California start-up inks FEMA deal to provide disaster relief solar villages


May 29, 2012

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

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

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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.

Sources: Green Horizon, Recordnet

About the Author
James Holloway James lives in East London where he punctuates endless tea drinking with freelance writing and meteorological angst. Unlocking Every Extend Extra Extreme’s “Master of Extreme” achievement was the fourth proudest moment of his life. All articles by James Holloway

Disaster relief shacks two hundred thousand dollars each. That is ludicrous.


The basic QuickHab seems to be cost-effective. I'd be a bit concerned about how weatherproof it is, and it seems to have no heat. Is there lighting built into it?

It's great the CSU can survive 150 MPH winds, but I don't think the QuickHabs would have a chance of surviving that.

Only two people per QuickHab? It seems like you would want to be able to put an entire family in one, and they seem big enough.

Jon A.

Slowburn, come on--take the time to read before grousing.

The article clearly says "Each CSU (Central Service Units(?) essential power hubs) costs approximately US$200,000, and each QuickHab (they are the tiny house) about $5,000".


full disclosure i work for green horizon:

the comment from slowburn is inaccurate. The QuickHab's are designed for immediate relief. they do not cost $200,000. what does cost $200,000 is the CSU. This amazing product can be used on site by 20 QuickHab's until power and adequate water supply can be re-started. The CSU can then be moved on to help other's in need.

@ Jon.A I have seen first hand our units being tested and sitting out in the elements for years without a leak. The panels can be built to any specific R value so if they were being deployed to an extremely harsh weather condition the R value would be increased accordingly. they have been tested and retested and once the frame of the QuickHab has be anchored using our cross anchoring system the panels themselves can withstand 150 mph winds. The beauty of the QuickHab is that it can be made to any size or any modification to fit as many people as possible. The standard QuickHab can cater for a family of 5.

if you have any more questions please take a look at the website or email us at

thank you

Gillian Fitzgerald

So it's 15k each. What would an equivalent gas generator cost to support the same 20 units?


The idea is to support a disaster relief, so you want to house a neighbourhood tonight following a flood or hurricane for example. Assistance arrives in the form of the CSU and instead of having dozens of trailered Quickhab units, why not have a Quickhab core unit that tent attachments can be fitted to as an immediate start. In essence the Quickhab will be a central "phonebox" that contains the power/water/heat utilities. You fit about 10 of those into a standard 40 foot container plus the tent attachments. As the disaster situation evolves the tents can be removed and more permanent attachments can then be built onto the Quickhab core unit turning it into a medium/longterm accommodation unit that is more resistant to the elements.

W Truter

I work with 15 remote road and grid isolated Native communities in the Bering Strait Region of Western Alaska. The article talks about hot weather; what about cold weather (sustained -30 f)? Also, what about extended periods of dark. All our villages have excellent wind resources. How about a wind turbine attachment for the power unit?

Short construction season + extremely high shipping costs + other factors = you can't build any type of home up here for less than $250k. If these guys could come up with something more permanent that's affordable there might be some customers up here. Check out the Cold Climate Housing Research Center if you're interested in reading about some of the challenges, and what's being done.

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