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Shirdi's solar cooker finds a place under sun

Last updated: 31 July, 2009
Kalyan Ray, New Delhi: 1:40 IST

The temple complex at Shirdi not just radiates spiritual energy. These days it also radiates solar energy.

The solar steam system cooks food for 20,000 people per day.  The Shirdi shrine has joined two other spiritual centres, Tirupati in Andhra Pradesh and Brahma Kumari Spiritual Trust in Rajasthan’s Mount Abu, where solar systems cook prasadam for devotees.

The 73 parabolic antennas mounted atop the roof of the kitchen complex of Sri Sai Baba Sansthan in Shirdi constitute the world’s largest solar steam system that cooks food for 20,000 devotees daily. Though the antennas have been in place since January 8, the entire solar cooking system was inaugurated by Union Minister for New and Renewable Energy Farooq Abdullah on Thursday.

Besides ushering in an environment-friendly power arrangement, the solar cooking system has added to the kitchen at Shirdi efficiency. The prasadam production for thousands of devotees saves Rs 10,500 per day on LPG, Shirdi officials told Deccan Herald.

Annual saving

Since a back up stock of LPG is kept for the lean days, the annual savings translates to about 100,000 kg of LPG, which is nearly Rs 2,000,000 per year. The system exploits sunlight to generate 3500 kg of steam daily for cooking.

While the antennas – each 16 sq mt – were put up in January, the steam generator came alive in June, Shirdi officials said. The system costs Rs 133 lakh out of which the Ministry provided a Rs 58.40 lakh subsidy. The temple had a smaller system of 40 dish antennas, which were found inadequate to deal with increasing pilgrim pressure.

The first Indian institution to employ the solar cooking system was the Brahma Kumari Spiritual Trust at Mount Abu where the mechanics were employed in 1997 to cook food for 1,000 persons a day. Two years later, the system’s capacity was increased to cater to 10,000 people.

Encouraged by the success, the Centre promoted more large solar cooking systems. There are similar systems in Tirupathi in Andhra Pradesh and Satyabama University in Chennai, each of which prepares food for 15,000 people daily.

Steam cooking is clean, efficient and hygienic, especially when food is cooked for large numbers of people. The Shirdi system has been designed in a way so it can generate steam for cooking even in the absence of electricity to run the feed-water pump for circulating water in the system.

The antennas concentrate solar rays to generate steam with temperature ranging between 550 and 600 degrees Celsius. With an automated tracking system, the dishes rotate continuously along with the movement of the sun, always concentrating the solar rays on the receivers.

Every morning, the antennas are required to be turned manually in line with the position of the sun, a process which is completed when automatic tracking takes over. As the solar system is hooked up with boilers, it can take care of a few non-sunshine hours. But a back up is needed for prolonged spell of rainy and cloudy days.

DH News Service

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