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Solar Stove All You Need To Know

Solar Oven Image Credits: Xuaxo on wikipedia link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Solar_oven_Portugal_2007.jpg

Solar stoves or solar cookers are an inevitable necessity – the cost of cooking fuels, their scarcity, and the effects they have on the environment are some of the factors driving the need for this technological advancement.

Cooking with the sun’s heat has been an interest of man from ancient times – in many cultures foods are sun-dried, and then eaten. That is a form of cooking. However, it seems that modern man is the first to properly harness the sun’s energy for the purpose of cooking food.

This post will highlight the different ways via which the sun’s energy can be used for cooking. There is yet more to be done in the development of this technology.

What Is A Solar Stove?

A solar stove or a solar cooker is a device that harnesses energy from the sun for the purpose of cooking.

Presently, there are two ways via which this may be achieved:

Converting solar energy into electrical energy

Focusing the sun’s rays to generate heat

Those two methods produce the same result; which is harnessing the sun’s energy, and turning it into heat energy, which is then used for cooking.

However, their operations are quite different; they operate by vastly different principles. They even have different appearances, as well as very different drawbacks.

The following paragraphs will explain how the different solar cooking stoves work.

Solar Electric Stoves

Solar Electric Stoves work by converting solar energy into electricity, which is then used to power the heating elements, upon which sits the pot or kettle, just as in a normal stove.

This concept may also incorporate a battery to store the energy; which would mean greater flexibility because the user would not need to cook only when the sun is high.

Of course the system also has a few cons, but before highlighting them, let us look at the other kind of solar stove.

Solar Cooker
Image Credits: Techlang on wikipedia
link: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Solar-Cooker-2050-Paris.jpg

Solar Thermal Cooker

A solar cooker is a device that concentrates the rays of the sun to a focal point which then becomes hot. At that point a pot or kettle is then placed, with food inside it, and then allowed to cook.

This is a low tech concept, and it is very inexpensive to make. It will require some getting used to, but the advantages far outweigh any slowness that may be experienced with using this kind of device.

There are several claims of “inventing” solar cookers, but there is evidence that this type of device may have been used as early as the 1870s. The technology was developed independently in India in 1963.

The principle is the same: concentrate as much sunlight as possible to the focal point. However, there are small variations in the exact application of the concept.

Construction Of Solar Cookers

The reflective panels can be constructed using mirrors which are then placed side by side until a rough circular shape is formed. Most constructions of solar cookers look like small satellite dishes, or upside down umbrellas.

Usually, a simple solar stove can produce heat reaching around 60°C. However, this is usually due to the size of the reflectors. Larger reflectors can focus more light, therefore generating more heat, and so cooking for commercial purposes.

Simple solar cookers like this abound in China, and they have also been adopted en masse in India. However, they need to be monitored so that they maintain focus.

There is a kind of solar cooker (the Scheffler cooker) which automatically follows the movement of the sun through the day, turning 15 degrees every hour, thus ensuring maximum efficiency of the cooker. This feature ensures that the cooker works without the need of monitoring, and also that it can be used through the day.

Box Solar Cookers

Box solar cookers are a small deviation from the same principle of collecting sunlight, and focusing it at a spot to create. The small deviation lies in the shape; instead of a circular (satellite dish) shape, the result is a product with the edges bent upwards to give a boxlike shape.

This actually increases efficiency because the top is then covered, usually with glass, leaving only the opening where the pot is placed. When the pot is placed in the stove, it seals it up, ensuring that the heat is not lost to convection as generally happens with ordinary solar cookers.

Box Solar Cookers may also offer the additional benefit of easier mobility; they are usually the cooker of choice for those going on camping trips, or travelling long distances.

Solar Oven
Image Credits: Xuaxo on wikipedia
link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Solar_oven_Portugal_2007.jpg

Solar Ovens

With solar ovens the principle remains the same, but the appearance of the fabrication is different; rather than a dish, it looks like a box. The interior of the box is lined with glass or other reflective material, while the box is then sealed.

The heat is generated by focusing the light on the pot or pan in the oven, but it is the hot air in the oven that actually does the baking.

Therefore, for the food to be properly baked, the glass must be closed, and should not be opened until the food is baked. Opening it will dissipate the hot air, and may extend the cooking time or even ruin the pastry.

Solar ovens do not run as hot as regular ovens, but despite taking a little longer to cook, they are worth the time and effort.

Solar Cooking With Magnifying Glass

Magnifying glasses have been known to burn items, for a long time, showing that they can generate sufficient heat for cooking. For several reasons, however, this has not really been built upon.

Nevertheless, a magnifying glass that is big enough can generate sufficient heat to cook food. There are successful experiments using Fresnel lenses, and the concept is quite practical. However, as at February 2024, there is no attempt to mass produce or promote this product.

What To Know About Solar Stoves

Solar stoves work best with black pots and kettles. Shiny utensils would only reflect the light and heat; thus greatly reducing the efficiency of the stove. Therefore pots that are painted matte black would work best, or other pots can be coated with soot from a stove or firewood to attain the black color.

Solar stoves require monitoring so that they focus on the sun. If left unsupervised, they may work with greatly reduced efficiency, or they may not work at all.

Solar stoves harness renewable energy. Solar energy is probably the most renewable of all renewable energies. It is also clean; leaving no carbon footprints or footprints of any kind.

Advantages of Solar Stoves

Solar stoves will greatly reduce the emission of carbon into the atmosphere, thus reducing the problem of global warming.

Solar cookers can cut down the expenses associated with living, which will greatly affect the quality of life, especially of poor households.

This technology will reduce the cutting down of trees; which will also slow down or halt deforestation, erosion and desertification.

In areas of danger, Solar Stoves will reduce or completely remove the need for foraging; which will reduce the risk of personal harm.

Disadvantages of Solar Stoves

Solar stoves are generally slower to use. Therefore, they will require some patience, and some getting used to in order to use them well.

Unsafe food is quite possible due to the fact that the heat produced is much reduced compared to regular cookers.

To counter the possibility of food not being adequately cooked, it has been observed that when food is cut into smaller pieces, it usually cooks quite well in solar cookers, as against putting in bigger pieces.

As for solar stoves that use electricity; the presence of lithium batteries which would eventually need to be disposed could cause a problem to the environment.

Further Reading:

The Most Important Development Of The Century?

Although the use of solar energy existed in ancient times, it is now that the technology is most critical. Solar stoves could therefore make all the difference; in combating the emission of greenhouse gases, and in fighting deforestation.

Solar stoves could provide hope to the poorest in the world; saving a large section of the world’s population from the effects of constantly rising energy costs.

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