Picture courtesy: One Earth Designs’ Facebook page.
Catlin Powers is a determined woman. As a research student from Wellesley College, she was high up in the Himalayas in western China, when she was told by the nomads, that the fumes from their stoves was killing them slowly. Solar cookers were the solution, but the ones available were heavy, and couldn’t be moved easily.
She came back, obsessed to find a safer solution, and spent two years living among the nomads and learning about their pain points and needs. She went on to co-found One Earth Designs with Scott Frank, a research student from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), to manufacture solar-based products, when she faced a problem related to the development of a new material needed to create solar cookers. Undeterred, she tracked down a retired engineer, whom she knew to have the creative chops to solve the problem. “He was spending his days surfing. I knocked on his door and convinced him to join us,” says Powers.
After meeting with success in China first, and subsequently in Japan and the US, Powers was in India in mid-March, to launch her company and find potential partners and distributors. Powers is in talks with one of India’s leading renewable energy players based in Bangalore for distribution and also a few of the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) approved sellers.
Solsource, the flagship product is subsidized by the Chinese government and sells for about Rs 7000 ($130) in countries like China, while in Japan and the US it retails for Rs 16,200 ($300). Powers hopes to sell it around Rs 2700 ($50) in India using local materials like bamboo, in some parts, instead of metal, from which it is usually made. The cost of solar cookers can vary in India. Companies that are accredited by the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) sell these at a price starting around Rs 4,000,
Lack of energy has many repercussions in India related to pollution, healthcare and education. Cognizant of this fact, the government has been promoting solar cooking since 1982, with varying degrees of success. India deployed, what was touted as the world’s largest solar cooking system, at the Saibaba Ashram at Shirdi, Maharashtra. The Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission has plans to generate 20,000 MW of solar power by the end of the 13th Five Year Plan in 2022. The target for Phase II of Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission (JNNSM) is an overall target of deployment of 50,000 solar cookers.
Depending on the response in India, One Earth Designs plans to roll out water purification systems and solar cookers equipped with automated cooking settings (these won’t require constant monitoring), later this year. Over the next two years, there are plans to commercialize thermal heating and electricity systems using solar power, which will then complete the overall energy needs of a household. “We will launch our other products at intervals over the next two years. Depending on the dynamics of the market, we may consider setting up a company as well as local manufacturing and assembly,” confirmed Powers.