Binh Ky Village 2’s solar energy project is paying big dividends to its rural beneficiaries, who are saving money and living healthier by conserving energy.
Huynh Kim, vice chairman of the Hoa Quy Ward People’s Committee which oversees the village, said Binh Ky 2 residents no longer cut down trees for firewood as their wood stoves have been replaced by free solar cookers.
The project to hand out the cookers, launched two years ago by Da Nang University of Technology associate professor Hoang Duong Hung, aims to use the pilot project in Binh Ky to help other rural families in Ngu Hanh Son District and other remote and mountainous areas around the central city of Da Nang.
“It’s great to use the solar cooker because I not only save money by not buying firewood but it’s also much healthier as the house doesn’t get filled with smoke,” said Nguyen Thi Anh Minh, a local Binh Ky woman who was one of the first people to receive a free solar cooker from the project, which is sponsored by the Netherlands’ Solar Serve Organization and Da Nang City authorities.
Minh’s family now only spends half the VND300,000 (US$17,64) it used to on monthly firewood, she said.
Using the solar cooker, it takes Minh 20 minutes to boil a pot of water and an hour to prepare a meal, she said, adding that at first she was reluctant to use the cooker because it looked so strange.
Indeed, the giant shiny bowls – which resemble large satellite dishes – are about as tall as a pre-teen child and do appear out of place in the village.
But Minh was convinced by fellow members of the local women’s union after a few training sessions on how to use the cookers.
Binh Ky resident Le Thi Dieu Huong said her family often used to finish a cooking gas cylinder every two months. But by using the solar cooker part of the time, each gas cylinder now lasts more than four months, she said.
Eleventh-grade student Ho Thi Tuyet Trinh, who is responsible for cooking for her five family members, said her job has been made much simpler by not having to make a fire for every meal.
Moreover, Trinh’s little brothers do not have to go scouring for firewood, said Ngo Thi Cuc, Trinh’s mother.
Cuc said a solar water heater given to the family has also made washing easier.
“Our water is always hot now,” she says.
“We are healthier as we wash and bathe with hot water, which helps kill bacteria.”
Let the sunshine in
Project leader Professor Hung said Binh Ky 2’s residents were mostly poor and had trouble accessing fuel.
The project aims to turn the whole village into a “clean” village with solar cookers and water heaters, he said.
To gain the community’s trust, Hung said he and his team had to first visit homes to personally introduce themselves and explain the cookers and heaters.
“We also had to discuss environmental pollution and how traditional cooking affects their health,” said Hung.
Traditional cooking in Vietnam means cooking with coal, straw, leaves or wood as fuel, which people either spend money buying or waste half a day collecting in the forest.
Traditional open fires also contribute to air pollution and cause lung and eye diseases as people spend much of time in hot and smoky kitchens.
But Pham Thi Hanh, an official in charge of monitoring women’s health in Binh Ky 2, said it hasn’t taken long for solar cooking to catch on here.
“Now all women in the village like the convenience and the hygienic aspects of the new way of cooking.
“We are going to set up a lighting system with solar cells in the village as well,” Hung said.
Some 200 of Binh Ky 2’s 300 households now use solar energy.
There might be no better way toward free energy as Vietnam receives an estimated 1,400-2,000 hours of sunshine per year in the north and 2,000-3,000 hours per year in the central and southern regions.
The solar cookers cost some VND1- 1.5 million (about $60-90) while the water heaters cost around VND5 million ($294) each.
Nguyen Hieu - Tuoi Tre