26th June 2014, Versaille, Solar City: Just 20 KMs West of Paris stands a huge icon of French grandeur- a Palace of Versaille.Wealth has been the legacy of Versaille for more than 300 years. It was Louis XIV, in 1682, who made it his royal seat. The sprawling palace , which took more than 100 years to complete was a symbol of luxury, opulence, magnificence and splendour.
It still is.
I must have visited and gone around the palace several times . But when I was there last week on 20th June 2014 , something was different. Not far from palace, in the place called Solar City, 20 teams of students from engineering and architectural instiututes from 17 countries and 3 continents were building houses and apartments that would get energy only from the Sun. Their efforts are part of the Solar Decathlon Europe ( SDE) 2014 , organised by Energy Ministries of USA and France.
Solar Decathlon is linked to Louis-dynasty by totally different but interesting way. Louis XIV was called Sun King (‘le Roi-Soleil’ in French) . Louis XIV conceived his empire, his life and his governance based on God Apollo related to the Sun. All over his empire and in the official buildings including palace of Versaille, he used symbol of the Sun to show his Solar alliance . Though he never used solar energy for productive use during his tenure, 20 teams here , however, are working hard to build the houses that will use only Sun’s emergy for all productive uses in the houses.
Team Shunya, a collaboration of IIT Bombay and Rachana Sansad’s Academy of Architecture is one of these 20 international teams selected for 2014 Solar Decathlon Europe after first level screening in 2013. ‘Shunya’ ( Zero) is meant to reiterate the goal of a zero-emission house. It has become the first team from India to have ever been selected in the Solar Decathlon, whose previous participants included MIT, Purdue, Cornell, CMU, TU Darmstadt among others.
Team Shunya is building a sustainable, cost-effective, solar-powered house for the Indian middle-class in urban areas. Their house is in fact supposed to be one of the units of an apartment building in megacity like Mumbai . It is a house with real life urban situation and shows the way to address India’s urban challenge.
As per the guidelines, the house was constructed first in IIT Powai campus, disassembled and then shipped to France where it is being reassembled with the strict time-line . The final phase of the competition will include a two week exhibition typically with more than 300,000 visitors.
The entire project is a largely student-driven initiative, with faculty members and institute authorities providing guidance in key matters.
‘ It is definitely different feeling when we build house here in France. We have to crack and comply with European standards. Not the same as cracking IIT examination’, said Punit Batra , leader of the Team Shunya , a student who just gave his final year B. Tech Exam.
In order to promote sustainable living at an affordable price, Team Shunya , has provided for six people of an Indian family to be accommodated in a relatively small area of 700 sq ft. ‘ Why six members? Because we are assuming that ‘joint family’ concept that is going to prevail in urban area in future. The old parents of the husband or wife would stay with the son or daughter to take care of their small children when they go for work’ , said IITian Ankit Chauhan. ‘Through the use of multi-functional spaces and modular furniture, we have maximised the comfort and functionality in the house of six members,’ added another IITian , Sanjana Purohit .
The house has five KWp (kilowatt peak) solar PV panels. Using a FPC (flat plate collector) system with phase change material, the hot water requirements of the house will be met on the rooftop. Other innovations include a novel solar powered dryer and a smart home energy management system. The home energy management system will also match the PV generation with grid peaks to minimise the peak load on the grid. It would also provide the owners the opportunity to control the appliances through a simple application run on their cell phones or tablet devices when they are not at home. These measures will work together to create a net-zero ( Shunya) energy house, that supplies more to the grid than it draws.
Passive solar architecture is another central design tenets. With the aim of reducing the requirement for artificial thermal and lighting control as far as possible, the cost can also be brought down. “Scientific principles from Vastu Shastra have also been employed for arriving at the spatial arrangement of various rooms according to the time of the day”, highlighted Parth Bhatia from Energy and Environment Departnment of IIT Bombay.
More than 20 Business houses have supported Team Shunya . TERRE Policy Center, a sustainable developmental platform, operating from Pune and Paris, is a knowledge partner of the team. It has lent support in the form of media outreach and create an awareness among the urban residents.
The houses in the competition will be judged on 10 extensive criteria, including architecture; house functioning; engineering and construction; communication and social awareness; energy efficiency; urban design, transportation and affordability; electrical energy balance; sustainability; comfort conditions; and innovation.
26th June is the traget date for completion. They will be open for public from 27th June to 14th July, after which the results would be announced. 11 the July will be celebrated in the Solar City as ‘India Day’. Indian Embassy in Paris and TERRE Policy centre has supported and encouraged the students throughout.
Students are not just building a house here, they are building their future and the future of future generation. It is just not for Solar Decathlon competition but it is a response to address the defining challenge of our century: Climate Change! A real example of how to transform Mahatma Gandhi’s message of ‘ be the change that you want’.
By Rajendra Shende, Chairman TERRE Policy Centre and former Director UNEP, France.