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Pilgrim centres in India go green by tapping solar energy

According to reports, India’s pilgrim centres attract visitors from across the globe all year round. These centres, with large community kitchens, cater to the visiting devotees with a variety of food. And now, they have gone green too, using solar energy rather than the traditional methods. The Saibaba Ashram at Shirdi in Maharashtra commissioned its solar cooking system in 2009. The kitchen complex of the Ashram has 73 parabolic dishes to capture the sun’s rays to run what is touted as the world’s largest solar cooking system. It cooks food for 50,000 devotees everyday.

The system taps the sun’s rays to generate 3,600 kg of steam daily and saves nearly 1,00,000 kg of cooking gas annually. It costs Rs.1.3 crores. Of this, the Central government’s Non-Renewable Energy Ministry provided Rs.58 lakh as subsidy. Steam cooking is clean, efficient and hygienic, especially when food is cooked on a massive scale. The dish antennas concentrate solar rays on a giant reflector which transfers the heat to generate steam with temperature ranging between 550 and 600 degrees Celsius. With an automated sun tracking system, the dishes rotate continuously along with the movement of the sun, harnessing the solar rays on the receivers. However, they have to be manually rotated back each evening to the east in line with the rising sun the 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 system installed in 2002 atop the shrine’s ‘Nitya Annadandam Canteen’ has adopted the solar cooking technology to cut down on diesel. The temple now sells the emission reduction credits it earns to a Swiss green energy technology investor firm, Good Energies Inc. It takes care of energy and ecology and is also a source of revenue. The shrine saves Rs.17 lakh a year. The system reduces the carbon dioxide emission by 1.2 tonnes per day.

While this cost Rs.1.1 crores, half was borne by the managing body, the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam Board, and the rest a subsidy from the Ministry of Renewable Energy Sources. The solar cooking system in both these shrines was installed by Gadhia Solar Energy Systems (GSES), a Gujarat-based company.

Entrepreneur Deepak Gadhia brought the parabolic dishes-based solar concentrators (developed by Austrian scientist Wolfgang Scheffler) and began manufacturing these solar cookers at his unit at Valsad near Mumbai.

Rajiv Gandhi saw the ingenuity in it while on a visit to Germany in 1984 when Gadhia was working on a heat recovery and water harvesting system in a German University. Responding to the invitation of the Indian Investment Office under the then PMO, Gadhia and team settled down in India.

While mass cooking facilities at several shrines gave them a big break, they also set up such facilities for industrial canteens at IBM, Bangalore; Sanghi Industries, Hyderabad; Pricol Industries, Coimbatore; public sector companies such as GACL and GSFC, several residential schools, Defence establishments and hospitals.

Says Gadhia, “Temples are more open to the idea of using this energy for cooking as they also have large numbers coming in everyday for prasad. But once the systems were installed, we soon moved on to other target groups.”

These communal cooking/heating facilities show the future way forward for India as the country’s current installed capacity of 147,458 MW is still eight per cent short of the demand of power.

Energy expert A. Ravindra says that the demand is growing by eight per cent annually and conventional fuels are on the way out. It was only in 2008 that investment in renewable energy sector in India exceeded those in the fossil fuel sector ($110 billion).

In India it is said that if solar panels were installed on only four per cent area of the Thar desert in Rajasthan, we can generate power to the tune of 1,00,000 MW, about two-thirds of its present installed capacity. The desert sprawls over an area of nearly 200,000 sq. km.

One comment

  1. It is the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy. Not non – renewable energy. The mistake is too frequent. Will someone educate the the journalists? Subramanian

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