A New Goal in Solar Cooking
Who would be interested in a designer solar cooker? Probably some of the people with the greatest energy footprint on the planet.
A unit that comes pre-assembled with retail convenience and a choice of 12 designer enamel colours on the body might actually get somewhere. Showing people how to pack together mud and straw into a parabola will never have an impact in markets with the greatest (over)use of energy.
Every household on earth can immediately pursue the personal and global benefit through the use of solar cooking and heating. Popularising solar cooking technology in all countries, including in Europe and North America, should be a central goal, though it is not generally discussed by solar cooking advocates at the moment. There is no reason to neglect these markets, both for the direct gains to the environment in promoting use of renewable energy from the sun, and to develop the markets for solar cooking in general.
North American and European households can generally afford to invest in solar cooking without the hesitation that might naturally occur in a household in a developing country with only scarce resources. The decision to try solar cooking is relatively a much smaller risk for an affluent family, as a negative outcome will not significantly affect prosperity of the household.
Indeed the solar cooking sector is new, has much to learn, and prosperous countries may make a better, more flexible, creative laboratory than developing countries where the risk of a failed cooking method have such immediate and profound consequences for a poor family - risks that would not befall a family in a high income country.
By way of analogy, many developing countries have improved their telecommuncations capacity by studying what works in the west and adopting refined solutions at a late stage of development instead of moving through all the intermediate steps. For example; moving to the use of cell phones directly instead of developing a ubiquitous wired communications network first.
There is no reason why the adoption of solar cooking could not develop along the same pattern.
With that in mind, it would be important to examine cultural variables that affect the dissemination of solar cooking within Europe and North America. In wealthy markets focussed on consumer choice, existing solar cooking implementations are not appropriate. Within the solar cooking sector, all of the focus is currently placed on economical construction techniques for markets with limited access to resources, while the North American or European consumer prefers convenience and aesthetics. No thought is given to the appearance or integration of a solar cooker into the sort of kitchen that western consumers enjoy, and the technology is thus commonly rejected out-of-hand as a fringe endeavour.
Focus on design, beauty, luxury and convenience: Solar cooking can easily be re-imagined with these parameters in mind, and the resulting revised technologies, supported by modern consumer marketing methods, would likely win a much much greater market share. Again this would yield direct benefits in high-energy-use markets of North America and Europe, greatly expand awareness of the technology, and provide a platform for development and dissemination of the technology worldwide.
Cultural variables and appropriate technology, need to be considered in view of what is appropriate in a European / North American / G8 context as much as anywhere.
Harvesting a positive externality
By focusing on aesthetic qualities, style, and convenience, instead of economy and "minimalism," the solar cooker movement could harness consumerism to great advantage. People don't need to know they are saving the world. If they are happy with their zero-fossil-fuel, celebrity-endorsed, luxury solar ovens, then let them enjoy it. People who can afford to remodel their kitchens can afford to invest in luxury solar.