The sun is really powerful and solar energy is one the most resourceful sources of energy for the future. We all know that in just a few days our sun showers us with enough solar energy to equal all the total energy used by man and best of all it’s renewable and it’s free. Solar energy is the energy force that sustains life on the Earth for all plants, animals, and people.
We even use it to make electricity, then it only seems logical that one way we can use the sun’s immense energy potential is to cook. Most of us know how it can be hot enough to fry an egg on the pavement or hood of a car, so we can boil, bake, fry, or even cook a hot dog in our own back yards using the power of the sun.
The sun is a great source of energy for cooking and one way to do this is with a Solar Cooker, also known as a “solar oven”. A solar cooker captures energy from the sun and turns it into heat. But what’s great about solar cooking is that we do not need any special materials or equipment to collect the sunlight. One of the main advantages of a solar cooker design is its simplicity and versatility in construction. It can be made from a variety of different materials, and can be easily adapted to any number of cuisine or food types and cooking styles, from baking to roasting.
Most solar cookers are often made using aluminium foil or a mirror so that the sunlight reflects off the foil or mirrored surface into the center of the oven. Glass or plastic shrink wrap to trap heat & hot air and stop the heat escaping. Black cooking pots or dark cooking utensils are used to cook the food as black easily absorbs heat energy. So if you want something to warm up quickly in sunlight, paint it black!.
Solar Panel Cookers on the other hand use a parabolic shaped reflectors or dishes to concentrate the solar energy onto a central focal point at the bottom of a pot. Depending on the size of the reflector, very high temperatures can be reached. The advantage of solar panel cookers is that foods can be cooked just about as fast as on a conventional home stove. The disadvantage is that they are complicated to make and must be continually rotated and focused to follow the sun. As they focus sunlight onto a very small area, they can cause burns and eye injury if not used correctly.
A parabolic shaped solar cooker can be used like a conventional stove top. By concentrating the sunlight onto a very small area it is possible to heat a pan or pot to a very high temperature quickly. Although these parabolic solar cooker designs can generate high power, they typically do not have an insulated cooking chamber so are used mainly for boiling, frying food or by holding the food in the focal point (like a hot dog on a stick).
Solar steamers are another form of parabolic solar cooker. Solar steamers work just like they sound. The cooker’s heat boils water to make steam, which cooks the food just like a pressure cooker, except that the sun provides the power, all for free. Also with a solar steamer, dirty water can be brought to a boil making the water safe to drink once cooled.
Solar cookers and solar ovens are great for cooking food when your camping or at the beach. They are also extremely safe as there are no fires involved in the cooking process,use no flame and can be used in fire restricted areas.
Solar cookers come in may shapes and sizes with the most common type being the solar box cooker which traps heat in some form of insulated box or compartment. A solar box cooker can be fairly portable and very durable. The cooking compartment can be any size you wish, big enough to even roast a turkey.
In most of these solar cooker designs the sun’s energy actually strikes the food so clear sunshine is essential for cooking. You can cook on partly cloudy days but it will take longer. To increase the power and efficiency of a solar cooker further, solar reflectors can be used to concentrate light onto a focal point. Reflectors can be made out of aluminium foil, mirror glass, polished aluminium, stainless steel or any item that reflects light well. Good reflectors are very important so make your reflector surface as large as the area you are reflecting into.
Solar cookers have a number of fantastic advantages. Anything you can cook in a normal oven can be cooked in a solar oven, the limit is your imagination. Just remember to use a dark coloured pots and pans, and use pot holders as solar ovens get very hot. Remember, safety first and use caution with a solar cooker, especially when children are around as the intensified light can cause fires, burns and is harmful to the eyes.