While the Global Sun Oven is designed for families of up to eight people, the Villager is designed to feed large groups of people, or to cook for a business. The Villager can bake several hundred loaves of bread a day or cook 1200 meal portions. The Villager has a built-in propane backup so that it can be used rain or shine, day or night. People use it across the world as their cooking energy source for bakeries, orphanages, schools, and refugee programs.
Currently, 99% of the Villager Sun Ovens are deployed in developing countries, mostly where the people traditionally cook with wood, charcoal or animal dung. Cooking over a traditional "three-stone" cooking fire, the native women inhale the smoke from the equivalent of 2 - 3 packs of cigarettes a day. Their babies, usually strapped to their bodies, are also subjected to this pollution. More than 1.5 million African children under 5 die from respiratory diseases each year. Additionally, open fires are dangerous for children, who frequently fall into them.
Over 2 billion people in the world use wood or charcoal (made from wood) for cooking. 52% of trees cut in the world each year are burned for fuel, and 80% of that is for cooking. The black carbon soot generated from cooking fires also contributes to the famous brown cloud over Asia and deposits black soot in Arctic ice, reducing the ability of the ice to reflect the sun's rays back into space.
The Villager Sun Oven, which cooks with solar energy instead of using physical fuel, saves up to 150 tons of wood a year and keeps women and children from inhaling the smoke and pollution from cooking fires. The VSO also lasts for decades and provides local women a way to make a living.
I spoke with Paul Munsen, the President of Sun Ovens International, to ask about the potential for using the Villager Sun Oven in the United States. According to Mr. Munsen, there are only 2 Villagers that have been sold in the US - one to a caterer in Los Angeles, and one to a school in Miami.
Why, I wondered, are there so few here in the US? There are many areas with plentiful sunshine, and the Villager would be a fun visual attraction, a green twist on bakeries or restaurants, a way to keep the bakery cool in the summer, and a way to cut fuel and air conditioning bills. Even the cost, $10,500 (+ S&H), might not be a serious obstacle to a bakery or institution. Especially if the owner knew about Peak Oil!
The obstacle, according to Mr. Munsen, is local health departments. Although the Villager cooks food and bakes bread just as thoroughly as any other method, Health Department forms are not designed to account for technologies like the Sun Oven. The inspectors just don't have a way to document it or evaluate it. Additionally, many don't seem to get the concept of cooking with solar energy. So it becomes easier for the health department to refuse a permit than for them to work with the potential owner.
Perhaps that will change. According to the Mr. Munsen, sales of the Global Sun Oven are up 120% in 2007 and over 80% in 2008. Awareness of the benefits of solar cooking is increasing, both because of the interest in living a green lifestyle and the growing commitment to prepare for Peak Oil. Perhaps we'll see a tipping point soon where getting a permit for a Villager Sun Oven is no more difficult than that for a liquor license. It might help if your city already had a high-profile climate change commitment or post-carbon resolution ;).
Of course, as with anything, the Villager has some drawbacks. It weighs close to 1000 pounds, so it's large and heavy. It comes on a trailer that can be moved and adjusted to face the sun. Also, it's a valuable piece of equipment, so it should be placed in a secure location each night. And as with any Sun Oven, if the clouds come out, you'll have to cook with a backup system, which fortunately is built right in to the Villager.
Even at this cost (which may seem high, but is relatively low when amortized over the number of meals cooked per year), I think that these industrial-sized solar cookers could be a wonderful way to prevent urban deforestation, a great way to feed large groups of people in the event of an extended blackout, and an excellent way to meet the cooking needs of citizens who don't already own their own Sun Oven or EPA-efficient woodstove. And a FABULOUS post-peak business opportunity!
Take a look at the Villager Sun Oven and see if it fits in with your Peak Oil community preparation plan....