On a cool jaunt inside an eco-friendly house

By Times Of India on 24 Aug 2017 | read
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A cool breeze ruffling your hair on a scorching afternoon in Chennai... not even a fairy tale will ever begin like this. But what if this was a reality? Well, it is, at this four-decade-old, eco-friendly house on Vasu Street, Kilpauk, that runs on solar panels and biogas, follows rainwater harvesting, and grows fresh green vegetables on its terrace-cum-kitchen garden. The terrace is so lush, that you can hear birds chirping even on a hot, still afternoon, and the rustling leaves ensure a cool breeze all day long. That the house belongs to the 73-year-old revolutionary, D Suresh, popularly known as 'Solar Suresh', is the secret here. Suresh, popular across India for his efforts to 'green up' the country, grown eggplants, tomatoes, ridge gourd, lemons, ginger, curry leaves, mint, broad beans, green chillies, radish, cauliflowers, beans, potatoes and bittergourd on his roof. And after successfully implementing all his natural resources project, the man is now ready to come up with a wastewater recycling project that will be capable of treating toilet, household, bathroom and kitchen wastewater into safe potable water right in his home.

"It all started when I got to travel to Germany 20 years ago. It stunned me when I saw every house having its own rooftop solar plant. This left me thinking, if a country like Germany, that has a little sunshine, is successfully living on solar energy, why can't a big country like India? Especially if you look at Chennai, we have sunlight throughout the year, imagine how much energy we could produce and utilise in the areas where there is no electricity at all," begins Suresh.

The IIT-Madras and IIM-Ahmedabad graduate, after working for 18 years in a company that manufactured auto electrical components, decided to give shape to his innovative idea all by himself — at his home. The first move was to approach major companies in Chennai for sponsorship, but none showed any interest. So, he decided to walk down the path all by himself. Says Suresh, "I'm not a businessman and we need to stop looking at this as 'Return-on-Investment'."

Do you think twice before splurging on movies, shopping or partying? He believes this is one investment that has a larger impact. "There are many misconceptions about installing solar panels. People think these do not work when it rains, and changing the mindset of people to get them to adapt to this lifestyle change is a major challenge. To prove all the misconceptions wrong and present a successful project to the public, I decided to do it myself. I want to eradicate the problem of solid waste management and if we all install biogas, half of garbage dumping problems will be gone soon," he shares.

So far, he has installed around 40 solar panels and biogas plants in Chennai, Hyderabad and Bengaluru in various schools, residential areas, old-age homes, hospitals and factories. He works closely with three local vendors who help him set up solar panels, biogas plants and kitchen garden in houses, schools and commercial areas. He ensures that he inspects the places before and after the installation.
Suresh installed 1 kilowatt (kW) solar power plant at his home in January 2012, and later in June 2015, he added 2 kWs. In his independent home, everything — from fan, tubelights, computer, mixer-grinder, washing machine, water pump and TV — runs on solar energy. "I only pay around `600 as my electricity bill for AC and the inverter. Solar plants depend on the UV rays of the sun and not the intensity of the heat. So, even during rains, or when it is drizzling, the UV rays are available. It works perfectly fine during monsoons, too," he says with
a smile.

The simple and low-maintenance method of resource optimisation required `40,000 as a one-time investment in setting up a 1 cubic meter biogas plant that can process about 10kg of waste each day to produce around 40kg of gas per month. Biogas plant requires organic waste like cooked, uncooked, leftover food, vegetable peels, spoilt vegetables and fruits. Suresh collects these from his home, neighbourhood and nearby vegetable shops and hotels. The organic waste is fed to the plants in his kitchen garden as manure. About 20 years ago, he installed an organic filtration tank in his house. "The rainwater is collected from the terrace and is purified through the organic filtration plant. It is completely potable; the plant consists of layers of pebbles, charcoal and sand. The water can be stored and used for various purposes in our house," he explains.

Suresh starts his day in his garden — he can be seen with gardening tools in his hands, scraping the manure he prepares with coco peat and sand in equal proportions. "I am keeping the dry leaves on the top of the soil to retain the moisture — it is called mulching," he tells us, and continues doing what he loves the most — gardening and in turn, help saving the nature.