Solar Cooking Helps Struggling Communities Fighting Deforestation, Global Warming and Disease with Solar Cookstoves

A small, all-volunteer nonprofit headed by a retired U.S. Foreign Service representative is part of a global effort to fight hardwood deforestation, global warming and respiratory disease worldwide. Solar Household Energy Inc., based outside of Washington, D.C., promotes the use of solar ovens, slow-cooking devices that collect and reflect the heat of the sun.

solar cookingIn developing nations, pneumonia kills more children per year than malaria, and has been linked to smoky, sooty air from wood-burning cookstoves. Additionally, deforestation is a problem in areas where wood is the primary fuel. And cookfire smoke has been connected to greenhouse gas emissions and global warming.

The movement to equip remote areas with solar cookstoves took a major leap forward in 2010, when U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, a public-private initiative to which the federal government plans to allot as much as $250 million over the first 10 years. Organizations such as Solar Household Energy, which at its height operated on an annual budget of $500,000 and in the wake of the recession is considerably underfunded, stand to gain.

“There are all kinds of players in it,” said alliance representative Bea Spadicini. “Everybody can have a role, from the very grassroots to the highest level. It can lift small players by connecting them to bigger players.”

Solar Household Energy cofounder Darwin Curtis believes that “slowly, but surely, there will become a general recognition” that solar cooking is the way to go, and not only in the developing world. Already, solar cooking has caught on in the sunnier areas of the U.S. southwest and southern California, he says.

Curtis himself uses a solar stove at home. “I just put [ingredients] in my solar cooker and put it in the garden” on a sunny day, he said. The result is not only delicious, he says, but “falling-down easy.”