A solar oven is the only food preparation device able to turn the energy of sunlight into heat. Traditional stoves, in contrast, capture heat by using hydrocarbons, the fossilized remains of carbohydrates.
In this article we will explain the advantages of a solar oven over traditional stoves and delve into the relationship between humanity and energy consumption, and what it means for environmental sustainability. We will also look at different types of solar ovens, how to use them in tandem with traditional cooking methods, and where to find an easy-to-use solar oven.
How do we Make Sense of Energy?
Energy is all around us, however the challenge we have is in capturing it. Plants have evolved to capture and convert solar energy to create carbohydrates, which have been our primary energy source, even during the fossil fuel era. Although to understand how these energy sources build societies, one must understand the concept of “Energy Returned on Energy Invested” or EROEI. Many things create energy, however, in order for it to power our lives it must have a net yield for the time and energy put into it.
Some say it should have a minimum EROEI of 3:1 to be worth developing. For example, petroleum when first discovered had an EROEI as high as 200:1, but has now dropped to as low as 2-4:1 with Canadian tar sands oil. Quantifying this EROEI can be challenging as there are many factors that can go into the development of an energy source and drawing a boundary around its inputs can be complicated. Nonetheless, it gives us a good starting point to understand energy and the contribution GoSun is making to the future of energy. Fortunately, GoSun's estimated EROEI runs between 6-7.5:1
Kitchen in an Off Grid Home, still limited by fossil fuel powered propane stoves – B. Trauth
Non Fossil Fuel Powered Types of Cooking Heat and How They Compare to a Solar Stove:
Creating a Green Tech Future for Cooking
There are many great non-fossil fuel powered sources of heat. Each one is the best form of energy for a particular situation, but they also each have their limitations. The following examines each and looks at where they each make sense to implement based on those limits and opportunities and how a solar stove would be a better alternative.
What are the challenges of wood heat?
A camel caravan delivering wood to markets in Rajasthan India – B. Trauth
Biomass has been our primary source of heat for cooking for millennia and played a critical role in the advancement of humanity. This source of energy can be sustainable if the consumption rates and management match the climate and thus productivity of the forest. The three types of climates that determine this are oceanic created rainfall, high mountain created rainfall and forest created rainfall. Each one of these types of rainfall will drop if deforestation occurs, of which forest created rainfall suffers the most if not fueled by ocean moisture or high mountains. Forests basically serve as a sponge, slowing evaporation and stabilizing the hydrological cycle. So without high mountain or oceanic fueled rainfall an ecosystem becomes what’s known as brittle or a likelihood to decline from bad management. Unfortunately, proper management has not been the case in most places over the last several millenia, which has resulted in loss of productivity within the local ecosystem and desertification in many places. When rainfall diminishes the biomass production drops and thus productivity within a biomass dependent culture. This can result in stressed populations creating a domino effect within stabile populations.
A Rocket technology based Stove in the jungles of Nicaragua – B. Trauth
Of course the major challenge of cooking with wood is the amount of time required to access the resource, start the fire and maintain it. It also presents many challenges due to smoke inhalation, such as eye cataracts and lung problems. This is enhanced in wetter climates as wetter wood creates more smoke. Rocket stove technology addresses these shortcomings while also increasing efficiency, which is great. Unfortunately population stress and poor education about forestry management based on the ecosystems limits are still challenges with these cooking techniques. Techniques such as coppicing, pollarding and Permaculture in general can help address these production challenges.
Yak Dung being hauled by person to Mt. Everest Base Camp. Many places around the world have no access to fuel wood and thus are left to cook with Animal Dung. This, over time will deplete the soils, by taking nutrients away from them. – B. Trauth
An open fire with no chimney in a tea house in Nepal. A common practice resulting in eye cataracts and lung problems. – B. Trauth
Charcoal being delivered to markets in Port Au Prince Haiti. This is harvested deep in the mountains and hauled by boat and truck to urban markets to fulfill cooking needs. Each bag costs $6US and will only last 30 days on average. – B. Trauth
A methane digester powered by a human toilet in Port Au Prince, Haiti. This community toilet created enough methane to power the community kitchen. – B. Trauth
Methane created through anaerobic digestion of biomass is another great, renewable source of cooking heat. However, the Biogas digesters that create the methane require a large scale set up to attain a viable amount of methane. This set up requires a consistent feed stock source, a biodigester with a recovery system followed by a distribution system and gas powered stove. This system works well in industrialized society as we already have large feedstocks, such as cattle manure or other large scale harvested biomass to feed the digesters. Following that process we have an in place distribution system, whether by truck and propane tank or by pipe to our kitchens and stoves. It typically makes sense to implement these systems on a larger scale, such as a large farm or community scale due to the consistent need for feed stocks to keep it producing. This of course can bump up against limits based on aggregation of large amounts of biomass combined with natural supply and demand. Other demands for biomass can range from fuel stocks to compost to feed stocks for livestock, limiting access to this fuel source.
