Off the Grid, Part 2: Do watched solar pots ever boil?

Welcome back to my eco-friendly adventure. It’s Earth Week here at DVICE and I’m kicking off my second day off the grid — my attempt to live and work from home without municipal electricity until Friday. Now look at that pic. Note the optimistic grin and thumbs up! Peep that yellow thing! (Surfer Chef’s deluxe Solar Cooking System). Yesterday, I went for it and tried to turn my backyard into a solar Starbucks. Get all the fresh-brewed details after the Continue jump...

Before I get started, I have to admit I’d be sunk by now without the fancier gear I’ve acquired. But plugging in every three-prong device into my $3,000 PowerPac II solar-connected generator is too easy. There’s something pure about going completely low-tech, without a photovoltaic middleman. I’ve seen instructions online for building your own solar oven, but I don’t have time for that. This week, I’m working from home and trying to live as undistracted by this experiment as possible, so I’ve only loaded up on ready-to-go consumer products.

That said, I couldn’t wait to bust out Surfer Chef’s Solar Cooking System, a simple, $35 plastic box about the size of power-drill case. So yesterday, with intense caffeine withdrawal setting in, I attempted to fire it up...

Step One: Obtain water.
[two caveats, all you off-grid sticklers: 1) I’m still using plumbing, just no hot water — for the sanctity of my marriage, flushing the toilet is the least I can do; 2) I’m also using a liquid fuel camping stove to cook my meals]

Step Two: Place water in a microwaveable bag and then in special plastic cooking pouch.

Step Three: Position in sun.
[note: I used an additional reflector (not pictured) to concentrate the light into the cooker.]

Step four: Wait.

Sounds easy, right? Wrong. Prime solar cooking hours are between 10:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m., so I figured I’d be golden. I should have paid closer attention to the instructions, which approximate cook times for “hazy sky and average temperature of 75 degrees” (!). I live in San Francisco. If it's 75, elderly people stay in doors to avoid heatstroke. Yesterday afternoon was sunny in the low 60s, but it just didn’t cut it. I tried and tried. Even after I ditched the glass (pictured above) and put the water directly into the bag, after three hours of waiting and repositioning the cooker every so often as the sun moved, I gave up.

On the plus side, I did warm up a cheese sandwich! Far from a full-on grill melt, but delicious, especially since I used the one piece of string cheese in my off-grid food stash, which includes canned goods, bananas and wine. Note to self: next time I am totally remembering to call in a solar fridge.

I can’t complain, though. The weather forecast for today predicted cloudy skies and a chance of showers. So far this a.m., it’s mostly sunny. Hopefully it’ll hold out the next few days. I’ve planned a field trip for some of my pocket-size chargers, including the HYmini wind/solar/crank combo, so be sure to check back in!

Previous Entries
Off the Grid, Part 1: Every watt counts