Sun, Fire and Cooking

It is amazing that with all the talk about carbon emissions and destructive climate change, governments in the tropics are not doing more to use solar energy. I can imagine that the fossil fuel lobby is so strong, that despite its constant whining about LPG subsidies, it will do nothing to promote solar cooking. How much of ONGC money have you seen being pumped into research on perfecting a solar cooking device? Remember that for the quarter ended December 31, 2007, ONGC reported a profit after tax of Rs.3662 crores.

My attention was refocused on the potential of solar cooking after coming across videos posted by Zenrainman on YouTube. Now, this environmentalist happens to be a columnist writing about water issues in The Hindu (regularly in the Property Plus supplement as S.Vishwanath) and elsewhere.

Drifting from Zenrainman, I came across an interesting video about a pilot run by a little-known solar cooker company, Sunfirecooking, with a US address on YouTube, among the charcoal-dependent people of Somalia (see photo below). I know nothing about this company and do not hold any brief for it. But it is a no-brainer, as they say, that the Sun can help people in warm countries do their cooking using solar energy.

The solar cooker that Sun Fire Cooking says it offered in Somalia. Picture from their website.

Which again made me wonder about the intriguing attitude of the Government of India, the State agencies in-charge of alternative energy and our technologies when it comes to perfecting a solar cooker. We have so many high technology institutions that have metallurgists, materials experts and technologists who could produce a high-efficiency solar cooking device that would work across our land.

I have no data on the efficiency of the solar cooker that Sunfirecooking says it provided to a community in Bosaso, Somalia; neither for that matter do I get a sense from the Government of India about the efficiency of the rudimentary solar cooker contraptions promoted by the national and State Energy Development Agencies, which are no more than small-thinking subsidy organisations.

What does strike me is that the Somali project seems to have used better physics in focusing solar rays using a parabolic reflector towards a vessel. I have yet to see a similar device from our babus in the EDAs. There is something puzzling, of course, that the US-promoted cookers should cost $ 200;  maybe they have a good reason to ask for that money, but in the era of mass produced, cheap, energy-guzzling trash, it should be possible to produce a cooker in Asia for far less.

I wonder why our very talented trio at the top – Manmohan Singh, P.Chidambaram and the Planning Commission – are somewhat out of sync with the power of the Sun to help us all.

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