Biofuels have proven that they can be net yield in some situations, such as when developed from sugar cane to create ethanol in Brazil. However, most forms of them have not proven their EROEI, much less their long term sustainability beyond industrial farming. The other challenge is that they have not successfully been converted into a cooking fuel.
Electrical Heat has often been an economical source of heat when natural gas was not available. The trouble with this source is that it is typically created by a coal fired and more recently a natural gas fired power plant, which each have their ecological impacts, CO2 with coal and water impacts with natural gas due to fracking. It can also be generated through Nuclear Power, which is simply an expensive and dangerous way to boil water that turns an electrical turbine. Lastly, there are renewable sources such as wind, hydro, solar and tidal which still only makes up 12% of US electricity. Electrical heat is generated by sending large amounts of wattage through small wires which in turn, creates resistance, and thus heat. This is an extremely energy intensive process, requiring, hundreds if not thousands of watts to generate functional cooking temperatures as found in our conventional stoves, toasters or toaster ovens.
A solar system on the front face of an Earthship, Taos, New Mexico, USA – B. Trauth
Due to this inefficiency it is advised to use propane or wood heat when going off the grid. Fortunately, with the efficient solar powered Hybrid Cooking System in the new GoSun Grill, it requires a small amount of solar generated electricity to achieve the same results. This system is able to use less energy due to the efficiency of the Grill’s cooking chamber to achieve the same results.
So how does the GoSun solar stove stack up?
The GoSun solar stove lays out many future foundations for a green tech future of renewable energy cooking in both the developed and the developing world. It has the capability to address many of the short comings of these varied types of sustainable cooking.
- A Solar Stove is Globally Accessible: No matter where in the world you may be, GoSun requires no infrastructure to cook your food. There’s no need for gas lines, electrical lines or even forests. It is functional freedom to cook your food in any scenario. As long as you have daylight (which we are working on changing), you are free to cook your food.
- A Solar Stove Provides Free Time: Most of us don’t realize how important free time is until we don’t have it. Modern advances freed us up, especially women, from performing the daily time consuming tasks, whether it was harvesting food, cooking and clean up or laundry. These technologies freed us up, especially women to focus on more important tasks like education, building more time freeing solutions and potentially relaxation. These are fundamental benefits and important qualities of the cooking methods beyond wood. They are fundamental for moving a culture from 'developing' into 'developed' status
- A Solar Stove Yields Net Yield Energy Production: The GoSun solar stove is unique in that it is designed to generate its own energy. It is a rare “Net Yield” product similar to solar panels or wind turbines. However, unlike these energy sources, it requires no transfer of energy to turn its power into something that we can use. It is ready for use once you put your food into it and place it in the sun. This would take hundreds if not thousands of watts of electricity in a conventional oven, toaster oven or toaster to achieve the same temperatures the GoSun solar stove achieves by simply sitting in the sun. To power those types of appliances with solar or wind generated electricity it would take a fairly large system to power them.
- Life Cycle Analysis of a Solar Stove: Life Cycle Analysis is a tool used by product designers to understand the ecological impacts of a product. This starts from the mining and continues on to the manufacturing, use and ultimately disposal. The GoSun solar stove has a relatively light Life Cycle Analysis, given that most of the energy that goes into the product is in the manufacturing of it, which is still relatively light. There is almost no energy required for its operation. It can easily be repaired, and can then be recycled at the end of its life. Its total EROEI is at least 6-7.5:1, which is an exceptionally high and reliable source of energy to address our cooking needs in all scenarios.
The GoSun solar stove truly do revolutionize cooking into a post Fossil Fuel 21st century. It relieves stress on ecosystems, allowing them to regenerate and sequester more carbon. It also empowers us to have a lower overall embodied energy in the infrastructure to achieve the relatively simple goal, that of cooking. It also frees us up to have more time to do other important tasks for the day, which will allow us to build a more educated human family that can build our sustainable future.
Different Types of Solar Ovens
Using a Solar Oven With Normal Grills and Ovens
Some of the most useful solar oven information is how to use them in conjunction with normal grills and ovens. Owners of more compact solar ovens, like the GoSun Sport or the new GoSun Go, will at times need to cook more than their cooking trays can allow. After all, many of the items we choose to cook for meals at home involve more total volume than the vacuum tube. However, a solar oven can be an opportunity to reduce your energy consumption and make food with a fraction of the effort required over a stove top. In order to integrate solar cooking into your life, you don’t have to eliminate your conventional cooktop or oven, and your solar oven can still get lots of use. Here's some solar oven information on how to use them with conventional cooking devices.
