What is Solar Cooking?

A solar cooker collects sunlight and transforms it into heat. Depending on the cooker design and weather conditions, solar cooker temperatures range from 180–500°F/82–260°C or higher. Even the smallest and simplest solar cookers can cook simple meals for one or two people.

Solar cooking is possible in most areas of the world, even in far northern latitudes such as Norway. Counterintuitively, the mid-latitudes frequently have more consistent sun exposure than the tropics, which are frequently cloudy. Sunny, arid regions have the best year-round solar cooking conditions.

You can use a solar cooker if:

  • You have a sunny spot unobstructed by shade for at least 3 hours per day

  • You live between 60° latitude north and south of the equator (Mid-Canada and Russia south to the entire continents of South America, Africa and Australia)

  • Between 60° and 40° latitude, solar cooking is possible during spring, summer and fall

  • South of 40° (Salt Lake City, UT; Newark, NJ) you can enjoy solar cooking year-round

  • In North America, the Southwest has the most intense solar radiation

  • The Pacific Northwest is suitable for solar cooking part of the year

Solar cooking is even possible if:

  • You live in an apartment, townhome or college dorm

  • You are away at work all day Traveling or backpacking!

Average annual solar radiation in the continental United States
Direct beam radiation with parabolic collectors tracking the sun in both azimuth (east-west directionality) and elevation. The Southwest receives 5–10 kilowatts/m2/day. The small empty spots in the Pacific Northwest and Eastern Great Lakes regions receive only 2–3 kWh/m2/day. National Renewable Resource Data Center.

Solar cookers come in a variety of designs suited for every climate, budget, living situation, skill level and cooking need. Each variety of cooker has its advantages and drawbacks. Some cookers reach high temperatures but require frequent re-aiming; some cookers are designed for inattentive or absentee cooking. Some cookers are weatherproof; others can't be left out if rain is threatening. Some are very stable in wind; others require a sheltered location. Some can be built cheaply with materials sitting around your home; some commercial models cost several hundred dollars, just like an ordinary electric or gas range.

The Sunny Side of Cooking helps you choose the right solar cooker for your climate and lifestyle.

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