Solar Cookers are extremely useful and simple inventions that provide many people around the world with heat for cooking and boiling water as well as increased safety and free time. Through the use of a solar cooker, the sun’s light is converted into heat energy that is then retained and used for cooking. Energy Central reports that growing awareness of renewable energy sources, the rising costs of non-renewable energy sources, and government support and funding for the use of solar energy are all factors that stimulate and “drive the solar cooker market.” Solar Cookers International (SCI) is an organization whose dedicated staff, Board members, volunteers, donors, and project partners collaborate to harness “free, zero-emission solar energy to help people and the environment.” SCI was founded in 1987 in California as Solar Box Cookers International. 

Svetlana Hristova is the Outreach Associate at SCI and she told us about her work with them and their many solar cooker initiatives around the globe. At SCI, Hristova manages “communications efforts including social media, our bi-weekly SCI Digest, event coordination, public relations, and assists with coordinating our volunteer and advocacy efforts.” Needless to say, she is very well-informed about their solar cooker work and products. Here’s her description of the Cookit, their unique, lightweight, and portable solar cooker design: 

“The CooKit is made of cardboard and foil, shaped to reflect maximum sunlight onto a black cooking pot that converts sunlight into thermal (heat) energy. A heat-resistant bag (or similar transparent cover) surrounds the pot, acting like a greenhouse by allowing sunlight to hit the pot and preventing heat from escaping. It weighs about a pound and folds to the size of a large book for easy transport. The CooKit was originally made for refugee camps but it’s such a simple solar cooker to use, so we have the design plans available for free on our website and solar cooking wiki so that anyone can build their own. We also sell them through our online store.”

If you are ready to build your own solar cooker, you can download SCI’s guide, Solar Cookers: How to Make, Use, and Enjoy, which includes solar cooking plans, concepts, and recipes, as well as teaching resources. On their site, their store sells solar cookers, ovens, grills, and other devices. The funds from sales support SCI’s international solar cooking mission. 

Solar cookers are easy to build and they tackle serious problems with a simple solution. Here are some of the ways Hristova says their solar cookers are put to good use:

“The benefits are truly numerous. Firstly, solar cookers don’t require any fuel (other than sunshine, of course) and don’t produce any emissions, so not only are they a cost-effective tool but also they help the environment by mitigating deforestation and climate change. In addition, using a solar cooker also helps women and children avoid the dangers of indoor air pollution caused by cooking fires (a leading cause of respiratory disease, eye disease, and debilitating or fatal burns).

Using a solar cooker also reduces the need for women to have to look for firewood, which is often a dangerous task. Thousands of women in remote areas have to hike 10 miles or more to find scarce firewood, which exposes them to being beaten or raped. Not only does using a solar cooker reduce the need for women to have to travel far from home, but it also frees up their time for education and economy-building tasks.”

Family members who live safer lives and have extra time and money can pursue educational, business, and personal goals, or as SCI put it, “simply rest.” 

Where does SCI carry out their solar cooker education and distribution programs? All over the world--they have 500 partners in 133 countries. Hristova says they,

“currently have three projects that we directly support in Nepal, Kenya, and Tanzania in which we provide funding and program supervision to have solar cookers built and distributed locally in the community. By having the solar cookers built locally, not only do we support the local economy and create jobs but also avoid excessive international shipping charges and shipments getting lost. SCI also has consultative status at the United Nations – our representatives regularly participate in UN events, contribute to working groups, and host presentations.” 

Hristova feels that “letting people know about this simple but effective tool that literally everyone can use and benefit from” is the most important aspect of SCI’s work. “Rarely,” she adds, “does one activity offer such far-reaching benefits. There are still many people who don’t even know that solar cooking exists or have trouble believing that it works. We hope that one day, everyone will be solar cooking their meals!” SCI has distributed 3.1 million solar cookers worldwide and 11 million people have been directly impacted by solar cooking through SCI. They have been honored numerous times for their work, including through winning a 2002 Ashden Award for their work in Kenya and 2006 World Renewable Energy Award. Solar Cookers International is hosting the 6th SCI World Conference in India in January of 2017, “to bring the latest industry updates and best practices to solar cooking experts, program leaders, innovators, and educators.” 

You can find more information about their work and how anyone can get involved by following them on their Facebook page and visiting them at www.solarcookers.org, where they encourage us all to “Shine on!” 

-By Julia Travers