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Parameters for a Solar Cooker Programme
Authors: Richard C Wareham
Issue 36: Solar Energy in the Home

Over 70 per cent of the wood consumed in underdeveloped countries is used for cooking' This not only creates an ecological disaster but inhaling the smoke is a major health hazard for the families. Solar energy is the only free and abundant fuel in most developing countries. Where the sun shines and the wood has been burned, the world will (must) learn to use this energy to cook the basic foods.

Field acceptance of solar cooking constitutes the major barrier to successful projects. Daily use by people of all races and economic positions is essential for complete acceptance. Even if it is only used for camping or special events, being seen in use by the better off will raise its market image. Existing religious, social, and government organizations must be the leaders and promoters of solar cooking.

The following observations, comments and conclusions are a guide for a solar cooker programme:


All peoples in developed or undeveloped countries want a high-quality solar cooker. Home-made units are good for those who build them. Solar Cookers International, Sacramento, CA, has done an excellent job promoting solar cooking at the grass roots level. In most countries, a rugged user-friendly, aesthetic cooker is required. Home-made quality will not be accepted in the market.


Hundreds of thousands of units are required in every developing country. In many areas the trees
are gone and electricity will not be available for years. These quantities cannot be built in your back yard. In India large quantities of solar box cookers were built by companies subsidized by the government, and in Pakistan by a charity. China subsidized large quantities of parabolic cookers. These projects lacked training programs and there are not enough funds in the world to subsidize the millions of solar cookers needed. Solar cooker programs must be self-supporting.


The market is the poorest of the poor. The cooker must be a low-cost, affordable unit. Financial help such as arrangements for installment payments are needed. Material manufactures have assisted non-profit groups manufacturing solar cookers by extending their lowest price regardless of quantity. However, material must be purchased in large quantities if these low prices are to be maintained. The use of scrap or used materials (de, litho off-set printing plates) and re-ground plastics for moulding will also reduce and stabilize the price. A label on each unit could advertise the sponsors.


Seed money to purchase the first units is required. Local or foreign conservation groups, trust, governments, foundations, etc should be contacted for support. Units should be distributed by established local organizations who appoint a commissioned salesman in each community. (Do not give exclusive territories.) The price of a unit should include a commission for the local distributor and salesman. Giveaway programs establish the value of the unit as zero and defeat themselves, e.g. India's initial programme. The proceeds (less commissions) are used to purchase additional units thus establishing a self-supporting programme. NGOs, religious groups, service organizations and commercial businesses are all needed and welcomed in this marketing effort.


Parts and units should be produced in large quantities for local and foreign assemblers. This amortizes the moulds and tooling over a greater number of units and guarantees low cost and high quality. Manufacturers must be located in those countries where equipment, facilities, low-cost materials and scrap are available to produce an affordable unit. The major cost is materials, tooling and machinery. Each developing country should create sales jobs by developing a market and marketing programme before making the capital investment for a mould and equipment to build units.


Units must be stackable for shipping and packaging. The post offices in some countries will ship one or two at a low cost. Ten stackable units will fit into the back seat of an automobile (a small van or combi can hold 50). Larger quantities can be carried by local truckers returning empty to rural areas. In some cases empty containers being relocated to other countries are available at low rates. One 20-foot sea container can hold approximately 800 units, or 500 units plus 100 black enamelled two and four litre pots.


Taxes, duties and tariffs on solar cooker materials, parts and units must be low or zero. Government taxes (including VAT) can destroy a programme. These problems must be addressed and solved at the start of the project. Government co-operation and/or support is essential. The country gains the ecological benefits and the reduction of air pollution. Trees, shrubs and forests are preserved. The reduced fuel consumption reduces the cost of living and improves the health and life of the people, especially the women and children.

User friendly

A solar cooker that meets the above criteria is the Sunstove. It is:
  • Affordable (Less than $25.00)
  • Lightweight (4kg)
  • Weather resistant (aluminium and plastic)
  • Easy to use (No external reflectors to adjust. The internal sides are 'winged' out to increase the area of the solar collection window).
  • Rugged (Moulded housing). It will pasteurize water ( 15 minutes at 71 °C) and slow-cooks rice, corn meal, beans, potatoes, vegetables (without water), stews, fish, meat, etc for a family of six (food cooks at 82°C - some beans need to be boiled for 15 minutes to eliminate poisons).

The best time for cooking is from 9.00 to 15.00. Cooking time (two to five hours) will vary with the time of day, latitude, type and quantity of food. The Sunstove will not bum food. The water used in cooking rice, corn meal, millet, beans, etc acts as a heat sink limiting the cooking temperature to 100°C.

Point the cooker at the sun. Enjoy your food. When the sun doesn't shine, use some of the wood you have saved!
Solar Cooking Archive Wiki

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Last edited by Miriam Hansen .
Page last modified on Monday 04 of October, 2010 13:27:00 GMT. @HEDON: UHVB

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