We all want to use more clean, renewable energy and here in Arizona, as the temperatures heat up, the air conditioners are turned on. Even energy efficient air conditioners are a drain on energy and they are a big contributor to our high summer utility bills. It is during the warmer months, with our higher energy bills, that we look for ways to save money and energy in other areas. The oven, a notorious energy zapper, is a great place to start. And in the summer, when the temperature hovers in the triple digits, who wants to turn on the oven anyway?
When a friend suggested solar ovens, I had to check it out. Solar ovens are not new. According to Solar Cookers International, they were used as early as 1787 in Switzerland. Campers have used them for years to bake, steam, and prepare foods without electricity. After disasters, like the recent earthquake in Haiti, solar ovens were deployed as an easy, electricity-free way to prepare foods.
A store-bought solar oven can cost anywhere from a $50 to $150 and they can be a great investment for anyone who wants to move away from traditional electric cooking. They tend to be sturdy yet lightweight and tend to feature a metal, box-like interior covered with a glass or hard plastic lid. Food is placed in the compartment, the lid is closed and as the sun heats the compartment, cooking the food. But solar ovens can also be made at home, with ordinary items you might be tempted to throw away or toss in the recycling bin. Making a solar cooker is a fun way to experiment with natural energy while teaching. It’s also a great project for kids and helps them understand the complexity of heat as well as instilling in them the benefits of using available resources, like solar heat, for every day living.
To make a solar oven, you will first need to start with box. The box will eventually serve as the cooking chamber, so use one that meets your needs. If you plan to try to bake brownies or bread in the solar oven, you’ll need to use a sizable box that is perhaps the size of a toaster or larger. For heating up small snacks, a shoe box will do just fine. Wrap the box, inside and out with tin foil. Make sure the box is covered thoroughly with foil. Next, you will need a cover. Any clear plastic, like plastic wrap will do, or if you have have something sturdier laying around like a clear piece of glass, use that instead. From there, all you need to do is cover the box with the clear covering and set it in a warm sunny place with the clear side facing the sun.
Cooking times will vary and depend on the intensity and heat from the sun in your particular area. Here in Arizona, where warm, sunny days are plentiful, a solar oven can heat up relatively quickly. Most store bought solar ovens can reach temperatures of about 250 degrees, so go as high as 300 degrees, but most homemade versions do not reach temperatures nearly that high, but they will get hot enough to melt some chocolate or bake a batch of cookies (if you are patient). Solar Cookers International says that one of the benefits of heating up food in a solar oven is that the threat of burning is eliminated. When food is done cooking, it simply says warm. While simple box-foil solar cookers are easy and fun to make and great for kids, it is possible to make a more elaborate one for your backyard.
To learn more, visit Solar Cooking Internationale’s Web site at www.solarcooking.org.
Solar Cooking International Web site, www.solarcooking.org. Visited on 4/20/2010