Thursday, April 28, 2005

World's first Solar-City - in India!

via WorldChanging:

An agency for promoting non-conventional energy has proposed a unique plan to the Gujarat Govt for almost totally reducing its dependence on fossil fuels - and depending on the father of Karna instead: the Sun God, Surya.

Gandhinagar currently uses about 4 megawatt of electricity. The plan is to use a solar photovoltaic power plant to generate one megawatt of power and distribute solar cookers and solar water heaters to meet the remaining requirements. The project is to cost about 325 crores.

Actually I had seen the story before. Laudable as the plan is there seem some loose ends that make it seem slightly unfeasible. A state capital in India needing just 4 megawatts of power seems rather low to me. One megawatt is enough for about 200 households in a developed country - at best it would be enough for a thousand households in India. This is not taking into account any industrial or commercial establishments.

Secondly, photovoltaic power plants were tried in Rajasthan with Israeli technology and the concept did not work well enough. Let us hope that there has been some improvement in technology that will make it work this time in Gujarat.

Finally the project plan seems to estimate that cooking and water heating account for three-fourths of the power requirements of a city - which is rather on the higher side.

Having said that regardless of whether or not Gandhinagar can be converted into the world's first solar-city, it is an excellent initiative and could be a great boost for green power in India.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

More on the Kyoto Windfall

The Kyoto Protocol introduced us to the concept of Carbon Trading. In the current phase of the Protocol, only the developed countries have to reduce emission of polluting gases. But since reducing pollution in the developed countries is more expensive they can invest in pollution reducing projects in the developing world. This is being widely seen as a boon for developing countries. But not necessarily for the most obvious reason.

Carbon Trading is actually an incomplete (and informal) term. The correct phrase is Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), which targets the removal of a total of 6 greenhouse gases (GhGs) like CO2, N2O and hydrofluorocarbons. Further if the emissions are traded between the developed nations, then it is called Joint Implementation (JI). CDM is naturally the more exciting option.

CDM mechanisms are currently still evolving. Projects go through the following phases before they can claim carbon credits (or the actual moolah):

  • Approval by a national authority.
  • Approval by the global CDM methodology committee.
  • Approval by the global CDM executive committee. Only two projects (from Brazil and Honduras respectively) have crossed this phase

India meanwhile has developed more CDM methodologies and project proposals than any other country.

Lets take a look at some of the Indian projects that have been approved at the national level (the link requires free registration):

TN-based Thiru Arooran Sugars proposes to use bagasse as a fuel for not just powering its operations but also to generate power to sell to the grid. Bagasse is generally industrial waste and the bulk of TA Sugar's supply will come from its own "waste".

Among other projects is a project proposed by IDFC to obtain methane gas from municipal waste. I think this project is in Orissa (no links at this time!). There are other similar projects though.

From trading carbon credits, these companies can hope to earn anywhere between $2 to $5 per tonne of emission that they reduce. TERI estimates that the earning for India Inc could be in the range of $5 - $100 million per year by 2010. But that is nothing compared to the real potential that lies in achieving production efficiencies. If TA Sugars' project is successful they will not need to spend a pie on fuel or electricity and earn by selling electricity. The efficiencies will force other mills to follow the example, and the cascading effect would make the entire industry more competitive (and reduce our oil import bill too perhaps!).

Steel and cement are some of the biggest polluters. One of the major methodologies for steel to reduce emissions is control of fly-ash emissions. Fly-ash can be used to make cement. So it is a mutually beneficial deal for both - plus they get paid for it! The steel and cement sectors in India need to get more efficient. Except for Tata Steel, companies in these sectors are not globally competitive. This could be just the opportunity to drive that.

The only catch is in the power sector. Since the power companies would have to pass on any savings to customers, there isnt a direct incentive for them to reduce emissions and/or become more efficient.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

India Petroleum Update

The Venezuelan Angle

ONGC is in talks with Venezuela's state oil company PDVSA for a 49% stake in an oil field that contains about 1 billion barrels of recoverable light crude reserves. ONGC will also be bidding for offshore natural gas licenses for six blocks.

PDVSA will partner Oil India Ltd on a pilot heavy oil exploration project in Rajasthan. Venezuela has by far the biggest reserves of super-heavy crude in the world, and an increase in acceptability of the stuff in refineries around the world will open up a much bigger market for Venezuelan crude.

