Friday, 5 July 2019

Interview: Why I invented solar cooker as alternative to burning wood in stoves —C/River-born engineer

Solar Cooker 
5 July 2019 

There are those times that the heat from the sun is so intense and you hear people say jokingly 'this sun can boil egg o'. Well to those who said it, it was a joke but for me, it became a motivation and I took to research... I considered solar energy as an alternative to burning wood in stoves for cooking by designing and constructing a Nigerian made solar cooker (all materials sourced locally) which utilizes the energy from the sun to cook food. 
—Bassy Edem 

NegroidHaven : What is a Solar Cooker? 
BE: A solar cooker is a device designed to convert energy from the sun for domestic cooking. The energy from the sun replaces your firewood, kerosene or even gas and as you know the sun is a free gift from the Almighty, so you don't spend money buying it each time you want to cook.

NegroidHaven: What is the motivation for the Solar Cooker?
BE: There are those times that the heat from the sun is so intense and you hear people say jokingly 'this sun can boil egg o'. Well to those who said it, it was a joke but for me, it became a motivation and I took to research. But beyond that, the greater motivation for me, especially as one who has been in the development sector for quite a good number of years, is the fact that in Nigeria one of the major energy consuming sectors is cooking. The energy needed for cooking is mostly supplied by firewood in rural areas. Firewood is usually burned in inefficient stove and household members mostly women and children go by foot up to 4-6km to get firewood, which is usually done 2 or 3 times a week taking away their useful time for some other things. And guess what? This problem affects one-third population of our dear country - Nigeria. So in the search for cooking energy, they usually encounter some challenges such as sexual exploitation (sexual and gender-based violence), injuries, snake/dangerous insert bites, harassment, assault or abduction when collecting firewood in insecure and unsafe areas. More so, the use of firewood as a primary fuel for cooking leads to serious environmental problems such as deforestation and health risk relating to inhalation of poisonous fumes. A documented report by Danish Refugee Council (DRC), October 2018 for IDP camps in Bama LGA in Borno State shows that some household spends as much as 4,500 - 9,000 Naira per month on purchasing charcoal/firewood which is technically not affordable considering their means of livelihood and income. In solving this problem I considered solar energy as an alternative to burning wood in stoves for cooking by designing and constructing a Nigerian made solar cooker (all materials sourced locally) which utilizes the energy from the sun to cook food. So this will help reduce all the challenges I have mentioned above.

NegroidHaven: What is the technology of the Solar Cooker?
BE: The technology behind this is that the cookers are made of very high sun reflective material which attracts the energy from the sun and concentrates the energy at a particular angle onto the solar pot. The pot is enclosed in a heat trap. The heat trap ensures that the energy that comes in does not escape easily which helps in cooking the food while the pot stand suspends the pot a little above the cooker ground level - this ensures that the heated air is evenly distributed around the pot. Now the solar pot is not your usual silver color pot, you can see that the pot is a bit thin in terms of the thickness and is black in color. This feature enhances energy absorption.  So the basic principle used in this technology is that of reflection and absorption.

So far, I and my team have been able to develop two types of solar cookers - the panel solar cooker and the box solar cooker. The panel solar cooker just as the name imply is like a panel with the reflective material covered everywhere. The complete package comes with a solar pot, pot stand, and a heat trap.
The box solar cooker takes the shape of a box (oven-like), the upper flap is covered with the reflective material and inside the box is a thermocool with the reflective material. The complete package comes with a solar pot.

I must say that solar cooker is not a fast cooking device and is not also to totally face-out the conventional method of cooking but is only an alternative way of cooking to reduce the myriad of challenges I previously outlined. This is so because there are days you will not or may not have sunlight especially down South during the wet season but up North out of 12 months in a year, they have about 7-8 months of the dry season which is very good for the solar cooker.

NegroidHaven: How to cook with the solar cooker? 
BE: All you need is a sunny day. Set up your solar cooker in an open space just outside your house devoid of shade or obstruction from direct sunlight. 
Ensure that you put your entire recipe in your pot and close the pot lid tight before placing it on the solar cooker. This is to reduce the frequency at which you open up the heat trap to avoid heat escape.  While cooking with the solar cooker you must reduce the quantity of water you use compared to your conventional cooking method. So if 2 cups of water cook 2 cups of rice comfortable in your conventional cooking method then in solar cooker you will have to use one and a half cup of water for the 2 cups of rice. Basically, your solar cooking skills improve as you begin to experience solar cooking.

The solar cooker at the sun heat of between 35-40 degrees can cook a pot of rice, noodles, boiled egg, potatoes, etc within 2 hours with little or no adjustment of the reflective angle towards the sun ray.  The solar cooker can also be used for pasteurization of water for safe drinking, preservation of certain foodstuff at a certain temperature, etc. 

NegroidHaven: What are the advantages of the Solar Cooker? 
BE :i)  This innovation saves the cost of firewood, kerosene, charcoal, and gas. 
ii) It reduces risk and impact of climate change –carbon emission from cooking, deforestation, and desertification arising from the demand for firewood and charcoal for domestic cooking.
iii) It is safe, healthy and convenient – reduces health challenges such as respiratory/eye issues associated with inhalation of smoke. You can use your cooking time to do other things too as you do not need to be watching over your food in order not to get burnt. Food can never get burnt on the solar cooker.
iv) It reduces other social challenges women and children faced when going out to fetch firewood in the forest.
v)  It also reduces hunger among the most vulnerable that do not have money for firewood or charcoal that would have slept hunger. 

The only primary disadvantage of the solar cooker is that there must be sun and it adds additional 1hour to your conventional cooking time.

So looking at this innovation from the global perspective, we are contributing to put Nigeria one step forward towards achieving Sustainable Development Goal 13 – Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts, SDG 7 – Sustainable energy for all, SDG 2 - End Hunger, SDG 3 – Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages and SDG 15 – Protect environment and biodiversity. I am glad that we are the first in Nigeria to roll this out.

Profile of Bassy Edem
Bassy Edem encircled in red

My name is Bassy Edem, a Nigerian. I'm a Cross River University of Technology graduate of Electrical and Electronic Engineering. I am a self-motivated and well-rounded individual. My deep passion to serve humanity and better our society led me to the development sector where I have over 7 years of experience working to develop communities and impacting positively on humanity especially on women, children, and youth. I am a lover of environment and nature and this has transformed me to a strong advocate for the protection of the environment. I have also consulted for many non-governmental organizations on various focus areas such as peace-building, energy, and climate change, gender-based violence, informal (slum) settlement and sustainable businesses for youths, good governance, and social media advocacy, leadership, etc. In the wake of introduction of prepared meter and increase in electricity tariff by Federal Government and the public outcry by consumers in 2015, I also designed and constructed an Intelligent Energy Saving System (IESS) to help reduce the problem of electrical energy wastage in buildings through energy conservation thereby reducing electric power consumption cost on consumers as well as freeing up unused electrical energy and making same available for distribution to other consumers who may need it at that particular time.

I am a member of the Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE), International Project Management Professionals (IPMP) certified Project Manager and Procurement Specialist. My leadership persona afforded me the opportunity to become a fellow of the Global Alliance for Youth Leaders (GAYL).

Currently, I am the Energy and Environment lead working with GREENCODE and a consultant to HipCity Innovation Center working to improve access to safe energy. I'm the Project Officer for Edem Children Foundation (ECF) and I also hold the position of a State Secretary, Civil Society Coalition on Sustainable Development Goals – Cross River State.

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