New Delhi, Oct 14 (IANS) What is common between Delhi's Jama Masjid, Amritsar's Golden Temple and Maharashtra's Shirdi temple? Besides being famous places of worship and pilgrimage visited by milllions, they have shifted from conventional to solar power to cook meals for devotees and light up the premises.
Now, more and more places of pilgrims are adopting renewable sources of energy to cook 'prasadam' (offering to god) and meals for devotees, besides generating power for lightning and cooling systems.
The trend was started by the Brahma Kumari Spiritual Trust at Mount Abu in 1997 followed by Tirupati temple in Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra's Shirdi temple and the ISKCON temple at Ujjain. The Golden Temple, the Jama Masjid and the Jagannath temple in Puri, Odisha, have recently rolled out plans to draw on solar energy.
Dedicated buildings have been built at the holy places to cook meals for devotees using solar energy. Turning to renewable energy has dramatically cut down the cooking gas and diesel costs and provides uninterrupted electricity. Moreover, the solar cooking is clean, hygienic and efficient, especially when large quantities need to be cooked.
Various companies have come forward to provide solar solutions and have helped to install solar panels in many holy places, temple authoriries told IANS.
"The solar cooking system installed by us in Tirupati in 2001 serves food to 20,000 devotees per day and it results in an annual saving of Rs. 600,000-800,000," Shubi Gupta, spokesperson of Flareum Technologies, the company that installed the system, told IANS.
The company has also set up the world's largest solar steam system at the Saibaba temple in Shirdi that cooks food for 50,000 devotees every day.
"The solar cooking system saves Rs. 20 lakh and 70,000 tonnes of carbon emission annually. Nowadays, institutions are becoming aware of green and clean power. Although the initial investment is high, the long-term saving is huge," she said.
The Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), the body incharge of gurdwaras across India, last month approved a proposal to shift the cooking of 'langar' (community kitchen) to solar energy.
"The project, costing Rs.1.5 crore, has been given to a Pune-based company and it will be functional in about 3-4 months. Once executed, the project will save a great deal of wood, LPG and electricity," an SGPC member told IANS.
The Delhi government is also planning to light up the Jama Masjid and the Lotus Temple of the Bahai faith using solar energy.
"We are also in talks with the Delhi Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee to install a solar power plant at Gurdwara Bangla Sahib," a Delhi government official told IANS.
The Odisha government has also sanctioned Rs.50 lakh for converting the conventional lighting system at the Jagannath temple to solar power.
The solar energy market is growing in India and many education institutions, hotels, hostels, private companies and residential complexes are shifting to renewable energy.
New solar energy investments in India increased to more than Rs.12,000 crore (about $2.5 billion) in 2011, according to the Council on Energy, Environment and Water.
The Indian government has launched an ambitious National Solar Mission to generate 20,000 MW of solar energy by 2022, up from a little over 1,000 MW at present.
(Richa Sharma can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)