Cultures

How solar ovens are saving energy and alleviating poverty

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Image: Pulitzer Center

Image: Pulitzer Center

Solar ovens are reducing the hard work of women and the cost to communities in regions of poverty, such as in several parts of the Dominican Republic. The expense of gas and painstakingly long walks, chopping and deforestation involved with using wood for log fires are now being bypassed in favor of cost-efficient and easy-to-use solar ovens. With 41% of the population living below the poverty line in DR, using gas for cooking is an expense best avoided if possible for most families. The smoke inhalation which occurs while cooking over log fires is very damaging to lungs, causes burns and the release of greenhouse gases as well, which can all be avoided with the renewable energy used by solar ovens. Minimal oil is required for cooking with the solar ovens, too, making meal preparation easier and healthier.

Where are they sold and how are they used?

U.S.-based Solar Oven Partners is behind the increasingly popular solar movement, which has offered numerous workshops and demonstrations on how to use the solar ovens throughout Dominican Republic. Each oven costs about $22 and lasts up to two years, allowing families to depend less on both gas and wood for cooking. So far, around 250 solar ovens have been sold in the Dominican Republic over the span of about the past year. The purchase price goes toward the presentations and workshops provided, while funding for assembling and transporting the ovens is comprised completely from donations. Solar Oven Partners website explains that “experience has demonstrated that teaching solar cooking is the basis for success—rather than simply delivering solar ovens. Furthermore, teaching in the students’ first language—offered by experienced peers—fosters acceptance, ownership, and enthusiasm for solar cooking.”

What are the buyers saying?

One Dominican resident purchased a solar oven and is making necessary adjustments to her schedule. As it takes between two and three hours for the solar oven to warm up to cooking temperatures, thinking farther ahead for mealtimes is a new priority for many. Idalia Batista says she uses the time it takes for heating the oven to do other household chores. She shares that she hasn’t had any trouble with there not being enough sun for her oven as it’s been sunny every day since she purchased her solar oven six months ago. Batista also noticed a savings of around $8 per month on her household gas expenses (she still needs to use gas for other tasks and additional cooking), as well as another positive side effect of the potential for an increase of jobs to be created in impacted communities, a welcome change for any area struggling with poverty. Solar Oven Partners has done the same work in Haiti prior to expanding to Dominican Republican, with similar success, and hopes to continue to bring their gift to new countries in need of alternatives.

Kristen lives in the Michiana area, where she enjoys lake-effect weather, apple orchards and occasional South Shore rides into Chicago. She can probably tell you more about apple cider vinegar than you'd ever want to know. You can reach her at: http://lakesedge.wix.com/lakesidewriting