Solar Electric Cooking

Sabbatical Trip Log: Sept 2022 – Sept 2023.  I visited collaborators, mostly Africa.  Please see this Project Summary.

Research with Pete Schwartz, Cal Poly Physics, Resume / CV





Insulated Solar Electric Cooker (ISECooker) is an insulated electrically-heated cooking chamber, allowing the user to cook over a long period with low power from a solar panel, from the grid, or from a combination that includes any electrical sources.  Energy can be stored thermally or in a battery.  Low-power cooking saves money by reducing electrical bills (if grid connected) or reducing the number of solar panels purchased.  The simplicity of ISECooking technology allows it to be manufactured in locations where it is used.  This manual describes basic concepts behind ISECooking rather than a step-by-step process.  Construction details will differ in each location depending on availability of parts, resources, construction equipment and expertise.



According to the World Health Organization, 3 billion people in the world cook with biomass and coal; consequently, 4 million people die from associated emissions. In many communities, biomass cooking has lead to deforestation and can cause harmful pollution to the environment. Women are threatened by sexual assault when they leave their communities to collect firewood or purchase coal. The purpose of our research is to minimize the environmental impact and health issues that arise from biomass cooking.


Our Solution

Insulated Solar Electric Cooking (ISECooking): An electric heater connects directly to a solar panel inexpensively cooking food and providing electricity to charge batteries or power appliances. Having a lower power (~ 100 W) solar panel makes the device inexpensive (less than $100) but in order to cook, requires insulation. Thus, an ISECooker is a solar electric heater inside of a retained heat cooker.

Please build your own ISECooker for under $30 (plus the cost of a 100 W solar panel), from the construction manuals:
– New construction manual in progress
– Latest Design innovations: Nov. 2022, Aluminum Thermal Storage
– Basic direct-connect (with no thermal storage). This is a “live document” and you can leave comments/questions so that we can improve the document.
ISECooking with Phase Change Thermal Storage for higher power and cooking after dark.
– The entire library of Improved Construction Manuals
– Alexis Zeigler at Living Energy Farms, is introducing ISECooking in Jamaica using a completely different construction process. They have redesigned construction for the direct heat, “daylight drive” ISECooker to use locally available materials and simple assembly processes for reduced construction time and reduced cost. Please see his presentation to our research group, Feb. 22, 2021. Also please see his complete construction manual.  Videos of Alexis’s unique way of making an oven and how Alexis makes an ISECookers with cement heater with Nichrome wire and refractory cement. 
– Please visit our Forum on ISECooker construction and use**, started Oct. 2021.  (** you need to put the “www.” in front of “” in order to get connected).  Previously, we used this Forum on ISECooker construction. Please post a question, and read the questions and answers posted.
– Contact us with any difficulties and/or recommendations for improvements,


Learn more about ISECooking:

1) Thermal storage videos:
– Solid Aluminum: During our Togo Workshop November 2022, we boiled a liter of water in less than 4 seconds, delivering close to 100 times the power of a microwave oven.  It started in 2021, when tried heating a 1 L (2.7 kg) aluminum puck, by just putting it inside the ISECooker.
– Phase Change Materials (PCM) In Solar Cooking in Ghana, we showcase ISECooker with store thermal energy by melting sugar-alcohol erythritol.  

2) We explain ISECooking technology with thermal storage and the collaborative dissemination model in our presentations at the ETHOS (Engineers in the Technical and Humanitarian Opportunities of Service) conference end of January, 2021. In June, we provided this updated presentation to EWB, Sweden. In the ETHOS January, 2022, presentation, Katarina describes the thermal storage options as well as the move to battery storage and large scale importing strategies.

3) Our first paper explaining how a 100 W solar panel can cook food for a large family: Insulated Solar Electric Cooking – Tomorrow’s Healthy Affordable Stoves?, T. Watkins*, P. Arroyo*, R. Perry*, R. Wang*, O. Arriaga*, M. Fleming*, C. O’Day*, I. Stone*, J. Sekerak*, D. Mast*, N. Hayes*, P. Keller, P. Schwartz, Development Engineering 2 (2017) 47–52. See the  associated video.

4) We improved on the above technology by heating with diodes rather than with a resistive heater: Hot Diodes!: Dirt Cheap Cooking and Electricity for the Global Poor? Grace Gius, Matthew Walker, Andre Li, Nicholas Adams, R. Van Buskirk, P. Schwartz, Development Engineering, 4 (2019)  100044. We have since abandoned heating with diodes.

5) Our most recent paper, describing the improvement with thermal storage: Phase change thermal storage: Cooking with more power and versatility Martin Osei*, Owen Staveland*, Sean McGowan*, Justin Brett Unger*, Nathan Robert Christler*, Matthew Weeman*, Marcus Edward Strutz*, Matthew Walker*, Megan Belle Maun*, Nicolas C. Dunning*, Marcorios M. Bekheit*, Jon Christian Papa Abraham*, Liam Cox*, Grace Gius*, Olivia Hansel*, Emmanuel Osei Amoafo, Nichole Hugo, Pete Schwartz, J. Solar Energy, 220, 2021, 1065-1073,

6) Cooking in the laboratory: see the video showing how the use of phase change thermal storage allows an ISEC user to both cook after dark as well as dump the stored energy (of the melted phase change material) into the food in a short time at elevated power.

