News and Recent Developments
- February 2011: According to Yu Qing of Emmar Solar Energy, in the western part of the country, provincial and municipal governments are supporting the production of a solar stove that will be made available to farmers and herdsmen in arid mountain locations, free of charge. More Information...
- January 2011: Parabolic solar cookers popular in Tibet. Allart Ligtenberg has been involved for a number of years introducing solar cooking to communities in Nepal, Mexico, and other countries around the world. His work has given him a keen sense for perceiving the level of solar cooking happening in a particular country. He recently traveled through Tibet with his wife, and they were amazed at the number of parabolic solar cookers being used in cities and rural areas as well. Allart estimates that there may be 80,000-100,000 solar cookers in use in Tibet at this time. The cookers they saw used parabolic style reflectors, some round, others with a butterfly design. He ventured that the level of use was almost mainstream, typically for making large quantities of tea. They saw no solar box cookers or solar panel cookers. Usually, acquiring a parabolic style cooker is a more expensive approach than other solar cooking options, but he mentioned one manufacturer in China is able to market a one meter parabolic cooker for US$30-$40 due to large production numbers (100,000 units annually), and low labor costs.
- April 2010: The rural population of the Tibetan Plateau relies heavily on biomass fuels, especially dung and wood, for cooking and heating. These fuels cause indoor air pollution, contribute to climate change, and perpetuate gender inequality because girls spend long hours collecting fuel while boys attend school. One Earth Designs (OED), a U.S.-based nonprofit organization, has developed a novel solar device to reduce reliance on these fuels in this region. The device, called the SolSource 3-in-1, not only enables rural communities to harness the sun’s energy for portable solar cooking, but for space heating and electricity generation as well. High-temperature parabolic solar cookers are currently available and used in Himalayan communities. However, they are often made out of mirror-lined concrete shells that are heavy and breakable. Many nomadic villagers shared with OED a desire for parabolic solar cookers that are portable enough to be taken into the fields while working or tending flocks, but sturdy enough to withstand the harsh winds of the Tibetan Plateau. OED worked with rural communities in the Himalayan region to design the SolSource 3-in-1 according to these local needs and with local materials when feasible. The reflective component of the SolSource 3-in-1 is a lightweight, foldable parabolic shell comprised of several triangular yak-wool canvas panels stretched across a curved bamboo frame and lined with aluminized polyester film (Mylar®). This shell sits on detachable legs that can be staked to the ground to prevent the cooker from blowing over. Multiple functions are performed by attaching one of three interchangeable modules to the center of the shell at the focal area. The first module cooks food and pasteurizes water. Its high focal temperature enables traditional cooking that relies primarily on stir-frying and boiling water for tea and tsampa. A second module collects and stores heat for later use in the home. As journalist Julia Levitt reports on worldchanging.com, the SolSource 3-in-1 “generates enough heat at its focal point to bring a kettle of water to boil in about five to seven minutes. … While it is in use, the device generates heat to warm the home.” A third module generates and stores about 20 watts of thermo-electricity per hour. The SolSource 3-in-1 has been recognized for its innovative design by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Yunus Innovation Challenge, the Clinton Global Initiative, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Last year, the project received the prestigious St. Andrews Prize for the Environment. According to Catlin Powers, chief operating officer of OED, the $75,000 St. Andrews prize money “will support the first large-scale field test and production trial, involving 20 Chinese communities.”
