A project conceived in Africa, a land that conceived the humanity
Like many inventions, the origin of SolarChill was happenstance. Serendipity is the word!
During the International Meeting of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol in 2000 in Ouagadougou, some delegates participated in a field visit that took them through the Burkina Faso countryside. While watching rural villages pass by their bus window, I , as the representative of United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the representative of Greenpeace, Janos mate , noticed that the communities there are financially poor but rich in two key elements: children- the wealth of the country, and sunlight, a limitless energy source if it could be tapped.
The activity that I started with WHO ( World Health Organization) , for replacing the CFCs in the vaccine refrigerators by non-CFCs was quite fresh in my mind. Such replacement was essential as CFCs would be eventually be phased out as per the requirements of the Montreal Protocol.
Looking out of the bus window at the children of the rural poor and thinking about their fragile health situation, it occurred to me that plenty of sunshine does not mean plenty of health. Some children, carrying their sick younger brothers and sisters, were looking at us as if we were from other planets. I thought that if we could develop a vaccine cooler that uses the solar energy so abundant in Burkina Faso and other developing countries, and if we develop vaccine cooler/refrigerator that uses the solar energy so abundantly available there, and non-CFC ( ozone friendly) , non-HFC (climate friendly ) refrigerants it will be environmentally perfect product . Such product, we will be able to reach to these and millions of the poor children and improve their health. I mentioned my thoughts to Janos .
I also said that it is not necessary to return to live in ‘caves’ to protect the environment as some may think. We can use modern technology like that of refrigerator with innovative techniques that are environment friendly, pro-poor, health-focus and pro-development at the same time.
Janos was very receptive, Greenpeace has been instrumental in spread of the Hydrocarbon refrigerators in the world. . he understood the importance of the idea that I mentioned to him.
What started as an idea became an investigation of possibilities and finally transformed into action through partnership. Thus was born SolarChill. Africa is the origin of humanity. So also that of SolarChill!
As we all know, the vaccination programmes of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) have been instrumental in saving millions of lives, particularly in developing countries. It is rightly known as one of the success stories in human history. The eradication of diseases like polio and smallpox would not have been possible without such vaccination programmes. The vaccine coolers used in such immunization programmes worked very inefficiently due to non-availability or inadequate supply of grid electricity. In cases where kerosene is used for the vaccine cooler, supply of kerosene was not satisfactory and it contributed to pollution and global warming. Use of Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) makes these coolers ozone depleting and use of alternatives to CFCs i.e. Hydroflurocarbons (HFCs) makes them global warming.
The SolarChill that we imagined had obvious advantages over the prevalent vaccine coolers.
We, UNEP and Greenpeace , decided to contact WHO and UNICEF, to explore the possibility of forming the partnership to develop such ‘dream’ vaccine cooler by forming the partnership. We were joined later by other partners in the private sector as well as technical institute i.e. Danish technical Institute who was toying with such idea for some time already.
Rest is the story of 6 years that included series of meetings of partners, assembly of the prototype, trials in the laboratory and in the field, monitoring of the results and mobilization of resources. Each partner leveraged its inherent comparative advantage in developing the technology. UNEP used its convening power to get the stakeholders over the common platform to start and facilitate the consultations through out the process.
The award is result of all that hard and collective work of the partners, the team of OzonAction in Paris that worked on the project and encouragement received from the Director of Paris office of UNEP.
The President of India , DR. A.P.J. ABDUL KALAM in 2005 invited me for a brief chat on OzonAction programme of UNEP DTIE, when he heard of the award OzonAction programme won for the ‘ Innovation and Leadership’ for assisting the developing countries to implement the Montreal Protocol. I took the opportunity to inform him about the partnership to develop the SolarChill technology. He was very keen and requested to keep him informed on the progress. The President could see the huge importance of SolarChill for the developing countries , particularly in saving the lives of the rural children and women who do not have access to the electricity and effective vaccines.
Later when all the partners of the SolarChill gathered at Paris office of UNEP DTIE after the field trials were successful and when the strategy for the deployment of the SolarChill technology was being discussed, it was felt that it is important to get SolarChill known to the world community. One of the ways to do this was to position the working models in the international meetings and at the visible places. Recalling my discussions with the President in 2005 and based on the wishes from the partners, I wrote to his office. The President’s office immediately informed that the President t is not only keen to install and operate two units in the clinic of the Presidential Complex ( around Rashtrapati Bhavan) but was very keen to buy these units and not to get them free.
Mr. Ashok Mangotra , Joint Secretary in the office of the President, himself an enthusiastic supporter of renewable energy, facilitated the whole process of installation.
The ceremony of handing over of the SolarChill by the partners to the President and handing over of the cheque by the President to the Partners took place place on 1st November 2005.
That was just part of journey of SolarChill. The development continues.
See: www.solarchill.org and