Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Solar Concentrators - A Quick Primer

Here is an excellent primer on solar concentrators.

As the name suggests solar concentrators concentrate solar power onto a solar (photovoltaic) cell. So the cell gets more sunlight and that improves its efficiency. Today the additional components that a concentrator has wipes out the cost advantage of using fewer solar cells per unit of output power. But as the efficiency of the solar cell goes up, the output of the concentrator multiplies, and it is estimated that with solar PV cells of efficiency 18% and above the concentrators offer significant price advantages.

However many believe that solar concentrators are merely a transitory technology. As solar cells get so cheap that we can incorporate them on our walls and even our clothes, the cost advantage offered by the concentrators might not amount to much.

Do check out the primer linked above if you want to answer the following questions:

  • What are the primary forms of solar concentrators?
  • Why is there interest in concentrating photovoltaics?
  • Why not just improve solar cells?
  • OK, concentrating light onto solar cells means more power output. But does that mean it's more cost-effective?
  • So what do these solar concentrators that use photovoltaic cells look like?
  • What are the tradeoffs of this approach?
  • Are these concentrating photovoltaic systems commercially available?
  • How will things look a few years from now?

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Indian Telcos Going Green


Erratic power supply in rural areas is pushing more and more Indian telcos to alternate energy to power their towers. Early this year Idea Cellular announced that it was looking at bio-diesel to power some of its rural cellular base stations. The fad apparently is catching on.

The Trend Catches On

Ericsson AB has already set up 4 towers running on fish and vegetable oils, for Idea Cellular in the power-strapped Maharashtra circle.

Reliance Communications is tapping wind and solar power. While it has already installed windmills on its towers at Kunustara and Murugathal near Durgapur in West Bengal, it is in talks with Pune-based solar cell manufacturer Machinocraft on the solar power front.

"On a rough estimate, a wind power turbine or a solar panel mounted on towers will generate around 1,800-2,000 watts during peak sunshine hours or high-windy days. Of this, the repeater sites consume up to 500 watt each, while the remaining is stored in batteries and used to power the network at night or low windy times."

Hutch is also looking at wind power, while BSNL and MTNL are "experimenting with multiple sources like solar, wind, gobar gas and biofuel from molasses."

Potential Impact

In most cases the alternate energy sources replace diesel gensets which are currently almost universally used to ensure uninterrupted power supply at the base stations. So the shift will certainly save petroleum and prevent emissions.

In the big picture the financial and environmental impacts will be very small, but it will be a good experience for Indian corporate houses, and the alternate energy culture in general. The villages will get exposed to alternate energy too and that should help adoption in these areas.

Monday, July 23, 2007

India's Tallest Green Building

Though India has never been a significant player in the global skyscraper stakes, one building promises to change that and for all the right reasons.


The India Tower, currently under construction on the Queen's Necklace, the scenic Marine Drive in South Mumbai, is expected to dominate the skyline of India's main financial district. At 300m, it is a giant by Indian skyscraper standards. But when it is ready in 2010, the Burj Dubai is expected to dominate the global building height stakes at about double that height. So what is the main claim to fame for the India Tower?

The USP(s)

It might well be the tallest building in the world in its class of green-rated buildings. Designed by New York-based FXFOWLE architects, it will be a LEED-Gold certified project. Here are some of the features planned to improve its energy-efficiency:

A solar chimney to generate electricity (Solar chimney's need to be very tall - so incorporating one into the design of a skyscraper is really cool.)

On-site waste water reclamation (ease the load on public facilities, plus build more reliable ones)

Daylighting - a process to ensure maximum usage of sunlight for lighting within the building

Solar shading, natural ventilation and rainwater harvesting

The rotating form apparently comes from functional requirements (whatever those are - but it certainly looks kewl).

Mapping The Trend

This is a building for the very rich - with "a custom-designed residential-style Park Hyatt hotel and serviced apartments, and long-lease and duplex penthouse condominium apartments", in addition to luxury-brand retail and hospitality. (We the poor might benefit if they open up a sky-walk for the public though - imagine the view!)

