History of Solar Alternatives and Associated Programme

The state of Bihar is located in the north-eastern part of India. It has an ancient history dating back to around 1000 B.C. When today’s civilized world was in the dark ages Bihar had famous universities like Vikramshila and Nalanda. Gautama, the Buddha got his enlightenment in this land, it was the field of activity of Mahavir Jain! But the present is not so rosy! It has got population of about sixty million, a large part of which is rural with an agrarian background.

The social structure is practically feudal. The resources are very limited and about 50% of the population live under the poverty line! The state in not in a position to supply all the energy requirements of such a large population because of its own financial restraints! Vast majority of the people depend the natural resources, such as trees from the forest to take care of their ordinary fuel requirements. Thus forest cover is being depleted rapidly affecting the weather conditions, especially the monsoon, bringing with more poverty. According to a survey in the Capital City, Patna, there is only one tree for every 2000 people here! The forest range bordering Nepal in West Champaran District is on the verge of becoming extinct.

Realizing the ecological crisis in Bihar, the Jesuits of Patna Province had decided to conscientise the people in this regard. Fr. Robert Athickal took the lead and started organizing the students under the banner of student forum for environment called “TARUMITRA” (www.tarumitra.org). Fr. M. M. Mathew, one of the activists of this movement took the initiative to look into the alternative sources of energy to face the energy crisis and to some measure remedy the ecological crisis.

In early 1996 Fr. M. M. Mathew went to Gujarat to study the feasibility of promoting renewable energy in Bihar. He got a chance to undergo the training with the German Scientist Wolfgang Scheffler, the inventor of the now famous solar concentrated Scheffler community cooker. After returning from Gujarat with the support of the Jesuit Province of Patna, Fr. M. M. Mathew initiated a solar manufacturing unit in the premises of Xavier teachers training Institute at Digha Ghat, Patna.

View of the Scheffler reflectors in Tarumitra (Patna)
View of the Scheffler reflectors in Tarumitra (Patna)

This new venture in the field of solar energy by Fr. M. M. Mathew and the Jesuits received vide support from the beginning itself. The Ministry of Non-Conventional Energy Sources (MNES) gave wholehearted support and approved this venture for vide use throughout the country. Our success is due to a large extent because of this help from MNES.

Many engineers and volunteers from abroad supported this solar manufacturing unit with great enthusiasm. Mr. Olaf Kraus of Germany took much interest to build up this venture. The wholehearted support of ‘Solare Bruecke’ and Mr. Wolfgang Scheffler brought SAAP to what it is today.

Fr. Mathew started the work with a single experienced welder and a few youths from the poorest of the poor. Their dedication and commitment was remarkable. Mainly it is this that opened our eyes to the potentiality of the oppressed deprived of opportunities. So we opened a vocational training program for the weaker and neglected sections of the society.

In 1988 the location of SAAP was shifted to Phulwarisharif premises provided by the Catholic Archbishop of Patna. We have installed SK-14 domestic cookers, Scheffler community cookers, dryers, steam projects, hot water systems, all based on solar energy. Now we are researching on solar motorized rickshaws, steam and hydro-turbines, solar thermal and photovoltaic refrigerators, distillation units, block-steam projects etc. Today Solar Alternatives is also counted as one of the leading fabricators of solar thermal items in the country.