Solar project at the Sacred Groves Sustainable Housing project

  Mathieu explaining his ideas during our group meeting at Manu Gopalan (right)'s house

Mathieu explaining his ideas during our group meeting at Manu Gopalan (right)'s house

I really believe in the power of solar energy to make a difference in this world. In 2013 and till 2014, I was working at a materials physics laboratory in Bangalore (Molecular Electronics Laboratory, Jawaharlal Nehru Center for Advanced Scientific Research) as a Research and Development Assistant. At our laboratory, we were investigating third generation solar cells (flexible, printable low-cost cells) and their properties.

Mathieu Senghor, an international researcher from France and myself were interested in testing these cells in the real world. So we reached out to Manu Gopalan, an architect who was working on developing innovative, sustainable living apartments in Auroville, an 'experimental city' not too far from Pondicherry (Southeast coast of India). He was passionate about building a completely self-sustainable living complex in this area and he wanted to understand the best option for long-term solar technology he should invest in (he would also install a windmill for the complex so as not to be too reliant on solar). Our group wanted to understand the performance of the technologies in the coastal indian weather - extremely dusty, hot and humid conditions which actually reduce solar output.

  A selfie I took after ALL the panels were succesfully installed and data collection would start soon. All the solar cells on the roof of the electrical substation hut. In the middle is the OPV, to the right are regular crystalline Silicon and higher up are amorphous silicon. Outside the picture is CIGS solar cells.

A selfie I took after ALL the panels were succesfully installed and data collection would start soon. All the solar cells on the roof of the electrical substation hut. In the middle is the OPV, to the right are regular crystalline Silicon and higher up are amorphous silicon. Outside the picture is CIGS solar cells.

 We even helped in the making of papier mache furniture for the houses - surprisingly strong stuff!

We even helped in the making of papier mache furniture for the houses - surprisingly strong stuff!

Mathieu and myself would take time off from work to help out Manu and work with his team. We assisted in everything - from lending our expertise in setting up the electrical installations, to the internet (we were in the middle of nowhere!) to even helping mixing concrete during daytime and bringing and serving food for the entire team. It was a fantastic experience working in the middle of nowhere with people of different nationalities.

Over a period of several months, we were able to convince Prof K.S.Narayan (KSN), the head of the lab, to take this initative of ours more seriously. He personally met Manu and signed an MoU with him. We installed several solar panels (all graciously gifted by different manufacturers through their relationship with Prof. KSN) - we had CIGS, crystalline Silicon, amorphous Silicon and OPVs - Organic PhotoVoltaics - a technology which is at a very premature stage, but we were able to get large (~1m) sheets from the lab of Prof Frederik Krebs in Denmark Technical University, again through Prof KSN's personal relationship with him. The study planned is a 5-year long study and it has recently been funded by a generous government grant as part of the National Solar Mission of the government of India. I have since moved on from the project due to my commitments at the L V Prasad Eye Institute, Hyderabad, however there are two new researchers from Prof. KSN's lab who have since been put onto the project. I am really gratified that this small part-time volunteering initiative by Mathieu and myself has gone so far!