The sun is amazing. It provides the energy for plants to grow. It provides a comfortable temperature for life on earth. It provides the energy to heat our home and to heat our water directly with its rays, and indirectly with the wood we burn in our Shacklock 501.
Rays from the sun and the energy from plants are referred to as ‘current sunlight’ energy. This term is used in contrast with ‘ancient sunlight’ energy, which refers to fossil fuels that formed from plants that lived (and got their energy from the sun) millions of years ago. Ancient sunlight energy includes oil, coal and natural gas.
Current sunlight includes our daily sunshine along with firewood, food, animal fodder, methane from anaerobic decomposition, etc. Current refers to a human time scale while ancient refers to a geological time scale. Current sunlight energy is generally considered renewable while ancient sunlight is non-renewable.
At our home in Castlecliff, on occasion, the sun also cooks our tea. I consider the solar cooker I bought in India six years ago (for about $NZ 120) one of my most valuable possessions. It traveled from India to the States with me, and from the States to here. (It was manufactured in Thailand.) By my calculations, it has nearly circumnavigated the globe.
Over the last half-decade, we have cooked nearly everything on our solar cooker: potatoes, kumara, pumpkin, rice, pasta, veges, cheese burgers, bacon, apple crumble, pizza, banana cake, sausages, and on one occasion, a leg of goat.
True story: One Sunday afternoon last October a goat leg was hung from our front door knob in a plastic shopping bag. We were out the back at the time, but we had no idea who left it. I asked our neighbours if they saw anyone drop by. One of them said, “A green van pulled up and a guy said, ‘Is this where Nelson lives?’.” That was the only clue we had until about six weeks later when a friend of a friend said to me at the Saturday market, “How’d you like the goat?”
Truth be told, it was good, even though we had never cooked goat before. Our only experience with goats before that was composting one that we found at the Castlecliff beach next to the swimming area. But that is another story. We asked around for advice on cooking goat and the best we got was “slowly.” As it turned out, four hours in a roasting pan on the solar cooker with olive oil, garlic, rosemary, spuds, onions and carrots was about perfect. Highly recommended.
Our solar cooker also serves as a valuable educational tool. While it is unrealistic to expect very many families in Wanganui to take up solar cooking, by dramatically demonstrating the power of the sun in this way, it opens up conversations about other uses of solar power like space heating, water heating, and electricity generation.
Children are especially interested in the solar cooker when it is full of sausages for them to eat. Last year I was able to visit some Wanganui schools for a Solar Sausage Sizzle with funding provided through the Sustainable Whanganui Trust’s Sustainable Schools Programme funded by the Wanganui District Council.
This year I have a limited amount of funding to do the same, so I would like to offer a contest for two primary classrooms and one intermediate classroom. Children should draw a picture of a solar home and label the important bits. The three winning entries will receive a lunchtime sausage sizzle during term 4. Post entries to The ECO School, 10 Arawa Place, Castlecliff, 4501. Entries close 29th October.