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Independent Professional: Experienced educator and management consultant for engineering educational institutions, researcher, trainer, technical consultant on sustainable technologies, related to cement manufacturing and characterisation, using industrial and agricultural wastes in cement and concrete, durability of concrete and fuel cell power.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Solar energy for Himalayas

A new lightweight, low cost, portable solar cooker called the SolSource 3-in-1 is poised to transform the health and prosperity of the Himalayan villages. The device can replace the traditional biomass-burning stove as a means for cooking and heating the home. It can also use its own excess thermal energy to generate enough electricity to light a home at night, charge cell phones and power other small devices. As the cooker's unique design targets specific local needs and materials, its manufacture and distribution could provide a new economic future for communities in transition from agricultural to manufacturing economies.

The satellite dish-shaped SolSource is developed by US-based nonprofit organisation 'One Earth Designs'. The reflective nomadic tent material, stretched across a bamboo frame, concentrates sunlight from a large area inward toward a focal point, where the user can place a pot stand for cooking, a thermoelectric device for generating electricity (at a lower cost than a photovoltaic panel), a heat module for heating the home, a solar water disinfector for treating drinking water or a thermal battery for cooking after dark. These interchangeable parts are each about the size of a laptop computer and the main platform is easily folded and disassembled for portability.

The SolSource generates enough heat at its focal point to bring a kettle of water to boil in about five to seven minutes – about the same amount of time as conventional gas stoves in homes throughout the developed world. While it is in use, the device generates heat to warm the home and can create and store about 15 watt-hours of electricity, enough to power the lights for about seven hours. This is adequate for the villagers' needs.

Although the villagers were already familiar with solar cook stoves introduced throughout the region via various government and NGO initiatives, these devices were not fulfilling the nomadic communities' unique needs. Many of these stoves are made from concrete and glass components, both of which are easily broken during distribution and everyday use. The rural communities lack the expertise and tools needed to repair broken devices. The stoves, which weigh about 95 kg, are not easily portable. Therefore they hinder the villagers' traditional lifestyle. The stoves are designed for cooking only, and the villagers rely on biomass burning to heat their homes, a need that accounts for most of the region's fuel use.

One Earth Designs is committed to helping rural Himalayan population achieve appropriate science and technology based solutions for living more sustainably.