This project aims to raise awareness about the viability and benefits of solar parabolic cookstoves via practical demonstration by street food vendors
The province of Jujuy lies in the Altiplano, a mostly arid plateau 3,500m above sea level in the central Andes. Jujuy’s solar radiation indices are very high, with a regional average of 220 sunny days per year, peaking at 320 days in the higher areas. Consequently, solar cookstoves have great technical and economic potential in the region. Most of the population uses wood or charcoal as cooking fuel. The region suffers from severe desertification, with firewood becoming scarce and prices for conventional fossil-based fuels increasing. The use of firewood for cooking also causes health problems due to indoor air pollution. Despite these drivers, clean cookstoves and solar cooking face considerable cultural barriers. Cooking with firewood is, to some, an ancestral heritage.
The goal of this project, implemented by EcoAndina, was to raise awareness among the local population and tourists about solar energy in general and solar cookers in particular. By offering a healthy and environmentally friendly alternative to using wood fuel or gas as an energy source for food preparation, the project hoped to contribute to the wider public acceptance of solar cookers.
The project focused its efforts for the promotion of solar cookers on the sale of ‘solar food’ in public places. ‘Solar food’ is street food prepared in Solar Kiosks. In the first phase of the project, ten kiosks were manufactured and equipped with a solar parabolic cooker. Thereafter, units were distributed to operators and different business models for the Solar Kiosks were tested.
EcoAndina constructed the ten Solar Kiosks locally. Each kiosk has a solar parabolic stove equipped with a reflector 120cm in diameter, which concentrates solar rays to a central point where a black cooking pot is situated. The Solar Kiosks are hybrid, including a small gas stove so the kiosk can function on less sunny days. The kiosks are fully equipped for commercial operation: built-in features include dishes and pots, water containers, insulated hot and cold food containers, a waste bin and an LED light. The day-to-day maintenance of the kiosk consists of cleaning and caring for the reflector. As the kiosks are built locally, all the parts can be easily fixed or replaced.
The technology is easy to operate and requires minimal training. The operator learns how to direct the reflector to the sun and how long to wait, as the cooking process takes longer than with gas. A certain amount of practice is required, in terms of trying different recipes and testing the acceptance of the meals by the potential customers.
Each Solar Kiosk cost about €1,000 in 2013 (7,500 Pesos). The German Embassy in Buenos Aires financed the building and assembly of the ten initial Solar Kiosks, and WISIONS supported the project implementation, training and logistics. The long-term goal was to establish a self- sufficient business model for Solar Kiosks – a model that does not rely on financial support from donors. To this end, different delivery models were tested as part of the project. Solar Kiosks were either sold to local operators and vendors under flexible payment plans or rented out for special events. A third option was rent-to-buy, where the operator rented the Solar Kiosk for a test period, after which if he/she decided to keep the kiosk the rent would be considered as part of the down payment.
During the first phase, five kiosks were sold at a discount of up to 50% of their market cost; in other words for between 500 and 600 Euros. One kiosk is leased to a town’s local authority, who requested it for use during local events. EcoAndina also supported vendors in accessing the micro- finance facilities available in the region. Private kiosk operators received a percentage of any sales they made of EcoAndina solar cookers and collectors, and several of these were sold through the Solar Kiosks.
Kiosk operators received intensive training and were occasionally accompanied by the staff of EcoAndina. The kiosks were positioned in busy public spaces where street food is sold to passers-by. Monitoring indicated that the income of the operators varied widely and that the location of the kiosks accounted for most of the differences in income patterns. During special events large profits, of up to €150 a day, were possible. On the other hand, on normal trading days it was only possible to make a profit in larger towns or in the capital of the province. The profile of the vendor proved to be crucial: vendors who explained the solar technology while cooking sold significantly more than vendors who did not actively promote the solar aspects.
The emission reductions brought about by the Kiosks themselves were negligible, but raised awareness about solar technologies and local and global environmental problems in the region. In the capital of Jujuy province alone there are about 120 street vendors who cook with firewood, coal or LPG. In addition, about 90,000 people in the rural areas of the province cook with firewood. Each household uses on average 1.8kg firewood per day. Solar cookers are one of several possible alternatives to open firewood cooking. The technology could be used in the sunny season, but not in the rainy season.
Knowledge about renewable energies in the region is very limited. ‘Seeing is believing’ was the motto of the initiative, which attracted high levels of interest from the different target groups. Street food vendors are usually women and they were a key target group for the dissemination. Demand for greater knowledge was evident: customers, passers-by, tourists and other vendors very often asked for more information, either about the possibilities of investing in similar kiosks or about the use of solar cooking at home. One direct job was created with each Solar Kiosk, and local manufacturing and maintenance proved successful.
The use of the Solar Kiosks as a means of outreach to the population proved successful. During monitoring, more than 50% of the population surveyed reported to have seen a solar cooker, whether in a Solar Kiosk, on TV, or in a school. The kiosks were in operation over a period of almost two years, especially at festivals, popular events and during holiday periods in the towns and cities of Jujuy. More than 30,000 flyers were distributed explaining the solar cooker and its advantages.
In addition to the one-to-one dissemination via the kiosks, an effective awareness campaign was rolled out via Facebook, TV interviews and spots, radio and newspaper articles. The project gained attention from the local, national and even international media.
The limiting factors of the Solar Kiosk concept relate to solar radiation levels. The kiosks can only function when there is sufficient solar radiation. In addition, due to the relatively small size of the solar cooker, customers sometimes had to wait too long for the food to be cooked.
As a result of the national and international promotional activity, the implementing partner EcoAndina received interest in the Solar Kiosks from other provinces in Argentina and from other countries. At the end of the project period there were plans to create an enterprise to refine the design and business model and achieve long-term sustainability. However, to date this has not become a reality.
The project threw light on several factors that help to adapt solar cooker promotion initiatives to the local context. It provided invaluable information about the needs of the operators and the preferences of customers. This allowed, for example, local recipes to be tested in terms of their suitability for solar cooking (one particular recipe - “solar quinoa tacos”- was very successful).
One key lesson arising from the project was that the search for appropriate operators for such an innovative concept is both time and resource-intensive. Each operator had different motivation and skills and therefore the success of the kiosks was very variable. A one-size-fits-all approach was not viable and the financial commitments of each operator needed to be negotiated on a case-by-case basis. Lastly, the project demonstrated the importance of ownership: when the equipment was owned by the operators they took greater care of it and generated higher profits.