Interview with Solar Cookers International’s Pat McArdle

Imageby Manal Farah, Jonathan Fredrickson, & Amy Gorman

In this month’s feature story we are highlighting one of the original members of the TIDES community, Pat McArdle of Solar Cookers International (SCI).   This interview covers SCI’s history, its accomplishments, its current activities, and its relationship with TIDES, which is based at the Center for Technology and National Security Policy at the National Defense University.

HISTORY OF SOLAR COOKERS INTERNATIONAL

Founded in 1988 in Sacramento, California, SCI was established by “individuals who solar cooked themselves and who wanted to share this technology with people in sun-rich countries in the developing world who were running out of wood to burn,” said Pat.  Soon after the founding of SCI, it was clear that the growing refugee populations in Africa needed solar cookers to reduce the amount of wood collected by women and children, who were walking miles from their desert camps to find trees to cut down.  SCI had originally promoted the box cooker, a model that is still used today, however in the early 1990s they helped develop a smaller, more portable model, the CooKit for use by refugees.

In the mid-1990s SCI received a UN grant to introduce the CooKit into refugee camps in Kenya. SCI also established an East Africa office in Nairobi to promote the commercialization of this technology.  Although the SCI/EA office was closed in 2012, former SCI employees have established non-profit solar cooking organizations in Kenya, which SCI supports. Julie Green SCI’s director continues to expand the reach and influence of SCI overseas.

Ms. McArdle noted that “SCI does not advocate the use of solar cookers as a stand-alone technology, but rather as part of an integrated system in which solar cookers are used whenever it’s sunny; fuel efficient biomass stoves are used at night and on cloudy days; and retained heat baskets are used to increase the efficiency of both cooking devices.” 

Although direct support by SCI for overseas projects has been reduced in recent years due to budget cuts, SCI’s on-line list of independently funded international solar cooker projects is constantly expanding.  On SCI’s Wikipedia page there are links to hundreds of projects, individuals and organizations as well as information on solar cooking activities in almost every country in the world.  The open source designs and plans available on SCI’s wiki pages, offer a valuable resource for anyone who wants to start a project, build solar cookers or design their own.

SOLAR COOKERS INTERNATIONAL AND TIDES

SCI continues its partnership with TIDES, a relationship that began soon after the TIDES project was started in 2007.   McArdle has organized integrated/solar cooking demonstrations at TIDES every year since its founding.  Her goal has always been to display the energy saving potential of the integrated cooking method.  McArdle and Dr. Wells’ wife, Linda, demonstrated this potential at the first TIDES demo by cooking multiple pots of chicken, rice and beans in the center courtyard of the Pentagon, using the three technologies and serving all of the dishes piping hot to a skeptical but surprised group of TIDES participants.  Solar Cookers International’s emphasis on sustainable solutions, through an integrated cooking approach, is a clear fit with the STAR-TIDES philosophy.

As a result of SCI’s involvement with TIDES demonstrations, SOUTHCOM invited McArdle to travel to Honduras and Guyana to participate in civil defense exercises.  McArdle has also provided Dr. Wells (the founder of TIDES) with input for his research including a 2009 study on solar cooking technology in Afghanistan.  For more information, check out McArdle’s video, Solar Cooking in Afghanistan and her project analysis of solar cookers in Afghanistan.

LOW COST V. HIGH COST TECHNOLOGIES: WHAT DEFINES “SUSTAINABLE SOLUTIONS?”

There are new challenges to TIDES’ relationship with SCI.  TIDES began as an information sharing project focused on low-cost, simple technologies for sustainable development and emergency support “suited to their worlds, not ours.”  SCI and its mission to promote the integrated cooking method clearly fit into this mission set.  Over the last few years, TIDES’ philosophy of radical inclusion has welcomed open collaboration with many more technologies and ideas that provide a variety of solutions for sustainable development and emergency support.  Many of these technologies have been on a much larger scale, more complex and far more expensive than the simple technologies displayed in earlier TIDES demonstrations. 

The connection with SCI remains firm as TIDES continues working on the best way to showcase SCI’s basic products and other similar low cost solutions along with the higher end technologies that are now part of the annual TIDES demonstrations.  Striking the right balance and promoting synergy among all of these technologies is a critical issue for the STAR-TIDES Network.

TIDES welcomes all feedback across the Network.  Please send your input on this issue to Amy Gorman (amy.gorman.ctr@ndu.edu)

CONCLUSION

SCI has been supporting distressed populations for over a quarter century. TIDES values SCI’s field experience and wants to continue its long-term partnership with McArdle and her colleagues at Solar Cookers International.

For more information on Solar Cookers please check out the following links:

http://www.solarcookers.org/ in the home page of Solar Cookers International

http://solarcooking.wikia.com/wiki/Solar_Cookers_International_Network_(Home) This is the Solar Cooking Archive: an indexed collection of information on solar cooking project by country; designs and plans for building solar cookers; an annotated list of individuals and organizations working around the world on solar cooking; academic papers, videos and PowerPoint presentations on solar thermal cooking technology.   

Amy Gorman is a Research Analyst Contractor for the TIDES project at the Center for Technology and National Security Policy in National Defense University (amy.gorman.ctr@ndu.edu)

Manal Farah was a TIDES Intern from Aug- Dec 2013 at the Center for Technology and National Security Policy in National Defense University

Jonathan Fredrickson is a TIDES Intern at the Center for Technology and National Security Policy in National Defense University

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