But most new trends start with targeting the rich. The premium they pay helps fund research into making them more common place and affordable.

If India's tallest building is going to be one of its greenest, then that is a solid commitment we as a society are making towards sustainability.


Related Posts:
Indian World's Tallest Building Aspirants

India's tallest building in the World

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Signet Solar - Big Plans In The Indian PV space

Signet Solar is the latest in a series of companies planning to manufacture solar photo-voltaic modules in India. Similar to Solar Semiconductor, Signet Solar is a Silicon Valley based company, founded by NRI's, all industry veterans. Their model suggests that the business office will be centered in the US, while R&D (and some manufacturing) will happen in Germany, while the high-scale manufacturing will be in India. The fabs will be supplied by Applied Materials, in a model similar to that adopted by most other companies manufacturing in India.

The company was launched in May, 2007, and in June, 2007 they announced that India would be the main manufacturing base. The plan is to initially set up a 60 MW manufacturing plant, with a targeted total capacity of 1,000 MW in 10 years with a total investment of $2 bn.

Here is a quick introduction to Signet Solar's proposed business model and an assessment of its chances in a "booming but crowded" solar PV market, which also has a link to Navigant Consulting's report on the solar industry Solar Outlook (Apr 12, 2007).

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Vertical Farm Project

In The Sustainability Challenge I made a case for future where humans lived almost entirely within self-sustained and ecologically isolated cities. The idea was that nature and humans could no longer survive together as humanity achieves a dominance beyond what nature can afford to bestow upon a single species. Isolating ourselves from nature will reduce our contribution to a mass extinction in nature, as well as insulate ourselves from being made extinct too.

A big step in this direction is cities striving for self-sustenance in their need for resources. Of all resources that a city uses, food is probably the most expensive.

The food for a city is usually grown in areas much bigger than the city itself. It is then brought to a city by land, sea and even air from across a huge hinterland which could span the globe.

Now consider a greenhouse - it makes very efficient use of existing resources like water, sunlight and nutrients. Now what if we could cram greenhouses in a city? The food is grown with minimal use of resources, and transportation costs are cut to negligible levels. Win win?

But how should a greenhouse that will feed an entire city be structured? Why, as a skyscraper of course.

Scientists are Columbia University are suggesting just such an approach, via The Vertical Farm Project:

"The idea is simple enough. Imagine a 30-storey building with glass walls, topped off with a huge solar panel. On each floor there would be giant planting beds, indoor fields in effect. There would be a sophisticated irrigation system. And so crops of all kinds and small livestock could all be grown in a controlled environment in the most urban of settings."

Some of the other advantages include:
"* Year round crop production in a controlled environment
* All produce would be organic as there would be no exposure to wild parasites and bugs
* Elimination of environmentally damaging agricultural runoff
* Food being produced locally to where it is consumed"

The Vertical Farm Project
Vertical farming in the big Apple

Monday, June 04, 2007

Hydrogen Roadmap for India

The renewable energy ministry of India has announced a Rs 25,000 crore (US$6 bn) roadmap to promote the use of hydrogen in India by 2020. Link

The roadmap envisages one million vehicles running on hydrogen and at least one power plant generating 1000 MW of power, all running on hydrogen gas.

Indian Oil Corporation is likely to be the leading light in this effort, which will also involve SIAM (Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers) and leading universities. Below is an extract from the report on TOI.

"As part of the new initiative, a demonstration project for setting up a hydrogen dispensing set-up at a petrol pump in Delhi has been sanctioned as a joint venture with IndianOil Corporation. The project would enable dispensing of neat hydrogen and CNG blended with hydrogen as fuel for vehicles. The station will have a hydrogen generation capacity using an electrolyser system and facilities for storing and dispensing neat hydrogen as well as blended with CNG in varying ratios. The H-CNG blends will be used in the modified CNG vehicles and are expected to further reduce emissions from such vehicles as compared to when burning only CNG. The project would also generate operational experience in handling hydrogen as an automotive fuel.

