On New 17 Vasu Street in the Kilpauk area of Chennai lies an almost fully self-sufficient house. Completely solar-powered, the house also has its own biogas unit, water harvesting unit and kitchen garden. While the house has gained fame due to its renewable ways, so has its pioneering owner.
Affectionately called Solar Suresh by his friends and family, D. Suresh believes in living a self-sufficient and comfortable life without being dependent on others.
A graduate of IIT-Madras and IIM-Ahmedabad, he has worked as a marketing executive in textile companies where he rose to become the MD of a textile group. Currently the general manager of a company, he starts his mornings by brewing coffee on a stove, which runs on bio-gas, before reading a newspaper under fans powered by a solar plant. Lunch and dinner comprise of organic veggies grown in his lush roof-top kitchen garden.
Asked what inspired him to source electricity from solar energy, he says that the idea came to him when he visited Germany.
“I saw that people there had roof-top solar plants, which made me think if a country that has little sunshine can be successful in implementing solar plants, then why not India, especially Chennai, where solar energy is available to us in abundance,” he recounts.
When he returned to India, he decided to implement this idea by designing a self-sufficient home.
Initially, he met large companies for help in installing a solar plant but when they showed no interest in the small projects, he decided to get the help of a local vendor. The local vendor shared Suresh’s enthusiasm and interest in solar energy and together they managed to experiment, design and manufacture a 1 kilowatt (kW) solar power plant for home use in a little over a year. In April 2015, he upgraded the capacity of the power plant to 3 Kw.
Explaining how it works, he says,
“There is no separate wiring required and the installation takes just a day while the basic maintenance requires cleaning of panels once in six months only. As for utility, I charge the battery during the day which supplies power to the house right through the night. Since the solar plant depends on the UV rays of the sun and not the intensity of the heat; therefore, it works even during the rainy season.
I live in an independent house with 11 fans, 25 lights, a refrigerator, computer, water pump, TV, mixer- grinder, oven, washing machine and an AC that are all powered by the solar plant. Thanks to the solar plant, I haven’t experienced any power cut even for a minute in the last 4 years and have saved electricity charges by producing around 12 to 16 units a day.
During the recent cyclone, while the entire city was out of power for 3-4 days, we had solar power from the very next day after the cyclone – and all my friends and neighbours were charging their phones and filling water from our home!
Suresh says that setting up solar plants is eco-friendly and economically viable for homes, businesses and public sector institutes such as hospitals, schools and colleges.
“The large flat roof of a building is a great place for solar panels. Also, once installed, the process of generating electricity is free for 20 years – during the life span of the panels – there is an inbuilt insurance from increase in electricity tariff in future.
Not only will these systems contribute to environmental sustainability in the region, but the cost savings will also contribute to the financial stability of these institutes. Just think what schools could do with the extra cash saved from in-house electricity bills: libraries, playgrounds, field trips or the salaries of more teachers!
A great option in Tamil Nadu is the state government’s Solar Net Metering Scheme. Under the scheme, the first 10,000 consumers in the state who set up 1kW systems will get a subsidy of 20,000 from the state government in addition to the Central government subsidy of 30,000. A 1kW rooftop solar power system costs between 80,000 and 1.2 lakh, based on the quality of the solar panels.
If one is worried that collecting the subsidy will be a long-drawn process, then one should take the direct route and do it himself. After all, do we worry about subsidy when we buy a TV, washing machine or a car? Just like them, a solar plant is also a device for our comfort and convenience with the bonus of being environment friendly!” he adds.
Apart from this, Suresh also has a biogas plant, a rain water harvesting system and a kitchen garden.
He collects the rain water from the terrace and purifies the water through an organic filtration plant, which consists of layers of pebbles, charcoal and sand, after which the water is stored in the sump and used for various purposes.
“I see a lot of water stagnating in and around my place, for which I have also installed 15-inch slotted pipes into the ground. By channelling the collected rainwater into the soil, this process recharges the ground water,” he adds.
Suresh also collects organic waste and leftover food from his own kitchen, neighbourhood households and a vegetable market nearby as raw material for his biogas plant. The gas produced from the plant is used to cook food at his home.
“It’s a very simple and low-maintenance method of resource optimisation. To produce gas, the biogas plant requires organic waste, i.e. cooked, uncooked, leftover food and vegetable peels, which provide 20 kg of gas. No odour is generated and no manual intervention is needed, except feeding the plant with organic waste twice or thrice a week.
The one I have at home is 1 cu. mtr in capacity and processes about 10 kg waste per day to produce about 35 to 40 kg of gas per month, which is equivalent to approximately 25 to 30 kg of LPG. The slurry leftover from the biogas plant acts as organic manure for the kitchen garden,” he explains.
Suresh likes to spend his mornings pottering about his garden where he organically grows about 20 types of vegetables.
Most of his home cooking needs are now taken care of from the kitchen garden.
“It’s a phenomenal sight and experience to spend a few moments daily in the garden watching these vegetables grow right under my nose! A few days ago, my wife needed green chillies at 10 pm, and I could pluck them myself from the terrace garden!,” he says enthusiastically.
Suresh has also tried to create a verdant forest-inspired vegetation cover around his home. Other than reducing the average real-feel temperature around the home, the lush garden of bamboo, fruit trees, creepers, shrubs and more is an oasis of natural beauty in the urban surroundings.
“When on the terrace, I get the wonderful feeling of being in a forest and not in Kilpauk, the heart of a hustling-bustling urban city. I love the fact that I can’t see any neighbouring buildings and chaotic traffic – only greenery!”
Encouraged by the benefits he has seen in this sustainable way of life, Suresh has taken it upon himself to take this revolution to as many households, organizations and institutions as possible through education and persuasion, on a pro-bono basis.
So far, he has succeeded in setting up solar power plants, biogas plants and kitchen gardens in several households, schools, and offices. He has also given presentations in over 20 institutions, associations, schools, colleges, and apartment societies over the past 2 years. Thanks to his tireless efforts, his home on New 17 Vasu Street has become the new destination for annual study tours for local school students from classes 5-12.
“These are old concepts which people have now forgotten; people just need to be aware that they can live a comfortable life without being dependent on others or on methods that harm the environment. I am trying to just that,” he concludes.
To contact D. Suresh, click here.