Domestic Sources

Cairn Energy meanwhile has upgraded the estimated output from its Rajasthan oil discoveries to 120k to 150k barrels of oil a day, from 80-100k previously. Cairn has three oil fields in Rajasthan - Mangala (the biggest with an estimated reserve of 1.1 bn barrel in place), Bhagyam and Aishwarya. Development costs are expected to be around $3-$3.5 per barrel, which is quite low.

ONGC is trying out new technologies to ensure energy supplies from its oil fields in Assam.

The annual figures are officially out. And they again highlight the importance of having to pursue oil security abroad. India's domestic crude oil production increased for the second year in succession - in two years the growth has been a stupendous 3%. The oil import bill on the other hand has grown by just 32% in the first 11 months of 2004-05.

The Pipeline Saga...

India is getting tough with Bangladesh on the gas pipeline from Burma. It may be recalled that the initial tri-partite agreement was signed by the oil ministry, where Bangladesh made demands of transit rights to Nepal and Bhutan. The actual ministry that could make such promises is the ministry of external affairs. The official stand now is that, "an assurance on power supply from Bhutan and Nepal to Bangladesh could not be made part of the trilateral MoU since it concerned two other countries which were not party to the document".

Oil Minister Mani Shanker Aiyar, declared that the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan pipeline would be discussed between Indian and Pakistani ministers next month. Aiyar would like to suggest extensions to the proposed pipeline to link Uzbekistan in the north, and the proposed Indo-Iran pipeline in the south.

Still on the topic of pipelines, India has declared intent to become part of the Energy Charter Treaty. Being a part of this treaty would obviate the need for separate multilateral agreements for various pipeline projects. This would help because India is working with Burma, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Iran, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan on the three proposed pipeline projects. Think of all the paper and trees we would save!

The Hinduja Connection

After Reliance and Videocon, the Hindujas are becoming the latest private Indian business house to enter the Oil Great Game for India. Last week they took a small 51 per cent stake in a small Chinese company. But they also have huge investments lined up in Qatar. I am looking for more details on these and hope to do a separate post on this soon.

The Black Gold's Curse

To wind up, an article titled, The Black Gold's Curse, from one of the original architects of the Indo-Iran pipeline project.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Reva - set for big time

The GoinGreen ad says, "Its going to be the next big thing". That is just about one of the biggest compliments for an Indian-designed and -manufactured product anywhere in the world. And going by reviews from the blogosphere, it is just the prescription Dr. Green suggested for congested and environmentally conscious European cities.

We talking about the Reva G-Wiz of course. Here the site lists the reasons why they are so upbeat about it. Apart from the green thing, it runs at just 1p per mile (or 212 km/litre in Britain). That coupled with very low maintenance (you dont need most of those components you would in a petrol/diesel car) makes for amazingly low total cost of ownership. Plus Britain offers a slew of tax benefits and rebates. I also do not know of any other car that offers you 2000 colors. Moreover Reva users swear that you just cannot beat the Reva for sheer ease of maneouvring.

Some of the other reviewers of the Reva G-Wiz from the British (correct me if required) blogosphere are here, here and here. All links are from this post by Jamais Cascio on WorldChanging.

Green Car Congress reports in some detail on the next generation Reva - the Reva NXG. The NXG sees a doubling of both the range (to 200 km) on a single charge, and the top speed (to 120 km/h). Importantly, since "Regenerative braking recharges the sodium nickel chloride batteries during operation", we should see an improvement in mileage too.

The only major disadvantage as of now seems to be the recharge time of 6 hours. That is slightly misleading because 80% recharge is achieved in only 2.5 hours. The remaining 20% needs 4 more hours. That problem seems set to fade away as Toshiba has launched a battery that charges up to 80% in just one minute. This nano-technology based solution will be targeted at the automotive sector, when it is commercially available in 2006.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

India Petroleum Update

Videocon - New Kid On The Block

After the PSU's and Reliance, Videocon is the latest new Indian entity to foray for the holy grail of Indian oil security - oil equity abroad. Hyperboles be pardoned, and the amount of money Videocon comes in with is less than modest by global standards, but it does open up a new front (however small) and it can only help.

