Sustainable Living

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Imagine that the year is 2055. (Although we have leapt 40 years ahead in time, you don’t have to imagine yourselves to be 40 years older. 🙂 This is just a thought experiment and you can be the same age that you are today.) You are living in an apartment complex in one of the big cities of India. You are standing in your terrace, waiting for the sun to rise. You see the master of our universe appear at the horizon and pay your obeisance. Then you perform your morning ablutions and flush. The flush is very hi-tech and therefore consumes only 3 litres of water; today’s flushes consume almost 4 times as much. After flushing, the “black water” doesn’t head through the sewage lines towards the closest “wet wells”. Instead it is taken to a black water filtering system (BWFS) which is located at the base of your building, where it is first “de-watered”, which means separating the organic matter from the water. The former is sent for vermi-composting and turns into safe fertilizer in an year or so, while the latter is filtered, treated, and stored.

Then you brush. The “grey water” that is produced while gargling and washing your mouth goes to a grey water filtering system (GWFS) at the base of the building, where it is filtered and stored.

Then you have a sumptuous, healthy breakfast and head for the shower. The water heater in the bathroom allows you to select the exact temperature of the water that you want. If you change it while having bath, the heater responds instantly. Its energy consumption is only 20% that of today’s heaters even when you select the highest temperature which gives you steaming hot water! As you lower the desired water temperature, its energy consumption also goes down, and is next to nothing for lukewarm water whose temperature is close to our body temperature.

As you get ready to leave for work, your wife packs your lunch bag. If you are a woman and wondering, “Are women going to pack lunch-bags for their husbands even in 2055?” I would say, “If you don’t like that thought, you are free to substitute it with one that suits your imagination! 🙂 I am not a male chauvinist and my focus isn’t really on propagating any stereotypes. Therefore, whether the wife packs the lunchbox for her husband or vice versa, isn’t really important for my article, whose focus in very much on sustainability. 🙂 Anyway… the point is that “somebody” packs your lunchbox. The vegetables in the lunchbox are grown on the terrace outside every flat and on top of the building. They are cooked on steam-based cookers using steam that is generated by a concentrated solar thermal (CST) steam generator installed on the roof of the building.

Then you call the elevator, while it is on the 22nd floor, to your floor, the 17th. As it comes down to your floor and then goes all the way to L4 – 4th floor below the ground floor – where your car is parked, the inbuilt Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS) energizes a flywheel. The stored energy will be used to power the motor that moves elevator.

You get to your parking spot and get into your car. It’s an electric vehicle (EV) of course, whose batteries have been charged during the night from the power outlet in your parking spot. Now you might wonder, “During the day, somebody else can charge his/her car’s batteries by plugging into my spot, can’t they?” Well, the answer to that question is a resounding “No” because power will be dispensed only to the “authorized” car. So relax, you won’t have to pay for charging somebody else’s car batteries! Your car also has KERS which gets energized while braking; the stored energy is used to give you a boost the next time you are accelerating. Due to this, your car can go almost 100 kms on one full charge! If however, you want to go on a 300 km long drive in your EV, you can take a couple of fuel cell packs with you, each one of them allowing you to go an additional 100 kms.

As you reach office and get busy with your work, the solar PV modules in your building also get busy with their work, which is to convert sun’s energy into electricity. Where are these modules you ask? The short answer is pretty much everywhere. They are on top of the building– facing the south direction and inclined at an angle of 20°C – generating electricity for the common utilities like the elevators, lights and CCTV cameras on every floor, and the pumps. The south-facing side of the building is also completely covered with a special type of PV modules called Building-Integrated PV (BIPV) modules. But it is almost impossible to tell that these modules are even there because their colour is white, which gives the impression that it is a normal building wall that is painted white. The modules on the outside of your walls are “yours” and generating electricity for your own consumption.

Once enough electricity is generated and stored in the common utilities battery located in the electrical room on L1, the pumps start working. Their job is to pump water from ground-level tanks to overhead tanks, and there are three of them for storing water for three different tasks: drinking, bathing/washing, and flushing. The drinking water tank is filled by the municipal corporation every day. The filtered grey water tank is filled by the GWFS, while the filtered black water tank is filled by the BWFS. So essentially, grey and black water is completely recycled, thus reducing the water usage of the building dramatically. The three pumps pump water from the ground-level to the corresponding overhead tank.

As the sun continues its diurnal journey and finally sets in the west, the lights on every floor light up. They are ultra-efficient LED lights which have only 25% power consumption compared to today’s lights, and are powered by the solar energy harvested by the PV modules during the day; the CCTV cameras have been working all day long on solar energy too!

As you enter your home, you find that it is already at a “comfortable” temperature. But that is not a coincidence; it is because you already switched on the air-conditioner (A/C) remotely using your mobile phone before you started to drive back home. “That can be done?” Yes, of course! That’s what Internet of Things (IoT) is all about. And by the way, your A/C isn’t the “split A/C” of today; it is part of a complex HVAC system, and the chilled water required for cooling purpose is generated with the help of heat generated by a CST heater dedicated for this purpose. “How’s that possible?” you ask. “Chilled water with the help of heat??!!” Well, it sounds strange but it is possible.

As you enter your home, you switch on the lights, which are also ultra-efficient LEDs that give out natural light and have an additional property: they “soothe” you after a tough day at work. “Hmmm… soothing lights. Sounds good to me,” you say. Sure it does!

Then you switch on the TV, which is an LED TV of course; TVs with picture tubes can only be found in museums in 2055. You watch the news for a while, and then decide to surf the internet for a while which you do on the TV itself. “SmartTVs are available in the market even today! What’s futuristic about that?” you ask. Well, this TV is powered by DC and not AC like today. In fact, almost all the home appliances – lights, air conditioners, water heater, computers, mobiles, refrigerators and other kitchen appliances – are natively powered by DC unlike today.

All other family members arrive. You have dinner with them, relax for an hour or so, and then go to sleep with the knowledge that the sun will rise the next day again and power your world!

“Will all this really happen one day?” you ask. Of course it will! For me, it is a foregone conclusion; it’s only a question of when and not if. And what will really surprise you is that most of the technologies introduced in this first article, and which I will explain in a lot more detail in the following articles, already exist today or will be developed before the end of this decade. It’s just that they aren’t all that commercially viable yet. But then again, the Indian “middle class” couldn’t afford computers and mobiles right after they were introduced, could they? And you know what the situation is today.

Besides affordability, there is one other reason for my unshakeable faith that these technologies will be adopted one day: we will have no choice but to adopt them! When we run out of coal, how are we going to generate electricity? When we run out of diesel, what is going to fuel our cars? The answer to these questions is obvious: the sun and the wind of course!

I hope you liked this first article. I will start unraveling all the “mysteries” one by one, in the following articles.

Sustainably yours,

Prashant Karhade.

5 Responses

  1. Vasu Ramanujam 3 years ago
  2. Prashant Karhade 3 years ago
  3. Amit Kulkarni 3 years ago
  4. Manjunath Naik 3 years ago
  5. Prashant Karhade 3 years ago

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