The Saibaba Ashram and TTD in Tirupati set a great example by tapping solar energy for their public kitchens
India’s pilgrim centres attract visitors from across the globe all year round. These centres, with large community kitchens, cater to visiting devotees with a variety of food. Now, they have gone green , using solar energy rather than traditional fuel.
The Saibaba Ashram at Shirdi in Maharashtra commissioned a solar cooking system in 2009. With 73 parabolic dishes to capture the sun’s rays, it is being touted as the world’s largest solar cooking system, cooking for 50,000 devotees everyday.
The system generates 3,600 kg of steam daily and saves nearly 100,000 kg of cooking gas annually. It cost Rs. 1.3 crore. Of this, the central government’s Non-Renewable Energy Ministry provided Rs. 58 lakh as subsidy.
The dish antennas concentrate solar rays on a giant reflector, which transfers the heat to generate steam with temperatures ranging between 550 and 600 degrees C.
With an automated sun tracking system, the dishes rotate continuously along with the sun's movement, harnessing the solar rays on the receivers. However, they have to be manually rotated back to the east to await the rising sun next morning.
As the solar system is hooked to the boilers, it works for a while even without the sun.
At the solar-operated Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam kitchen at Tirupati, where food is cooked daily for 15,000 pilgrims, the Nitya Annadandam Canteen adopted solar cooking technology in 2002. The temple now sells its emission reduction credits to a Swiss green energy technology investor firm, Good Energies Inc.
This helps the shrine save Rs. 17 lakh a year. The system reduces carbondioxide emissions by 1.2 tonnes per day.
Half the project cost of Rs.1.1 crore was borne by the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam Board, and the rest by a subsidy from the Ministry of Renewable Energy Sources. The systems in both shrines were installed by Gujarat-based Gadhia Solar Energy Systems (GSES).
Entrepreneur Deepak Gadhia brought the parabolic dish solar concentrator developed by Austrian scientist Wolfgang Scheffler and began manufacturing these solar cookers at his unit at Valsad near Mumbai.
Rajiv Gandhi saw it while on a visit to Germany in 1984 when Gadhia was working on a heat recovery and water harvesting system. Responding to the PMO's invitation, Gadhia and team settled down in India.
Apart from several shrines, they have also set up solar facilities for industrial canteens at IBM, Bangalore; Sanghi Industries, Hyderabad; Pricol Industries, Coimbatore; public sector companies such as GACL and GSFC, and many residential schools, defence establishments and hospitals.
Says Gadhia, “Temples are open to the idea of using solar energy since they have many people coming in everyday for prasad. We soon moved to other target groups.”
Communal cooking/heating facilities show the way forward for India, with the country’s current installed capacity of 147,458 MW still 8 per cent short of its demand of power.
Energy expert A. Ravindra says that the demand is growing by 8 per cent annually and conventional fuels are on the way out. It was only in 2008 that investment in the renewable energy sector in India exceeded that in the fossil fuel sector ($110 billion).
In India, if solar panels were to be installed on only 4 per cent area of the 200,000 sq. km Thar desert in Rajasthan, we could generate power to the tune of 100,000 MW, about two-thirds of the present installed capacity.