This programme, carried out by GERES India (Groupe Energies Renouvelables, Environnement et Solidarités), involves the implementation, dissemination and scaling up of passive solar housing technologies in cold desert areas of the Western Himalayas. Key technologies applied to both new housing construction and retrofitting include solar gain, thermal mass and insulation. A three-phase scaling up methodology has been developed which consists of a demonstration phase, an extension phase and an exit phase. Five hundred and fifty houses and community buildings have been completed to date, with 215 local masons and carpenters trained. The programme is ongoing, with the exit phase due to begin in 2011.


Project Description

Aims and Objectives

To establish all the necessary conditions for the sustainable scaling-up of energy efficient buildings and improving the winter livelihoods of rural populations in the cold desert areas of the Indian Himalayas.


The Western Himalayas is a cold desert with 300,000 inhabitants living in high altitude villages (2,700m to 5,000m), with an ethnic and cultural heritage similar to that of Tibet. Natural resources are very limited and local employment focuses primarily on livestock breeding and subsistence agriculture. During the winter, temperatures generally fall below -20°C. Traditional houses are built of wood and stone and are thermally inefficient, with room temperatures falling below -10°C in winter. Family members tend to live together in one room in winter (known as the ‘winter room’) which facilitates disease transmission and the use of local stoves aggravates respiratory infections. Flash floods are increasingly a problem, with over 300 people dying in the floods of 2010. The target population is individuals living with less than one dollar a day. Large intergenerational households are not uncommon, with 15 members sometimes living in one house.

Scarcity of local fuel and the high price of imported fossil fuels have resulted in a situation of energy vulnerability. Women and children spend almost two months a year gathering dung and bushes in pastureland. Very few activities are possible during winter, even indoors, due to the cold temperatures. The region benefits from strong sunlight for more than 300 days per year.

About GERES India

Established in 1976, GERES (Groupe Energies Renouvelables, Environnement et Solidarités) is a French NGO operating in thirteen countries. Its Indian branch has been working in the Western Himalayas since 1986, supporting local NGOs and institutions to promote income generation activities and eco-friendly technologies. GERES India started its work with research and development on passive solar technologies to improve living conditions in the Ladakh area of the Western Himalayas in northern India, with replication in other cold areas of Asia. It continued with pilot projects until 2004, which validated technical solutions and developed social methodology and financial mechanisms. These preliminary stages enabled the launch of extensive projects from 2005 onwards that provided improved greenhouses (IGH) to enable the poor population to improve their winter diet, as well as a source of additional incomes in the areas, and set in train the key conditions for scaling-up these activities throughout the Western Indian Himalayas. The project was conceived to address the main problems faced by poor people and led to the successful creation of the NGO that is responsible for implementing this project.

Key features

The passive solar housing (PSH) technologies used in this programme of new housing construction and retrofitting include solar gain (direct gain, solar wall, attached greenhouse), thermal mass and insulation (window, wall, floor and roof). In the passive solar houses, the average indoor temperature remains continuously above 5°C while it can go below -10°C in unimproved houses. Fuel consumption has reduced by 50 to 60 per cent. The average cost of installing energy efficiency features is US$955 and households provide approximately US$610 (64 per cent) of this in cash and kind through local materials, casual labour, part of the skilled labour, and part of the cash materials. Benefits include improved comfort, more social visits, time saving, easier education and improved health. Local people have been trained in income generating skills which include local handicrafts.

With the aim of sustainability and scaling up, a three-phase methodology is used – the demonstration phase which creates awareness and seeks to generate demand by encouraging influential people in the community to innovate and demonstrate the advantages. The extension phase spreads the project into target social groups through the selection of households willing and able to be included. This typically involves a few houses in a large number of villages, as communication between villages is not easy due to the distances and terrain involved. Key aspects of this are training of local artisans, establishing grassroots level networks to act as pressure groups on the local authorities and policy level networks at district and state levels. The third phase is the exit phase where a favourable environment for replication is created, financial support is phased out and local involvement increased.

