As those who’s ever gotten into their car on a hot summer’s day wearing shorts and a T-shirt, only to burn themselves on the seat or steering wheel can attest, the sun can heat things up in a hurry.
But somehow, when it comes to harnessing this energy to make life easier, people need some reminding. At least that’s what Phyllis Davies, Rosemary Wilvert and Marica Alter think.
The trio exalted the virtues of solar ovens to save time, money and the environment in a lecture and demonstration held Tuesday at Steynberg Gallery in San Luis Obispo. The event was part of the gallery’s Tea and Talks on Tuesday at Twelve series.
“People have been using solar ovens for centuries, it’s not a new technology. It’s just that it wasn’t emphasized too much,” Davies said.
Before the event she described some of her personal interest on the topic.
“I find it just tremendously convenient,” she said. “I use it for most of the food we eat. Potatoes for instance, I just rinse potatoes and plop them in a black pan (in the morning) with a little bit of water and put them in the oven and they’ll be ready by dinner.”
In addition to personal convenience, Davies said she became interested in spreading the technology after witnessing the benefits of its introduction in Rwanda and Kenya, where women spend as much as seven hours a day gathering cooking wood.
In an era when fuel costs are climbing and there is increased awareness of carbon footprints, there is also renewed public interest in the ovens which in most cases are insulated boxes designed to let heat in and keep it there.
Curved parabolic cookers are the faster alternative, cooking at high temperatures with greater speed but requiring adjustment and supervision. The cookers combine elements of the two using cardboard reflectors to channel energy into the hot box. The use of heat-absorbing black ceramic pots enhances the effect.
Tuesday’s event was two-part, featuring a Powerpoint presentation and video interspersed with questions from an audience of approximately 50 individuals, followed by an outdoor tasting and examination of the cooking equipment.
The crowd was diverse and the lecture segment – despite suffering from the caterwauling of the youngest audience members – was quite informative on general solar cooking techniques and historically-used devices.
The demonstration and tasting phase of the afternoon, although taking place during the most overcast period of the day, successfully showcased that many types of food can be prepared using simply constructed homemade and prefabricated cookers.
In fact, the weather helped to answer a basic and common question regarding the reliability of the devices in less-than-direct sunlight.
“No matter what the sun is like it easily reaches 200 degrees in there, more than enough to pasteurize water and kill bacteria,” Wilvert told the audience. “Mine goes up to 350 degrees quite quickly. So I can cook chicken and beets. outside in almost the same amount of time as a regular oven.”
While the chicken was not available for public consumption, Wilvert and Alter offered cookies and nachos to the crowd and displayed vegetables, sun tea, and even clay sculpture baked with solar power.
The two boxlike ovens on display, featuring translucent covers and metal or foil reflectors, were manufactured from recycled materials by the Solar Oven Society.
The kit, complete with pots and thermometer, retails on their Web site, www.solarovens.org, for about $150. A portion of the proceeds goes toward providing the kits to people in the third world.
While Tuesday’s event was unaffiliated with the society, the organizers support their goals.
“I can’t change the world by using this but it’s my way to do one little, tiny part both in my own cooking and in spreading the word,” Wivert said.