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A Global Learning Community: Insulated Solar Electric Cooker (ISEC)

12th November 2021

By Olivia Hansel and Martin Osei (California Polytechnic State University).

In 2015 California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly) students working with Dr. Pete Schwartz created the technology Insulated Solar Electric Cooker (ISEC). The ISEC uses solar energy through a 100W solar panel as its main source of energy. Dr. Schwartz and researchers noticed a declining trend in the price of solar panels and decided to base the technology around a low wattage solar panel to keep it accessible to those who need it most (Osei et al., 2020). A heavily insulated chamber is coupled with the 100W solar panel to give the ISEC the ability to cook 5 kg of food per day (Osei et al., 2020).

Figure 1. An illustration of the Insulated Solar Electric Cooker or ISEC. From: Phase change thermal storage: Cooking with more power and versatility (Osei et al., 2020).

Instead of mass producing ISECs in a central location, the ISEC team has taken an alternative approach. Funding from Modern Energy Cooking Services (MECS) is distributed by the ISEC team to local enterprises in developing countries to construct and disseminate ISECs. ISECs are currently being built in: India, Ghana, Togo, Sierra Leone, Cameroon, South Africa, and Jamaica. We believe there are many advantages to building ISECs in the country of dissemination with local enterprises. One major advantage being the technology can be adapted to local needs in real time of construction. Collaboration is at the heart of the ISEC ethos. Instead of design rigidity, local enterprises are heavily encouraged to use their funding to experiment with and adapt the technology to what is needed in their communities. The core of the technology stays the same, the 100W solar panel attached to an insulated cookpot, but other aspects of this technology are currently being experimented with in partnering countries.

Figure 2. A world map highlighting countries where ISECs are currently being built and disseminated.

The best example of our collaborative ethos is the origin story of the Global Learning Community. In March of 2020 Dr. Schwartz was approached by an engineer in India who had seen the ISEC online. The individual knew this technology was promising for India and wanted to start working with the ISEC team. March of 2020 was the beginning stages of the Covid 19 pandemic and was met with an immediate switch to online learning. Since all learning had been shifted to online, Dr. Schwartz added them to his class where groups of students were working with the ISEC technology. Once we started to utilize Zoom as a global learning platform, we started to incorporate all of the global collaborators and local enterprises into Cal Poly classes and meetings pertaining to ISEC.

Now, 18 months later, we have weekly meetings with the Global Learning Community where 7 different countries are represented. In subsequent blog posts we will discuss the process by which the ISEC team distributes information to the Global Learning community and what knowledge has been gained from a collaborative design process.

ISECs From Around the World

  • ISECs in Cameroon
ISECs at California Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo.
  • ISECs in Ghana
  • ISECs in Jamaica


Osei, M., Staveland, O., McGowan, S., Unger, J. B., Christler, N. R., Weeman, M., Strutz, M. E., Walker, M., Maun, M. B., Dunning, N. C., Bekheit, M. M., Abraham, J. C. P., Cox, L., Gius, G., Hansel, O., Amoafo, E. O., Hugo, N., & Schwartz, P. (2021). Phase change thermal storage: Cooking with more power and versatility. Solar Energy, 220, 1065–1073.

Opportunity: Women in Modern Energy Cooking (WMEC) initiative launched