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Project Surya: Cooking Solar Power for The Masses


I remember all those old-time stories when a granny used to read to her grandchildren about princesses and princes, near a chimney with a small fire inside. A polluting fire – a guilty fire, causing global warming, emitting black carbon into the atmosphere, and suffocating the nearby hens.

All of these are going to change. Nowadays, only poor people cook by burning biomass, (aka wood), and produce black carbon, carbon dioxide, contributing to global warming. It’s said the over 1.6 million people die yearly because they cook with burning wood inside their homes (in these people’s case, cottages). It’s all about the third world countries, who don’t ever get helped or civilized by anyone, except maybe some UN-made TV materials, showing off how great their generosity really is.

Now, I don’t want to spread communist ideas or fight counter-wave, and I don’t know if the solution of today’s problems is changing those people’s thousand-years’ habits.

Project Surya proposes something interesting: Veerabhadran (Ram) Ramanathan, a professor at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at University of California San Diego, helped by students and scientists worldwide, wants to help the poor by offering them an alternative to wood-powered cookers:


This solar-powered cooker allows the poor people, on the one hand (which I support) to reduce the forest cutting and save their money, by using free solar energy, and on the other hand to eliminate the risk of choking with the smoke their wood chimneys make in their homes (didn’t these people ever hear of something named “horn”?). The fourth reason, the environmental one, is to reduce black carbon emissions from the areas in cause (India, Africa, some parts of Russia), and reduce the global warming. Because the CO2 particles last a longer time into the atmosphere, the actions we take today may not be sensed until several decades from now.

The scientists want to implement the solar cookers on a 65 square kilometers area in the Himalayan mountains, and then to make measurements of the gained effects. These measurements and studies will involve installing Bluetooth heat sensors at the users’ locations, giving them GPS-enabled phones equipped with accelerometers. In other words, the same equipment you give to a wild boar, when you study it.

As I said before, I find useful the following:
1. saving money otherwise spent on wood
2. preventing wood chopping
3. saving some of those people’s lives (partially, because this reason could be simpler to implement by providing them with a 5000-years high tech horn).

I also find that cleaning their air is important, but let’s not get too dramatic. I don’t think these people’s fires attack the atmosphere like diesel or gasoline engines do, like coal-powered factories and black power plants do. They are isolated communities, with a relatively low population density, so let’s not get too “green” about it. I may be right… or not!

Anyway, for all the other reasons, and partially for the latter criticized one (I can’t say burning wood doesn’t pollute), I salute the Surya project, because it uses solar power to do something useful. The idea is, still, not to get over-excited on small things, but rather act powerfully on the big ones.

What do you think? Am I right or not?

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  1. I really love all these new ideas on how to do things differently or harness natural sources of energy. But this guilty fire rhetoric is over the top and unnecessary.

  2. Thank you Ovidiu for your charismatic article, but I have a question for you, Have you ever traveled out of your tiny mind, sorry, town? At least open a book or turn on your TV that is the only way in which you will be able to see poverty in the world and people worried about what to eat today. Maybe you would like to know that to be sarcastic is NOT a virtue of a humanitarian philanthropist. If you want to help open your mind first, then give us your enthusiastic ideas!!

    PD: Also I am a scientist.

  3. Hm . . !!

    The people in the third world countries, the ones that supposedly are going to cook on solar generated heat, those will in their huts, cabins or in the field still need to get warm at night. Unfortunately they will continue to burn wood or another scource of imported fossil fuel. And how about the production costs of such a device, since most of these people are dead poor?

    Mind you, I am ALL FOR, hopefully still in my lifetime, seeing such a device or preferrably its second and third generation reaching these masses to be implemented on a widespread scale.


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