Another project for the introduction of H-CNG blends on a trial basis in existing CNG vehicles has been planned to be undertaken by the ministry jointly with Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM). The project will be for two years and will be the first public-private partnership project in this area. The project aims at introduction of H-CNG blend as a fuel on trial basis in buses, cars and three-wheelers, involving five leading Indian automobile manufacturers.

IndianOil Corporation is also participating in this project and the existing hydrogen dispensing facility set up at its R&D Centre at Faridabad would be used for refuelling vehicles. Under this project, the engines of the existing CNG vehicles and fuel injection systems would be modified. The project aims at optimising the H-CNG blend ratio for optimal vehicle performance and minimal emissions.

Several new research projects in the area of hydrogen energy and fuel cell technology have also been sanctioned to universities, IITs and research organisations. A few more are in the pipeline. A National Centre for Hydrogen Energy and Fuel Cell Technology is also being set up at the ministry's Solar Energy Centre campus at Gurgaon in Haryana."

Friday, May 25, 2007

Indian Ashden Award Finalists

After the Energy Globe awards, it is not time for the Ashden Awards for sustainable energy projects, and two Indian organizations are in the running.

Regardless of whether they actually win the awards or not, it is certainly worth looking at what they are doing. Interestingly both organizations work in the area of producing bio-gas.

Biotech, Kerala

Biotech operates in Kerala and works on generating bio-gas from a variety of organic waste. They have working plants that produce gas from toilet waste, household and restaurant waste food, abattoirs, and fish markets. They target middle-class households, as well as unorganized small establishments. The efforts help in a model of sustainability that treats waste at source, promotes hygiene, is environmentally friendly and is economically viable.

"To date BIOTECH has built and installed 12,000 domestic plants, 220 institutional plants and 17 municipal plants that uses waste from the municipal fish markets to produce biogas which is then used in a 3kW engine to generate electricity for lighting the market.

"Households with a biogas plant replace about 30% of LPG or about 44 kg per year, saving Rs1,200 per year. This means that the family can pay back their contribution to the cost of the plant in about three years, and even more quickly if they collect extra food waste from shops to increase their biogas production. The effluent or residue in the biogas plant also makes good fertiliser which results in higher food production."

SKG Sangha, Karnataka

SKG Sangha, operates among rural households in Karnataka selling 'Deenbandhu', a standard model of a cow-dung based biogas plant, working with banks to help finance the plants for their generally poor customers. They have over 43,000 installations so far, which probably compares with the best in the world. That itself is a decent achievement because each plant probably saves 4 tonnes of CO2 a year. More importantly it saves 3.5 tonnes of fuel wood a year. (I know the second number looks huge... does the average rural household really use that much fuel wood?) Anyway, the fuelwood saving results in health and time savings for the rural users, as well as precious breathers for the forests.

However, the benefits to the farmers goes beyond that.

"SKGS has devised an innovative way of using the slurry produced by the biogas plant as an effective fertiliser that has the added benefit of earning rural women a good income... SKGS's vermi-composting system involves mixing the slurry with solid waste (straw, green and dried leaves) and then leaving it to compost for 25 days. The mix is then placed in a container with earthworms, which produces a high quality fertiliser for which people will pay Rs90 (£1) for a 30kg bag. The fertiliser increases grain crop (rice and ragi) yields by 20% and increases the resistance of crops to pests and diseases."

All the finalists

Biotech and SKGS are just two of the finalists, and the entire list is here. Please do click on the link and check out all 10 finalists - they all make for interesting reading.

The Awards Ceremony

Representatives from all finalists will travel to London for the awards ceremony on June 21. Al Gore (who obviously needs no introduction here) will give out the prizes.

Related post:
Energy Globe 2006 - The Winners From India

Friday, May 11, 2007

Reva Hits Major Roadblock In The UK

The Reva's flagship electric car has run into big problems in its most promising market, the UK. Marketed as the G-Wiz by GoinGreen, it was attaining celebrity status in the green-conscious circles. With very low running costs, exemptions from congestion tax and parking fees, it was all set to make big inroads into London. Reva Electric Car Company (RECC) hoped to use London as a launchpad for equally eco-conscious cities in the rest of Europe. Now it looks like disaster might have struck.

