Those who think that Indian Ashrams are mainly isolated religious schools, do not know Muni Seva, in the village of Goraj, in Gujarat. It is more of a community using science, technology and green businesses to drive its social mission. Behind this revolution is Doctor Vikram Patel, who runs the Ashram, and Deepak Gadhia, chairman and mentor of one of India’s leading solar system manufacturers. The Ashram partners the company and Deepak is one of the Ashram’s trustees.
“Because of the hospital we have large energy needs, and it’s a recurring and continuous expense. And then I thought that green and renewable energy was the call. It’s the perfect match for us. Being an NGO when we install something we get enough funds. But for the recurring expenses every year we go to donors and they ask ‘why do we have to pay for that every year?’ “, says Dr. Patel.
“We never thought that it would be a business, we started as an NGO, then because we didn’t want to be an NGO dependant on government funding and on philanthropic donations, we started to have a company and we thought of supplying systems which would help us to finance our NGO, and to our surprise this business has grown”, says Deepak Gadhia.
The Ashram has been exploiting natural resources for years. The latest investment has been in the last few months, a pilot solar conditioning plant. It joins the existing biomass system, that still requires 5 to 6,000 kilos of wood per day to produce the 700 tons of air conditioning required by the hospital. Harnessing the sun means saving 1,000 kilos of wood every day.
“In total there are 1.250 square meters of reflectors and the light is reflected onto a heat exchanger to generate steam, and that steam is sent to an air conditioning plant and we’re doing 100 tons which is about 350 kilowatts of air conditioning for our hospital”, says Gadhia.
The Ashram’s first renewable energy project was a biogas plant built about 20 years ago. Cow dung mixed with water ferments in tanks and turns into methane gas, or biogas, used in the kitchens. Even the slurry is used to produce organic fertilizers.
“This biogas, with 160 animals we have, is giving us 60 cubic meters of biogas per day and that’s sufficient for 5 fire oven kitchens for cooking. In each kitchen we cook for about 100-150 people every day”, says Gadhia.
At Muni Seva either they cook with biogas or with the sun. Five pairs of parabolic dishes are used to reflect light. These heat up oil to 250° centigrade which is enough to cook for 500 children. And when the sun does not shine, because oil warms up to a very a high temperature, the heat can be stored in insulated tanks.
“We have two dishes of 10 square meters, reflecting light onto one heat exchanger and a focus, so the light is falling from two sides on the heat exchanger and the temperature in the focus is 550° centigrades,” explains Gadhia. “The cool oil comes into the focus in the heat exchanger and because of the high temperature it gets heated, it then goes to the kitchen it gives back the heat and comes back.”
The green way of living has helped Muni Seva Ashram to develop sustainably: today this community has a cancer hospital, a cutting-edge technology research center, a shelter for old people, an orphanage, a center for mentally disabled girls, and several schools. And many more projects are to come: by next year this community plans to become 100% renewable.