Rural Indian households typically have a joint family structure wherein each household consists of at least 5-6 members. Women in such households typically spend a lot of time in the kitchen, cooking with energy sources such as kerosene. This means that they have to deal with hazardous smoke throughout the day. Cost is also an issue, since the amount of kerosene that one can obtain from the Government-subsidized public distribution system is hardly enough and villagers have to buy kerosene from the market, paying high prices. Kerosene’s alternative, LPG, is quite expensive and both kerosene and LPG are inflammable.
British Petroleum India Energy Ltd realized that solving this energy problem of rural India can be a business proposition too. It partnered with Bangalore-based Indian Institute of Science to come up with low-cost, smokeless cooking stoves which run on pellets made from agricultural waste. Aptly named ‘Oorja’ (which means ‘Energy’), this stove was pilot-tested in the rural areas of the Indian states of Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra in 2006. The success of this pilot led to BP introducing ‘Oorja’ on a commercial scale and it now has more than 25,000 customers. The stove costs Rs. 675 (about $17) and provides a low-cost, clean and safe solution to the energy needs of rural Indian kitchens. ‘Oorja’ has a chamber for burning pellets and a mini-fan, powered by rechargeable batteries and controlled by a regulator, blows air to fan the flames. This technology increases combustion efficiency.
About 5000 rural households in Madurai and Virudhnagar districts of Tamil Nadu have adopted ‘Oorja’ into their kitchens. Most of these families have reported a 50% reduction in their cooking costs due to ‘Oorja’. Additionally, cooking with ‘Oorja’ doesn’t create irritation in the eyes and utensils are cleaner since there is no smoke generated. Of course there are a few problems with ‘Oorja’ – it doesn’t generate enough heat to make Indian breads (chapattis, dosas) and it cannot be refuelled while it is lit. But, I am sure that these problems will be sorted in due course.