The five existing NGOs in the area are the key implementation agencies, taking on dual roles of resource NGOs (technical expertise, capacity building) and proximity NGOs (implementation in the field). The NGOs have increased their capacity to function independently in their respective regions and have become technical reference points in the areas of energy efficient housing, training of artisans in PSH and generating mass awareness regarding the benefits of PSH. To date 550 buildings (houses and community buildings) have been completed, 215 local masons and carpenters have been trained and over 460 artisans have been provided with trainings to improve income generation skills. It is anticipated that 1,000 buildings (970 dwellings and 30 community buildings) will be completed by 2012. The exit phase will begin in 2011.

Covering costs

The estimated budget for the entire project is US$2.6million, of which US$1.6 million has been allocated to passive solar housing activities, of which US$570,000 is specifically dedicated to the investment for integrating energy efficient technologies into domestic housing, public and community buildings. The remaining US$1 million is used for training etc. Half of the project funds come from institutional funds from the European Union and France; the rest comes from private funds (foundations, private sector, general public) and carbon credits through the GERES CO2 Solidaire scheme (20 per cent of total budget).

The average cost of installing energy efficiency features is US$955, which includes casual labour, skilled labour, materials available at the household level (stone, brick, wood, straw) and cash materials (timber, glass, UV resistant plastic). Households contribute labour, local materials and some of the cash materials, with the cash contribution being less than 10 per cent of their annual income. The project’s contribution covers 60 per cent of cash materials and some incentive for skilled labour to ensure quality of insulation, which will correspond to an average of US$340. There is a reducing financial contribution over time to encourage easier replication.


As a result of the project, people have the benefit of a warmer and healthier indoor environment and they are able to earn more money in the winter months. Costs of heating the rooms are significantly reduced and people are better off financially with their improved incomes. There is a broader awareness of environmental issues due to the large media campaigns on both energy efficiency and climate change.

Meetings with the local authorities, policy-makers’ workshops, practitioners’ workshops and technical guidance have influenced strategic plans and policy for energy efficient buildings at District and State levels. Support is provided to the local authorities to integrate energy efficiency into some standard public building designs (school, medical centre, veterinary hospital) as it helps to demonstrate and convince them of the benefits of this.

A first draft of the energy efficient building code has been submitted to the national Ministry for New and Renewable Energy as well as to the local Authorities on their request.


Why is it innovative?

  • Ensuring sustainability by training local masons and carpenters in energy efficient construction techniques
  • Technical innovation in the use of energy efficiency techniques, which combine passive solar features, thermal mass and thermal insulation with local materials.
  • Sustainable dissemination methods using an integrated approach of communication campaigns, training of local artisans, setting up supply channels, capacity-building of local NGOs and involving local governments.
  • The methodology for sharing information through the NGO networks whereby NGOs are divided into resource NGOs (being a technical adviser to the proximity NGOs) and proximity NGOs (responsible for implementation in their own area).


What is the environmental impact?

The construction of passive solar houses uses insulation materials that are locally available and are eco-friendly, such as sawdust, straw and wild grass.

Greenhouse gas emission reductions amount to 2.49 CO2 per household per year; and it is estimated that 21,599 CO2 will be saved for 1,000 passive solar homes over a 10 year period.

There is greater awareness of the need to save energy with local media campaigns reaching an estimated 300,000 persons.

Since passive solar construction techniques maintain warmer temperatures within the house, they enable the reduction of fuel consumption by almost two thirds. There is an annual saving of 1.3 tonnes of biomass per household. Ninety-five per cent of the passive solar housing owners stopped collecting bushes, preventing regeneration.


Is it financially sustainable?

The project is designed to be self-sustaining and an exit strategy is a key element. At the end of the four years, it is expected that the skilled artisans will be able to generate income independently as their technical skills and marketing competencies will be sufficiently reinforced to manage their own business without external support. The incomes of residents have also increased and the cost savings from the home improvements help to ensure future financial viability.

Masons attend a five-day basic training course and an additional advanced-level training session, which builds up their knowledge of solar passive concepts and techniques, their understanding of insulation and its importance. A mason’s booklet has been developed to consolidate all the information needed by masons to successfully carry out designs and constructions of passive solar houses.

With increased warmth, family members can undertake more income generating activities and winter incomes on average have increased by 50 per cent, with the yearly additional income increasing in some cases by as much as US$76.

