You too can make a solar cooker at home

When it comes to going green, our initial reaction is what would be cost. This is so since we have heard that the cost of alternative energy is quite prohibitive.

We have heard a lot about solar energy as an alternative method of power. When I was constructing my house, my good architect, Mr H. Amith Shenoy, suggested to me that I also install a solar unit to light up the house. Knowing my interest in such things, the architect had also suggested several other things such as rainwater harvesting.

Then it came to the costs. Since I had already crossed my initial estimates, I was a little hesitant to put up with add-on costs. He suggested that we try to modify our plans a wee bit, without getting hit financially.

The rainwater harvesting thing gelled in seamlessly with our plans, without any major modification, nor with any changes to the design of my house. Since I had planned the house as a “chowkimane” (squarish house) with a central courtyard, we decided that all the water from the rooftop could be collected in the centre of the house, which would then go through an underground pipe leading to a underground storage tank, with a capacity of over 10,000 litres.

This was carried out without any hitch, and was a grand success.

Solar energy was next. However, my electrical contractor was a skeptic. When he told me the costs involved, I became a bit hesitant. The contractor told me that nobody he knew went in for solar panels due to its prohibitive cost and that it would in the end provide lighting for only one or two lamps. However, on Mr Amith Shenoy’s insistence, we did that little bit of extra wiring so that we could do it at a later stage.

Also, I installed a solar water heater for our bathing needs.

But, there were two other things I wanted to concentrate on: organic farming and bio-gas for cooking purposes. Organic farming would take care of our day-to-day needs for vegetables and flowers. We first decided to go in for flowers, planting hibiscus, marigold and a wide variety of other local flowering plants. Now, we have planted gherkins, chillies and tomatoes, and have sowed seeds for a variety of other vegetables.

My enquiries regarding bio-gas hit the same roadblock as solar energy. Prohibitive costs and non-availability of raw availability — cow dung — since it would require me to possess at least two cows. And I was advised that this would probably work better on a farm in a rural area.

Then I shifted my sights toward another form of solar energy, this time for cooking. The costs involved were less. Browsing through the Internet, I hit upon a website: http://www.solarcooking.org/. This gave me a fair idea about solar cooking. Parabolic solar cookers, box-type solar cookers, funnel solar cookers, etc. A wide range of options were available, and most of it were tried and successfully tested. It was then that I stumbled upon a website done by a Pune couple, wherein they mentioned a simple solar cooker, which they had named “Parvati Solar Cooker”.

What struck me was the simplicity of their entire work: What was required was just cardboard and aluminum foil. And you could make it yourself at home.

Based on their idea, I first contacted fellow Parkala Rotarian PHF K. Abubacker, an environmentalist by profession: His business consists of recycling of waste paper and cardboard. I got from his godown the discarded carton of a fridge.

It was then cut according to the plans of the Parvati Solar Cooker, put together, aluminum foil was stuck along the insides and lo and behold! My first solar cooker was ready.

Before I go ahead, let me confess, all the dirty work, like drawing of plan, cutting and putting together things were done by my wife, Rtn Rohini S. Shenoy. Then we hunted for utensils required to be placed in the cooker. What was required was an aluminum tiffin carrier, but we could not get it anywhere. Finally, we settled for normal aluminum vessels.

Second, these vessels had to be painted black, so that the heat got absorbed rather than repelled by white or bright colours. For this Vishal, my son and a budding scientist/agriculturalist, volunteered.

And then we were ready. On the first day, we kept rice for cooking. (Please note, it takes more time than cooking on a gas stove.) This was not done properly. “Scientist” Vishal then suggested to me that we had to put an acrylic cover on top, so that within the cooker the heat will get trapped and there is a greenhouse effect. This he had picked up during our visit to Manipal Energy Centre, run by retired teacher Mr Seeetharam Hegde, who is in a big way into usage of solar energy, bio-gas, etc., (more about him in another blog).

(Importantly, fellow Parkala Rotarian and MIT’s Joint Director Dr Prof. Radhakrishna S. Aithal and a very inspiring speaker on renewable energy sources and conservation of energy had directed me to Mr Hegde.)

Since transparent acrylic sheets were not easily available, I opted for a transparent plastic sheet and placed it over the cooker. And, the next day, rice was cooked successfully.

Using this solar cooker, you can even cook a variety of other stuff such as lentils and vegetables.

Well, so now I have a solar cooker at home, for which I spent less than Rs 100, I have done my bit to save the environment (and, of course, my money!).

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