Safety Concerns

Apparently the G-Wiz was initially categorized as a quadricycle. According to the UK's Department of Transport, a quadricycle is classified as a, “four-wheeled vehicle whose unladen mass is not more than 400kg (excluding batteries if electric-powered) and whose maximum rated power does not exceed 15kW”. This worked well for the G-Wiz initially, but of late the car was being marketed more as a car (naturally since the brand value of a car is much higher than that of a quadricycle). this prompted the government to subject the car to crash tests for a "normal" car.

The results were disastrous. This has prompted the government to immediately move to ban the car. But GoinGreen disagrees.

Argument versus counter-argument

"According to the Department for Transport (DfT), in the test replicating the official crash for ‘normal’ vehicles, the driver of the G-Wiz was trapped in the wreckage and suffered “significant head and lower extremities injuries ” while the passenger suffered “lesser, but severe lower extremity injuries”.

"Defending the G-Wiz, GoinGreen boss Keith Johnston said the real-world safety record of the car spoke for itself: “Our customers have driven 20 million miles and have 4000 years of ownership with no reported serious injuries.”
>> Autocar

The move to ban the G-Wiz has come in for at least some opposition in the British media.

Our Opinion

Essentially the G-Wiz was RECC's first model and I am not sure why they are still persisting with it. Here are some of the major complaints against the car, which RECC should look to overcome.

  1. "Comical" Looks: But RECC does have relatively sleek looking models including this one designed by Dilip Chabria. What are they waiting for?
  2. Security: No airbags. Is it that difficult and expensive to add airbags? Their argument that air bags only help in high speed crashes will not hold much water.
  3. Sturdiness: When sharing roadspace with SUVs and trucks, the car does feel relatively... flimsy? This might need some re-engineering to overcome including a further lowering of the center of gravity. No short-term solution.
  4. Speed: RECC has long had models in its stable which can do better than the G-Wiz's 42 mph. Then again, faster cars need better safety equipment, even going by the (lame?) argument against them for slower cars.
  5. Range: This cannot be helped with the current generation of car batteries. But RECC can promise its customers that when better batteries hit the market, they will be made available as standard upgrades.
Related Links:

Reva - set for big time

Green Fuel Station and a Chinese Reva

Eco-friendly transport system for Delhi

Reva - "World's highest selling electric car"

Tatas bringing the Air Car to India

Thursday, May 10, 2007

India Wind Power Update

After Reliance's proposed 150 MW wind farm in Maharashtra, now the Tata's are building a 100 MW wind power plant. The Tata plant will be financed by the Asia Development Bank which is promoting wind power in India. Reliance Energy and Tata Power are the biggest private electricity suppliers in Maharashtra (mainly Mumbai).

Meanwhile Suzlon who is building the wind farm for Reliance has just signed its single biggest contract to supply wind turbine capacity. The contract is to supply 400MW of turbine capacity to PPM Energy of Portland, Oregon, USA.

In Suzlon's high-profile battle for German wind turbine maker REpower, Areva has not yet topped Suzlon's latest bid. Suzlon is now fairly confident of getting 40% of REpower from the market, which along with the 25% owned by its bidding partner Martifier should take the total stake above51%.

India is trying to encourage inter-state trading in clean energy by industry. "India is contemplating a system of trading green certificates to enable industries located in one state to tap the renewable energy potential of other states", according to a senior government official speaking at an interactive session between Indian and US energy experts organized by CII in Chennai.

Delhi is making moves in this direction already. In its plans to have a Green Games, it wants to buy wind power from Rajasthan which is a regional superpower of sorts in wind power. Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra lead the nation in wind power capacity, but they are too far away from Delhi.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Essar-REpower Venture Delayed

The proposed Essar-REpower joint venture to produce wind-turbines near Hazira in Gujarat seems to have become a victim of the Suzlon-Areva bidding war to acquire REpower.

Essar and REpower entered into a license agreement last year to build the plant that would make 1.5 to 2 MW wind turbines for the South and South East Asian market. This plant was to be ready in 2007. But according to "a senior official at Essar Power who asked not to be identified. 'We acquired land near Hazira (in the western state of Gujarat) and have also hired people for the venture, but now things have come to a standstill,' he added. He said the company had even hired a managing director for the joint venture."

