Virtually inexhaustible solar energy could be the cheapest cooking fuel the world has known
The sun in your kitchen
COOKING accounts for almost 50 per cent of the huge gulps of energy consumed in the domestic sector. To reduce the pressure on the fast-shrinking reserves of commercial fuels, the ministry for non-conventional energy sources (MNES) launched a subsidy scheme for solar cookers in 1982, making them available at a price substantially lower than the manufacturing cost.
Earlier, a user was granted central subsidy on such cookers only if they were manufactured according to strict MNES specifications. This dissuaded manufacturers from experimenting with new and improved designs. But now, MNES is modifying its policy so that manufacturers have a freer hand designing and marketing all kinds of solar cookers, provided, of course, that they conform to MNES performance standards.
"We will be giving them free rein to modify the design of the cooker and iron out the flaws that are there in the present model," says A K Singhal of MNES. The ministry will then test these solar cookers through its regional centres. The MNES will also be devote itself to training and R&D, and developing marketing strategies.
The All India Women's Conference (AIWC) has been promoting solar cookers since 1988 and has found that they are rather unpopular in rural areas. "As a matter of fact, it has been a total flop because problems such as lack of user-awareness and cost," says Meenu Sarin of AIWC. "Moveover, its not easy to carry the cooker." The response has been gratifying in urban areas. The AIWC says that most people prefer solar cookers manufactured in Delhi, on grounds that the quality of these cookers is better than the ones manufactured elsewhere.
A major problem faced by the user of the older models is that it becomes ineffective on cloudy days. To overcome this handicap, the Lucknow-based Appropriate Technology Development Association (ATDA) has incorporated two bulbs of 100 watts each into the existing design so that the model can be used both on cloudy days and at night. ATDA has also used materials like hardboard, cement sheets and boxwood to reduce the price of the cooker. In another model, manufacturing costs have been cut to 50 per cent by insulating the cooker with paddy husk and plastering with dung.
To make solar cookers more attractive, the Gujarat Energy Development Agency (GEDA) provides a user's guide and a booklet that contains about 250 recipies. According to Rakesh Arya of GEDA, about 32,000 solar cookers have been sold in Gujarat alone, of which only 20-30 per cent have been sold in rural areas.
That solar cookers are still considered a supplementary cooling device could be a reason for its low demand in the rural areas. Says P P S Gussain of the Consortium of Rural Technology (CORT), "For solar cookers to be more successful and more widely used in the rural areas, they will have to be integrated with Indian cooking habits." CORT is involved in training local manufacturers so that distribution can be decentralised.
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