Reyna Díaz cooks beans, chicken, pork and desserts in her solar cooker, which she installs in the open patio of her house, in a poor neighborhood on the outskirts of this southwestern municipality of Mexico.
“My family like how they look. I use it almost daily, it has benefited me a lot, ”Díaz told IPS, as he mixed the ingredients of cochinita pibil (a traditional pork dish marinated with spices and achiote, a natural coloring), which he then placed on the aluminum sheets of the oven. around the pot, reflecting radiation that heats the receptacle.
Before receiving this cooker or solar cooker in March, this atole (traditional Mexican hot drink made from corn or wheat dough) vendor and solo head of a household with a son and daughter, disbelieved in the possibility of cooking with the sun's rays.
“I didn't know it was possible, I wondered if the food was going to be cooked. Most admirable thing, ”said this resident of the popular Vicente Guerrero neighborhood, in Villa de Zaachila, this municipality with about 43,000 inhabitants, located in the state of Oaxaca, about 475 kilometers south of Mexico City.
The inhabitants of Vicente Guerrero are united by poverty, with houses that have electricity and drinking water and where women who alternate their informal jobs with taking care of their families.
Before, Díaz cooked with firewood and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), whose consumption has now been limited and lasts longer. "I have saved a lot," he assured.
Residents of this neighborhood, where there are many houses made of tin sheets and streets without paving and without sewers, received training on cooking, its use and its benefits, and when they obtained it, they became its promoters. They also organize demonstrations in their homes to exchange recipes, taste their dishes and spread the positive changes that the devices have brought.
Solar cookers are devices that allow food to be prepared with radiation as an energy source, since they work like a greenhouse that, by concentrating the heat, cook the food. They have a hole or pot surrounded by flaps, capturing solar radiation with its parabolic shape and reflecting it towards the container with the food.
Its advantages include being another alternative for rural cooking, because it allows cooking without the need for electricity or solid or fossil fuels; pasteurize water to make it drinkable; avoid logging and contamination; breathing smoke from the stove and using renewable energy.
But these stoves do not work on rainy or cloudy days, the cooking process is long, compared to traditional stoves, and they have to be used outdoors.
In Mexico, a country with 130 million inhabitants, some 19 million use solid fuels for cooking, a habit that caused some 15,000 premature deaths in 2016 due to the ingestion of harmful particles, according to data from the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (Inegi).
The main material consumed by 79 percent of those households is LPG, followed by firewood or charcoal (11 percent) and natural gas (seven percent).
In Oaxaca, gas and firewood each represent 49 percent of family consumption, while the rest falls on other fuels.
Of the more than four million inhabitants of the state, 70 percent lived in poverty in 2016 and almost 27 percent suffered extreme poverty, according to Inegi. 26 percent suffered from lack of quality and space in the home and 62 percent, due to access to basic services.
Likewise, it appears among the three Mexican states with the highest energy poverty, when a household spends more than 10 percent of its income on the purchase of energy supplies.
A slow cooked process
The solar cooker can combat some of those precariousness.
In 2004, the first attempts to distribute them began in Oaxaca. In 2008, activists created the “Solar Energy for Mobile Food Stands in Mexico” initiative, sponsored by three Swiss institutions: the city of Geneva, the SolarSpar cooperative and the non-governmental GloboSol.
This is how Cocina Solar México was born in 2009, a group dedicated to the exploitation and use of solar energy in cooking and food processes. With the support of the non-governmental Solar Household Energy (SHE), based in Washington, a prototype was built, inexpensive and made of lightweight materials.
In 2016, SHE started a pilot project in indigenous communities to assess the degree of adoption.
“I was learning with the ladies. It was difficult, we had to break stone, it was totally unknown. Now there is more openness of people, because there is more information about the solar potential. In rural areas, people understand it more, ”Lorena Harp, the head of the initiative, told IPS.
The four-liter pot with a shelf life of five to 10 years costs about $ 25, of which SHE provides half. In 10 communities it has delivered about 200 of these stoves.
For Harp, it is a gender issue, because "women are empowered, they have gained respect in their families."
Despite its potential, Oaxaca does not take advantage of its optimal solar radiation. As of last June, the state appears among the 10 Mexican states with the least distributed (decentralized) generation, less than 500 kilowatts, connected to the national electricity grid, according to data from the government's Energy Regulatory Commission (CRE).
In the first semester, Oaxaca had a photovoltaic installed capacity of 6.69 megawatts with 747 interconnection contracts, in a country where distributed generation is only photovoltaic.
This Latin American country registered 17,767 contracts for almost 125 megawatts (Mw), almost the same volume as in the same period of 2018 - when they totaled 35,661 for 233.56 Mw, although with more permits. Since 2007, CRE has registered 112,660 contracts for 817.85 MW of solar power.
For Luís Calderón, president of the Oaxaca Energy Cluster, the evolution has been positive in a short time.
But “there is a lack of accurate and reliable information and certainty about the savings that are achieved with distributed generation, which is generated for self-consumption and supply of the remainder to the grid. Furthermore, there is no state policy ”, the also member of the National Solar Energy Association explained to IPS.
In 2018, Mexico registered a total installed capacity of 70,000 MW, three percent more than the previous year. Gas-fired combined cycle plants contributed 36 percent, conventional thermal, 17 percent; hydroelectric, 18 percent; coal, almost eight percent; wind, almost seven percent, and solar photovoltaic only 2.6 percent.
But the government of the leftist Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who took office in December, promotes fossil exploitation and slows down renewable expansion.
In this context, it will modify the Entrepreneurial Ecocredit initiative, directed by the government Trust for the Savings of Electric Energy to micro, small and medium-sized companies for the acquisition of efficient appliances. The measures include eliminating the 14 percent subsidy and a limit of about $ 20,000 in funding, but the government has yet to define its future.
In addition, the plan of the government of Oaxaca, to create two energy cooperatives for agricultural irrigation, still does not have the 1.75 million dollars of resources required for two solar plants of 500 kilowatts each in the municipality of San Pablo Huixtepec, to serve 1,200 farmers in 35 irrigation units.
Solar cooks do not look back, in an ideal neighborhood to deploy solar panels and water heaters. “We are going to continue using it, we already saw that it works. We are going to promote it, ”said Díaz, while checking that his stew did not burn.
The SHE evaluation found good adoption and impact among users, as almost half reduced the use of polluting stoves by more than 50 percent. Some used the pot up to six times a week, it saved them time, and it has proven to be a high-quality, powerful, durable, and affordable cookware.
For Harp, it requires partners and government support. “There is much to do, there are many shortcomings. Something is missing to generate massive use, perhaps a comprehensive policy ”, he analyzed.
By Emilio Godoy
Edition: Estrella Gutiérrez