“Repower, however, claimed there was no delay in the project. 'There is no delay in the second step—to form the joint venture—planned for 2007. First, we wanted to get to know the Indian market better, said Hanna Scherger, team assistant public relations, investor relations and legal affairs for Repower in an emailed response.”

More On NIOT's Desalination Plant

Some clarifications on the new desalination plant unveiled by the National Institute of Ocean Technology.

Sagar Shakti, NIOT's recently unveiled barge-mounted desalination plant, produces one million liters a day at about 6 paise per liter. This however is just an experimental plant. To go commercial NIOT will partner with a private company. Director S. Kathiroli estimates that a plant with 25 million liters per day capacity should be able to produce water at just 3 paise per liter (which is on par with international costs on much bigger plants).

Kathiroli also goes on to explain how this technology has high sustainability standards.

The process is a controlled recreation of water cycle that brings about rain. It involves flash evaporation of warm surface seawater and condensation of the vapours with cold deep-sea water.

The method is environment- friendly, and simple enough not requiring too much skilled manpower.

"There is no brine or anything formed. Secondly, we bring deep sea cold water, which is rich in nutrients. So wherever the plant is, at least 10- 20 kilometres around, you will see that Mari culture will grow quite a lot," Kathiroli said. >> Link
Related Post: NIOT's OTEC-based Desalination Plant

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Solar Roof Programs - I


Mass-production drives down per-unit costs. This is true even with energy, so driving an electric car running on power mass-produced at a huge power plant is more efficient that running your IC-engine car where the power is produced by a relatively tiny 2 liter engine.

However one form of energy that does not gain from mass-production is solar photo-voltaic power. Thats because a given solar cell will produce the same amount of power whether it is placed in isolation or with a million other such cells.

This presents some unique opportunities for those working to popularize solar power. Since mass-production offers no advantages it makes sense to promote individual installations in homes for a variety of reasons.

#1 - Production at point of Consumption

The power is produced right where it is needed, eliminating transmission and distribution (T&D) losses. So if 1 kW of power is generated, most of it is used.

#2 - Reduced Infrastructure Costs

The expensive and elaborate T&D infrastructure is not used. This reduces load on the infrastructure where it exists, and obviates the need for it where it does not. Thus remote regions can get powered without the need to set up and maintain expensive transmission lines. The fact that they are remote usually makes the set-up even more expensive.

#3 - Serve the niche market without affecting the mass market

Solar PV is still rather expensive from a capital cost perspective, so that restricts the commercial viability of a large plant. Thats because a commercial plant has to sell power to the rich alt-e enthusiasts and the poor at the same rates.

This however does not stop very small scale installations like in residences. The extra cost is made up for in part by the government via subsidies, and in part by the people installing it themselves. Thus the market for solar PV power, usually relatively wealthy solar power enthusiasts, is satisfied without taxing the relatively poor.

So the obvious answer is...

The third point is probably the most significant, and is driving "solar roof" installations in developed countries. A solar roof usually means installing solar panels (or solar shingles or solar tiles, or any other type of solar PV roofing material) on the roof of an individual house or residential system. The average solar roof should have a rating of 3 kW to source the power requirements of the residential unit.

* The earliest solar roof program was launched by Japan back in 1994. It was a 70,000 roof program which reached 144,000 roofs in 2002.
* In 1997, President Clinton launched a national Million Solar Roof Initiative in the US, which without any formal budget still reached 229,000 installations by 2003.
* Germany has had great success with its Solar Roof efforts ramping up from an initial 1000 solar roof program to a 100,000 solar roof program, in 1998. This program met its target in 2003 with 3 years to spare.
* Probably the most ambitious of all current programs is the California Million Solar Roofs Plan (CMSRP). With this California alone aims to create 3000 MW of solar power capacity in 10 years. To put that in perspective Governor Schwarzenegger wants California to achieve in 10 years in one state, what President Clinton aimed to achieve in 50 states in 13 years.