7) We separate the pot with the food in it from the heater in order to make cooking more convenient. Please see this video about how to bake with the nested ISECooker

8) The Phase Change Thermal Storage (#3 and #5 above) was developed in AY 2018-2019 by a team of four mechanical engineering students: Nate Christler, Marcus Strutz, Justin Unger, Matthew Weeman, Insulated Solar Electric Cooker with Thermal Storage, June 2019

9) Nick Adams, 2020 report on Thermal Destruction of Diodes

10) A student group from the Spring 2020 appropriate technology class posted this informative video about how to make an ISECooker without thermal storage.

11) Please see our GIS study showing visual data of partner countries, showing deforestation and health data.

12) An article from Low-Tech magazine summarizing the role of insulation in cooking: If we Insulate Our Houses, Why Not Our Cooking Pots?

13) Kuyere!, in Malawi made this video of how they are making ISECookers with thermal storage.

14) For a more thorough explanation of our technology, please see this Webinar Pete gave on Oct. 4, 2020: Solar Electric Cooking: Starting Businesses with the Global Learning Community, International Physics Webinar (Virtual, Via FaceBook, Bangladesh) Flyer

15) 2021 Mechanical Engineering Senior Project produced an ISECooker with erythritol PCM inside of a ~3 liter vacuum-insulated container. They have a video and a website.

16) Insulated Solar Electric Cooker with Solid Thermal Storage, a Mechanical Engineering Senior Project, June 2022

17) Solid Thermal Storage as an Energy Storage Device in Insulated Solar Electric Cookers: Thermal Modeling and Experiment, Senior project from Physics Graduate, Michael Fernandez, June 2022

18) Andrew Shephard and Katarina Brekalo, Developing Positive Thermal Coefficient (PTC) Heaters for Solar Electric Cooking, Sept 2022

more Senior Projects:

Articles of interest:
– NPR on the beauty of good food slow cooked in a retained heat cooker

MECS Grant for Research and Dissemination: With $40,000 of UKAid funding via MECS, (Sept. 2019 – March 2020), we developed thermal storage at Cal Poly in California, and established a company in Ghana to build and distribute ISECookers while studying the adoption process.

We received a follow-up grant for $62,000 (August 2020 – July 2021) to continue improving the design and subsidize construction capacity in local enterprises in non-industrial countries. 


Pete Schwartz, Physics Professor, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, California, ISEC Principal Investigator

Nichole Hugo, professor from Eastern Illinois University

Martin Osei, Graduate Student at Eastern Illinois University, Founder of SolCook, Ghana

Crosby Menzies, and his African Solar Cooking Company, SunFire, MECS collaborator

Fred Akuffo, operator of Aekosolar Enterprise, solar engineering, Kumasi, Ghana.
Description of Priorities: Imports of solar panels and provides market guidance.

Emmanuel Kweku Osei, manager of SolCook, Ghana, MECS collaborator

Robert Van Buskirk of Kuryere! and Kachione LLC. Their efforts are to introduce (1) Solar Lights, (2) ISECooking, (3) Solar Water Pumps, (4) Solar Electric Cars.  See their cost estimates for cooking

Salma Bougoune, OSMER company of construction and distribution of  sustainable energy equipment, Togo. MECS collaborator.  Recently won the D-Prize for Distributing proven poverty intervention 

Hawazin of Spring of ’20, a team of professionals promoting novel technologies and lifestyle through collaborations and creative projects. MECS collaborator

Alexis Zeigler at Living Energy Farms, an intentional community exploring sustainable living accessible to low income communities. They plan to put introduce ISECooking in Jamaica. MECS collaborator. Progress videos: February 1, 2021, August 2021 newsletter

Project Peanut Butter, Sierra Leone. MECS collaborator, with in country contact, Julius Walker Butcher 

Deepak Gadhia, at Muni Seva Ashram, MECS collaborator and technical specialist, Prasad Gangavkar

Bidjanga Biloa of GERPAD (Green Energy Research Program for Africa’s Development) in Cameroon. 

Nexleaf Analytics, designing sensing technology to preserve human life and protect the planet. They provided us with about 20 thermal data loggers called Treks, but now are marketed under StoveTrace.

Uganda: Alicwamu Moses and Mayaja Andrew of African Stem Education Initiative (ASEI) as well as Aid Africa (contact person Peter Keller).


This work is part of our research toward radically inexpensive solar electricity. Please meet our research team. We intend to integrate ISECooking with home electrical systems, in collaboration with Kuyere! in Malawi, and Aid Africa in Uganda. Additionally, this work has been addressed by group projects in Schwartz’s Appropriate Technology Classes in Spring of 2019, Fall of 2018, Spring of 2018 and another project, Fall of 2017, Spring of 2017 and another projectFall of 2016, Winter 2016, and Fall 2015 and another project. For a Cost Benefit Analysis of this project, click here.

Please see our photo record of our meetings, such as this meeting in fall of 2021:


Nick Wilson’s Story about us on the Physics Department Homepage



ISECook Resources and Archival Information