Solar cookers or ovens are an incredibly energy-efficient piece of technology which harnesses the power of the sun to cook your food for you. While still a relatively rare piece of equipment, solar cookers are fast becoming more popular due to their convenience and cost-saving ability, as well as for being extremely environmentally friendly.
There are many different types of solar cookers which work slightly differently, but each type of cooker generally follows the same basic principles: A solar cooker would usually feature a large surface area of reflective material, which when turned towards the sun would focus the heat of the sun’s rays onto a specific spot within the cooker. This spot is where your pot or cooking container goes, and food placed within this container would cook as it gets heated up by the concentrated sunlight. Think of it as using a magnifying glass to concentrate sunlight and burn spots onto a piece of paper, except on a much larger scale.
We think that a solar cooker can be a great addition to your kitchen, whether placed in your garden or taken along on outdoors camping trips. They don’t cost you any electricity to operate, and by using one you’re also doing your bit to save the environment! However, exclusively using only solar cookers for your day-to-day cooking might not be entirely feasible, due to their dependence on weather conditions to cook food reliably.
A solar oven or cooker can also come in many different sizes, but many are designed to be portable. Since these piece of solar equipment need to be deployed outdoors anyway by necessity, this convenient portability makes solar ovens great for cooking when camping or otherwise travelling outdoors. Cooking over the campfire might be an essential part of the camping experience, but a solar cooker can also be a great supplement to your outdoors feast!
Solar cookers might be relatively rare in western countries, but they are widely used in more rural countries or regions, and a big part of that is because they can operate without the use of electricity, just like passive solar home architecture and DIY solar heaters. These cookers are cheap to maintain as well, due to their simplicity. This cost-effectiveness also means that solar cookers are popular among students, who are attracted to the equipment’s cheap nature and accessibility.
However, there are some downsides to using a solar cooker as well, compared to a more traditional electric oven or gas stovetop. In this feature, we’ll be taking a close look into both the advantages and disadvantages of solar cookers and ovens.
Advantages of a solar cooker
Solar cookers are fast gaining popularity in many households, and there are plenty of good reasons why it can a good idea for you to start using one. In many situations, the advantages definitely do outweigh the disadvantages.
First off, solar cookers are uniquely eco-friendly. Traditional cooking equipment relies on mostly gas or electricity to produce heat, both energy sources which pollute and damage the environment. Cooking using these methods lead to carbon dioxide being released into the environment, contributing to global warming.
However, a solar cooker allows you to cook food without polluting the environment. Solar energy is completely green and renewable, unlike gas or electricity. While it might still be more convenient at times to use a traditional oven or stovetop, using a solar cooker as an occasional substitute still allows you to contribute to saving the environment and cuts down on your carbon footprint.
There are numerous environmental benefits to using a solar cooker. Cutting down on your carbon footprint slows down the pace of global warming, and can even contribute to improving air quality. Producing electricity from coal or gas is extremely air-polluting, and by using a solar cooker instead of an electricity-powered cooker, you’re contributing to making the air you breathe in just that little bit fresher.
And another great thing about using solar to cook with is that it’s absolutely free! You can easily reduce your gas or electricity bills simply by switching to using a solar cooker, even if it’s just for a few meals a week.
Solar cookers or ovens are also very simple pieces of equipment which can be extremely durable. These appliances can often outlive your electric stove or oven, and can easily be taken apart and put back together for transportation. It’s almost impossible for one to break down as well, unlike a piece of electric equipment.
There’s a good reason why solar cookers are so commonly-used in more rural regions or countries. They’re free to use, simple, and last forever. As long as the sun keeps shining, your solar cooker can keep cooking up a storm.
There’s no need to be worried about how your food will turn out either: Solar cookers are able to produce delicious and healthy food too, in no way inferior to the meals you can whip up on a traditional stove.
A solar cooker or oven does heat up food slower and more gradually compared to an electric oven, but that also means there’s basically no way for you to accidentally burn your food on a solar cooker.
This gentle grilling or baking additionally means that the nutrition of your ingredients are preserved. No charring means that no harmful carcinogens are produced during the cooking process, and very little oil is required as well, making solar cookers a relatively healthy method of cooking.
