THE SOLAR CHEF

BACKGROUND

Solar Cooking? What on earth is that?

That is the response Ihave had from most people since Ifirst discovered Solar Ovens way back in 2007.

The principal is simple: If you can focus the suns rays onto a pot you can cook what’s in it! You can read more how they work on the excellent solar cookers International Wiki here

For me,living in a developed country meant I have always had instant access to gas and electric cookers, so never thought about where the energy was coming from, or how it was produced,. I wanted to cook food. I turned on the stove, and 20 minutes later my food was ready.

Roll forward 20 years and I think quite differently.

I had heard about solar panels heating water and providing electricty, but I had never heard of cooking directly with the suns energy with either a box cooker, or other form of solar oven such as a parabolic, and they can even scale up to community or institutional sizes, capable of cooking thousands of meals a day!

I discovered you could even make your own solar cooker using a discarded cardboard box, reused tinfoil and a black pot.

Coming from a society where heat, light, and power was available 24/7/365, this came as quite a revelation!

WHAT CAN YOU COOK IN THEM?

You can cook, fry, bake, boil, steam, grill exactly the same as if you were using a ‘normal’ cooker, the only restrictions are the size and shape of the pot and how much heat your solar oven can generate.

I have personally boiled water, baked bread, pizzas, and pies, cooked stews, soups, made sweet pastries, grilled vegetables and roasted potatoes – all on board Ariana at sea, underway, in the Atlantic. So it is possible!

HOW DOES IT WORK

Contrary to popular beliefs about solar cooking, you do not need to live in the tropics or the desert for a solar cooker to work, you just need direct sunlight.

Admittedly this is sometimes difficult to find in the northern hemisphere!

Sunlight isn’t hot in itself, its just light waves or radiation (whatever that is!)

Apparently sunlight is converted into heat conversion occurs when photons interact with molecules moving around in a substance.

When they strike matter, whether solid or liquid, all of this energy causes the molecules in that matter to vibrate. This activity generates heat and solar cookers use different methods to use this heat.

Firstly you need a dark coloured pot as dark colours absorb and retain more heat than light coloured ones,

When the pot absorbs this light energy, molecules making up the dark colored cook pot get excited. Excited molecules have more energy to give, and we measure this excess energy as higher temperature. So, the dark colored pot gets hotter, amd hotter pots are good !

With me so far? I’m not a physicist so hopefully I’m correct!

Next we need to enclose our pot in glass or reflect and concentrate the sunlight direct onto our pot! Or mixture of both,

WHAT’S THE POINT?

We already have gas, wood, electric, charcoal etc, this whole solar cooking thing sounds like a lot of hard work!

And yes, of course it’s more hard work than turning on a stove, but remember in order for you to get instant gas or electric, but , there is a huge amount of work and money goes into discovering and delivering gas, or producing electricity, befre you get it, that’s why you pay so much for it!

Imagine if, for a little extra ‘work’ you could have free energy to cook with it, courtesy of that great big life sustaining ball in the sky, your friend, the sun!

Admittedly, you won’t be able to use it effectively every day, if you don’t have clear skies, but this is to do with resilience, and energy conservation, and you can’t have everything all the time! Even if you want it!

EXISTING PROJECTS

There are many great organisations helping people in ‘developing’ countries to buy or manufacture solar cookers, and even scale them up to village or community size, but the reasons for helping people in these countries is very different to this project, based firmly in the developed world.

In many of these countries people cook indoors without any chimneys, creating carcogenic smoke, they have a lack of alernative fuel supplies, or the money to pay for them, and women have been raped going into the forest to gather firewood – all in all, not a good situation. And we wish all these projects well, but at The Solar Chef, we are here for a different reason.

We have several aims

  1. To teach people the benefits of solar cooking.
  2. To help people develop an alternative source of cooking energy.
  3. To teach people self reliance.
  4. To reduce the energy consumption in developed countries.
  5. To teach children a fantastic lesson in understanding nature, energy, and give them an engaging project that has great results! Cookies all round.
  6. To reduce reliance on imported energy.
  7. To help people understand their energy use and how solar cooking can help in protecting the environment without recourse to huge wind farms.

RESISTANCE TO CHANGE

On board Ariana I have been using solar cookers since the beginning, but although Ithink that people will find them amazing, most people complain that they can’t have their food instantly!

It’s only because they are used to turning on the stove and having instant energy to cook their chilli, or bake bread. The solar oven is seen as a great inconvenience!

It doesn’t matter that they are offshore sailing and have all the time in the world, they’re hungry ‘right now’ and need to eat!

It’s not that they’re lazy, they just want to do something they’re used to! And talking of laziness, when I mentioned this idea to friends who work in the city, they just laughed.

Of course they did. They get up at 5 to commute into London, work all day and get back about 7pm, by which time they either want a takeaway, a microwave meal or something to quick in the pan or the oven…

Even if it wasn’t dark when they got home, or it wasn’t raining or cloudy, the idea that they would wait 2 hours to cook food, is just unimaginable! They would go crazy waiting,

When I mentioned that they also have solar kitchens community sized and maybe their local community could start one to feed the local community, they told me they don’t even know their next door neighbour , let alone ‘the community’ and anyway, it would feel like a soup kitchen for the homeless…

I had the same resistance on the boat, but fortunately as I’m in charge, and we have a shift system offhore, I ‘forced’ people to work together in pairs to prepare the food, then the next shift would put it into the solar cooker, then the next shift would monitor it, then finally we could all eat!

Eventually people started coming around, and got into the groove, and the best thing was, people remarked that they could keep coming back and getting another bowl as the sun’s energy is more gentle than a gas stove, and the food would still be hot.

People did complain when it got dark as they couldn’t cook, but I explained that they coul do one of three things…

  1. Eat the food cold, or have a cold meal (not popular)
  2. Have nothing (not popular)
  3. Heat the food on the gas stove as we had conserved a huge amount of energy by using the solar oven during the day!

There has to be many options available! Resilience takes many forms.

Like 99 percent of the projects that Alan has initiated they face a great resistance from the general population, the powers that be, and most people, whilst thinking that they are conceptually ‘cool’ wouldn’t change their lifestyle. Or even marginally alter it.

So maybe The Solar Chef should just be focussing on helping the poor unfortunates in India or Africa where they have plenty of time on their hands.

When I mentioned that we were going to start supplying education and solar cookers to Nepal, and India, the same people asked where they could donate!

They suddenly thought it was a great project worth supporting, and were ready to dig deep into their pockets to help these people ‘live a better life’.

I was speechless!

conclusion

Mayb, I pondered, people aren’t ready for something new, but then I realised that people had been embracing new technology for thousands of years!

The problem was, solar cooking seemed like a step backwards, not forwards for most people.

Imagine a man who has never slept in a bed being given a bed, then told that due to environmental concerns his bed was being taken away, how would he feel?

Imagine a man who has had to walk to work 5 miles for 20 years in the pouring rain and someone gives him a car…he would be elated! Now we are going to take it away, as it is not friendly to the environment, how would he feel?

I think people are happy to support ‘the environment’ and new ideas, as long as they don’t have to change one thing in their life!

It just seeems to be how humans are wired!

THE WAY FORWARD

I know that on land you can´t force anyone to do anything they don´t want to do, unless with the barrel of a gun and the threat of death, but don´t you think it’s sad that humans can’t see what they are doing is destroying the planet?

As always, The Ariana Project will show the way, and be the way, and if it takes us another 200 years to show how cool solar cooking is, then so be it!

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