Family finances are improved with lower fuel consumption (reduced by 50 to 60 per cent, i.e. savings of up to US$81 per year), increased economic activity in the winter and training to improve income-generation opportunities. Some 200 training courses have been provided, with over 460 persons attending.

Additional support is provided for the very poor households, with entitlement to this decided by the local community.


What is the social impact?

Twelve grassroots-level networks have been established to date consisting of village representatives, masons and carpenters who work together to promote passive solar housing. In addition to encouraging participation, the networks act as a pressure group to advocate for improved local government policy in respect of renewable energy.

Community buildings have been provided using the technologies which can be used throughout the year and provide a focus for community activities.

The general health of families has improved, e.g. reduced joint pains in old people, less frequent cold-related diseases amongst children and reduced respiratory illnesses, as occupants no longer need to huddle around the smoking stove. The children are more active in the room, playing away from the stove, which is not only healthier but also safer.

Family and community relations improve as more activities can be undertaken together in winter and women spend more time with productive or educational activities, rather than collecting fuel wood, thus helping to improve their status in the local community. There has also been increased activity of the women’s self-help groups due to the training they have received.

Local carpenters and masons have traditional knowledge but were ill-equipped in more modern technical skills as well as business skills. Two hundred and fifteen local masons and carpenters have been trained in energy efficiency techniques and have been certified as service providers in energy. Over 460 local artisans have been provided with trainings in handicrafts and marketing skills.



The dynamics of village structures (heads of villages and opinion leaders) and family structures (decision makers) have to be carefully taken into account while approaching individual households as well as groups such as self-help groups.

Sustaining motivation and participation amongst the villagers requires frequent meetings and field visits, which is very resource consuming in the geographical context of Ladakh and Lahaul-Spiti.

In some cases, passive solar housing has been viewed as a ‘poor man’s alternative’ since the NGOs have been providing partial financial assistance and the ‘richer’ households are thus hesitant to implement it.

Local government policies or implementation of central government schemes can sometimes affect the project. For example, a high subsidy scheme can wipe out the efforts of the exit strategy towards replication.

The flash floods that hit the region in August 2010 were a setback to achieving the annual target of energy efficient houses.


Lessons Learned

  • Passive solar housing is very efficient in the Indian Himalayan context.
  • Mutual trust between the implementing NGOs and villagers is a key factor for the success of the project.
  • Dynamic and convinced masons are key elements in the project’s success, as they become promoters of the concept.
  • Financial support to passive solar house owners is kept low enough (with the use of local materials and customised construction techniques) to encourage replication, but high enough to ensure that the poor can be assisted.
  • Including features compatible with regional and cultural trends is important, such as large windows. For example, it is easier to generate demand for solar gain techniques (visible and fashionable) than insulation techniques.
  • Promotion of passive solar housing through radio programmes is extremely effective.
  • Constant monitoring of the construction process, whilst time-consuming, is essential to ensure good quality work.
  • Targeting areas with especially very low temperatures and scarce/expensive fuel is a good factor in success.



Monitoring and evaluation is an important activity and consists of several internal and external evaluations including baseline surveys, impact studies, mid-term and end-term evaluations, and an annual general review. Findings are used to inform practice. A key indicator for sustainability is the satisfaction of the local community and this is regularly measured.



Passive solar housing techniques have been implemented by GERES in public and private buildings in Afghanistan and China (Tibet). Replication has been initiated by GERES and local partners in Tajikistan and Nepal. GERES has been working in Afghanistan since 2002 on the theme of ‘energy efficiency’, in both public sector buildings and housing.

Spontaneous demands for passive solar houses from outside the project villages have already emerged in the area, from individuals, NGOs and local governments.

Extensive documentation about passive solar housing has been created and distributed in many local and foreign languages, as well as being available online.

Collaboration with government has ensured that energy efficiency is included in standard designs of public buildings. Many national and international NGOs (Oxfam, Madera, Solidarités, GTZ and ATA) were trained by GERES and have developed their own projects on passive solar housing.

A four-day seminar, Energy and Climate Change in Cold Regions of Asia, was conducted in Leh, attended by experts in NGOs, public and private sector experts from seven neighbouring countries and passive solar technologies are used in thousands of solar greenhouses, solar poultry farms and lambing sheds in Afghanistan, Nepal, China, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Mongolia.