We highly recommend trying out a solar cooker if you haven’t already. Of course, some food items might not be suitable for preparation in a solar cooker, but if you have the outdoor space required, a solar cooker can be a great environmentally-friendly addition to any kitchen.
Disadvantages of the Solar Cooker
The main disadvantage of a solar cooker is also closely related to its greatest selling-point: running purely on sunlight might make solar cookers free and environmentally-friendly to use, but it also means that, just as for solar panels, strong sunlight is required to work.
For example, a solar cooker would not work well in the winter when the sun is weaker. Rainy or cloudy days also make cooking with a solar cooker difficult. Under these conditions, a solar cooker would likely take a long time to heat up, or fail to reach high enough temperatures at all.
A solar cooker also needs to be placed outdoors, in a spot with good access to sunlight. This can be tricky if you live in an apartment, or a house without a yard. Again, bad weather conditions can also make cooking outdoors inconvenient on certain days.
These restrictions mean that solar cookers might not be able to cook food reliably all of the time, even if your residence has the outdoors space required to support one.
Rain, snow or exceptionally cold weather can also make your solar cooker take longer to heat up, or even fail to properly reach sustained high temperatures. These reasons are why solar cookers are more commonly seen in warm, sunny climates where the weather is usually more suitable for these pieces of solar equipment.
This can also mean that it can be more difficult to predict cooking time when using a solar cooker, since solar cookers or ovens can hit different temperatures at different speeds based on the weather of that particular day. A traditional stovetop or electric oven would give you much more precise control over cooking times and temperatures.
This is why we recommend using a solar cooker as a supplementary piece of cooking equipment, in addition to an ordinary kitchen. Whip it out on special occasions when you’re cooking outdoors, when the weather is good, or when you’re going camping, but still have some traditional cooking stoves to rely on when solar cookers can’t be used.
Dangers when using a Solar Cooker
Like any other piece of hot cooking equipment, solar cookers and ovens also need to be handled with care so that you don’t accidentally hurt yourself.
Make sure that you do not look directly at the reflective panels on a solar cooker. Staring directly at the sun can hurt your eyes, and the concentrated reflected sunlight bouncing off your solar cooker is potentially even more dangerous.
You should also take care not to touch these panels, and to keep children or pets away from them as well. While these reflective panels should not get as hot as the pot or cooking container absorbing all of the reflected sunlight, a solar cooker’s reflective surface can still become dangerously hot quickly when placed under the sun.
Solar Cookers and Ovens: A Verdict
Weighing up these advantages and disadvantages, we can see that there are clear economic and environmental advantages to using a solar cooker. However, solely relying on a solar cooker or oven to cook food is probably a bad idea, due to how dependent it is on good weather conditions.
That’s why we recommend using a solar cooker as a supplementary piece of kitchen equipment, if your house has the necessary outdoors space to support one. This way, you can cook with gas or electricity on days with bad weather, or when handling food which requires more precise temperature control, but use the solar cooker when you want to save on power and do your bit to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions!
Solar cookers are also great for camping trips, and allow you to prepare more types of hot food compared to simply using only a campfire.
We firmly believe that a solar cooker can be a great investment under these conditions. Don’t be afraid of trying one out!
Solar cookers can come in different forms, but all of them work according to similar principles. The Sun’s UV rays are reflected and concentrated by some reflective area of material onto a single spot, where a cooking container is set. These concentrated UV rays are able to heat up your containing, cooking the food within.
Almost any type of ingredient you can think of can be prepared in a solar cooker! Generally, you can think of a solar cooker or oven as similar to a traditional electric oven or slow cooker, albeit one which can sometimes take longer to heat up. Any meats, vegetables, soups or stews that benefit from long and slow cooking times tend to cook up well in solar cookers.
While that does depend on the specific type of solar cooker you’re looking at, most types of solar cookers are designed to be portable. This makes them great for camping trips or cooking outdoors when travelling.
Solar cookers can actually vary wildly in cost, from as little as around $50 for a mini-sized portable cooker, to more than $500 for a full-sized high-capacity model. Generally, most solar cookers would fall around the $100 to $250 range though, depending on size and brand.
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