Solar Cooking: One Piece of the Climate Solution

10:28 AM on Nov 10, 2021


By Ruth Holton-Hodson, Vice President Solar Cookers International


Today’s climate news is full of the dire predictions of what will happen if immediate action is not taken to drastically reduce emissions. Considerably less coverage is devoted to the innovative solutions being developed; solutions providing much needed hope that the planet isn’t necessarily doomed.

While there is no silver bullet, there are a myriad of solutions big and small which we can individually take and countries can adopt to transform the world’s reliance on fossil fuels to clean energy. One such solution is using the sun for cooking.

Nearly 3 billion people, mostly women, cook over open fires. Fueled with wood, animal waste, kerosene and charcoal, these fires produce highly polluting smoke creating a high risk of respiratory illnesses- according to the WHO indoor air pollution kills 1,250 children under age 5 daily. They send tons of CO2 daily into the atmosphere, contribute to deforestation, soil erosion and ultimately desertification, further exacerbating the release of CO2.

By contrast-cooking with the free energy of the sun eliminates carbon emissions, protects the health of women, preserves the forests and the soils. Solar cookers aren’t just for cooking-they can be used to pasteurize water and dry foods. They can easily be built from inexpensive, easy-to-obtain local materials –the simplest ones are made from cardboard and aluminum foil — which in turn leads to entrepreneurial opportunities. The benefits of solar cookers go far beyond climate change, in fact it is one of the few technologies that addresses all the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Solar cooking helps break the cycle of energy poverty, improving lives around the globe and providing a key way to adapt to a changing world.

Projects all over the world are proving the effectiveness of solar cookers. In Kenya, Solar Cookers International (SCI) has been working with the Kakuma refugee camp training refugees in building and using solar cookers. There are now 126 large volume cookers each feeding households of 10+people. Solar Foods in Sudan is an ecofriendly food company that uses automated industrial solar energy dryers for drying organic vegetables, fruits, and meats. Association pour le Développement de l’Energie Solaire (ADES) is a Swiss NGO saving Madagascar’s’ forest through local production of solar cookers-installing more than 170,000 to date. The French NGO, Inti, and Bolivian NGO CEDESOL have together trained thousands of Bolivians and Peruvians to build and use sturdy solar box cookers. In India, institutional solar cooking is gaining momentum, the world’s largest solar steam cooking system, designed by Gadhia Solar Energy Systems, has been functioning at the Shirdi Saibaba temple in Shirdi, Maharashtra, where over 50,000 people per day are served a solar cooked lunch.

SCI estimates that there are over 4 million solar cookers in use positively impacting over 14 million people in 142 countries. That means over 5.8 million tons of CO2 emissions prevented annually, the equivalent to taking more than 1.25 million cars off the road. SCI estimates over 30 million tons of CO2 is prevented over the lifetime of these solar cookers, equivalent to not burning over 34 billion pounds of coal or driving over 76 billion miles.

Solar Cookers International, the world’s leading advocate for the adoption of solar cookers in the world’s poorest regions, is at COP 26 advocating for countries to include solar cooking in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC’s) to address climate change. Countries can save millions, even billions of dollars annually, through avoided health and environmental costs by including solar cooking in their NDC’s. If everyone currently cooking with polluting fuels cooked with solar cookers ¼ of the time, over 1 trillion dollars could be saved annually across the globe.

The Global Warming Mitigation Project, recently highlighted the importance of solar cooking and its significant potential to reduce green house gas emissions when it named Solar Cookers International as one of ten 2021 Keeling Curve Prize Laureates, recognizing it as one of the most impactful climate projects around the world.

Photo credit: Macedonia Ministry