10 Nov 2014
The ashram's kitchen serves free meals to more than 35,000 devotees daily. UNDP Photo
It was a hot summer day in Shirdi in the Indian state of Maharashtra. A wind blew in from the arid plains, covering its tracks with a patina of dust. Thousands of devotees at the Sai Baba temple had lined up for a ritual meal offered at the Prasadalaya (a free eatery run by the trust), which feeds more than 35,000 visitors daily. This ashram – a cornerstone of tradition and spiritual faith for many – has undergone a sea change in it’s reliance on fossil fuels. As we walked through the clatter of aluminium plates in the food hall, Amrut G. Jagtap, an engineer at the Prasadalaya explained that meals for about 17,000 devotees are now cooked using thermal energy from solar technology installed on the roof of the building.
In a country of 1.2 billion people, where fossil fuels are in high demand for their use as cooking fuel, the climate could well allow a significant reduction in energy use (and family expenses) if reliance on alternative energy could find a foothold. If solar technology can be harnessed at an industrial scale, however, it can partially meet energy needs and reduce the demand for costly fossil fuels, such as