Almost everyone in the world needs electricity and it find it importance besides clean water and safe sanitation as a human right. Also, every child has a right to education, yet the conditions in which a child can study are generally neglected, especially in rural India. Even today, 40% families in India use kerosene as the main source for lighting (Census 2011). When studying at night, the kerosene fumes that blow out of a lantern are harmful to health and may cause severe damage to lungs and eyes. What every child deserves is the right to clean light – that causes no harm, is renewable and affordable and due to subsidies on kerosene, villagers prefer buying it.

Most of the remote villages are disconnected from the mainland in terms roadways and power lines, considering the fact that there is a huge installation investment and also the returns are minimal. Another way to solve this issue is by installing mini grids and battery powered individual lighting systems.
In rural India, the Solar-Powered Microgrids show mixed success. As India looks to bring electricity to the quarter of its population, still having no access to it, the nonprofit groups are increasingly turning to the solar microgrids to provide power to nation’s villages. But the initiatives so far have faced major challenges.

Let’s talk about Rajanga village in Odisha. It is a three hour to drive from the state capital, Bhubaneswar, but its 550 inhabitants are cut off, and have no access to tarred road, power grid, water supply mains, no shops, and only an intermittent and patchy mobile phone signal. Because the forest is a protected reserve, they are banned from gathering firewood, bamboo, or other products from the forest around them. And since it lies on an elephant migration route, the authorities won’t allow roads or power cables in the forest. Microgrids have been a boon for such villages and the villagers love the clean energy unlike the conventional kerosene.

Suresh Pradhan owns a small mud hut, illuminated by a solar-powered light bulb, dangling from the straw roo. His children could play outside in the evening, he said. And his wife could carry on sewing. But being free of elephants was the biggest gain. “They used to come into our village at night. We were in fear, especially my children, and they did damage. Now there is light, they don’t come.” The fear and number of snakes bites have also reduced ever since the village saw the solar powered lighting system.

In several villages, the only real prospect of getting electricity any time soon will be through constructing stand-alone solar-powered microgrids, where a central bank of photovoltaic cells is linked by cable to a few dozen homes and local enterprises.

So how can the world best achieve the rapid scale-up of microgrids required to light the world’s dark places?

India also has private entrepreneurs investing in the village microgrids. They include the Mera Gao Power in Uttar Pradesh and the Mlinda Foundation in West Bengal. But there are many problems for private investors because, in such a densely populated country, the grid is rarely far away, and grid power is heavily subsidized by the government. In fact, it is often free of charge. This makes it hard for investors to be sure of a return.
Projects like Million SOUL and Liter of Light involve a lot of college students. giving them exposure to lives of rural communities. The entire world emphasizes on education but very few talk about the education at home. Just like a hungry child cannot get educated, a child without a source of light loses several hours to darkness.
In response to such conditions affecting the night studies and other activities of the school children in remote rural communities, the project “Localization of Solar Energy through Local Assembly, Sale and Usage of 1 Million Solar Urja Lamps (SoUL)”, initiated by IIT Bombay aims to empower populations in underserved communities, through high quality programs that meet their real needs to improve the quality of their lives.

Similar is the Liter of Light, a global, grassroots movement committed to providing affordable, sustainable solar light to people with limited or no access to electricity. Liter of Light has installed more than 350,000 bottle lights in more than 15 countries and taught green skills to empower grassroots entrepreneurs at every stop. It’s Night Light Project is about the recycled plastic bottles that can store up to ten hours of light through attached solar panels. The daylight project being a subtle solution which includes water and a plastic bottle as its prime components, provides light intensity equal to a 55 Watt incandescent bulb.

At the Paris climate negotiations, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced his nation’s plans to generate 40 percent of its energy from renewables by 2030. The first stage will be to install 100 gigawatts of solar power in the next five years, as part of an effort to connect the country’s remaining 18,500 dark villages in time for the next Indian general election in 2019.

The problem is that the fees paid by the villagers are far from sufficient to pay for repairs when the product incurs some damages.  Currently, batteries last only a few  years and are the biggest cost of the entire system. Maintaining the battery pack and mini grids in remote areas is not feasible. Change of batteries incurs high maintenance cost. Acceptance by the village community to new technologies, trying to keep account of the damaged modules becomes difficult due to geographical exclusion and lack of communication. The million SOUL is trying to bridge this gap by having centres around the country where the users can get their product fixed or exchanged incase they get damaged.


Still, microgrids linked to solar power have huge potential in rural India. The technology is there, and it is becoming cheaper all the time. Given the shambolic state of the national grid, and its heavy reliance on coal burning, solar microgrids still seem like the ideal solution for lighting dark communities when comp. The model are made affordable but NGO’s find it a challenge to deliver it to the extreme poor communities. But the search for a sustainable model to get microgrid to where they are needed goes on.

