FREE energy from the sun can make electricity directly by shining on a solar cell (photovoltaics) or it can heat water circulating in a solar hot water panel.
But there is another simple way that households can make use of free energy from the sun in their day-to-day living and reduce their power consumption and therefore greenhouse gas production.
It is by using a solar cooker or oven.
These devices use a combination of mirrors or other reflective surfaces to concentrate the heat of the sun in a defined area.
With a good solar cooker the temperatures reached can easily bake a loaf of bread or cook a stew.
Heather Stevens and Dave Mitchell have been using the Sun Cook solar oven for about three years.
They originally wanted a different solar cooker.
When asked by one of their parents what they wanted for Christmas, they nominated it.
They tried to hide their disappointment when they unwrapped the Sun Cook, which they had never heard of.
But the disappointment soon evaporated as they realised what a gem the oven was.
So pleased are they after three years that they approached the Portuguese manufacturer to become an Australian distributor for the cooker.
The Sun Cook is essentially an insulated box. The box is the oven. It has reflective sides and a double-glazed lid.
There is also an outer lid and a side shield that reflect heat into the oven.
To cook, the food is placed in the oven in thin oven tins or similar containers.
The cooker is oriented towards the sun. As the sun moves across the sky, the side shield reflects the heat.
Heather says it is not usually necessary to change the orientation of the cooker, unless you were cooking for a long time.
Other features of the solar cooker include construction from food-grade plastics (no unpleasant plastic odours) and its portability because of its lightness.
While working extremely well in a heat wave, Heather says it also works in milder weather as it doesn’t rely on ambient temperatures to cook the food.
Yet its ability to cook well in hot weather is surely a plus, as this is just when you don’t want to heat up the kitchen by using your conventional oven.
Apparently it also works well as a food dehydrator.
It would also be good for camping in summer, when fires are often a no-no.
In fact, Heather and Dave have used the solar oven extensively on their cruising catamaran.
Heather has a degree in environmental science and is working on a PhD, studying Australia’s extreme weather and its relationship to climate change.
Dave is a mechanical engineer with a penchant for cruising the coast in the couple’s Crowther Windspeed 32 (now 35-foot) catamaran.
They both like the freedom a yacht can give to a family (their two-year-old son Tasman enjoys it too) as well as the fact that you can live on a boat with a small ecological footprint.
The solar oven retails for $565 – much cheaper than a wood-fired oven and you don’t need to scavenge or buy wood or smoke out the neighbours.
For more information phone Heather on 0410 513 815 or visit suncooking.com.au.
Buy into permaculture
PERMACULTURE practitioners Tom and Margaret Toogood are at a stage in their lives when they need to downsize their living arrangements.
As a result their house at 22 Bean Street, Gateshead, is for sale.
Anyone wanting to buy a house with a well-established permaculture garden, complete with chook yard, should phone the selling agent Roslyn on 0438 665 998.
Want to kill two birds with one stone? The Sun Cook solar oven will be on display (and cooking) at 22 Bean Street, Gateshead, on Saturday, February 26 at 10am (free entry).
This will be followed by a permaculture tour of the garden and mini-workshop (11am to noon, $5, $7 a couple).
From noon to 12.30pm there will be an open house property inspection for potential buyers.
If raining, the solar cook-off will be postponed.
Adults are asked not to bring children under the age of 10.