15 June 2015

‘People’s Choice’ highlights: Go solar!

Optical technologies and the people who work with them have brought tangible social, environmental, health, and economic gains to humanity. A prime example is the solar cooker, designed for sunny and dry climates. Varieties of these have provided thousands of people with alternative sources for cooking fuel. The top five countries with ideal solar cooking climates are India, China, Pakistan, Ethiopia, and Nigeria.

In the photo above, Sandipan Mukherjee demonstrates the popular use of solar cookers in a remote village in Nubra Valley, India. Off the national power grid, Nubra Valley is tucked away in a high-altitude, cold desert between the Himalaya and Karakoram mountain ranges. Solar-based technology plays a crucial role inthe village. Although it can be bitterly cold in Turtuk during the winter, the area still receives strong sun rays.

The three types of solar cookers are heat-trap boxes, curved concentrators, and panel cookers. The solar cooker shown above is a curved concentrator cooker, or “parabolic.”

Solar cookers consist of two simple black pots and plastic heat-retention bags surrounded by aluminum foil-covered cardboard which reflects sunlight and converts it to heat energy. Solar cookers have reduced time spent gathering wood for people, especially women, living in off-grid rural areas. Solar cookers also contribute to the environment by decreasing unhealthy smoke from wood fires and save one ton of wood each year.

The non-profit organization Solar Cookers International (SCI) spreads solar cooking awareness in areas like Turtuk, where there are diminishing sources of cooking fuel. SCI collaborates with not-for-profits and individuals worldwide to improve solar cooking technology and promote its impact on human health. The organization’s partners include the United Nations Development Program and the World Health Organization.

Mukherjee is one of 32 contestants for the People’s Choice Award competition in the SPIE International Year of Light Photo Contest. Judges have already chosen three winners, but now it's your turn to choose. SPIE is providing a prize of US $500 to the People's Choice winner. Online voting continues through 15 August.

Other People’s Choice finalists who demonstrated lighting solutions in their photography are:

"Educating," by Sadai Pandiyan Azhagu-Karpakam, residence without electricity, Virudhunagar District, Tamil Nadu, India, 29 September 2014. A mother helps her child study, while the father powers an electrical generator to fill the home with light.
"Solar Powered Street Lamps," by Maria Francesca Avila, basketball court, Quezon City, Philippines, 15 October 2014. Solar-powered LED street lighting offers a highly energy-efficient solution superior to conventional lighting and allows for a lamp-post spacing of up to 50 meters. Avila is a software developer and is involved in outreach programs located in remote areas of the Philippines. Read more about Avila.
"Sustainable Energy," by Dipayan Bhar, residence without electricity, Kolkata, India, 21 January 2013. A grandmother helps her grandson study using the electricity of potato biomass. The closed book in front of the boy is “Barnaparichay,” a beginner’s guide to the Bengali language written by Iswarchandra Vidyasagar. See Bhar’s portfolio on
"The Light for Hope," by Abhijit Dey, madrasah in Duttapukur, West Bengal, India, 23 August 2010. Over a billion people around the world lack access to electricity. See Dey’s profile.
"Studying," by Handi Laksono, home in Wae Rebo, Flores NTT, Indonesia, 1 September 2014. Wae Rebo is a remote inland in Indonesia. Laksono trekked uphill for 3 hours to reach the home featured in the photo above. The home had a small solar panel attached to the roof and one small light bulb. See Laksono’s portfolio.
"The Human Light Tower," by Jose Ramos II, JalaJala, Rizal, Philippines, 24 May 2014. In rural areas of the Philippines, small towns cannot afford to construct light towers to guide small boats. Instead fishermen use petromax lamps to guide fishing boats.  
"Local Boys and Girls Studying with the Help of Hand-Held Torch and Lamps Where There Is No Electricity," by Md. Khalid Rayhan Shawon, night school in Satkhira, Bangladesh, 1 May 2013. See Shawon’s National Geographic profile.
"The Use of Solar Energy," by Nikki Sandino Maniacup Victoriano (Philippines), farm in Rizal, Philippines, 5 September 2012. AirJaldi Networks, a company that provides solar-powered Wi-Fi for the rural masses, is one of many organizations creating innovative technologies for developing nations.

See more contestants' photos in a previous post in this series:

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