Impact of solar cookers on mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions

Caitlyn Hughes, Bizibrains Okpeh

Artwork: Dr Cécile Girardin

Eating is essential for humans to survive, and as a result, we engage in the act of cooking. Most people make use of unclean and unsustainable fuels and technologies — firewood and open fire cooking — especially in developing and middle-income countries of the world. But these are not without real consequences. While we cook, eat, and live, by using these carbon-emitting fuels and technologies, we also cook the earth, contributing significantly to global warming. Therefore, solar cookers offer a veritable and sustainable solution towards mitigating the devastating effects of climate change.

Solar Cookers International (SCI)

For more than three decades, the SCI has been working to put solar cookers in every home, improving human and environmental health by supporting the expansion of effective carbon-free solar cooking in world regions with the greatest need. They do this through advocacy, research, and strengthening the capacity of the global solar cooking movement, including training families in the use, maintenance, and repair of solar cookers. At Climate Exp0, SCI representatives discussed the “Solar Cookers’ Impact on Mitigation of Greenhouse Gas Emissions.”

Globally, an estimated three billion people cook over open fires. For instance, according to the World Health Organisation, in Kenya more than 90% of the population relies on polluting fuels to cook. Annually, more than 15,000 Kenyans die prematurely due to household air pollution, a direct effect of carbon emissions. Solar cooking alleviates these challenges by eliminating and/or reducing cooking over open fires and mitigating greenhouse gas emissions.

Currently, SCI is collaborating with local solar cooking experts and the Ecomandate Foundation to increase solar cooking in Kakuma Refugee Camp, Kenya. 126 solar cookers have been constructed in the last two years in Kenya, using local materials, for residents’ use, and more than 1,260 people have been positively impacted.

Also, to assist stakeholders to measure the standard and performance of solar cookers, the SCI created the Performance Evaluation Process (PEP)– a process that objectively and scientifically evaluates the standard cooking power of solar cookers in watts. Standardised and replicable, the PEP is based on the internationally accepted ASAE S580.1 protocol for Testing and Reporting Solar Cooker Performance. And it is included within the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) harmonised laboratory test protocols for clean cookstoves and clean cooking solutions.

The PEP is important as the performance helps people to select the solar cooker that best fits the need. Thus, increasing the acceptance of high-quality solar cookers worldwide. SCI has established, at least, four PEP Test Centres around the world, including one at the University of Nairobi, Kenya.

Solar cookers

As opposed to carbon-emitting cooking fuels and technologies, solar cookers make use of free energy from the sun. Enabling clean cooking, solar cooking/cookers alleviates the results of environmental pollution — carbon emissions and global warming — by eliminating and/or reducing cooking over open fires and is an effective solution wherever the sun shines on the planet. More than four million solar cookers are currently in use globally, with the following combined estimated impacts:

  • 14.3 million people are directly impacted by solar cooking.

Seeing as solar cooking initiatives typically utilise the process of diversity and gender mainstreaming during all phases, it is an effective, equitable, and inclusive solution for women, girls, persons with disabilities, diverse communities, and the underserved, including refugees. It ensures that the energy needs of these vulnerable populations are catered to, as they are most likely to use polluting fuels as a result of energy poverty and commonly face higher risks and greater burdens from the impacts of climate change.

With an estimated 15+ year lifespan, solar cookers can cook an estimated 1,701,000 meals. More than 2,816 metric tons of carbon dioxide have been avoided by solar cookers. They have no greenhouse gas emissions, are economical, and improve both human and environmental health. Other benefits of solar cookers include, but are not limited to:

  • Communities increasing adaptation and resilience through solar cooking sustainable technology.

Though it is relatively challenging to reach the approximately three billion people still cooking over open fires, stakeholders need to share best practices and facts about the efficiency, convenience, safety, availability of free fuel (the sun), and affordability of solar cookers. Nevertheless, there are opportunities abound, and there are important global impacts.

Countries can save millions, even billions of dollars annually, through avoided health and environmental costs by switching from cooking over open fires to solar cooking. It is also estimated that if everyone currently cooking using polluting fuels switched to cooking with solar cookers a quarter of the time, over one trillion dollars could be saved annually across the globe.

Solar cooking does not only mitigate climate change, but also supports all 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), so there is plenty of room for policy manifestation, including:

  • Countries can include solar cooking as a climate solution in their Nationally Determined Contributions, National Renewable Energy Plans, National Adaptation Programme of Actions, and Voluntary National Reviews.

Did you miss Climate Exp0? You can watch the highlight videos from all five days of the conference here. All conference content and sessions will be freely and permanently available on Cambridge Open Engage from mid-June. For those who attended Climate Exp0, you can view all sessions from Climate Exp0 now via the Climate Exp0 homepage, using your conference login.

Climate Exp0 is the first virtual conference from the COP26 Universities Network and the Italian University Network for Sustainable Development (RUS).

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