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Why solar cooking is important

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Last updated: March 10, 2015      
National Geographic Video covering work of SCI03:11

National Geographic Video covering work of SCI

National Geographic explains the case for solar cooking.

Solar cooking is the simplest, safest, most convenient way to cook food without consuming fuels or heating up the kitchen. Many people choose to solar cook for these reasons. But for hundreds of millions of people around the world who cook over fires fueled by wood or dung, and who walk for miles to collect wood or spend much of their meager incomes on fuel, solar cooking is more than a choice — it is a blessing.

For millions of people who lack access to safe drinking water and become sick or die each year from preventable waterborne illnesses, solar water pasteurization is a life-saving skill. The World Health Organization reports that in 23 countries 10% of deaths are due to just two environmental risk factors: unsafe water, including poor sanitation and hygiene; and household air pollution due to solid fuel use for cooking.[1]

See The 25 countries with the most solar cooking potential.

Benefits to households

Health and nutrition

  • Moderate cooking temperatures in simple solar cookers help preserve nutrients.
  • Those who otherwise could not afford the fuel to do so can cook nutritious foods — such as legumes and many whole grains — that require hours of cooking.
  • At times many families must trade scarce food for cooking fuels. Solar cooking can help them to keep more food and improve their nutrition.
  • Smoky cooking fires irritate lungs and eyes and can cause diseases. Solar cookers are smoke-free.
  • Smoke from cooking fires is a major cause of global warming and dimming. See Global dimming.
  • Cooking fires are dangerous, especially for children, and can readily get out of control — causing damage to buildings, gardens, etc. Solar cookers are fire-free.
  • Millions of people routinely walk for miles to collect fuelwood for cooking. Burdensome fuel-gathering trips can cause injuries, and expose people to danger from animals and criminals. Solar cooking reduces these risks and burdens, and frees time for other activities. In the Iridimi Refugee Camp in Chad the necessity of leaving the camp to gather firewood was reduced by 86% through the introduction of tens of thousands of solar cookers (CooKit model).
  • With good sunlight, solar cookers can be used to cook food or pasteurize water during emergencies when other fuels and power sources may not be available.

See also


Food versus charcoal

Each group of items costs 40 Kenya Shillings (about US$0.50), as does the pile of charcoal shown in the middle. By using a solar cooker and not needing to buy as much fuel, a family is able to use the money saved to purchase more food.

  • Many poverty-stricken families worldwide spend 25% or more of their income on cooking fuel. Sunlight — solar cooker "fuel" — is free and abundant. Money saved can be used for food, education, health care, etc.
  • Solar cooker businesses can provide extra income. Opportunities include cooker manufacturing, sales and repair, as well as solar food businesses like restaurants and bakeries.
  • Even residents of developed countries can save a great deal of money on cooking and air conditioning costs. See Cost savings from solar cooking.



Women collecting wood for cooking.

  • At moderate solar cooking temperatures food doesn't need to be stirred and won't burn — food can simply be placed in a solar cooker and left to cook, unattended, for several hours while other activities are pursued. In the right circumstances it is possible to put a solar cooker out in the morning and return home in the late afternoon to a hot meal ready to eat.
  • Pots used for solar cooking are easy to clean — a fact especially valuable for people who must walk many kilometers to collect water.
  • Many solar cookers are portable, allowing for solar cooking at work sites or while pursuing outdoor activities like picnics, trekking or camping.

Other household uses for solar cookers

Canning Doug Edwards

Solar canning

Benefits to health professionals

  • Many solar cookers can be used to disinfect dry medical supplies such as medical instruments, bandages and other cloth materials, as well as to heat compresses.
  • Household air pollution from cooking fires leads to childhood pneumonia, responsible for over four million deaths per year. Solar cookers are smoke-free.
  • Preventable waterborne diseases are responsible for 80% of all illnesses and deaths in the developing world. Solar cookers can be used at the household level to pasteurize water and milk, making them safe to drink. Pasteurization uses approximately half the fuel that would have been used to achieve sterilization.

Benefits to businesses

Solar cooker business opportunities

Main article: Income generation

Other business uses

  • Sanitize dishes and utensils.
  • Boil rice straw to make paper.
  • Extract wax from honey.
  • Dye fabrics.
  • Pasteurize potting soil.
  • Remove husks from rice grain.
Main article: Non-cooking uses

See also:

Benefits to governments

  • Reduce imports and subsidies of biomass and fossil fuels.
  • Where forests are disappearing and many people suffer from fuel shortages, solar cookers reduce families' fuelwood needs by 30-50%.
  • Electric companies that have trouble meeting peak hour demand because of heavy use of stoves and air conditioners can reduce that demand by promoting use of solar cookers.

Benefits to humanitarian, development and relief organizations

  • Address clients' fuel shortages affecting local health, nutrition and education.
  • Budget savings for institutional cooking fuels and disaster relief situations. See Refugee camps.
  • In some regions distribution of biomass and fossil fuels are subsidized by aid agencies. Broad use of solar cookers can decrease these costs so that more people can benefit from these humanitarian funds.
  • Solar cooking addresses all of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals.

See all non-governmental organizations (NGOs) currently promoting solar cooking.

Benefits to environmental programs

  • Two billion people rely on wood and charcoal for cooking fuel. Solar cooking alleviates the conflict between their basic needs and the need to preserve earth's dwindling forests.
  • Biomass and petroleum fueled cooking fires pollute the air and contribute to global warming. Solar cookers are pollution-free, and, when used in large numbers, may help curb global warming and dimming. See Global dimming.
  • Kitchens remain cool while food solar cooks outdoors. This reduces the load on air conditioners and refrigerators in summer months, saving fossil fuels (and lowering utility bills).

Audio and video

  • September 2011:
Why Solar Cooking - Solar Household Energy04:49

Why Solar Cooking - Solar Household Energy

Louise Meyer of Solar Household Energy makes the case for solar cooking in this video.

See also



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