Will Cooking with Solar Ovens Stop Deforestation in Uganda?

[guest name="Ronald Mutebi, Paul Munsen, Jeff Klein and Patrick Doyle" biography="Entrepreneur Ronald Mutebi is from Uganda and lives in Chicago. He has a bachelor’s degree in socio psychology from Makerere University in Uganda and is pursuing a master’s degree in computer science in the United States.

Partner/supplier Paul Munsen is president of Sun Ovens International Inc., based in Elburn, Illinois.

Expert Jeff Klein is director of the Wharton Leadership Program at The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, and instructs the school’s Social Enterprise Fellows.

Expert Patrick Doyle is manager of energy and climate change division for Development Alternatives Inc.

America.gov asked finalists from among the more than 700 African immigrants who submitted business plans to the “African Diaspora Marketplace” to blog about their ideas. Sponsored by USAID and Western Union Company, the African Diaspora Marketplace is a contest that will award seed money to approximately 15 winners to help them bring their ideas to life in their home countries.

RONALD MUTEBI, entrepreneur:

Ronald Mutebi demonstrating solar oven

Ronald Mutebi demos an oven.

Uganda sits on the equator in eastern Africa, more than 1100 meters above sea level. My country was once covered by lush forests and rich vegetation. However, wars and lack of good governance have resulted in deforestation. This problem has also been driven by poverty, especially in the rural areas, where trees have been cut down and sold for cooking fuel and charcoal production.

Deforestation, in turn, has caused radical change in weather patterns, especially rainfall. We see regular food shortages and famines, extended drought and flooding.

In many treeless villages, people have started to cook with grass for fuel. In other places, there is no fuel at all, so people must eat their foods raw. In still other places, people must choose either food or fuel; they live in a situation in which they can afford only one cooked meal a day. The biggest casualty in all this has been the children, who have become malnourished or undernourished.

In 2002, my business partner, Denis Wandera, and I came across an oven that uses the sun’s heat to cook. It is made by Sun Ovens International, based in Elburn, Illinois. We plan to manufacture and sell these ovens in Uganda.

Since the start, we have encountered and overcome many obstacles, ranging from high Ugandan taxes to a lack of knowledge by customers of how to use the ovens. After extensive training and demonstrations, the Ugandan government now sees the value of this oven and supports our project. (The ovens can not only bake but can also be used to boil water, which will result in better health because many water-borne diseases will be eliminated.)

My partner and I have acquired the license to manufacture the sun ovens in Uganda. We will make them readily available to everyone at an affordable price. The manufacturing process is labor intensive, so many jobs will be created.

PAUL MUNSEN, supplier/partner:

Solar ovens are desperately needed in deforested countries like Uganda. The business concept that Ronald has developed – making and marketing the ovens locally – will make the price affordable and create jobs. His purchase plan allows people to pay for the ovens in small weekly installments, using money they will save by not having to buy charcoal. It is a win-win solution for everyone concerned.

The ovens are sold at a profit. Initially, we here at Sun Ovens International are going to ship oven parts to Uganda for assembly there. Later, Ronald will develop the manufacturing capacity to make most of the oven parts in Uganda. At that point, Sun Ovens will be financially rewarded stilll, because the company will receive royalties on a special gasket that allows our ovens to get considerably hotter than other sun-fueled ovens. Each Sun Oven can cook for a family of eight people. We believe that 75 to 80 percent of Ugandan households could significantly benefit from these ovens, so the market is potentially huge. Because the country has a great deal of sunshine, our ovens will be very useful there.

Ronald has shown entrepreneurial ingenuity in making this project possible. Originally, the high government taxes on the ovens doomed the project. In most places in the world, that is still our biggest issue.

Ronald was able to convince the Ugandan government to grant a total exemption of both the import taxes and the value added taxes for the ovens. That has changed the economic viability of the project dramatically. Ronald went to the home of the then Ugandan minister of finance and worked with the minister’s maid to cook with a Sun Oven. The minister’s wife got involved with the cooking and was so impressed that she sent her driver out three times that day to put additional food in the oven. She lobbied her husband, and he arranged for the tax exemption. Ronald showed exceptional creativity in working with the minister’s maid and wife to get that accomplished.