Optimists hope that, with the global price of solar energy falling fast, private investment may be able to bring power to even the poorest. India, with more dark villages than any other country, is set to be the test case in order to set an example to other villages around the world.



Environment day

World Environment day is here again – to remind us of our duties once every  year.  5 June suddenly makes us concerned about our home- our planet earth.

Mankind has evolved a lot in the past thousands of years. From the discovery of fire and the invention of wheels, we have come a long way down the roads of evolution – thanks to the scientific advancement. However nothing comes for free and this advancement has also came at a cost, a rather heavy one. The degradation of environment is no longer a prophecy albeit a non pretentious event which is happening every second, even as I write this.

With the rampant deforestation and the unbridled use of fossil fuels we have almost exhausted almost one third of the resources since industrial revolution.  Coal has been in use since 300 BC but was extensively used only after the industrial revolution. Most of the fossil fuels are used for generating electricity and for transportation.  Incidentally all these fossil fuels are big sources of pollutants as well, coal being the biggest culprit.

Around 14 lakh people died in India in 2013 due to air pollution, out of which 30,000 alone in Delhi. Air pollution accounted for 55% deaths in India in 2013, a figure which is expected to rise in near future. Already gasping for breath ?

So far I have been blasphemously commented against the pollution and unchecked use of fossil fuels, but what is the solution ? Shall we stop producing electricity ? We simply cannot, in fact our energy requirement is set to double within next 15 years or so. Alternate resources such as Hydroelectric power project cannot be utilized due to a number of socio cultural issues. We are not self sufficient in nuclear and given the safety of the citizens being of paramount importance, any further developments in this field is also questionable.

Though India recently touched the 1010 kWh mark for per capita energy consumption in 2014 – 15, it is not at all a figure to be proud of. Around 28 crore people do not have access to electricity. Not only this about 17 lakhs are homeless as well. With the increasing population and development of the country the energy requirement is set to increase by staggering  figures. Ambitious programs of the government such as housing for all and 24×7 electricity have further intensified the challenge of proving clean energy to the masses without harming the environment.

How nice it would have been to have a house that doesn’t consume any energy and releases surplus energy into the grid as well. How great it would have been to make a house in 15- 20 days lat with reduced carbon footprint and less materials. This would solve the two biggest challenges at hand – housing and electricity. You must be thinking that I’ve lost my mental balance due to the hot summers  but to yours and many others disappointment I haven’t. This idea is plausible and possible and as a matter of fact already have been implemented with success.

Enter Team Shunya , a group comprising students from different branches who came together to take part in finals of World Solar Decathlon Europe held in Versailles in 2014 and eventually became the first Indian team to do so. The team built an energy positive house within 10 days at the competition site and gathered accolades from all over the world for innovations that were incorporated. The house now proudly stands in IIT Bombay as a testimony to commitment of Team Shunya towards designing sustainable, self sufficient and energy efficient affordable housing. The house also serves as a office and work space for the current some 50 strong team of Team Shunya gearing up to participate in Solar Decathlon China in Aug 2017.

With smart cities in sight in near future, the present Team Shunya has once again taken up the challenge of designing and constructing an energy efficient, smart modular housing solution which could be built within a fortnight and would consume no net electrical energy from the grid. This house once constructed and tested would not only help in mitigating the energy crisis but also help in achieving the ambitious targets such as housing for all by 2022.

Author : P.Pradeep

The author is a post graduate student in DESE IIT Bombay, an  avid reader and writer. Sometimes he also tries his hands at cooking and photography. He is the Project engineer for TEAM Shunya for the next year edition of Solar decathlon to be held in China.


Building Generation: A Sustainable Future

Saving Earth is presently our long-overdue project. Time is ticking by, her resources are getting depleted at an alarming rate and its environment is becoming uninhabitable in a style almost as dramatic as the science-fiction movies which presented to us the gloomy exaggerated pictures of planets getting destroyed in a sudden alien attack. The only difference in our case being that there are no aliens, there’s only us. The problem is, a huge fraction of the “class of earth (21st century)” does not know of the existence of the project.

The bigger problem is, that the select few who realize the importance of the refrain “sustainability is the need of the hour” hesitate to take the initiative of getting in more and more people in the loop. The hesitance perhaps stems from the fact that they fear that “awareness” may seem to be a shallow, fancy term for the people who have witnessed the age of plenty, have lived to witness the technological revolution offering a quick-fix solution to all problems and are accustomed to the encapsulation of all concepts of the machinery of our everyday existence.

