Friday, June 29, 2007

Solar Ovens Provide Alternative to Cooking with Wood in Rural China

By Jeff McIntire-Strasburg Filed on Jun 28, 2007 at 12:20 PM PST

Most of us in the developed world don't think a lot about the source of fuel we use for cooking: unless there's a power outage, we can turn a knob or press a button, and we've got the heat we need. If we've got a gas stovetop, we don't even need the electricity! We know, of course, that people in the developing world generally aren't this fortunate, and wood-gathering is a necessary part of the food preparation ritual. But what do people in poverty do if wood supplies start to run low because of deforestation, desertification, or just a simple lack of usable wood?

In Gansu, China, a region that receives little rainfall and has no trees, a very old technology has provided a solution: the solar oven. The concept of using a curved mirror to focus sunlight, and the heat it provides, has been around since the ancient Greeks; relief and development agency Operation Blessing International has purchased and installed over 200 of these ovens (made from concrete and mirrors) in Gansu. The program has been so popular that the organization has just released funding for 200 more in the region. According to Operation Blessing president Bill Horan,

"In Gansu, like in many other poverty-stricken regions around the world, firewood is as precious as water. There are virtually no trees here, and so little rain, that the only bath most people take in their whole life is on their wedding day. These solar ovens are based on ancient technology and they are eco-friendly - a totally renewable energy source."

OBI is considering taking the program to another devastated region of the world: the Darfur region of the Sudan, where the organization operates several refugee and relief camps in partnership with a German charity.

We Westerners tend to associate "technology" with the latest devices: computers, cell phones, renewable energy installations, etc. This simple, time-tested technology, though, looks like just the thing for impoverished people around the world. And, even with the high carbon emissions associated with concrete production, this looks like a pretty climate-friendly alternative, too...