JEFF KLEIN, business expert:

This business plan demonstrates social innovation and wealth creation at a number of key junctures. In developing economies, the consumer’s purchasing power is severely constrained – especially for larger, one-time payments. By developing a payment structure that allows buyers to channel their savings on charcoal into the purchase of a Sun Oven, Ronald enables a large segment of the population to become buyers. This marketing and pricing structure is a true “bottom-of-the-pyramid” strategy.

Local manufacturing is another impressive feature of the plan. Not only will the region benefit from the additional wealth generated through the venture (and retained in Uganda), but it will also benefit from the capacity built within the workforce to adapt the Sun Oven to local conditions and uses.

Nutrition and safe drinking water are two of the major social challenges facing the world today. By adapting an existing product for use in a new market, Ronald applies new, market-driven solutions to address these challenges. The for-profit model that he has developed creates incentives for multiple stakeholders and supports long-term sustainability.

Ultimately, the success of this project – indeed, most projects – will depend upon the network of collaborators and supporters who stand behind the launch. By generating government support at an early stage, Ronald has both eliminated an obstacle (high taxes) and enlisted an ally. The alliance with Sun Oven imports technical knowledge and business process support. It is my hope that Ronald can continue to grow this network of collaborators to include additional parties from the private, public and NGO sectors.

PATRICK DOYLE, business expert:

Solar oven.

Solar oven.

This appears to be an excellent technology-transfer project and hopefully the exemption of taxes and tariffs for this particular oven will be applied to other ovens and renewable/efficiency products in the future.

It would be good to have some more information on the Sun Oven technology. It appears Sun Ovens are easier to manufacture locally than parabolic solar cooker technologies, for example. Local manufacturing will help avoid or reduce tariffs if the policy changes in the future. I do have some questions about the project. Has the technology been proven in other similar environments? How many units will be operating? Are there any independent reviews comparing the technology to others? Some factors to consider, in addition to cost, would be its hardiness and durability in rough conditions and ease of cleaning. How long does the stove take to boil water? The stoves can’t be used on cloudy, rainy, windy days, so being able to set it up quickly during brief periods of sunshine would be useful.

The cost and lifespan of this gasket that must be supplied by the manufacturer over the long term is critical, as I’m sure you realized.

Unless the manufacturer –- Sun Ovens International Inc. — is financing the ovens for you, it appears you will need a loan. The cost of this finance is key, as it makes the systems more costly for you and your customers. Have you worked out this issue in your business plan?

You may want to consider leveraging the carbon markets to help finance the stoves by registering your project with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change as a “Clean Development Mechanism” (CDM) project or with the Voluntary Carbon Standard group. A CDM project in Indonesia using parabolic solar ovens has resulted in the reduction of more than 1000 tons of CO2e emissions. Each stove in the early stage produced about .5 tons of reduction per year. The reductions depend on how often the stoves are used and the fuel type that the solar oven is replacing.

Donor funding may be able to help get the project off the ground as well. Good luck!

18 thoughts on “Will Cooking with Solar Ovens Stop Deforestation in Uganda?

  1. Mr. Mutebi and Mr. Munsen,

    The question is merely rhetorical: will cooking with solar ovens stop deforestation in Uganda?

    CERTAINLY IT WILL and I’m hopeful you succeed in your noble endeavor.

    Some 15 years back I thought of introducing sod peat as cooking fuel in East Africa where it is plentiful but solar is way better as it is “green”. Could you consider sod peat to augment solar energy particularly during the rainy season?

  2. I’ve done some cooking on a Sun Oven myself in my backyard in Chicago, with snow on the ground, and it is amazing how well they work! The construction quality is excellent, and they are easy to set-up and maintain. This project has the potential to be positively world-changing!

  3. Solar oven technology is certainly a great idea for Africa. It has multiple benefits both economically and ecologically. Economically, it is relatively cheaper compared to buying firewood, charcoal, kerosen, gas, or electricity. It terms of ecology, the technology saves trees that otherwise, would have been cut down for firewood/charcoal. Saving trees promotes afforestation and increases prospects of rainfall and subsequent increase in in agriculture output.