- March 2009: China’s Ningxia Federal Intertrade Company has submitted Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) proposals to disseminate 34,000 solar cookers in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, aimed at reducing the amount of CO2 released from coal-fired stoves. According to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), CDM “allows emission-reduction projects in developing countries to earn certified emission reduction (CER) credits, each equivalent to one ton of CO2. These CERs can be traded and sold, and used by industrialized countries to a meet a part of their emission reduction targets under the Kyoto Protocol. The mechanism stimulates sustainable development and emission reductions, while giving industrialized countries some flexibility in how they meet their emission reduction limitation targets.” The solar cooker CERs would be purchased by the Netherlands through Swiss Re Global Markets Limited at an estimated value of 8.65 EUR (or about $11) each, providing necessary project implementation funds. The two projects have gone through the validation process and are currently under review by the CDM executive board. The first project — UNFCCC # 2307 — would provide solar cookers to 17,000 poor rural families in the mountainous northern Pengyang County townships of Luowa, Jiaocha, Wangwa, Xiaocha, Fengzhuang, Caomiao, and Mengyuan. (This represents 83.6% of all households in the region.) The second project — UNFCCC # 2311 — would provide solar cookers to 17,000 poor rural families in the Hong-Ru River area of southern Pengyang County, in the townships of Baiyang, Gucheng, Xinji, Chengyang and Honghe. (This represents 56.4% of all households in the region.) According to the project design document (PDD), the rural Pengyang region “is an ideal region for utilizing solar energy. Located at high altitude, this region has many sunny days. It is one of the most suitable regions in China for utilizing solar energy.” The project will benefit the participating communities and surrounding areas in a number of ways, according to the PDD. “The proposed project will significantly contribute to sustainable development of this region. It will serve as a model for future projects and stimulate the interests of investors in solar energy projects. It will promote the use of clean energy, educate and train the rural population on solar energy technology, and build awareness in environmental protection among the rural population. … The poor rural residents will get clean and reliable energy supply for their daily cooking.” The projects will be monitored by the Rural Energy Section (RES) of China’s Bureau of Agriculture, Graze and Science & Technology, under the supervision of Ningxia Federal Intertrade. RES will recruit and train local CDM groups of one to five people to collect and record monitoring data from five to 20 households each. Sampling surveys will be employed to determine annual solar cooker hours of operation as follows: a statistically significant number of households, 309 for each project, will be randomly selected each year; CDM groups will record daily solar cooker use for each sample household, with monthly totals to be checked for completeness and accuracy by Ningxia Federal Intertrade; at least once per month, each CDM group will spend an entire day with one family and monitor their solar cooker use in detail. Each participating household would pay a small project implementation fee of 30 Chinese Yuan (CNY), or about $4.40. This fee represents roughly one-tenth the value of the cooker, and includes free maintenance over the 10-year life of the project. Based on China’s national GB standard NY/T219-2003, this style of solar cooker has a power rating of 773.5 watts. Project planners determined traditional coal-fired stoves to have a thermal efficiency of approximately 15%, while calculating thermal efficiency of the solar cookers to be about 65%. Studies show that the solar cookers would need to be used at least four hours per day to meet the daily cooking and water heating needs of a typical target family, so the monthly usage is calculated to be 120 hours. After factoring in the monthly solar irradiance rates for the region, as well as other solar cooker design parameters, it is estimated that the two projects will each produce 35,723 tCO2e (tons of carbon dioxide equivalent) emission reductions per year, or 357,230 tCO2e over the 10-year project. Ningxia Federal Intertrade has also signed an emission reduction purchase agreement with Finland, according to the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland. If that project is accepted, it would provide approximately 19,000 solar cookers to families in 31 villages in the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region of China. Finland would purchase an estimated 175,549 CERs over a five-year period. Contact: Wei Jiang, general manager, Ningxia Federal Intertrade Company, High Technology Zone, No.34, Chuang-xin Garden, Yinchuan, 750002 Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, People’s Republic of China. Tel: +86-951-5070212, fax: +86-951-5070300, e-mail: email@example.com; Detailed project information is available on the UNFCCC Web site at http://cdm.unfccc.int/Projects/DB/TUEV-RHEIN1227579136.4 and http://cdm.unfccc.int/Projects/DB/TUEV-RHEIN1227667866.93 respectively.
- August 2008: U.S.-based humanitarian organization Operation Blessing International (OBI) is helping villagers in remote, barren regions of China’s Gansu Province to cook with solar energy. In 2007 OBI distributed 582 concentrator-type solar cookers at a cost of about $50 each. The cookers are made of a concave concrete shell lined with small mirror pieces that reflect sunlight under a cooking vessel, which sits on a metal support above the reflectors. According to OBI’s newsletter Blessings, the solar cookers are used to cook local crops like potatoes and wheat. “With a solar oven in the yard, villagers do not need to spend time collecting sticks or wood in order to boil water or cook potatoes,” said Dr. Ma Yan, OBI’s Gansu director. “Farmers still have to buy coal for heat and cooking, but a solar oven reduces the quantity of burning sticks, grass and wood that are very precious in the drought-stricken mountain areas.” Heifer China has begun distributing similar concentrator-type solar cookers in China, primarily in sunny Qinghai Province. A recent article in Heifer International’s World Ark magazine states that the solar cookers are “geared toward reducing reliance on firewood and preserving the pristine headwaters of many of Asia’s largest rivers. ... [They also] offer a clean alternative to fire pits and traditional stoves.”