After revealing that Videocon Industries Ltd had signed an MOU with the Govt in Sudan for investing in oil there, the notice to the BSE also said that the Middle East was another frontier they were looking at. Predictably the stock price shot up. Chairman Venugopal Dhoot separately told Reuters that Videocon was also looking at Ukraine for oil investments. Earlier Petrocon India, a Videocon Group company, which owns 25% of the Ravva oil field in the K-G basin, was merged with the Videocon Industries. The field produces 50,000 barrels of oil a day at an operating cost of just $1 per barrel.

The Qatari Angle

Relations between India and Qatar are all set to enter a strategic phase, following the recent visit of the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, who was in India from Wednesday to Friday.

Tiny Qatar has the third highest gas reserves in the world (after Russia and Iran). It is already supplying 5 million tonnes of gas a day to Petronet's Dahej terminal. Proposals are to double the capacity of this terminal and build one more in Cochi for 2.5 million tonnes.

India is also planning to buy Qatari crude and Qatari fighter planes.

Qatar wants Indian tourists, particularly with air connectivity set to improve after the bilateral air services agreement between Qatar and India.

Burmese Gas

A new discovery of gas was made on Block A-1 in Burma. Since ONGC and GAIL together own 30% of the block, this puts even more focus on the Burma-Bangladesh-India pipeline. Burma has almost four times India's gas reserves (87 tcf versus 23 tcf), and India is naturally the first choice as a market for Burmese gas. What remains to be seen is whether Bangladesh wants to/will profit from Indo-Burmese trade in the longer run.


IOC was stopped from bidding for a Pakistani state oil company by the Ministry of External Affairs, who felt the effort was pointless. If it was successful the MEA fears a rise in anti-India sentiment. IOC had seen it as a good way to make inroads into selling diesel to Pak from its surplus Panipat refinery.

A primer on India's oil diplomacy in Kazakhstan - what went wrong, what we should and should not do today.

Finally another article talking about India taking its place among the global scramblers for oil.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

"Garbage Power" Initiatives

There is a flurry of activity in renewables in India right now. While wind power is being touted as the likely leader, solar, bio-diesel and ethanol also have their own place under the sun. One area which has the potential to really alter the energy landscape on India, but escapes too much attention is biomass.

Organic waste can be decomposed to give off what is called bio-gas or gobar gas in India. This technology is green because the formation of the gas absorbs as much CO2 from the atmosphere, as it releases when burning. The killer part of the idea is that it can be used as a fuel in fossil fuel engines, with very little modification. On the other hand bio-degradable waste can also be converted into solid fuel.

Take the case of the Rajasthani motor mechanic who is successfully generating power from solid waste: "Rae Singh Daiya, has established a small garbage processing power plant, which can run tube wells, welding and cutting machines". From plants processing two tonnes of garbage a day, he wants to build plants that process seven tonnes a day. For this he has been promised finance by an organization called Navreet Energy Research and Information (NERI). NERI on its part has developed a compact gasifier, which could effectively use saw dust, dried dung powder, rise and mustard husk, leaves and many more agri-residues. The cost of power generated was about Rs 3/- per unit. In Indian villages though none of these agri-residues are truly "wastes" and find application in the traditional scheme of things. Still we could see significant traction there.

But what of the cities? "According to conservative estimates, in India at least 1000 MW of electricity can be generated from urban and municipal wastes and another 700 MW from industrial wastes."

Apparently Delhi is taking a lead in utilizing urban waste for power generation, where two projects to produce about 20 MW of power using 2500 tonnes of garbage are being finalized. 20 MW is enough for at least 4000 houses. If you look at the numbers it is pretty clear such plants are not feasible much beyond the limits specified here. 2500 tonnes is a lot of garbage to store, and unless you have reliable and dedicated supply, you will need a really huge storage area which will be both an urban eye-sore as well as possible a nose-store. Unless it is pretty well covered in which case the end-product would be even more expensive. Factoring in the garbage disposal capacity makes the plants a bit more viable though.

Though at the moment, the plants would only convert waste into solid pellets for burning (like coal), in future they will also have a bio-methanation plant (a highly advanced form of a bio-gas plant) and a sewage treatment plant. The bio-methanation plant would need a major overhaul of the garbage collection and classification mechanism to separate the bio-degradable stuff.

