The latest product from One Earth Designs weighs just 10 pounds and packs down into a small carrying bag, but still delivers high performance fuel-free cooking.
One of the most approachable and effective renewable energy options for the average person isn't that shiny new phone charger that converts sunlight into electricity (although they certainly are just as handy as they are sexy), but rather putting the sun's energy to work directly, through solar thermal devices. Solar water (and air) heaters fall under this category, as they are generally a lot more affordable than a home solar electricity system, and can produce plenty of heat for years - for free - with minimal maintenance or repairs. However, those types of devices generally require a certain amount of retrofitting and upgrading to install, and aren't often an option for those who rent, but there's another excellent and efficient solar appliance that
should could be a staple in just about any home, which is the solar cooker.
There are two main types of solar cookers, the solar oven, which heats the food in an enclosed space and is great for baking and slow roasting, and the parabolic cooker, which isn't enclosed and which uses focused reflectors to concentrate sunlight on a small area. This type of solar cooker can deliver heat quickly (just a few seconds, which is so much faster than a charcoal grill, and quicker than a solar oven) and produce higher temperatures for a wide range of meals. Whereas solar ovens are more geared toward unattended slow cooking, where you put the meal together and put it in the oven for hours and you don't need to watch it, parabolic solar cookers are geared toward grill- and camp-type cooking, which makes them a great choice for picnics, outdoor gatherings, or camping trips.
Solar cooking has a lot going for it, such as the fact that it doesn't require purchasing or burning any fuel at all (ever), it doesn't release any sketchy stuff into the air, it doesn't heat up your house like an oven does, it doesn't (usually) present a fire danger when used in the backcountry, and it's drop-dead simple in terms of materials and operation. Sure, you can only cook with solar energy when the sun's out, and you need to adjust your seasonal cooking habits to account for decreased hours of sunlight in the winter, but solar ovens and cookers can work reliably and effectively in many different situations, including cold and windy conditions.
Last spring, I wrote about One Earth Designs' SolSource cooker, which can reach 550°F (280°C) and bring a quart of water to boil in about 10 minutes, but which costs about $500. The product looks to be incredibly well designed and manufactured, so $500 probably isn't very expensive when compared to its value, but it's also a significant chunk of change to most people. Now the company is launching another model of solar cooker, the SolSource Sport, which is smaller, lighter, and a whole heckuva lot cheaper, while still offering the same high performance zero-fuel experience as its big brother.
The Sport, which is going to early backers of the company's Kickstarter campaign at just $149 ($249 MSRP), is designed to assemble and break down in just minutes, to fit into a 2-foot carrying bag, and to weigh only 10 pounds (4.5 kg). In use, the Sport presents a circle of highly-reflective material about 31.5" (80cm) across to the sun that can generate temperatures of up to 400°F (200°C) quickly and cleanly. It's well-suited to grilling, boiling, pan frying, reheating, and stir frying foods, is built with outdoor cookware in mind, and looks to be an instant favorite with low-impact outdoors enthusiasts.
A truly portable solar cooker such as this could be a real gamechanger for car-campers and day-trippers, tailgaters and picnic-ers, backyard grillers and office lunches, because it offers near-instant heat, has no fuel costs and generates zero pollution, and is a perfectly appropriate workaround to fire bans. Plus, when it comes to making food or heating water for coffee and breakfast in the morning, it's pretty much the only clean option to the conventional campstove or fire, as solar ovens take longer to heat up and don't hit as high of temperatures.
SolSource is also offering a sweet deal of 25 units as a "Retailer Starter Pack" for pledges of $2,475, which could be an excellent opportunity for those looking to moonlight as solar boosters, as well as a bundle deal for both of the company's models for $496, which would give backers a home unit and a camping unit.