Solar Cookers International


Solar Cookers International's mission is to assist communities to use the power of the sun to cook food and pasteurize water for the benefit of people and environments. Solar cooking reduces the use of scarce traditional fuels (wood, charcoal, crop residues and dung) for cooking. The use of solar cookers alleviates environmental problems such as deforestation and harmful carbon dioxide emissions and improves human health via 1) solar water pasteurization, 2) reduction of exposure to indoor air pollution from smoky cooking fires 3) relief from the physical demands and risk of injuries associated with fuelwood collection. Solar Cookers International (SCI), a nonprofit organization, has promoted the use of solar cookers since 1987. Based in Sacramento, California, it also has an office in Nairobi serving eastern Africa. To date SCI has empowered 25,000 families in refugee camps in Kenya (Kakuma) and Ethiopia (Aisha) and in Zimbabwe (in urban and peri-urban Harare and rural Bulawayo) with grants from UN High Commissioner for Refugees, UNESCO and several private foundations. SCI recently started a community project in rural Kenya where local micro-enterprises will provide on-going access to solar cookers.

Organization Type Non-Governmental Organization

Contact Information

Primary Contact
Ms. AmyJo Mattheis
Secondary Contact
Ms. Robin Texeira

Address 1919 21st Street, Suite 101
Sacramento, CA
United States
Phone 916-455-4499
Fax 916-455-4498
Calling/Fax Instructions

Our Focus

Primary Initiatives, Target Populations, and Scope of Work:

Solar Cookers International works internationally to raise awareness of the multiple benefits of solar cookers. International programs include 1) advocacy to influence public and private agencies to support the use of solar cookers, 2) dissemination of educational resources on solar cookers, 3) forums for information exchange among solar cooker promoters and with other experts and 4) technical assistance on solar cooking and solar water pasteurization to a variety of agencies. SCI's network includes over 10,000 individuals/groups/organizations in 160 countries. In Eastern Africa, SCI has now completed two projects in remote refugee camps with the following results: An independent evaluation of solar cooking in Aisha Refugee Camp (pop. 14,000) showed 94% adoption of solar cooking among the camp's 2,500 families and fuel savings of 32% in just four years, compared to a baseline study. Solar cooks reported spending four to six fewer full days per month gathering firewood. An independent evaluation in 2003 in the much larger Kakuma Refugee Camp also documented significant adoption and fuel savings despite the camp's high rate of turnover and growth from 25,000 to 86,000 people. Nutrition was improved for about 15,000 families with solar cookers because they no longer needed to barter meager food rations for fuel to cook the rest. At both camps, solar cookers were provided free or for a nominal fee as a relief measure. SCI has now undertaken a new project in a rural area of Nyanza Province, Kenya where simple solar cookers are being sold by trained solar cooks. The project encourages creation of local businesses to sell solar cookers, solar cooked products and/or provide related services (instruction, maintenance) with the goal of assuring self-sustaining spread of solar cookers in this area.

Fuels/Technologies: Solar
Sectors of Experience: Behavior Change
Renewable Energy
Rural Development
Small Business
Countries of Operation: Kenya
United States

Our Experience And Interest In The Four PCIA Central Focus Areas

Social/Cultural barriers to using traditional fuels and stoves:

Most diets are based on boiled, baked, or steamed foods, all of which can be solar cooked. Therefore most local recipes can be adapted for solar cooking. Perhaps the biggest social/cultural barriers is the mental shift from the age-old habit of cooking on fire to cooking with solar energy. It takes several years of promotion, encouragement through home visits and group meetings, and a visible sales/distribution network before people will adopt a new technology such as solar cookers. Nonetheless, in fuel-scarce areas, many women take interest in and will buy cookers based on the benefits of unattended cooking (they can do other things while food is cook), labor and cash savings on fuelwood expenditure and collection, and reduced exposure to smoke. Cooking becomes culturally acceptable for men as they appreciate not having to crouch down, tend a fire and breathe in smoke. Taste is not frequently a barrier since most solar cooked foods taste as good or better than foods cooked on fire as there is no smoky flavor or ash and the food is slow cooked in its own juices.

Market development for improved cooking technologies:

SCI foresees that local businesses, with support from non-governmental and government agencies, will have a key role in providing widespread access to solar cookers. Within its new project, SCI is developing micro-enterprise support strategies (orientation/training, marketing and business management tools, certification). While most area businesses are operated by men and we expect some will want to sell cookers, SCI's enterprise development will especially encourage women, as the primary cooks and best spokespersons for kitchen devices. Women who already sell other cooking supplies and household products will be invited to sell cookers as well. Already two local women who operate small restaurants and food kiosks have found solar cookers to be convenient and economical. Other experienced solar cooks may earn income for product demonstrations and providing instruction. Simple solar cookers are sold for the equivalent of US $7 which includes a small profit for the seller. Since the area is impoverished, most people pay for their cookers in installments.

Technology standardization for cooking, heating and ventilation:

There are three main types of solar cookers: box cookers, parabolic cookers, and panel cookers. Panel cookers are effective, lightweight and portable, user-friendly and affordable to mass produce (US $3-5 at factory). Box and parabolic cookers are harder to make from local materials and thus more expensive. Promoters in 23 countries use panel cookers, with most designs derived from SCI's low-tech panel cooker, the solar Cookit. The Cookit's design is not patented as SCI seeks widespread access to solar cookers. Nonetheless, to be effective for cooking (82-135 degrees Celsius), SCI does specify dimensions and angles for optimal concentration of sunrays. The Cookit lasts about two years and pays for itself with 2-3 months of savings on fuelwood.

Indoor air pollution exposure and health monitoring:

No smoke is produced as solar cooking uses only sunlight as fuel. Solar cooking on any given sunny day can contribute to reducing overall exposure to indoor air pollution as cooking on fire becomes less frequent. In Kenya, SCI recommends the use of improved stoves and retained heat cookers (hay-baskets) to project participants for times when solar cooking is not possible. Solar cookers are often used to heat drinking water to pasteurization temperatures, in effect killing waterborne pathogens. The process of slow cooking has been shown to retain vitamins and nutrients, leading to improved nutrition. The chronically ill, elderly and physically disabled who are trained to use solar cookers frequently cite reduced exposure to smoke and decreased need to gather firewood as benefits.

Relevant Publications or Studies

Solar Cookers, How to Make Use and Enjoy (10th edition) The Solar Cooker Review - SCI's newsletter is published 3 times a year Teaching Solar Cooking - SCI's trainers manual Spreading Solar Cooking - SCI's Field Guide The Case for Solar Cooking - Illustrates the worldwide importance of solar cooking Teacher's Kit- includes supplies and ideas for teaching solar cooking International Directory of Solar Cooker Experts - available online SCI also has several different solar cookers, water pasteurization indicators, and related supplies available for sale.

Our Contribution to the Partnership

Solar Cookers International can orient, train and assist organizations wishing to start solar cooking projects or seeking to integrate solar cooking into their existing programs. SCI is interested in contributing to the advocacy efforts undertaken by the Partnership and its members for policy maker and public support for solutions that address indoor air pollution. SCI has sixteen years of experience in dissemination of solar cookers. During this time, we have developed participatory strategies for technology adoption that we are willing share with other organizations.