The Delhi plants are being treated as pilots, and once they get going, other cities would also be targeted. May the Force be with them.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

India Petroleum Update

Pipeline Politics - The Eastern Front

The tripartite deal between India, Burma and Bangladesh to get Burmese gas into India is running into some rough ground with India reluctant to acede to Bangladeshi demands for access to Nepal and Bhutan for trade, transit and power supply. Bangladesh claims that these concessions from India would ensure the necessary favorable public opinion in the country in favor of the pipeline. Er... what about the transit fees?

The Saudi Front

A proposal for Saudi Aramco and Indian Oil Corporation to build strategic crude reserves facilities in India has been dropped. The reason being given is the economic unviability of such a proposal considering the high prices of crude these days. However the commercial storage facility proposal is still on.

The Domestic Front - Oil, Politics and Business

Talking of high crude prices, domestic companies are demanding a steep hike (over 10%) in the selling price of petrol and diesel to keep their losses down. At last check, the government was still holding back.

While Oil India Limited had to give up on its Louisiana offshore block as the last well drilled turned out to be dry, back home the oil and finance ministries are haggling over the estimated proceeds from the OIL IPO. The oil ministry wants the money to further exploration efforts, while the finance ministry wants the money to help tide over the fiscal deficit (BTW this is what the previous NDA did with proceeds from earlier privatisation efforts).

IOC meanwhile topped the Singapore-based Applied Trading Systems survey again to emerge as the number one oil trading company in the Asia-Pacific region. IOC was also freed by the government from the monopoly of Shipping Corporation of India on chartering ships for oil imports.

Reliance meanwhile is facing a glut of LPG at its Jamnagar refinery. IOC has been refusing to pick lift the products without discounts. Reliance has thus asked the Petroleum Ministry for permission to export its way out of the glut.

Looking around

An article outlining Indian compulsions on engaging Central Asia - energy security and national security.

The Saudis meanwhile are talking about increasing production to keep the global economy afloat, as also investing in refineries in several countries (including India of course).

Friday, April 08, 2005

The Kyoto Windfall

Indrajit Basu writes in the Asia Times on how India is taking a lead in utilizing a unique opportunity that the Kyoto protocol presents to developing countries to switch over to clean/green technologies, as well as very importantly improve efficiencies in using power. This brings to the picture one of the very important side(?) effects of a much criticized and taunted treaty. Under the Kyoto Protocol, developed nations take on the onus of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by a certain amount. If each cannot meet their targets in their own home countries, they help such projects succeed in developing countries and take the credit. While India will benefit as mentioned above, the world economy as a whole will also benefit big time.

To meet the Kyoto Protocol quota requirements you need non-polluting technology. The surest way to do that is to base yourself on non-polluting fuels (read fossil fuels). This implicitly means pushing for renewable energy technologies. While the high price of oil is giving industry an impetus to shift to renewables, Kyoto is giving Govts a reason to do so.

From an Indian point of view, this is great news. Renewables technology is not military technology - or restricted in any manner. Once the killer renewables are developed, all we have to do is say yes, and some enterprising firm will ensure the appropriate and ideal technologies flow in India. All we have to do it facilitate the businesspeople. Business is such a wonderful thing after all!

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Windy Trends For Power In India

Vestas RRB is an Indo-Danish venture in the wind energy sector. This week they inaugurated a new facility in Chennai, to manufacture control panels for wind electric generators. The annual output of this plant would be enough to meet a demand for generating 200 MW.

India, it is stated, has a wind energy potential of 45 GW. At an installed capacity of 3 GW we have hardly harnessed 7% of the potential. The reason is pretty straightforward - the lack of a National Policy. If Germany today is by far the leader in wind energy, it is because of a favorable national policy that takes incentives away from traditional fossil fuels and into renewables. The need becomes even more pronounced when we consider that for all the technological achievements, electricity from wind energy is still slightly more expensive than thermal power based electricity. This though is bound to change soon, as Europe is researching like crazy on wind, to meet EU targets of 12% 6% renewables in all national grids by 2010. In any case, a national mission would be vital to the wind energy mission achieving critical mass.

Meanwhile, giants like ONGC, HPCL and Reliance, are taking baby steps into the wind energy sector. While HPCL and ONGC are looking at generating between 100 and 150 MW each (the latter for captive consumption), Reliance Energy has already commissioned an 8.37 MW wind farm project in Karnataka, and is looking for more.

