Meet Catlin Powers, who is passionate about harnessing the sun as clean fuel for millions of energy deficient communities around the world. Imagine if you had to walk for miles every morning to collect fuel for your basic cooking needs. I know my grandmother did that in the Indian Himalayas where she lived. But that was in the 20thc, and you would think things would have improved in the last fe decades. But, it has not. Everyday millions of people do just that on a daily basis and many of them tend to be women and young girls. Many face violence and other threats when they go out to collect their fuel. Often, the fuel they use tends to cause lot of pollution and health problems as Powers discovered. Energy deficiency is a real and challenging problem for millions of people around the world.
During her sophomore year Powers went to Qinghai in the Chinese Himalayas to study climate change. She went to live with the nomads in this region and discovered they used yak dung as their cooking fuel. Thick smoke filled the tent when they started their cooking process and that caught Power’s insterest and she became consumed with this energy deficieny challenge for the next few year. It made her wonder about what kind of health problems could arise from cooking this way. She dropped out of college and spent her time collecting information and data on this problem. Powers discovered serious health and economic risks from using this kind of fuel. Carbon monoxide poisioning and cognitive deficiency were some of the health problems she uncovered among the nomadic family in this region. Lack of access to clean cooking fuel is not a problem just in this part of China, but for 3 billion people around the world.
The idea for building a solar cooker came to Powers via one of the members of the community, who mentioned that a long time ago he got a solar cooker that was no longer works. She teamed up with Scott Frank, an engineer from MIT, who happened to spending time in Qinghai around the same time. They founded One Earth Designs and spent years working on creating a solar cooker that would work in this mountainous region of China. Powers also found time to finish her undergraduate degree and get a PhD from Harvard while she was working with Frank to build their solar cooker. After 54 iterations they got heir product right and introduced it in the market in 2013. Initiallly, they used a barter system to sell their product to the Chinese in Qinghai region.
Sol Source is the name of their parabolic solar cooker, which Powers describes as “an autonomous energy platform.” The cooker not only cooks food, but also helps heat water and they are extending the functionality and working on building batteries to store energy created through their solar concentrator.
One Earth Designs is headquartered in Hong Kong. So far they have raised $1.2 million in funding and their product is available in 38 countries.
Chef Jose Andres and his team making tacos using Sol Source at BiteSV conference.
Photo courtesy: Octogon