But, what if the seed of awareness is sown in a piece of freshly mown earth?

What if, the next batch, the next generation, grows up with concepts of sustainability as their ABCDs ? Surely, that will be our tool to throw out complacency and inaction from the minds of the generation that is yet to come.

With all of this in mind,Team Shunya plans to organize a series of school workshops, in order to familiarize students with the concepts of sustainable energy production and ecosystem sustainability. The school workshop kicked in with the first one conducted at Kendriya Vidyalaya, IIT Powai, for 6th and 7th standard students, met with a positively overwhelming response. The enthusiasm of the students interfered constructively with that of the upbeat volunteer team, comprising of Parth, Abihmanyu, Rohit, Ankur, Sarthak and Sravya.

While the volunteers introduced the innovations in sustainable technology,such as economical solar-powered lamps, the bright faces gleamed with excitement and anticipation, marveling at the future possibilities that sustainable technology development holds. Many hands were raised when concepts about sustainability were cleared by the team. Eyes sparkled with excitement when the team interacted with the students and introduced them to the concept of a completely solar-powered house. What could be more heartening for the team, which has been working tirelessly to bring about a revolution in sustainability, than to witness eager responses from students and teachers alike? The success of the first workshop encouraged the team to carry forward this awareness movement, and similar workshops will be conducted soon in more schools.

Team Shunya hopes that this small bit done by us forms a part of the sustainability awareness movement the world sorely needs. Because, the time is now. Because, Sustainability is to no longer remain a buzzword but a way of living.


So Far So Good

Opportunity! It’s the one word which defined most of our reactions when we first came to know about the Solar Decathlon. It wasn’t just a competition. It looked like a journey. A journey down a road no team from the Indian subcontinent had ever ventured upon. Were we scared? A little bit, yes. I remember our faculty advisor, Prof. Rangan Banerjee saying to us, “You don’t know what you are getting into!” But we didn’t need to know. We were in it for the experience, the journey, the ups and the downs, defeats and victories, and the euphoria we believed it would bring. It was a one-time opportunity to work shoulder to shoulder with professors, PhD, Post-Docs and Undergraduates like ourselves. We weren’t going to miss that!

When we took up the challenge, we were always confident we would get through. We had only about a couple of months when we found out about the competition. Building a team, writing the proposal, the designs, getting institute and corporate letters of support and last but not least compiling it all and sending it on time! We did it all, and we did it well. It was the 21st of December 2012 when the results came out and we were a part of 20 teams selected from across the globe. It was one of the proudest moments of my life!

Today, as we prepare for submission of Deliverable #2, we have come a long way from Day 1. Through numerous discussions, countless night-outs and endless debates, we have come out wiser. I’ve come to understand that it’s all about battles. We should not forget the bigger battle while getting caught in the smaller ones. So while we are in the Decathlon to win it, we are cognizant of the bigger picture. We are here to overturn the increasing demand for energy caused by the rapid needs for housing infrastructure in our country. Growth and progress is important for India, but what is even more important is the ability to sustain it. We want to change the perception of the industrialists and the policy makers towards sustainable housing and provide the stepping stone to a better tomorrow.

We believe that us “Decathletes” are looking to lead the path towards a more sustainable future, and we sure hope the world is behind us!


An Unexpected Journey

“When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you achieve it.” – Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

It started off slowly. A nudge here, an inkling there; until the idea of taking part in an international solar competition became reality. We combined technical knowledge with design, philosophy with fact, IIT Bombay with Academy of Architecture; and embarked on what has been an eight month journey of highs and lows.

Everyone had their own reasons for participating in this competition. Be it knowledge, experimentation, a platform to exhibit our skills, making a difference in society or to just try something new. But we were united by a common goal. To win.

Armed with their respective ideas and ideologies on how to achieve this objective, every individual put his or her best foot forward.

Putting engineers and architects in the same room together, is a recipe for disaster. With conflicting styles of thought and action as well as the pressure of the first submission date looming over us; leading to pulling in all-nighters, we started off with a ‘bang’. We soon learned to understand and respect the varied idiosyncrasies and we stopped thinking of ourselves as two institutions and began to think of ourselves as one team. Team Shunya.

There have been moments in this journey that would be hard to put on paper; the elation of being selected as one of the twenty teams to be a part of Solar Decathlon Europe 2014 and the pride of being the first Indian team to ever receive such an honour.

The joys, the frustrations, the anger, the fun, the drama. As ever emotion unfolded, we became stronger as a team. Our faculty’s constant support and supervision gave us the determination to pull through.