    I commend the entepreneurs for this innovative idea and wish them success in securing funds to support this endeavor.

    Paulino Paida, ADM Finalist

  4. Please I would like to the respond to Patrick Doyle’s comments on the blog.

    “It appears Sun Ovens are easier to manufacture locally than parabolic solar cooker technologies, for example.”

    I am not sure if the Sun Ovens are easier to manufacture than parabolic solar cookers but they are more culturally appropriate for Uganda than parabolic cookers. Due to the fact that the evening meal is generally eaten after the sun has set the parabolic cookers can only be used for cooking mid day meals. The Sun Ovens are very well insulted so the evening meal can be cooked in the afternoon sun and left in the oven. It will stay warm for several hours after the sun has set. In addition the Sun Ovens can remain focused on windy days.

    “Has the technology been proven in other similar environments? How many units will be operating?”

    To date over 1,000 Sun Ovens have been used in Uganda in a number of different locations. The market testing has proved very successful and there is a long waiting list of women and NGOs who want to purchase the Sun Ovens when they become available.

    “Are there any independent reviews comparing the technology to others?”

    The reviews available are primarily for the US market. You can see one of them at: http://www.livingoffgrid.org/solar-cookers-sun-oven-video-review/

    “Some factors to consider, in addition to cost, would be its hardiness and durability in rough conditions and ease of cleaning.”
    The Sun Oven has been designed to have a 15 year life. This is more than 3 times the life of its nearest competitor. It has been on the market for 23 years and is in use in more than 130 counties around the world. It is very durable and easy to clean.
    “The stoves can’t be used on cloudy, rainy, windy days, so being able to set it up quickly during brief periods of sunshine would be useful.”
    The sun oven can be used at any point where there is enough sunlight to cast a shadow. It can be set up in less than 30 seconds and heated to a temperature of 150 C in less than 20 minutes.
    “The cost and lifespan of this gasket that must be supplied by the manufacturer over the long term is critical, as I’m sure you realized.”
    The licensing agreement we have with Sun Ovens has fixed the cost of the gasket for 15 years. I have seen Sun Ovens which have been used for more than 10 years and the gasket is the same as a brand new oven.
    “Unless the manufacturer –- Sun Ovens International Inc. ¬ is financing the ovens for you, it appears you will need a loan. The cost of this finance is key, as it makes the systems more costly for you and your customers. Have you worked out this issue in your business plan?”
    You are correct the financing is a key item. We have addressed this in our business plan. We have invested a great deal of our own money in the startup and will be using loans and grants to fund the next phase. The cost of financing will need to be passed on to our customers but we will save them an enormous amount of money by not having to buy charcoal.
    “As far as leveraging the carbon markets to help finance the stoves by registering your project with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change as a “Clean Development Mechanism” (CDM) project.”
    We have a plan to start documenting the reductions in CO2 emissions to eventually create marketable CDM projects. Studies done by the Ugandan government indicate that “fuel wood, charcoal, and crop residues (biomass energy) account for more than 90% of the energy used in Uganda. In the plot projects we have found that annual wood consumption for cooking is about .5 ton per person (1.32 kg per day), or about 3 tonnes per family of six.)” Assuming that each Sun Oven is used for only 50% of the total cooking a family of six, it would save 1.5 tonnes of wood a year. Over the 15-year life of each Sun Oven each family will eliminate the need to cut down 22.5 tonnes of wood.
    With every tone of wood burned 1.54 tonnes of CO2 emission are created. Each Sun Oven (when used for 50% of a households cooking) will reduce emissions by 2.3 tonnes annually and 34 tonnes over its 15 year projected life.

    The initial cost of documenting a project to create a carbon credit is very high. We hope to raise the capital required to be able to document and sell carbon credits by 2012.

