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What are benefits and limitations of solar cooking in developing country?

A question from Tom Bedford,

I'm a Product Design student from Bristol, currently working on my final individual project for university.

The project is based around concentrated solar cooking using a Fresnel lens, the aim is to try and develop a cooker that is faster, more compact and convenient, to promote sustainable living. From my research so far I believe that this technology is most valuable in developing countries for the obvious reasons such as cost, but also for the health environmental benefits that it brings compared with the traditional forms of cooking using firewood (smoke inhalation), and the deforestation that comes with it.

From looking at your website 'Practical Action' seems like the perfect place to get a first-hand insight into the needs, requirements and limitations with using solar cooking in the developing world.

I am particularly interested in your articles on: Solar Cooking by Practical Action; Solar Cooking and Health by Darwin Curtis; and Monitoring Indoor Air Pollution by Elizabeth Bates.

I am hoping to get in contact with experts in the field of solar cooking and international aid, people who have had experience working in developing country.

If you could help me in any way it would be fantastic.

Thanks for your time.

Kind Regards Tom

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4 Answers

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Benefits: Saving in time and/or cost in collecting, buying fuel; women not working in smoke filled kitchens, so healthier; if done on a large scale; reduction in deforestation for fuel wood; reduction in greenhouse gases produced in burning wood or charcoal. Disadvantages: Technology prone to breakage; requires change in cultural and social practices, which are not always readily accepted; initial cost of materials and construction can be expensive in poor communities; don't work in rainy days, so traditional kitchens still need to be maintained against these. These are the main pros & cons off the top of my head. Try contacting Sunseed Desert Technology in Spain. They did a solar cooking programme in Tanzania some years back with limited success. I know they did have problems, mainly around cultural barriers to acceptance of the cookers. Good luck, Gavin.....

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Solar cookers, there are four types I know of. I. Parrabolic Cooker, this is fast and can be rotated to the sun. We ran a commercial kitchen at an event in the Uk. This would boil water in 20 mins in the UK on a warm day. They are excellent for using a wok with yet do not work with cloud. 2. Solar oven, these are like boxes with fold out reflectors. Its a good option for cooking to use both, start with the parabolic and move onto the solar oven. Then there are solar bags which are very cheap to make essentially with the reflective material of windscreens. They are a cube and are ideal for air situations because they can be dropped from above and will not break. They take a good few hours to cook though. Then there is a similar low cost reflective card version, (around 3 Euros) this works for about twelve uses. I do some low tech invention myself and if I was to give you a place that may be worth working from I would have to start with limitations of what wont work. The Oven and the parabolic are fine if they are situated mostly in one place, they both can bend or break. The card ones are too disposable in my view.

So to "try and develop a cooker that is faster, more compact and convenient, to promote sustainable living." I would add to that robust too, somethign that could be designed to suit the needs, be cheap and yet be better than the existing solar bages using just fabric could be this... If you look online for solar cooking bags. Then copy the design yet instead of using just the reflective material, (available in Southall)us strips or triangles of thin aluminium or another thin refective metal, it could even be metal pieces sown into the fabric. This will speed up the standard solar design. From what I understand, nothing like that presently exists and it would be very compact being able to fold flat, whilst being quite flexible and robust. It would be convenient as they can be packed between other items and either delivered by hand or dropped from the air and they would be faster to use than the existing design, although slightly more costly, at a guess they could cost in production about 7 Euros each. Hope that helps.

Peter (1993-94) LinkedIn: Peter J Hughes

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I agree with all of the above regarding health and environmental benefits. The one thing that is mentioned but not enlarged that is perhaps the most important factor is the requirement for a change in social practices. Consideration must be given to what is being cooked and when. In Zimbabwe where I live, as in much of Africa, the staple is a maize based porridge. Here it is called sadza and the recipe for cooking it can be found at While there is a short period of simmering, the majority of the preparation time requires constant stirring by someone who to do this would be blocking out the sun. In poorer households this is generally served with a vegetable relish which would again not take extensive simmering over a prolonged period. Only on special occasions would it be eaten with a meat stew which could benefit from a solar cooker. Added to this is the fact that cooking usually takes place in the early evening when the sun is less intense and the sadza is eaten cold for breakfast and there may often not be a third meal in the middle of the day. Another factor that I have heard in the context of collecting water and may also be true of firewood is that this is the social time for women when that are free to chat about things, moan about their husbands etc.

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Dear Tom, if you have finished your project already, we would be interested in your results. If not, maybe this site would be helpful to you: You will find a lot of links and what to have in mind when promoting solar cookers. Feel free to add any additional information there. Furthermore, solar cooking also relevant in refugee situations. Hope you find this helpful.

Best, Johanna

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