Solar cooking is an example of how generosity, charity, and problem solving are most effective when people consider the user’s needs. At Fourth Presbyterian Church on July 10th, two solar cooker engineers in the Boston area shared how they are making these devices more user-friendly. Event participants also heard how Cambridge-based One Earth Designs is effectively improving lives in the Himalayas with solar cooking.
Guest speakers Dr. Dave Wilson and Even Haug Larsen explained how their solar cookers work. Both concentrate light, convert it to heat and store this energy by melting a salt compound inside a hot plate. The heat is stored anywhere from 6-24 hours after the sun has set, so a solar chef is not limited to daylight hours.
Dr. Dave Wilson and Even Larsen answering questions about the economic sustainability of solar cookers
In 1960, when Dr. Dave Wilson first saw a Peace Corps promotion of the VITA solar cooker being used by Nigerian women, he saw that it wasn’t the most appropriate thing for them. Nigerian women typically stayed in the shade to keep cool while cooking with fire, or waited till evening. This design attempting to conserve fuel and stop deforestation required them to stand in the bright sun while holding a pot over a highly reflective mirror. As he observes in his paper, the women rarely used it. Although still in the design phase, he hopes his movable hot plate can make solar cooking more culturally appropriate and versatile. This “idealistic” video explains how the cooker may soon be used.
According to Dr. Wilson, Nigerian women were not widely accepting this VITA parabolic solar cooker (shown above). This inspired him to make his own design. Picture received from http://www.motherearthnews.com/renewable-energy/vita-solar-cooker-zmaz78jazgoe.aspx#axzz38zvRW6it.
Even Larsen’s team at Morpho Solar saw a need in Ethiopia where firewood for cooking now costs more than the food itself, and smoke from cook fires causes lung problems that kill approximately 570 thousand annually. Most solar cookers there could not reach the high temperatures needed to bake their staple bread, ingera. Morpho’s high temperature storage cooker could be more appropriate. Even’s job is to work with the customers to improve the design so it effectively meets their needs.
Catlin Powers and Scot Frank at One Earth Designs saw the problems of gathering firewood and exposure to high levels of smoke from indoor cook fires in China. After hundreds of designs and re-designs they developed the SolSource® parabolic solar cooker. Scot has been living in China working with a nomadic tribe in the Himalayas making the SolSource® more yak-resistant, wind resistant and culturally appropriate so it doesn’t create new problems. Learn about their work in this video.
Participants explore the features and effectiveness of the SolSource cooker by One Earth Designs
The audience discussion balanced technical design details with usability and social concerns. Questions ranged from “why did you choose steam as a heat transfer fluid?” to “so how do you actually cook with it?”
The audience understood how difficult cooking already is in parts of the world compared to Boston with more user-friendly cooking fuels. Many “solutions” the western world brings may not be appropriate for every community in need. Participants all saw the importance of building relationships; and deeply knowing the users when bringing solutions.
When Jesus came to earth he sat down with, lived with and got to know us before giving a solution to the problems of sin. Of course being God, he had the perfect solution going in. As humans, we rarely have it figured out the first time. I’m inspired hearing stories of these three teams deeply learning the struggles of people across the world as part of their work for better cooking and better lives.
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