Meeting Patricia Mc Ardle, the Solar Lady

Posted Tuesday 21 April 2015 by Eva Wissenz.

I’ve met Patricia McArdle a few years ago through her novel Farishta, where she shares about her experience in Afghanistan as a diplomat and the time she spent there spreading awareness about solar cooking. In this post Patricia answers us a few questions about her solar passion.

How did you discover solar?
I first discovered solar cooking as a child when my Girl Scout troop made a solar cooker out of cardboard box, a piece of glass and some aluminum foil. We melted chocolate and marshmallows. I didn’t think about solar cooking again until fifty years later when I was sent to northern Afghanistan by the U.S. government to spend a year as the diplomatic advisor to a British Army infantry unit.
These soldiers conducted peacekeeping patrols across the northern mountains and deserts. When I accompanied their six-man convoys I saw many young children pulling up bushes and carrying huge bundles of brush home for their mothers’ cooking fires. People told me that because almost all the trees in northern Afghanistan had been cut down for firewood, all that was left to burn was brush and dung. They also told me that the sun shines more than 300 days per year in that part of the world. When they mentioned the sun, it triggered the memory of my long ago Girl Scout solar cooker project.
I did some research on the Internet and found the website of California-based Solar Cookers International, which features many solar cooker designs. I built several out of cardboard and foil and tested them on the roof of our camp. I took one on patrol to demonstrate in the villages we visited. All of this is recounted in my novel Farishta, a fictional war memoir inspired by my year in Afghanistan. Once I saw the Afghan’s enthusiastic reaction to solar cooking I was hooked on this technology and have continued to promote it since I returned to the U.S. in 2006.

What is your involvement in solar movement?
After my solar epiphany in Afghanistan, I attended the Solar Cookers International Conference in Granada, Spain, where I met the leaders in the world solar cooking sector. After seeing their designs in action, I tried to convince the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development to support this technology. I met significant resistance from development ‘experts’ in my government, which has inexplicably persisted for the past ten years. I continue to write, speak and demonstrate this technology around the world and still hope to change the U.S. government’s negative position on solar cooking technology. I have served on the board of directors of Solar Household Energy and Solar Cookers International and for three years was the editor of the Solar Cooker Review. I continue to write about solar thermal cooking technology, test new designs and help startups with networking. Solar cooking will be my passion for the rest of my life.

Do you think a solar economy is possible?
A solar (thermal and photovoltaic) economy is definitely possible (I include wind energy in this mix) but it will have to include a huge increase in energy efficiency in everything we do. We also need much more investment in advanced thermal and battery storage technologies to ensure a steady supply of energy even when there’s no sun. To complement solar energy we must develop and commercialize new sources of geothermal, tidal and other green and renewable types energy. The fossil fuel industry is doing everything it can to slow earth’s transition to a zero emission, green energy economy, but we must never give up. We can do this.

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