- November 2007: A report written by Australian scientist Xuemei Bai, and published in the Worldwatch Institute’s “State of the World 2007,” describes the city of Rizhao as a “solar-powered city.” Rizhao — which literally means “city of sunshine” — is a coastal city with nearly three million residents. Six thousand households have solar cooking facilities, but the most prevalent technology is solar water heaters. “A combination of regulations and public education spurred the broad adoption of solar heaters,” says Bai. “The city mandates all new buildings to incorporate solar panels. To raise awareness, the city held open seminars and ran public advertising on television.” An astounding 99% of central city households now have solar water heaters, as do 30% of suburban households. Given that Rizhao is not particularly wealthy, city officials have targeted their limited funds. Instead of subsidizing end users, as is often done, the government provides funding to the solar water heater industry to conduct research and development, resulting in technological breakthroughs that increase efficiency and lower prices. Standard solar water heaters now cost about the same as electric ones, and save the consumers about $120 per year over the 15-year lifespan. Rizhao is consistently ranked among the lowest polluting cities in China.
- July 2007: Tom Rick of the Yancheng Sangli Solar Energy Co. Ltd. announced that the company’s price for exporting high-powered, focusing solar cookers has been reduced to $65, FOB Shanghai. More information on these durable, effective cookers can be found in the November 2006 Solar Cooker Review article "Chinese company makes, exports thousands of solar cookers."
- March 2006: A group of six undergraduates from Tufts University traveled with their faculty advisor to Gymthang, Tibet, to investigate adaptation of solar cookers for medical waste disinfection. Under the guidance of the Health Ministry of Gyatsa county, China (Tibet), and the KunDe Foundation, the students formulated plans prior to their visit as part of an interdisciplinary undergraduate design program affiliated with the Engineers Without Borders organization. Their design — a modified solar cooker — consisted of a double-walled box with a removable base, fixed dual-paned glass top, and four-sided reflector. Medical waste could be placed in a container on the removable base. By design, the cooker had to be fabricated locally from local materials. Mikmar, the village carpenter, built an internal hewn framework to which internal and external plywood walls were nailed. The corners of the box were sealed against air loss with high-quality reflective tape readily available across Asia for use with parabolic-type solar cookers. The glass was sealed in place using a mixture of animal collagen glue and epoxy. Felt, between the removable base and the walls of the box, limited hot air loss. The device was able to boil water in less than 20 minutes, and attained a maximum temperature of 120°C. In celebration, the students baked an apple pie for their hosts using yak butter and barley flour. The approach selected by the students was intended to encourage a motivated high-profile member of the community — the village doctor — to adopt use of the technology for a new application that would significantly improve current ground-dispersal methods for waste disposal. (The doctor did not have any patients during the time the students were in Tibet, but they intend to return to follow up on usage.) Contact: Douglas Matson
The History of Solar Cooking in China
The world's largest solar cooker programs are found in China. One contemporary spokesperson for this issue in China is Chen Xiaofu, Deputy Secretary General of the China Association for Rural Energy. He writes that China has been active in designing devices, in materials technology, in establishing technical standards for industrial production, and in dissemination and sales for over 20 years. An earlier spokesman, speaking at the First World Conference in Solar Cooking, held in 1992, provides an even longer history. Wang Xiping, a participant in that meeting in Stockton, California, outlines the use of light-collecting and focusing devices in China back into antiquity. He tell his audience that solar cooking had appeared in China before the beginning of the 20th century, with Peking duck roasted in Xiao's Duck Shop, ChengDu, China, in 1894. (Pejak,ed., 1993, p. 12).
Both gentlemen and other reporters tell of a number of efforts within China in the 1980 and 1990s. Following up on an initial meeting in 1973 on solar cooking as a new technology, the first China National Solar Energy Congress was held in 1975, a second in 1979. From initially using principally circular parabolics and simple box cookers, new and improved designs were introduced during this period, and materials for several new designs were explored and tested. In 1982, at the national level, a United Key Task Team on Solar Cooking was created, under the auspices of the Ministry of Agriculture, since the technology was particularly needed in rural areas where fuelwood was increasingly in short supply. The work of the Task Team was to begin the rigorous assessment and establishment of standards for solar cooking devices to assist consumers and policy makers in comparing the efficiency and consumer acceptability of solar stoves. Even as this was occurring, solar cooking was spreading rapidly through the countryside as the new designs emerged. The need for mechanisms to evaluate cooking equipment became clear; by 1990, National Standards for examining and testing focussing cookers were ratified by the China State Standard Agency. Over time, these beginning have led to movement from experimentation to industrial production, and from strong government support to semi-commercial dissemination strategies.