Complacency was never an option. Being selected drove us harder and faster and we completed our first deliverable with all but minor hindrances.

There were times when we felt demotivated, hopeless and intimidated. But with the positive feedback on the deliverable, these feelings took a back seat and we’re ready to shine brighter than ever with the forthcoming deliverable.

The team is currently working odd hours to make sure this deliverable is better than the first. With new ideas and their implementation, each new page is filled with something innovative.

With another year to go, this competition has taught us the importance teamwork.

We thank all our well-wishers for their support and we hope to achieve our goal.

Until next time…


Solar Decathlon: The Olympics of Green building design

Competition. It is not just another word in India. It is a way of live, embedded in our collective consciousness, be it something as major as a job interview or as simple as standing at the head of a queue while at the movies. And things are no different when it comes to the question of housing in major Indian cities. With the number of urban middle class houses expected to increase from 22 million today to 91 million in 2030, there is a pressing need to design and build homes that are comfortable, cost-effective and sustainable.

This is the challenge that has been up by Team Shunya, a collaboration of Rachana Sansad Academy of Architecture and IIT Bombay- to build a sustainable, cost-effective, solar-powered house for the Indian middle class in urban areas.

Team Shunya is one of the 20 international teams selected for the prestigious Solar Decathlon Europe 2014 in France. The Solar Decathlon was started as a biennial event by the US Department of Energy in 2002 and has since expanded to Europe and China. Collegiate teams from across the world are invited to design, construct and demonstrate full-scale houses powered entirely by solar energy, complete with all amenities from a dish washer to a building automation system. The houses are judged on 10 extensive criteria including architecture, electrical energy balance, comfort and innovation.  In the 18 month-long designing process, the teams interact with various industry leaders and conduct a multitude of events to raise awareness about renewable energy and energy efficiency.  The teams will construct the houses on their own premises, disassemble them and transport them to France where the final phase of the competition, a two-week exhibition typically with more than 200,000 visitors, will take place. The site for the 2014 SDE is in the grounds of the monumental Palace of Versailles, featuring 41 universities from 16 nations.

IIT Bombay and Academy of Architecture joined hands in November 2012 to form an interdisciplinary teams of architects and engineers working hand-in-hand to find the perfect synergy for our house. The team, named Shunya to reiterate the goal of a zero-energy house, became the first team from India to ever be selected in the Solar Decathlon, whose previous participants include MIT, Purdue, Cornell, CMU, TU Darmstadt among others. It consists of over 70 students and has received constant involvement and support from faculty and authorities of both institutes. Since its selection, Team Shunya has made significant progress in its design and engineering activities and is currently working on several architectural and engineering innovations.

The construction of the house is expected to begin in October 2013. The final competition is scheduled in June-July 2014.

Links: http://www.solardecathlon2014.fr/en
http://www.sdeurope.org/?lang=en (2012 website)


Shunya: The Who, The What, and The Why

We are passionate young engineering and architecture students building a solar-powered, sustainable house for the Indian middle class, which could serve as the answer to India’s growing energy and housing problems. In 2030, the number of urban middle class houses is projected to increase from 22 million to 91 million. If this growth is allowed to happen unchecked, the country cannot expect to grow sustainably.

We are looking to demonstrate a sustainable home for the Indian middle class through our project, which will be a model for the building industry. The house will incorporate some traditional building practices like vastu, a central space, community resource-sharing arrangements etc. and at the same time modern innovations such as structurally insulated panels, a novel HVAC system, building integrated PV etc. We hope that the building industry will adopt some, if not all of these practices and create homes that are energy-efficient and sustainable.


Team Shunya

Team Shunya

The main problem that we are tackling is to create a sustainable house within cost constraints that the target population has. We have chosen a target group with an annual income of Rs 5-10 lakhs since this section is likely to be the one who will consume a lot of those 91 million houses. The house that we are currently planning is strong in all aspects of sustainability, but its industrialized cost is still above the affordability range of the target audience. Our aim is to employ technologies, materials and synergies that bring the industrialized cost of the fully equipped house (excluding the land cost) down to below 20 lakhs, which would make economic sense over its lifetime for the present day middle class to invest in.


Along with the cost, we have a holistic approach towards sustainability. Sustainability, in our opinion is a combination of 6 factors: environmental, economy, socio-cultural, human, design and technology. Each of these aspects have to be taken into consideration for a house to be truly sustainable. We have previously seen solutions that focus on one aspect of sustainability, thereby neglecting some other aspect and ultimately leading to a house that is not sustainable. Thus our focus will be to meet each of these requirements for a sustainable house, while bringing the cost down to the levels where it makes an impact on the target population.