Will mini-micro solar remain a toy for the middle-class and rich in India?

Cheap locally fabricated solar cookers are stolen and seized in rural India, where the long arms of mis-governance reaches out and does anything to see that rural people do not emerge from their centuries old subjugations


I am one of the few persons I know who use a solar cooker regularly for cooking rice, lentils, vegetables and some meats. In addition, making marmalade as well as re-heating food in addition to bakery products and egg variations, come naturally. The most natural default usage is thawing frozen foods. We get sun from sunrise till about two-three hours before sunset on our balcony.
Within Delhi conditions, I estimate that we are able to use the solar cooker for about 250- 280 days a year. At a very modest estimate of saving Rs15-20 per day in energy costs, the solar cooker that we purchased for a bit below Rs5,000 bought online and delivered at home, has paid for itself in a year. In addition, I have become famous for presenting people with homemade marmalades using orange cuts, orange peel, jaggery, lime, splash of cheap gin and random fruits, including bananas that may be going over-ripe. Sometimes I also add the "heads" of vegetables, which have been cut and would otherwise be thrown away to add "body" to the preserves. My raw material cost per bottle of 500 grams is between Rs12 to Rs15, solar energy free.
The solar cooker is also very useful for quick drying wet clothes and sneakers.
Locally manufactured micro-mini solar cooker variants cost about Rs2,500 to Rs3,000 all across India now. What we own is a branded option, which can be left out in all weather conditions, and has some good technology used in terms of double glazed glass as well as a better quality rubber for making the vacuum tighter. The solar cooker we use was initially designed for the export market, to work as a portable solar cooker for people in America who wanted something for reheating foods and minor barbeques in public spaces, where open flames and pollution were not permitted. The Indian Armed Forces subsequently picked this up as it could also be used on high altitudes, modified with a back-up electrical connection.
A variant of this product is now used by friends in remote parts of India, where a third option is incorporated by fitting a metal stand below the solar cooker - when there is no sun and no electricity, they can heat the base using twigs, wood or coal. When I asked for photographs, they said "no", and that got me thinking, why?
The sociological feedback I get from users of a solar cooker presented to a family in what is called "Maoist India", where they have successfully replicated it using local materials salvaged from scrap, is as follows - most rural families do not have the wherewithal to save up for more than a day or two of fresh produce. When they do, a lot of it goes bad, and has to be wasted because nothing can be done with it. The solar cooker permits them to use the skin of fresh produce as well as over-ripe fresh produce with free solar energy to convert food going bad into jams, marmalades, or other preserves which can be used as foods they can carry out into the fields and jungles.
In addition, they buy the fresh produce last thing in the evening, when prices are lowest. Then they cut the vegetables, "set" the cooking dish for next morning (cooking medium, masalas, spices, salt at the bottom, then the water and then the chopped vegetables on top), put it inside the cooker "oven" so that the food is ready to start cooking with the first rays of sun. Goes without saying, amount of cooking medium used is also down to 20%-25% of what is used in conventional open flame cooking.
This is for the solar cooker at home, where they are worried that it will be stolen, or seized. Why seized, I ask, and they look at me as though I am daft.
Cheap locally fabricated solar cookers secured in deep forests help them re-heat or cook food without giving away location as there is no smoke. In addition, certain jungle berries and leaves, which cannot be eaten raw but are extremely nutritious when cooked for 2-3 days along with certain jungle insects and other high-protein easy to cook animal meats, can also be left to slow cook in the solar heaters and recovered later when cooked.
Why do they have to hide the solar cookers is the next obvious question? Why would anybody seize their solar cookers, is the question again? This is met with a laugh and an answer that insinuates that I know nothing about rural India, where the long arms of mis-governance will reach out and do anything to see that rural people do not emerge from their centuries old subjugations. Incidentally, the location where these mini-micro locally made solar cookers are used, is less than 24 hours by a combination of foot, cycle, bus and then train to New Delhi.
The scrap material they use includes metal sheets from old automobiles, headlamp reflectors for focused heat if beverages have to also be heated, mirrors from all over and a reflective paint that can be applied on almost any surface - the insides of old suitcases lined with tin sheets are a favourite.
Mini-micro locally fabricated solar cookers are revolutionising life in the deep jungles of India, to pun on words, and in an ultimate tribute to how consumerism impacts them, are also used to make instant noodles.
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