  5. you should raise money here in America by making more people aware of your project, i am not a rich person but i would donate to that cause as im sure most Americans would… so that we arent taking the little money the people have. If theyre buying wood and coal from eachother- their money is still being recycled in their community. If we make sun ovens that can help them they should be free of charge.

  6. The problem with solar ovens is how long it takes for food to actually cook. There has to be a better way.

  7. Good intentions.
    BUT, how will people make tea in the morning? how will they cook traditional foods that need constant stirring? what about dinner and rainy days? what if people actually like the taste of food cooked on woodenergy? why just africa? iv seen some pretty desperate people in slums in oakland and dallas, plenty of sunlight there and gas does cost money right? and its alot closer to chicago!

    and if the problem is the lack of trees, wouldnt just planting a lot more trees be the best solar collecter?(i.e. sunlight becomes firewood) think of the environmental trickledown effects, soil rentention, bird habitat etc.

  8. Technology can solve our global problems when used for humanitarian purposes. Solar resources is the most viable solution. The best of success to this.

  9. Its a great idea.Wish you All The Very Best for your success.

  10. I am a writer for America.gov and thought you might also be interested in reading about solar cooking activities elsewhere. See:

    Solar Cookers, Efficient Stoves Help Rural Families Worldwide

    Read more: http://www.america.gov/st/washfile-english/2007/September/20070912133645lcnirellep0.8758814.html#ixzz0c3NEygVM


    Solar Cooking Solution Changing Lives in Kenya


  11. Hi Jacqui,

    Thanks for the llinks you sent to me I have viewed them and I have gained alot understanding about the different approaches that are implimented in different parts of the world. As much as the products mentioned here differ from the sun Ovens, there is alont to complement our initiatives. as I said, the Sun oven can be aplied in almost every circumstance and situations. The have already been shipped to Haiti to help in the recovery process there and they playing a very important role ther.

    I have just also come back from Liberia to train people there how to use the sun Ovens. I can share more info with you if I could get your email.
    Thanks alot for your comments.


  12. Hello Dr. Atwood,

    Thank you for your comment on this blog about the Sun Oven. I know that the history of the technology has been of inefficiency, to your point of How long it takes to cook using the solar technology. However, one the great successes of the Sun oven, has been the ability to cook not only in a short amount of time, but also it convertion rates of the sun energy to high heat temperatures. Every where the ovens have been distributed, this has been one of the key concerns. but with the sun ovens, it is overcome by just one demostration. The Sun Oven was researched to adress a number of issues concerned with cooking with the Sun energy. Like Duration, Burning / drying of food as well as the cooling of the food or loss of heat when the sun supply is cut off and the Oven adresses all these concerns.
    I would be glad to invite you to any demostrations in an area close to you if I can get your contact info via my email which is rmutebi@tekcinc.com.

    Thanks again.


  13. Hello Smokey,

    All those are valid questions. and Yes, you can cook tea in the mornig[which only requires boiling of water. just as long as you cover the container to avoid fogging the top glass of the oven] this was one of the greatest supprises I got when I went to follow up on one of the Oven projects we did in Northern Uganda. About beeing able to stir the food while cooking however, this is discouraged because it lengthens the duration of cooking since there is a loss of heat whenever you open the oven. the amout of which depends on the length of time you have the oven open. As for the rainy days, this is why we say that the Oven saves 70% of you cooking budget leaving the 30% to Oven’s inability to be utilised during the rainy or non sunny days as well as night time.
    As to Why Africa, The ovens are manufactured here in the USA and they are distributed on the open market to anybody who can buy one. However my focus being on Africa is based on the facts that 1. Thats where I come from and am more familia to the needs there. and 2. Africa as well as many developing and poor countries has the greatest need for alternative sources for cooking fuel.
    As to your point of planting more trees for fuel[hoping that this is what you meant], This is the biggest problem that the Sun oven adresses of Deforestation. and there is a very robust plan to use the Oven Distribution to promote Afforestation.

    I hope that I have attempted to adress all the questions you had about the sun Oven and in case you need more specific infomation, please contact me via my email rmutebi@tekcinc.com

    Thanks again,

  14. haha, good luck with the next work, sure it’ll be groundbreaking.