If there’s one technology preppers love, it’s solar panels. They’re an essential piece of equipment if you’re planning on living off the grid, and they’re getting cheaper and more efficient every year. But while they’re an excellent choice for running lights and electronics, they tend to fall short when it comes to heating (especially cooking).
That’s because solar panels only convert roughly 15% of the sun’s energy into electricity, and there are additional losses when that electricity is converted back into heat. Heating always requires way more energy than electronics, so that means you’re either going to need more solar panels or find an additional source of energy.
On the other hand, you could also use the sun’s energy to cook your food directly. Solar ovens can be pretty cool, but they have the same problem as solar panels. Obviously, they don’t work when the sun isn’t shining. And unlike solar panels, there aren’t any practical ways to store that energy for night time use.
Well, that may not be a problem for very much longer. There’s a new solar stove called the GoSun Grill, which recently met its funding goals on kickstarter. It’s capable of cooking at night or in inclement weather, and only needs about 2 hours of sunlight to heat up. It’s large enough to cook for several people, and is capable of steaming, roasting, and baking, at anywhere between 300-400 degrees Fahrenheit.
So how does it pull this off? The same way your solar panels do it; by storing the sun’s energy in a battery.
Technically this isn’t a new idea. There are numerous ways to store the suns heat (many of which you can build yourself), and researchers have been working on this problem for a long time. They’ve been trying to deliver solar ovens to the third world for decades, not only to improve the quality of life for the people who live there but to prevent deforestation. It’s never really caught on because traditional solar cookers only work when the sun is out, and in most cultures, cooking is done in the early morning or in the evening. As for solar cookers that are capable of storing heat, they’re often quite bulky or require materials that need replacing from time to time.
But the GoSun appears to have overcome those boundaries. It works like many other solar storage methods but is significantly more convenient. Their “battery” for lack of a better word, is actually a type of wax, though they’ve yet to divulge its ingredients to prevent copycat manufacturers. All they’ve said is that it’s organic, and is encased in an aluminum shell, which altogether weighs about 4lbs. Just like a traditional solar stove, there is a mirror which concentrates the sun’s heat, but rather than using it to cook your food, it heats up the battery.
That battery is where you eventually place your food. Once it’s fully charged, it can contain the energy throughout the day. Once it touches food though, it starts to emit the heat. There is no electricity or electronic components that control it, so there’s nothing that can malfunction for the most part.
So how much energy can this battery store? Supposedly it’s about 300 watt-hours. To put that in perspective, a microwave uses about 1500 watts, so it would be like cooking something in the microwave for 12 minutes. Although, since electric devices are not as efficient as direct heat, it could be more like 20 minutes. It’s not enough to make Thanksgiving dinner, but it’s enough to cook most dishes.
Basically, this isn’t going to replace your gas or electric stove anytime soon, but I could see this being a handy tool for going off the grid, or just cutting your heating bill a little bit. You could probably cook one big meal for the family every day for most of the year. After a while, that’s going to add up to some excellent savings.