Tuesday, August 26, 2008

solar cooker

The solar cooker is done & test driven. We roasted a dish of vegetables today, some from the garden & some from the farmers market. I got them all chopped and in the black cooking dish by noon, and they were done by 4. I put a couple tablespoons of peanut oil along with spices. It was tasty. The veggies were done, but not mushy, which was nice.

Some things I learned were about eye safety. I was doing the no-nos today without even thinking about it. Wearing sunglasses are suggested when using a solar cooker. Also, it is a good idea to turn the cooker away from the sun before you do anything with it. I got flashed a couple of times, and that's a couple of times too many.

The cooker is made with two boxes, one inside another, with crumpled newspaper for insulation. The inside is lined with foil. In the bottom is a cookie sheet that has been painted with (nontoxic) stove black. I am going to try placing the dish on an elevated rack next time & see if it makes a difference. It might make more of a difference if I was making bread, cornbread, muffins, etc.--something that would make good use of convection. But it still makes sense. Felt is glued around the top of the big box, and that is where the plastic is laid overtop. Glass is good, but we don't have any, and the plastic works.

Attached to the top is the reflector, a piece of cardboard with foil glued on it. This can be positioned to reflect heat back into the solar oven. The blocks of wood worked as a prop (also as a weight) as long as the wind wasn't blowing. Eventually the cooker was placed up against the house, and then it was a lot easier to keep the reflector positioned correctly. Eventually, though, the house was in the shade, so a piece of metal (hanger?) was placed in a corrugated hole of the reflector, and then hooked into the handle hole on the side of the box. This worked better.

So, four hour cooking time with no fossil fuels made supper. The cooker chair is now moved out to the concrete pad that used to be the garage, and I think that spot gets sun from mid-morning on. It might work as a long-term one-spot place for the cooker to be placed. Of course, once cool weather hits, we'll have the woodstove running, and we'll be cooking on that. I am determined to learn how to bake on it this year, even without an oven.

I called our local utility today to discuss why my bill doesn't seem to go down, even though we're making a lot of effort to conserve. It turns out we use 2/3 of the water we're expected to use, and our electricity use is between 5 & 10 kilowatts a day, which they consider low (that seems high to me, but I don't know). We pay around $18 a month for our water use, and another $18 for sewer/sanitary district. Although we were doing a lot of graywater, meaning our water doesn't go down the sewer, but into the incredible natural sponge under our yard, we still get charged for whatever water we use. Seems like a way for them to make a buck to me.

So, it turns out that our bill was estimated way high, and when they actually read the meter, I had already paid for more than what we were using, and so got a credit. Then my next bill was for two months worth of use. I guess that is why it seemed so high, and thanks to the helpful guy at energy services, I understood what all happened with that. He also informed me that I pay $12.50 each month for the privilege of having natural gas service (they don't provide natural gas). Our bill has only been around $25 the last couple of months (hot water heater & stove top are our only gas appliances currently turned on). Our local utility is handing out a rebate for electric water heaters, making them essentially free. The stove top is not appealing enough to pay $150 a year for the privilege of using it. A hot plate in the kitchen and a lot of extra storage space is quite appealing. We'll have to think about it.

The only other natural gas consideration in our house is our furnace. I would feel more comfortable going a whole winter with our woodstove before I would cheer on quitting the gas hook up for good. But it seems like a good idea for right now. Solar hot water makes sense also, of course. It's a little harder in areas with cold winters, but still doable. Lots to think about trying to unentangle ourselves from all this blech we don't agree with.

Well, the child is having a post-park day meltdown, so off I go!


1 comment:

Tracy said...

If you're anything like me, you are going to have great fun with your solar oven.

I don't have an oven, but have been using a solar funnel I made about a month and a half ago.

So far we have made soup, stew, chili, chicken, cake and bread. They are amazingly efficient, and you will find adding more reflectors to your box will cook things faster.

The chicken we have cooked (3 times now) was finished within 2 hours, but the great thing is that even if you let it keep cooking all day it does not dry out.

Anyway, great job and have fun.