Solar-powered cooking kits are helping to tackle energy poverty on the "Continent of Light." At least 12 million people in South Africa alone rely on either firewood or paraffin to meet their energy needs, according to the founder of Johannesburg's SunFire Solutions, resulting in a suite of economic and social disadvantages. Crosby Menzies says that while fire is credited as humanity's greatest "invention," solar cookers are the "only clean, free and abundant source of cooking fuel on earth that delivers what fire has for millennia, with less smoke and more convenience." After 14 years in business and still keen to make a measurable difference in the lives of people living throughout "Mother Africa", SunFire now offers Clean Energy Kits that comprise a 600-watt parabolic cooker, highly-efficient rocket stove, and heat retained bags.
The main element of the new Clean Energy Kits is the SunFire12 parabolic cooker. Measuring nearly four feet wide, the cooker concentrates sunlight onto a focal point, where black pots or pans best suited to absorb heat are placed. SunFire says it takes 12 minutes to boil 0.3 gallons (or one liter) of water. This might seem like a lot of time to westerners accustomed to easy energy access, but the additional time spent cooking comes with the benefit of being free and clean. One cooker can easily provide a meal for up to six people, according to the company, requires no maintenance, and boasts a 10-year lifespan.
In communities the SunFire folks have visited, local people have told them, “the trees are running away from us”. They’re alluding to deforestation sweeping across Africa as demand for cooking fuel increases alongside population growth. Addressing this, the SunFire Rocket converts “small amounts of food into large pots of food.” Using 50 percent less fuel than a standard wood-burning device and “virtually smokeless,” the Rocket is said to be South Africa’s most efficient wood-burning stove. It is included in the kit for use on days when the sun doesn’t shine.
Completing their Clean Energy Kits are insulated SunBags, or heat retained bags, which can be used to complete the food-cooking process without using fuel, thereby conserving resources. SunFire says their bags save time for other activities and money, retain nutrients and flavor, and act as “bush fridges” in places that lack electricity to keep food cool. Menzies told Inhabitat, “SunFire believes the best way to make Solar Cookers more accessible is by inspiring entrepreneurs to create small Solar Cooker businesses in their own communities.” This would make a difference at the grassroots level and create new jobs in rural areas.
“It still seems incredible to me that there are 3 billion people or just over half the world’s population forced to use firewood to cook when Solar Cookers can easily do the job,” he said. “I aim to spend my life making the tech more readily available where it’s most needed and created SunFire to change the world one meal at a time.”