The current growth projections for wind power in India are 30% annually, or about 1,000 MW or 1GW every year. That is not bad. But just imagine what a dedicated national mission can do for that.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

New trends in robotic warfare

First we spoke about the US rolling out war robots in Iraq. Then Israel admitted to having a flying companion for warriors on the battle field. Now it looks like there is a deluge of such weapons out there!

An Australian company, Metal Storm, is working on a weaponised helicopter UAV called the Dragonfly. Apart from a 40mm canon, and a fully-electronic ballistic system, "the Dragonfly can carry imaging, communication, and environmental sensors useful in gathering remote intelligence".

Metal Storm has now armed the Talon (the American warrior robot in Iraq) with electronically fired grenades. The UGV (Unmanned Ground Vehicle) will have a 40mm weapons system with a 4-barrel array loaded with 4 rounds per barrel. This is significantly more than from any competing system.

Finally the US Navy could in future use robotic, inflatable boats to monitor coastal waters and protect against enemy submarines. The advantage with a robotic craft is that it can be made to work tirelessly and round the clock. The 30 to 35 feet long, Protector is being built by a team of American and Israeli defense contractors.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

India Petroleum Update

Re-visiting the North-East
Oil India Limited, the big daddy of oil exploration in the North-East is expanding exploration horizons there. Home to India's earliest oil wells, most of the North-East has been well explored - so that only leaves the rather more difficult terrain. OIL plans to join hands with a foreign exploration expert to prospect for oil in the thrust belt of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, which is believed to have high potential. Focus will also be on the riverine areas of Arunachal Pradesh and the Brahmaputra river belt.

The Saudi Angle
At 450,000 barrels per day, Saudi Arabia heads the list of petroleum suppliers to India. The Sauds are ready to increase that amount. That incidentally is just one aspect of a comprehensive oil trade relationship that India is proposing to build with Saudi Arabia.

With Saudi crude imports to India expected to double, India is seeking long-term oil deals with assured delivery, said Aiyar, who is currently in Riyadh as part of the first ever Indian Oil Minister visit to the kingdom. HPCL is interested in setting up a refinery in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Aramco is offering Indian companies a 50% stake in its giant refinery at Yanbu on the Red Sea. In return Aramco has been offered stake in HPCL's Vizag refinery and IOC's upcoming Paradip refinery. Aramco might also partner IOC in building a commercial oil storage facility in India. This is unlike the strategic reserves IOC is building and Aramco has similar facilities in Holland, Korea and the Caribbean.

Pipeline Politics
In the latest bargaining salvo Aiyar is asking that the Indo-Iran pipeline be routed through populated areas along the Paki coast, to minimize danger of terrorist attacks. Significantly there has been no comment on the refusal of Iran to sign the "supply-or-pay" clause, without which India is as good as offering its jugular as hostage to Pak (and to Iran too for that matter), though Aiyar did make a more sweeping statement when he said, " is not a concern for us. It is for Iran and Pakistan to work up enough safeguards to compensate India in case of disruption in supplies.".

The View From Here
When Condoleeza Rice was in India recently she asked India to keep away from Iran. The general reaction has been that India has to be far more concerned with its own growth and energy security than with the imagined risks for the US. The US has no oil or gas to offer us in return for junking the deal with Iran, so the US can go to hell, and we will suck up to Iran because it suits us. A reality check is in order here.

China was one of the nations most upset when the US invaded Iraq. Why? That's because they had signed oil and gas contracts worth billions with Saddam, and were just waiting for the UN sanctions to be removed. All these deals went down the drain when the US deposed Saddam. So what will happen if we decide to show the finger to the US, and deal with Iran? If and when the US invades Iran, all our deals will be buried in the Perian Gulf.

Alternately, what if we decide to go along with Uncle Sam? Rice offered India cooperation in the most sensitive of fields, nuclear technology, to help us override our energy crisis. May I suggest something better? How about energy effeciency? It has been estimated that energy usage in the US can be brought down by 70% if proper investments are made into energy effeciency technologies. And US industry in general is far more effecient than Indian industry, which includes power generation plants. If we can bring our own consumption down, we will not have to worry about new supplies so much. Energy effeciency as an industry will give a big boost to the economy. And if the US does invade Iran, then we can get the gas pipelines anyway!