Kate Mackenzie The benefits and challenges of introducing solar ovens

The Kyoto Box, the $5 solar oven, has garnered a lot of coverage in the week since it won the FT/Forum for the Future Climate Change Challenge and a $75,000 prize. The cooker can cook bread and boil water, is easy to assemble, could help reduce as much as 2 tonnes of carbon emissions per family per year, by replacing wood-burning stoves. Much of this is soot or ‘black carbon’, which one expert describes as ‘low hanging fruit’ among ways of reducing carbon emissions, because it is often easy, cheap and, unlike carbon dioxide, begins to disappear from the atmosphere in a matter of weeks.

Soot also creates health problems, and not just respiratory afflictions. “I don’t want to see another 80-year-old woman carrying 20 kilos of firewood on her back. Maybe we don’t have to,” the Kyoto Box’s inventor, John Bøhmer, told CNN.

A report in the New York Times looks at the challenges and opportunities of introducing the solar stove in a poor village in central India. Of the village’s residents, they write:

They earn about $2 a day and, for the most part, have not heard about climate change. But they have noticed frequent droughts in recent years that scientists say may be linked to global warming. Crops ripen earlier and rot more frequently than they did 10 years ago. The villagers are aware, too, that black carbon can corrode. In Agra, cookstoves and diesel engines are forbidden in the area around the Taj Majal, because soot damages the precious facade.

Still, replacing hundreds of millions of cookstoves — the source of heat, food and sterile water — is not a simple matter. “I’m sure they’d look nice, but I’d have to see them, to try them,” said Chetram Jatrav, as she squatted by her cookstove making tea and a flatbread called roti. Her three children were coughing.

There’s also the challenge of persuading people to change their cooking tastes:

Equally important, the open fires of cookstoves give some of the traditional foods their taste. Urging these villagers to make roti in a solar cooker meets the same mix of rational and irrational resistance as telling an Italian that risotto tastes just fine if cooked in the microwave.

The oven has gone into production in a factory in Nairobi. The video below demonstrates how it works:

Related links:

Solar cooker wins energy contest (FT)
Third world soot is target in climate change (New York Times)
Climate Change Challenge (FT)