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Briefing | Cooking with energy from the sun

Published:Wednesday | April 3, 2019 | 12:00 AMDr Andre Haughton/Gleaner Writer
A field of photovoltaic solar panels providing alternative green energy

Tropical countries with mainly sunshine all year round, including Jamaica, can benefit from developing and using products that take advantage of the sunlight.

The Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica (PCJ) organised a science competition that provided an avenue through which students expressed their creativity in applied sciences to develop products that might contribute to the increased use of renewable energy sources in Jamaica.

The challenge of this year’s competition was to design and create a solar cooker, a stove or burner that uses solely solar energy to cook the food from start to finish. The products were divided into two categories or two types: a cooker that uses direct heat from the sun without any energy conversions and a cooker that converts sunlight into energy first then uses the converted energy to provide heat to cook. In Jamaica, liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), electricity and biomass (coal or firewood) are the forms of energy most frequently used in cooking.

What was the aim?

According to the PCJ, “The aim is for each team to do significant research, conceptualise an innovative design, and then source suitable materials and construct a prototype for demonstration of the solar cooker.” And that is exactly what the students who participated did. There were many cookers of different colours, shapes, sizes and methods of fully maximising the heat energy. For the basic method that traps the heat directly from the sun, most schools opted to use glass and aluminium foil, but students from Hague Primary used recycled CDs, while another school added a magnifying glass.

Other schools used regular solar panels to capture the energy and store it in a battery and then send the energy from the battery to the glass stove to the cooker.

For more information, contact the young men from Cornwall College, who came up with an exquisite concept.

Who entered the competition?

According to the PCJ, the ­competition was open to three age categories: 10-12, 13-15 and 16-19. Each team comprise a maximum of four students. Barracks Road Primary and Cornwall College were both represented at the competition. Barracks Road made a design that used the sunlight directly, while Cornwall College made one design that used direct sunlight and another that used converted energy.

Each school can enter no more than one team in each category.

What is essential to winning the competition?

Students were encouraged to place emphasis on elements that would make their products ­market ready with features that would increase the value of the product to the user.

According to the PCJ, the ­cookers will be examined based on the following criteria: ­maximum and efficient conversion of ­available sunlight to heat; ­retention of heat; a means of gauging the temperature for cooking; a means of adjusting the temperature for cooking; ­minimum intervention by the user to adjust the position of the cooker during movement of the sun; the variety of foods, liquids or meals that can be prepared using the cooker; the use of ­simple and cost-effective materials for construction and portability.

This makes sense as the ­long-term aim run must be to get these cookers into households across Jamaica and other tropical countries.

Entries will be judged based on the following: design process, design, presentation and organisation, explanation of concept, aesthetic appeal, division of labour and teamwork, innovation, originality, feasibility of implementation of product and knowledge gained from creating the product.

What’s new for renewable energy globally?

The world is gradually shifting to renewable sources of energy and is relying less on oil.

To fully benefit from this transition, countries must research and create products that can use these types of energy. Cooking is a good start, and the students who participate in this competition have learnt a lot.

The aim now should be to ­commercialise the best products and to provide the schools and students with copyrights and ­patents for their products.

The PCJ has done an excellent job to date, and this is a clear ­indication of where Jamaica should go in terms of renewable energy.

These primary schools and high schools should be linked with technical colleges that can assist them with ­improving the marketability of these ­products and creating linkages for mass production and worldwide sale.