Figure 1: Smart Solar Bench with LED Advertisement Panel

Universities, colleges and schools have a long history of testing innovation and technology in India. They have always been at the front foot of testing new innovations and technologies into practice. Educational institutions in India is having a huge potential for utilising solar energy. Many schools and colleges are knowledgeable about the potential benefits of being a solar campus.

As per the latest statistics available on UGC website, there are around 789 universities, 37,204 colleges and 11,443 standalone educational institutions in India as of February 2017. The importance of academic institutions involvement into sustainability achievement is needed like never before. Due to the increasing temperature and other effects of climate change, sustainable action is required to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.

For this, understanding of the concept and comprehensive knowledge is required about sustainability, renewable energy resources and smart concepts. The concept of Solar Zones is a new and innovative idea for potential utilisation of renewable energy within the institution or campus premises.

What is a Solar Zone?

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A Solar Zone can be a campus square, road, pedestrian pathway, public park, play area, canteen or any other place on campus where a cluster of innovative solar lights and benches can be conceptualised and installed. These areas will then be transformed into a hot spot of social gathering where students, faculty and campus guests will have direct exposure to solar energy applications and its benefits (figure 2).

Solar Zones offer colleges and universities a number of benefits beyond the goal of reducing carbon emissions, and often save money in the long run. The key benefit among these is reducing the overall cost of power or energy.

Solar panel technologies have made it possible for campuses or universities to significantly decrease lighting installation costs and eliminate the electricity bills associated with outdoor lighting. Most institutions in India are yet to become completely sustainable and solar, they are taking notable steps towards it.

Figure 2: A Conceptual Solar Zone

Benefits of Solar Zones in Campuses

There are multiple benefits of Solar Zones in the campuses or universities including:

Savings

Solar Zone solutions are economically practical option to light up public areas, square, street, pathway, park, canteen or any other area in the campus. They are completely powered by solar energy which means the energy is free and renewable. There will be no electricity or power bills.

Educational Tool

During winters, the Solar Zone may be used as the open classrooms where professors can give lessons to students about different subjects that involve sustainability. These solar zones will be visible and statement that will encourage students to think about the innovation and solar concept further.

Safety and Security

The campus that will have more illuminated areas and responsive urban furniture, such as smart street lights and benches, will significantly enhance the safety and security of students, faculty and campus guests. In addition to safety and security, solar lighting will expand operational hours of remote access areas that may be not currently covered by electricity access.

Students Involvement

Students can be the main drivers of the solar zones project. They can be involved in each and every phase of the project, from choice of locations to selection of colour of the units to final features because after installations they will be main beneficiary of installed equipment in the solar zones.

Green Building

The Solar Zones will obtain more sustainability tracking assessment and increase rating with green building organisations. Through the Solar Zones, universities or campuses will qualify to obtain LEED credits in many areas, such as, sustainable site, light pollution reduction, on-site renewable energy etc.

Figure 3: Solar Street Lights

Equipment in Solar Zones

The solar zones should be equipped with facilities in the way that students, faculty and campus guests will use daily, such as public lighting, Wi-Fi Hotspots, charging stations for mobile phones, laptops etc.

Only then, the Solar Zones will create social gathering areas where students will relax and enjoy fully in benefits of having innovative solar equipment at their campus. The various equipment given below can be utilised in the Solar Zones:

Smart Solar Street Lights

Solar lighting is a public demonstration of any campus commitment to a “green” orientation, allowing a campus or university to project an environmentally conscious message throughout the campus.

Other than Solar Zones, these street lights can also illuminate roads, public parks, parking areas and lots, and other specific areas in the university campuses, creating appealing and modern visual environments that will not only promote renewable energy sources, but that will also lower installation, energy and maintenance costs in long run.

Since solar street lighting does not require a connection to the electrical grid, the advantages of solar lights were immediately apparent.

Smart Solar Benches

Smart Solar Benches are new urban furniture pieces that will help campuses and universities to create better, safer, and more user-friendly environments. Powered by solar energy, Smart Benches will provide many features like mobile or laptop charging points, Wi-Fi Hotspots, USB ports, CCTV cameras, music, radio etc.

These benches can also be equipped with smart sensors that will collect and measure many samples of valuable outdoor data such as air quality, temperature, humidity, and so on. This data is valuable and can be utilised for research work in the campuses and universities. These benches are perfect for Solar Zones and other than the zones it can be install along or near pedestrian routes, bus stops, parking, canteen etc.

Both the street lights and street benches can also be utilised for commercial advertisements for revenue generations and can be utilised for information mapping through LED screens powered by solar energy (figure 1).

Figure 4: Smart Solar Street Light with Mobile/Laptop Charging Points
Figure 5: Smart Solar Bench

Conclusion

Nowadays solar-powered lights also provide high quality light for more than five days without a single ray of sun light due to advancements in battery technology. The smart Solar Bench is an interactive bench which fulfils need of today’s connected consumers. This new kind of smart bench will completely transform the campuses or universities into a safer and user-friendly environment. The combination of these solar lights with solar benches designed in appropriate way will create the solar zones.

Learning about the renewable energy quickly in growing age and being exposed to solar street lights, solar benches, solar panels, campuses will have a positive effect on students who are actually the future consumers. Having grown up with solar and seen its benefits, they are more likely to choose and utilise solar as their energy source in the long run. For campuses, it is a great opportunity to create Solar Zones to reduce energy consumption and to provide a better environment for students, faculty and others to learn, interact and utilise renewable energy applications.

In India, the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) has Central Financial Assistance (CFA) of 15 per cent in place for solar and solar rooftop projects under institutional category.



Ar. Ashish Batra, M.Tech.
Practising Architect-Urban Planner
Currently pursuing PhD in urban
planning from GRD School of Planning,
Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar,
Punjab.