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Solar Cookers International demo sun-powered ovens

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Let the sunshine in.

Solar cookers have been around since the 1970s, yet they have never quite caught on in the modern home.

Solar Cookers International decided that people ought to see the cookers in action Saturday as it held a demonstration cooking corn, cookies and other treats in five free-standing solar ovens.

The demonstration took place in front of sageHaus, a home improvement store specializing in energy-efficient technology in Fair Oaks, and featured a raffle with prizes such as biodegradable garbage bags and energy-conserving light bulbs.

“We have to reserve our natural resources,” owner Steven Adair, 44, said.

Doran Smout, 69, has been in the business of making solar ovens since the late ’70s and made his first out of plywood and cardboard. The day of the demonstration he wore a red shirt with the Solar Cookers International symbol and a specially designed pith helmet that turned a fan on when sun hit the tiny solar panel atop the hat.

“I have just been absolutely amazed with this whole thing,” Smout said. “Every time I’m able to cook a meal, I’m in awe in of what a wonderful gift it is. It’s a spiritual experience, in a way.”

The ovens were constructed with no more than reflective material (usually aluminum), a cardboard shell, a means of trapping the sun’s rays (usually a special oven bag or even a sheet of glass), and a metal pot to cook the food (usually black to keep the heat in).

The solar cooker’s crude appearance was misleading only at first. Any doubt of its power was dispelled with a look at the temperature gauge inside the cooker. Many of them have no problem heating up to 230 degrees, and some of the more advanced models can reach up to 275.

“About a year ago, we used this to cook something,” Smout said, speaking about the more powerful oven. “We just had it sitting there with water in it, just to demonstrate. We couldn’t keep the water in it! It kept boiling out!”

One of the aims of Solar Cookers International is to be able to furnish African villages with sun-powered ovens to avoid the destruction of otherwise usable wood.

“People like rice,” sageHaus employee Glenn Wantz said. “It takes an hour to cook on the stove. It’s going to heat up your house, then you’re going to turn the air on to condition that air. You have a cooker, you can put the rice out in the sun and there’s no energy loss. It’s a pure, simple cook.”

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