By Dr Richard Sieff (Gamos Ltd, MECS)
The ‘Solar Lunch’ is a regular fixture at the S-@ccess Conference held at the University of the Balearic Islands (Spain), which sees the conference meal prepared using solar cooking technologies such as PV connected AC appliances and parabolic cookstoves. At 4th edition of the conference (April 26-28), MECS prepared the chicken curry recipe from the MECS Nepal eCookbook (p.49) using a 6 litre EPC. The EPC was connected to a 980 Wp solar PV panel with integrated storage and datalogger from the Spanish company, ARCA Power: a setup that proved ideal for dissemination of MECS research and electric cooking.
Why monitored eCooking demonstrations are so effective
The setup was highly effective as participants could see for themselves the benefits of EPCs and why MECS considers the appliance the ‘front running candidate’ for off-grid systems – a point highlighted during the opening day MECS presentation at the conference. In particular, the eCooking demonstration enabled participants to:
- see that EPCs are not difficult to use and that different modes of cooking, such as frying, are possible.
- appreciate how EPCs do not require monitoring and enable multi-tasking opportunities.
- note from the datalogger the power consumed/battery draw (including real time data) and how little energy is required to cook.
- observe from the datalogger the on/off power cycles during pressurised cooking that contribute to the EPC’s very high efficiency.
- better understand the differences between EPCs and traditional stovetop pressure cookers, particularly the advanced safety features of the EPC which can help address negative perceptions about cooking with pressure.
And arguably most important from a cook’s perspective:
- TASTE that an EPC can cook staple dishes just as well, if not better, than traditional fuels/appliances.
The cooking demonstration proved highly effective at capturing an audience, with interest engaged through seeing the EPC in action (for many attendees, this was their first time) and eating delicious food. Away from the general conference hustle and bustle and rushed corridor exchanges, the setup created a more relaxed atmosphere where participants tended to spend more time than they might otherwise, and encouraged questions. Sometimes questions were directly invoked by the demonstration. One participant expressed surprise the onions for the curry were being fried using a stainless steel spatula, leading to an explanation of how the utensil used depended on the material of the EPC’s inner pot – a potential factor for procurement. In turn, this more captive audience enabled the opportunities for off-grid eCooking highlighted by MECS research to be explained in more detail. For instance, the $200 Solar Home System eCooking using MECS tested direct current (DC) EPCs which has been developed by MECS partner, Kachione LLC in Malawi.
eCookbooks: showcasing eCooking’s compatibility with a range of cooking contexts
The effectiveness of the cooking demonstration was considerably strengthened by having the MECS country eCookbooks available at the stand for participants to browse and take away. Designed to present complex findings around energy and cooking in a digestible and accessible way, the quality of the eCookbook publications impressed and were particularly effective for informing participants that the benefits of eCooking applied to a wide range of cooking contexts and were not limited to particular locations or demographics. Examples of frequently asked questions where the eCookbook could be used as a reference point include:
- This tastes great, can you also cook ugali, matoke, etc on it?
- How much energy does it take to cook [a staple dish from my country]?
- Can I get this type of appliance in my country?
- Is this brand the only EPC in the market?
- How much does the appliance cost?
- Where can I get the recipe for…?
- Which countries has MECS carried out research in?
- Are these books available online? (The answer, ‘yes’ – Link).
Conclusion: the key to effective dissemination
Participating at the solar lunch at the S-@ccess conference demonstrated a highly effective dissemination approach which could be used to promote MECS research at other events. The approach had three key components:
- An eCooking demonstration of tasty food. Participants were encouraged to come to the stand because the food looked and tasted good. It is therefore important to practise any recipes ahead of a demonstration.
- Energy monitor. Monitors should ideally be able to produce clear simple outputs on energy use (see ARCA example) that can be easily understood by conference attendees with a range of technical backgrounds.
- MECS eCookbooks. Having multiple copies of each eCookbook encouraged browsing and more time spent at the MECS stand and can also occupy people while you may be speaking to someone else. The quality of the eCookbook publications impressed and can be taken away by attendees as a lasting reminder of MECS research and the opportunities for eCooking in multiple contexts.
Overall, attendees experiencing the benefits of eCooking at first hand, helped reinforce MECS’s call for action at the conference, namely that: eCooking is a value-added proposition that increases the viability of mini-grids and needs to be integrated into electricity access planning to take full advantage of this win-win relationship.
Featured Image: MECS Programme and ARCA teams demonstrating solar powered EPC cooking at the ‘International Conference on Solar Technologies & Hybrid Mini Grids to Improve Energy Access’. Image Credit: ARCA, 2023.