The St Andrews Prize for the Environment

University of St Andrews


2009 Winner

SolSource project

SolSource project

Supplying clean energy for cooking

The SolSource 3-in-1 project aims to supply clean energy for cooking, heating, and thermo-electricity generation to high-altitude low-income communities, where the current energy sources – dung and wood – carry heavy environmental, health, and social consequences.

Solar energy, however, is abundant in these high altitude deserts. Solar cookers can take advantage of this energy resource; however, current options available to these regions are insufficient. The most common cooker in western China, a 95 kg cement dish with mirrors pasted on a parabolic surface, has limited durability and is expensive. Solar ovens do not allow for traditional cooking methods. Panelled cookers like the CookIt do not function in the low ambient temperature. The SolSource project began in 2007 when villagers in Qinghai, China told us of their desire for a more portable, more functional solar cooker.

The main component of SolSource is a highly portable and low-cost solar cooker comprised of traditional nomadic tent material and locally sourced bamboo. A thermo-electricity generator and a thermal energy storage system are being developed to make use of solar energy when the SolSource cooker is not being used for cooking.

Income Generation & Manufacture: We will partner with resettled nomadic communities who will manufacture and distribute SolSource. These communities have been moved to urban settlements and are no longer able to practice their traditional livelihoods. Therefore, they are unable to generate income. However, by manufacturing SolSource they can make use of their urban resources and traditional knowledge to provide an energy solution to their communities and a means of integrating into the urban economy for themselves. By playing a key role in the production of SolSource, these local craftspeople and their communities can claim full ownership of the SolSource technology and its future development.

Awareness Seminars: In addition, we hope to increase awareness and student involvement in sustainable energy projects by holding seminars at local Himalayan universities. Special training sessions will be held to enable interested students from rural areas to run similar awareness programs in their home villages. We are currently developing two student teaching aids for this purpose: an illustrated reader series and a music video of songs about energy technologies, the relationship between health and air quality, and the relationship between climate change and agriculture.

Monitoring: We will continue to develop our public, online energy database (the EnergySource DB) and to compile fuel-use in our target region. Through the EnergySource DB we will monitor changes in regional climate change and indoor air pollution (IAP) exposures.

By abating up to 70% of household biomass consumption in the Himalayan region, SolSource will help preserve the carbon sink provided by trees, curb land degradation, reduce air pollution, and promote gender equality.

With the support of the St. Andrew's Prize, the SolSource team and our community partners will be able to conduct the first large-scale field test and production trial involving 20 communities in Sichaun, Qinghai, and Gansu Provinces, China. Since describing the SolSource on our website, we have already received inquiries from individuals in Egypt, the US, Nepal, Bhutan, India, China, and the Sudan, all wanting to bring the device to their own communities. In time, SolSource's flexible design can be adapted to meet the energy needs of communities worldwide.

My mother and I are very short, but my brothers are tall. When I was little, I asked my mother why she was so short. She told me that I too would be short because of the heavy burdens of fuel and water that we women carry. This is why I feel women need good solar cookers and more of a voice in the village

Lhamotso resident of Waku Village

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