil or mylar to reflect the sun’s heat. Since solar cookers don’t use fuel, they don’t pollute the air or contribute to deforestation.

A Kenyan woman sits around multiple solar cookers.

Solar cookers are essentially reflective bowls, dishes, and boxes that direct sunlight toward a pan or capture and convert sunlight to heat energy inside the cooker.  Through both methods, the heat stays in the solar cooker and your food inside can begin to sizzle! Think of a sunshade for your car – when it faces the sun for a while, it becomes burning hot. Solar cooking works in the same way in that it captures the sun’s rays and stores the heat inside. 

Solar cookers work through a 3-step process: Concentration, absorption, and retention. It’s simple, really–all it takes is for your solar cooker to face the sun, capture its rays, and retain the heat absorbed inside. As you can imagine, touching a solar cooker during a sunny day is like touching a metal pole while it’s over 100 degrees outside.

Cooking with a solar cooker isn’t as convenient as an oven or a stove. For one, at night or on a particularly cloudy day, solar cookers become largely ineffective. Even on a sunny day, they don’t heat up as quickly as modern kitchen appliances. Still, they’re far simpler than many cooking options that use an open fire, and can even work quicker as well.

Providing Food Access in Rural Villages

Solar cookers are providing relief to people in rural villages without access to other cooking fuels. In doing so, it makes these communities safer, healthier, and can spare local families hours on a daily basis that they would otherwise spend preparing to cook. “The solar cooker produces no smoke and because it needs no fuel, we no longer need to gather wood from the mountains and dung from our livestock.” said a villager from Bamyan, Afghanistan. 

A philanthropic organization known as the Barefoot College teaches mothers living in rural villages how to build, maintain and use solar cookers for food. Julia from Nigeria said, “Kerosene and firewood are expensive. It is dangerous and dirties my kitchen while I cook indoors.” It’s true: indoor air pollution from activities like cooking is one of the most dangerous types of pollution that people, especially children, face on a daily basis. If more families knew about the opportunity solar cookers present, there would be increased cooked food access and reduced indoor air pollution around the globe.

An Opportunity Across the World

Across the globe, solar cookers are bettering people’s lives. Instead of eating raw foods or cold food, solar cookers give people the power to heat up their meals without risk of infection, no matter where they might live. 

Because they’re affordable and easy to use, solar cookers can bring cooked food access to millions of people. Like other free solar heating methods, there are some hurdles in the way of solar cooking. The sun isn’t always shining, and many families come home late at night after work. In these instances, solar cooking isn’t going to be the answer. But while the sun shines, solar cookers are as simple a solution as you’ll find.

The more we innovate in technology, the more we go back to the simple things that have been helping us since the dawn of civilization. The sun is there for us to take advantage of – whether that’s heating your home, getting renewable energy, or cooking your food. 

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