1. Start a tray of veggies in the GoSun when you begin baking a main course.
Often, when you put a main course in to bake in a conventional oven, it’s natural to start some veggies steaming in a microwave or on a stove top. However, if you start off the cooking process by putting veggies in a solar oven and then bake the main course indoors, you save the energy it would have taken to cook veggies.
2. Make a tray of muffins or breads to accompany a stir-fried dish.
GoSun Sports and other sun ovens make great baked goods like cornbread, rolls, or muffins. Rather than turning on your conventional oven and heating the house up in the process, use the solar oven for your bread-making needs. This is especially easy if you have the nestling silicone cups for the Sport tube; cleaning is a breeze afterward. If served alongside a stir-fry that is made on a stove top, you reduce the total energy used substantially and still generate a large meal.
3. Put your standard grill next to your GoSun and barbecue.
If you are having a lot of folks over, pulling out a conventional grill and a GoSun at the same time is a great idea. The hot dogs and bratwursts will get nice and juicy in the GoSun, while hamburgers and corn on the cob roast up well on a larger surface. You’ll have more food and you won’t have to run the grill for as long, so the total energy usage is still lower. You don’t need to rely on a solar oven for the whole meal to get a great benefit from it.
4. Consider dishes that can be served alongside a salad.
As the weather heats up, it becomes so nice to not have to turn on any kind of indoor oven or stove. Consider how you can use your GoSun for a side dish or some chicken while you whip up a hearty salad with plenty of veggies, seeds, and nuts to top it off. You can have a wonderful meal without ever turning on an oven just by relying on a combination of GoSun-cooked hot food and big leafy salads.
We hope this solar oven information was useful. In many cases, it is possible to use solar cooking for all aspects of a meal, but when you want more food or more convenience, you can still use one. Solar ovens give you the chance to set and forget parts of your meal while lowering your bills and your energy footprint. It isn’t an all-or-nothing move: you can choose ways that work for you and your family to incorporate a solar oven into your routines.
Finding an Easy Solar Oven
If you are interested in getting into solar cooking, finding an easy solar oven is critical. In an age of life on the go, convenience and mobility are everything. When you add children in the mix, simplicity is added on top of that which is precisely what GoSun's solar cooking line of products offer, convenience, mobility and simplicity.
The GoSun Sport and Solar Dogger offer cooking convenience like none before; really, you can't find any more of an easy solar oven. There's no lighters, charcoal, cumbersome grill or mess to create a nice hot meal for you and your family and friends. It is small enough, clean enough and simple enough to securely stow away in the trunk of your car and to be ready to go for whenever you find yourself out on the run with the kids, on the way to tailgate with friends or ready for a hot lunch out at the job site. The GoSun is ready to go to make your life that much easier. With effective cooking temperatures reached within 20 minutes of full sun and requiring minimal attention to create a tasty hot meal, there's no other way more convenient to make a hot meal that's ready to go in such a small, safe and convenient cooking device. It is virtually a portable off grid microwave or toaster oven.
The Convenience of the Sun: Because of GoSun's solar fueled technology, you are ready to go on any sunny day and even on some overcast days. Since it is powered primarily by the Sun's UV rays, the one's you still have to watch out for on cloudy day, it can capture enough heat over time to still cook a meal. GoSun thinks first and foremost of what makes an easy solar oven.
Simplicity: You'll never need to worry about fuel again. Your GoSun is ready to go anytime. There's no fuel canisters, bags of charcoal, lighter fluid or lighters to worry about, all you need is you stove and the sun.
Mobility: The size and weight of GoSun's Sport and Solar Dogger make it extremely convenient to prepare you next meal on the go. Because the tray is designed for the Stove you won't need to worry about separate pots or pans, much less, fuel tanks, charcoal or lighters to carry, just the Stove itself. Their size make it easy to get it out and about to enjoy a beautiful sunny day.
Efficiency: Because of the revolutionary technology GoSun utilizes, the evacuated Solar Tube, it is able to capture sunlight and turn it into useable heat in no time at all, reaching 500 degrees F or more in 20-30 minutes means that you food is ready to in no time.
This investment in simplicity, convenience and mobility is creating a major impact around the globe and a perfect item for those who want an easy solar oven. Saving fossil fuel, forests and your time all to make a better world.