Most of the effort has been focused on rural areas. Districts with cooking fuel shortages have shown strong support for cookers using the sun's energy. Even as subsidies have been reduced, sales have continued to grow. Factories supply most of the cookers, which are made of metal or concrete, with glass as reflecting mirrors. Others are made by hand, and in both modes, new and improved designs continue to be developed and tested. Government sources continue to provide technical and financial assistance, both to active and potential manufacturers and to low income consumers, through subsidies and tax reductions.
The most recent estimate of cookers in use in China is 560,000. While there is considerable variance by region, each cooker is believed to have saved from ^600-1000 kilograms (somewhat under 300 to 500 pounds) of fuel wood per year, important benefits to both economic and environmental circumstances.
Tibet appears to be a special case in regard to solar cookers. The Solar Energy Research and Demonstration Center of Tibet, in Lhasa, indicates that approximately 70,000 solar cookers, mostly of the concentrator type, have been sold in Tibet. Initially, these sales were heavily subsidized, but that seems no longer to be the case. The cost of the devices is roughly $60, but fuel savings amortize the cost quickly. The devices are more popular in rural areas than in cities, as agriculturalists and herders are eager to save animal dung for use as fertilizer rather than as cooking fuel.
An example was seen recently by American subscribers to the National Geographic magazine. Many were startled when they opened the January, 2002, National Geographic, to find a picture of a woman making herself tea beside a modest house in the middle of China's Alashan Plateau, an isolated high natural desert in the far north of China, bordering Mongolia. The surprise was the stove she used, a mirrored solar collector. The brief story said that she was a widow of Mongolian heritage, 72 years old, living alone since the death of her husband almost 30 years ago, existing on earnings from herding camel and sheep. The lonely life meant she saw few people and had few opportunities to spend her small income. She therefore decided to invest in some "creature comfort" for herself and purchased a parabolic solar cooker for about $150. She uses it regularly to cook her meals, make tea, and prepare food for occasional visitors, in this area where the sun shines most days. She was very pleased with herself and her purchase.
Many reports of correspondence from manufacturers, research institutes, social organizations confirm the steady interest in China in solar cooking. Perhaps this interest, expertise, and promising experience with solar cookers might be harnessed in some way to assist other nations of the region.
To that end, a September 1994 International Solar Energy Applications Training Workshop was held for citizens of other Asian nations, sponsored by the National Energy Research Institute of Gansu Province, Academy of Science, and aided by the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation. The workshop is one excellent model for dissemination of the technology in Asia. China was also represented among those demonstrating solar cooking at the 2002 Johannesburg World Social Summit.
Climate, Culture, and Special Considerations
Solar Cookers International has rated China as the #2 country in the world in terms of solar cooking potential (See: The 25 countries with the most solar cooking potential). The estimated number of people in China with fuel scarcity but ample sun in 2020 is 98,100,000.
Clean Development Mechanism projects (Carbon credits)
- Federal Intertrade Hong-Ru River Solar Cooker Project
- Federal Intertrade Pengyang Solar Cooker Project
- April 2009: Development and Application of Solar Cooker in China (International Solar Food Processing Conference 2009)
- April 2009: Numerous solar cooker projects have been implemented in Qinghai, Gansu, and Sichuan. These projects were mostly done by Tibetan students at Qinghai Normal University. Also see these documents:
- The detailed nature of the final reports in .pdf format gives insight into village conditions, the cost of solar cookers, and the amount of local contributions for the solar cookers.
- July 2006: The Solar Cooker Development and Application in China - Chen Xiaofu and Han Tingcun
- February 2005: The Development and Application of Solar Cookers in China - Chen Xiaofu
Audio and video
Articles in the media
- October 2011: Eating China Part IV: Tibetan Cuisine - Epicurious.com
- August 2011: Hong Kong’s First Solar-Cooking Day at SHKP’s Ma Wan Park: Local Families Promote Use of Renewable Energy - Sun Hung Kai Properties
- June 2009: China and Kenya setting up a joint venture for solar energy products - Chinaafrica.asia
- May 2009: SolSource 3-in-1: An Alternative Energy Solution - WorldChanging
- February 2009: Senior wins Gates scholarship - MIT News
- July 2008: Utah native utilizing sun's rays in Asia - Deseret News
- June 2008: Portable Solar Cookers For Tibet - Lucky!
- March 2008: Black carbon pollution emerges as major player in global warming - Scripps Institution of Oceanography
- November 2006: Chinese company makes, exports thousands of solar cookers
Manufacturers and vendors