It’s a blazing hot summer day in New Delhi. Temperature records have been shattered once again in India’s capital. All Tilak, 52 of Sawda Ghevra, JJ Colony in North West Delhi has, to battle this heat is a ceiling fan. “My family can’t sleep indoors. It’s too hot. We are reduced to throwing water on the floor to cool the air. Is there anything else I can do?”
Tilak who lives in an urban slum and with limited means is among those who are most vulnerable to the rising temperature and heatwaves. Researchers from the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago, Urban Labs, Tata Centre for Development and the Delhi Dialogue Development Commission are trying to assist Mahila Housing SEWA Trust (MHT) in answering Tilak’s question.
Tilak’s one-room home is one of the 270 households where an experiment is being run by painting roofs with solar-reflective white paint. Run by MHT, the idea is to paint rooftops and hopefully help in reducing indoor temperatures, thus improving health, productivity, and quality of life.
Talking about the research question that this experiment is trying to address, Dr. Anant Sudarshan, South Asia Director, Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago says, “An increasing amount of scientific evidence has documented the negative effects of high temperatures on the productivity, health, and even mortality rates of people. Urban heat islands make cities warmer than average and the poor may be especially exposed, lacking the money to purchase air-conditioners or well-insulated homes.”
Adding to that, Bijal Brahmbhatt, Director of MHT says, “Low-income groups are most vulnerable when the temperature is extremely hot. We are trying to test the effectiveness of heat reflective paints in bringing down the indoor temperature in the summers.” She adds, “Throughout the implementation of this project, we worked with the community and piloted these paints. We are evaluating the scientific findings of the experiment and are hopeful that we will have meaningful results to share and contribute towards effective policymaking.”
This project was one of the winners of Delhi Innovation Challenge, a unique competition that crowdsourced the best local ideas to cut pollution in Delhi and meet the city’s future energy needs in 2016. As a part of the project’s intervention, over the last two years, nearly 540 households were selected out of which 270 households got their rooftops painted. Post that, temperature monitors were installed in all of the houses to monitor the indoor temperature and the data were collected monthly to analyze the difference.
Sudarshan adds, “This project is perhaps the first experimental evaluation of a promising new technology – highly reflective white roof paints – that could cool the homes of the urban poor at a very low cost. If the findings indicate a positive impact on reducing temperatures then cool white roofs might be an interesting way to combat high-temperature exposures in India’s fast-growing, and warming, cities.”
Like Tilak, researchers are still waiting to get the final answer. But if a scientific evaluation of the impact of the intervention shows a positive result, this technology might play an important role in improving lives of many of India’s urban poor who battle the unforgiving summer heat every year.