Insight: Stories of Doers, ‘Managing and Innovating during Crisis’ Series with Dr. Anis Paul Antony

By Roshan Pun, BBA Student

A Work of Sustainability and Humanity

Recently we had an opportunity to connect with Dr. Anish Paul Antony from MIT D-Lab through our guest speaker series, Insight: Managing and Innovating during Crisis via Zoom. Dr. Antony is a Postdoctoral Researcher at MIT D-Lab. He completed his post-graduation in Electrical Engineering specializing in renewable energy and his Ph.D. on wind energy from the University of Buffalo. Dr. Antony started working in D-lab, focusing on wind energy and the effectiveness of wind energy storage with his professor. He worked with his professor for 5 years and completed his Ph.D. Later, he moved to MIT for a post-doctorate. Currently, Dr. Anotny is working on agriculture, water, and energy projects in South Asia and East Africa.
MIT D-Lab works with communities across the world to develop tools for the community, by the community, through designs and ideas that can help people in poverty. Three design strategies of D-Lab are: design for people living in poverty, with people in poverty, by people in poverty.
The determination to broaden his learning and scope of work led him to work on energy storage in the U.S. One of the problems he faced was that the electrical grid was related to national security. Being an international student, working in a field directly related to national security was not easy. Later on, he pursued his doctorate which did not require to be a national citizen. His Ph.D. work was about simulation in computer-based literature and theory and to see how that works. While working on his Ph.D., he came across D-Lab and the new project the lab was working on. He got a job as a postdoctoral researcher at D-Lab, where he focused on the D-Lab’s quest of providing energy to off-grid communities. Since Dr. Antony is originally from India, he started his first project from is native country. He got connected with an NGO called PSI (People’s Science Institute) through D-Lab. He started working with a community in a village called Ranji in Uttarakhand, India. His job was to conduct energy assessments and understand the community needs and D-Lab’s role to help them.
One of his few projects is Himalayan Home which initially started in India. The project focused on understanding the energy needs in the community of Ranji, India, and later they did the same project in Salambu, Nepal. Along with the community, Dr. Antony, his students, i.e. professors from MIT, and students from Kathmandu University worked together to understand the use of toolkits for an energy assessment. They collected survey data on the village’s energy needs which were mostly for cooking, heating, lighting, and agriculture. They also found solutions to the problem. Affordability and willingness to pay was important there.
For the solutions, they mostly go through the Pugh process wherein they rank solutions based on criteria like costs, needs, opportunities, challenges, and impact. Out of the many solutions identified, they worked on “home installation”. The challenge was to make low-cost insulators from locally available resources in Salambu. They found Chatai made of Sukul (locally made by the villagers) and a lot of plastic bottles across the village. They put the plastic bottles inside the Chatai to make good insulators for homes. They tested it with a heat flux meter to figure out the insulation capacity of plastic bottles wrapped in Chatai.
After the test, they installed the plastic bottles wrapped in Chatai on the floors and straw with Chatai on the roof along with sensors to calculate the temperature outside and inside the houses. Wall cover-ups provided the insulator to improve heat and thermal comfort inside the houses. An example of their work can be seen below:
Insight Stories

Sample work on ‘thermal insulation of homes’ in Salambu, Nepal by Dr. Antony’s team

At present, they have built 2 homes in India and 1 in Nepal and are seeking for funds so that they can pilot 6-7 other homes in India and Nepal. Meanwhile, they are collecting data and feedback from the villagers so that they can scale up to a wider area. They also focus on providing business opportunities for the villagers of Salambu and Ranji.
Dr. Antony’s journey, including his current work, is actually very motivating and humble at the same time. One message that he shared with everyone in the session was –

Regardless of our origins and our current situation, we should always aim for a higher goal and work on it every day.

This session of Insight was full of learnings and real-life inspirations like the previous sessions. This online interactive platform is undoubtedly proving beneficial to the students. I am definitely looking forward to many more sessions like such.