Following five years of research and development, California start-up and provider of disaster relief technology Green Horizon has begun shipping a solar-powered services hub capable of providing electricity and clean water to disaster-hit communities. Combined with its QuickHab and SFH40 rapid-assembly prefabricated homes, Green Horizon has come up with a trio of rapid-response technologies that the company hopes will transform our responses to natural disasters by providing, essentially, rapid-assembly solar powered villages.

San Francisco builder James Pope was compelled to develop a practical relief shelter following Hurricane Katrina, when thousands of trailers provided to victims by FEMA were found to emit formaldehyde fumes. Five years after setting up Green Horizon, the result is the QuickHab prefabricated home designed for simple and rapid transport and construction.

Pope has compared the QuickHab to LEGO due to the ease with which the standardized panels which comprise the house fit together. Being essentially a kit that fits inside a shipping container, once delivered to the disaster zone, it can be put together in mere hours to provide a temporary home for two people. For the medium to long term, the QuickHab is also designed for rapid disassembly and relocation. With the right foundations, Green Horizon says it can be deployed as permanent housing.

Though the QuickHab looks simple, functionally it offers more than mere shelter. Each unit is equipped with a water heater, shower, toilet and kitchenette. There are standardized connections for electricity, water and sewerage. It even comes with a lockable front door, which, despite the obvious practical advantages is a very human touch (imagine offering someone their own door key within hours of their losing their home).

It's well and good to have connections for essential services, but with nothing to connect them to, a shower or electric hob is useless. The supply of clean drinking water after natural disasters such as hurricanes is one of the most critical short-term responses. It's to this end that Green Horizon developed its Central Service Unit, which provides both power and clean water to disaster-hit communities.

Each CSU is equipped with a solar array with a capacity of 74 kW. This is complimented by a 12 kW back-up diesel generator and 5 kW hydrogen fuel cell, all of which are wired to the CSU's 24 deep-cycle batteries. Its water filtration system can provide 19,000 US gallons (72,000 liters) of potable water per day, and it provides an additional 2000 US gallons (7600 liters) of gray-water via a separate system. The CSU can also provides communications, including Wi-Fi internet access, telephone and cable. Also designed for containerized shipping, a CSU, once assembled, can withstand 150-mph winds. The idea is that one CSU provides all incoming services to up to 20 QuickHab homes.

The final piece of the puzzle is Green Horizon's SFH40. Perhaps best described as a larger, more adaptable version of the QuickHab, the SFH40 includes an air conditioning system, 30-US gallon (114-liter) hot water tank, heat pump, kitchen and bathroom. It can provide housing for up to six people.

Each CSU costs approximately US$200,000, and each QuickHab about $5,000. Green Horizon negotiated a $25 million deal with FEMA at the beginning of the year for the provision of rapid-response housing. In addition to disaster relief, Green Horizon is pitching its self-sustaining housing sytem at mining and fuel prospectors and the military.

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