EFdeN is a student-founded NGO under the official name Solar Decathlon Association of Bucharest, known for winning 4th place at Solar Decathlon in Dubai in 2018, and for building modular, energy efficient solar house prototypes. They also built a green campus for Romania’s Engineering University and are actively promoting the adoption of renewable energy in the country.
EFdeN is a unique organization in Romania, and you seem to have gone beyond aiming for the grand prize at Solar Decathlon competitions – please tell us more about what drives you.
EFdeN was founded by a group of students with the goal of participating in the Solar Decathlon competitions, or what we call the Olympics of solar houses and founded our NGO in 2013 as the financial and legal engine to drive teams and individuals involved in future competitions. We first made it to the competition’s final stage in Versailles in 2014, when we also defined our brand as the mathematical function f(N) wherein N stands for nature, in addition to the acronym symbolizing energy efficiency in an increasing urban densification. We do not identify as a business or a consultancy, instead we aim to educate and shift the public’s mentality surrounding green energy adoption through our concrete can-do attitude and actions. We seek funding ourselves and acquire it through the support of private companies and ongoing fundraising, which allows us to participate in the competitions and also to keep expanding.
Our houses are built as prototypes, modular so that we are able to transport them, and function as an example of what could be done at a larger, business scale. You can think of it as a Lego house, using multiple plug and play solutions to allow quick assembly and disassembly, and combining elements of architecture with energy efficiency mechanisms.
We aim to set an example and inform the audience, from young children in kindergarten for whom we designed colouring books that teach sustainability in a simple and fun way, to workshops and organized visits to our campus for teenagers and adults. We mostly still work with university students, whom we also encourage to join the team as EFdeN volunteers.
What are your views on the solar panel project put forward by AFM and its associated pitfalls?
There were multiple discussions with AFM surrounding the effective implementation of solar panels and our view is one of balance. There seems to be a genuine interest from the side of the authorities to bring this project to fruition, but there are also unnecessary hurdles that have been and are still hindering the process, both for residents and the implementation companies. One particular topic awaiting a decision in May is whether or not people will still need to obtain building permits, which are infamously difficult to obtain. But to keep a balanced view, taking out the building authorization can pose real dangers to people whose houses simply cannot support the weight and new challenges posed by the panels’ installation. I believe the real solution to this is to keep the permits, but allow for special circumstances to have them released in a timely manner. On May 24th we launched The Prosumer’s Guide that aims to offer the need to know information surrounding the topic, which is available at energiata.org. The next project we will be working on is a a prosumers’ map.
One of the industry’s pain points is the availability of skilled human resources – what is your angle on the talent pool availability and your role in preparing students for the work field?
Four years ago we held the first workshop about the crisis in human resources. Many students wanted to steer clear from heavy labor, attracted more by managerial roles even well outside their field of study or by moving abroad, with over 5 Million Romanians having left the country already. Recently the industry has started approaching us as through we were an HR provider. We are seeing a notable awareness in this area, both from the side of universities and the industry. At EFdeN we are trying to prepare students by placing them in real life situations that mimic the future work environment they wish to enter. At the same time, the industry needs to realize that many fresh employees are not being offered livable wages for current living conditions in Bucharest, which is causing Romania to lose an extremely valuable niche of potential future experts.
On the flip side, we are extremely pleased to notice that important ears are opening up to our generation’s viewpoint and we are actively encouraged to speak up at conferences, events and even political gatherings. There is a gap that we can bridge, between the precious experience and knowledge of older generations and the fresh skills and know how that we bring.
What are your plans for the next two to three years?
We plan to stay on our path as an NGO focused on the construction of solar modular homes. We do not feel like the real estate market is ready to adopt solar houses at a commercial scale at this stage, with possible exceptions for the luxury segment. This is one of our long term dreams, but keeping it to near terms plans we wish for this campus to become a pilot project - EFdeN Sustainable City - employing green technologies in an integrated fashion. So far we have already had over 50,000 visitors at our solar houses and we wish to show our growing numbers of guests how their future neighborhood could one day look, from living spaces, to solar charging garages, and even facilities such as banks and entertainment spots. EFdeN is showing interest towards Solar Decathlon 2021 in Germany, which means the development of a new housing prototype if we qualify.
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