Beyond Zero speaks to Deepak Gadhia founder of Scheffler dish manufacturer Gadhia Solar

WARNING: AUDIO QUALITY IS LACKING ON THIS INTERVIEW -- ANOTHER ATTEMPT WILL BE MADE TO INTERVIEW DEEPAK in 2010.  Deepak Gadhia has a built a solar empire around small to large scale cooking systems, now deployed in 1000s of sites around India and abroad.From his small family sized single pot systems to the world’s biggest solar cooking system at Mount Abu in Rajasthan that cooks 30,000 meals per day, Deepak is now installing systems for small scale cooking through to industrial steam applications for the textile industry and hospitals as well as solar air conditioning and solar crematoriums. He is also now building a 100MW solar electric plant in Gujarat thanks to a German style Feed-in Tariff being implemented in that state.

NOTES FROM THE INTERVIEW

Deepak was educated in Germany. While there he met the Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi who suggested he and his wife return to India with their engineering skills to bring higher tech engineering to the country. They also spoke to a wiser woman who said India needed appropriate technology, not high technology.

Upon their return Deepak worked for a German company while his wife, temporarily unable to find professional employment as an engineer, established an NGO Ecocentre in Gujarat, having observed village people wasting water, chopping down trees etc. in their struggle to survive.

She convinced Deepak that their skills would be better spent helping people (70% of whom live in villages) cook without using the wood which they collected from the forests to fuel their stoves.

Knowing people wanted functional, user-friendly cooking they worked on developing solar powered technology and designed a parabolic dish to power a cooker for the family chapatis, etc. They soon realised that most people could not afford the technology and those who could, did not want to use it.

They then began to look for a market that would pay for the technology. A government subsidy was sourced covering 50% of the cost - institutions such as hospitals and schools were able to take advantage of this and start to produce solar power from the parabolic dishes.

They then realised that this was not a sustainable model. Subsidies are only effective in the initial stage and could not sustain the project.

When asked about matters of scale, Deepak told Beyond Zero Emissions that smaller cookers that fed a small family (10-15 people) worked via a hole in the wall design whereas on a larger scale (such as for an Ashram feeding hundreds of people) this design was not feasible. What was then developed was a way of bringing in light onto heat exchanges that then heated water that created steam as fuel for cooking.

Steam is much more convenient as there is no smoke, no soot and no carbon dioxide emissions. It is also hygienic and quick (35 kg of rice cooks in 12 minutes!). (Regulations had to be met to meet safety requirements for high pressure cooking).

Deepak pointed out that the technology was from Germany but that the cookers were built in India with no imported components and all local machinery and skills are used. This provides much needed income generation at the local level and, importantly, no dependence on overseas inputs. Nor are people needing to depend on Deepak's company for spare parts or for repairs.

The parabolic dishes have a mild steel structure and aluminium alloy reflectors. The simpler technology is a parabola of aluminium reflectors framed in mild steel. The bigger dishes also have a framework of mild steel and reflectors of glass or aluminium and sometimes plastic, but the latter only last about five years.

Currently, 32 steam cooking systems have been installed in India and many in Nepal. 250 community kitchens and thousands of domestic systems have also been installed.

The systems that provide for 500 to 15,000 people are the largest systems in the world with 106 dishes generating 3.6 tons of steam per day, providing 30,000 meals per day at an ashram in Southern India.

Deepak's aim was to reach a market that could not afford the technology. Consequently they looked to micro-financing. This has limitations in very poor communities so they began to market the systems as an income generating tool so people could pay for the systems with their profits from bread or other cooked produce. This required people to be trained in small scale manufacturing, production, quality maintenance, etc. They also 'sold' the idea of smoke-free villages.

Micro-financing is possible to self-help groups (on a needs basis). Such groups are asked to establish co-operatives and to find people who would take responsibility and local NGOs suport them.

Asked if there were expansion opportunities overseas, Deepak pointed out that different countries had a different mentality. Needs have to be met with the assistance of local input and local people. The solar systems have been taken to Mozambique by an American Trust.

A new system which can produce 50,000 meals per day for 25,000 people has been subsidised (30%) by government. The rest is paid for by the temple. An important feature of this system is that it has no running costs. It pays for itself in four years. This has helped convince people that a solar kitchen is viable. People are also now seeing the technology as worth buying not only for sound economic reasons but for its ecological benefits, while the carbon credit system acts as an extra sweetener.

Good returns are now being seen thus making the technology more attractive to investors. Once investors take up the technology this solar cooking system will boom as it is industry that has the power and the money.

Asked how much land was available in India to provide the requisite solar power, Deepak spoke of India being blessed with sunny days and having good solar radiation. Even in the south there are approx 275 sunny days per year.

Asked what advice he might offer Australia, Deepak answered that Australia also was blessed with sun and space and wondered why we did not make more use of it! He said that in India people only hear of our cricketers and coal! He was aware that our government was not encouraging at this stage but that Australia could easily be an important solar player – that we could work together with India and other nations – that we all have a rightful place to serve the same need.

*Interesting fact: 5% of desert lands in India could produce enough to power the whole of India!*

Deepak encourages people to write to him via the ICNEER website – The International Centre for Networking, Ecology, Education and Reintegration.