Despite the ambitious nature of the CMSRP, it would seem to have a much better chance of success than the Clinton initiative. There are two reasons:
1. The economic and political costs of oil have sky-rocketed, ensuring a very wide range of support for alternate energy.
2. The costs of alternate energy have fallen. Solar modules cost $5 per watt in 1998. The cheapest thin-film module retails for $3 per watt today.

Neither of these look like they will change in the near future. The CMSRP does face serious challenges, but the lessons learnt will encourage more states in the US to launch similar programs. In the near future, as solar power gets cheap enough developing countries will have their own such programs, and before long we will see the advent of commercial solar power stations that are cost competitive with coal. Towards that goal does the promise of solar power lead us.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

NIOT's OTEC-based Desalination Plant

Chennai-based National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT) has achieved a world's first in sustainable technology by building a floating water desalination plant. But what's so great about putting a desalination plant on a barge? The uniqueness is in the detail of the technology used.

The Technology

"The plant is mounted on a 65-metre-long by 16-metre-thick barge. The ocean's surface water is boiled inside a vacuum container. The vapour created in the flash boil process is condensed through a refrigeration process with the help of deep-sea water collected from nearly 600 metres below the surface of the sea." >>Link

Thus this plant benefits from NIOT's cutting edge research and plans on OTEC, a fledgling clean energy technology which has huge potential. OTEC (Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion) is a method to use the energy difference between the surface of the ocean, which is exposed to the sun, and the water at lower levels, which not being exposed to the sun is much cooler.

The temperature of the water 600m below the surface was one third of the temperature at the surface, but bringing it to the surface presented the biggest challenge of the project. The water was brought up using one meter thick HDPE pipes, which come in 12m lengths, and when assembled the 600m stretch weighed 100 tonnes. Further the salinity of the seawater would make the pipes float, necessitating the attachment of heavy weights. The salinity however is useful in another way - the clean water is filled into water bags each capable of holding 200,000 liters, which were then easily towed to the shore since clean water floats on saline water.

Cost Effective Technology?

The water is essentially distilled which is the best way to clean water, though normally not the most cost efficient. Thus, "
The total dissolvable solid proportion in this water is only 10 particles per million (PPM) as against a national standard of 2,000 PPM". But the production cost works out to about 6 paise (0.14 cents) per liter. This might look reasonable when considering the price of bottled water, but not if it is to be considered a reliable supply for industrial and municipal supply. Reverse osmosis plants in other parts of the world provide water at just half of that cost.

Looking ahead

Firstly this is a very small plant by international standards. For example the world's biggest desalination plant at Jebel Ali in the UAE produces over 800 million liters a day, whereas the NIOT plant produces just 1 million. As they work on increasing capacity, the cost of production should decrease too.

Secondly, NIOT has proposed a tie-up with the Tamil Nadu Electricity Board to explore a rather unique application for its Low Temperature Thermal Desalination - by using the heat from onshore thermal power plants.
If this works, the cost of production would work out to between 3-4 paise.

Water from TNEB's thermal power plants has to be cooled down before it can be released into the sea. NIOT thinks that the already warm water would be a good starting point for it to continue into the desalination process. That would be a double punch for sustainable technologies - a cost-efficient way to handle thermal pollution and produce clean water.

If NIOT can polish off this technology soon, then apart from current and upcoming thermal power plants, it could see big application in the soon to come nuclear power plants too.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Small Wave Power Plant in Maharashtra

The Maharashtra Govt is setting up a small tidal power plant in 2 coastal villages in Ratnagiri district. A pilot of sorts it will produce between 15 to 20 kW of power when it goes operational this May. The project costs about Rs 4.5 million ($100,000), and similar projects are underway in 15 other villages. The hope is that the success of this project could lead to a similar project with a capacity of 250 kW.

Of course this project is not going to help Maharashtra or India tide over any power crises soon, but it is a good attempt to move forward on a technology that is at least as promising as wind power is.

The Indian Wave Energy Program

The Indian Wave Energy Program started in 1983 at the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras. Early research led to the conclusion that the Oscillating Water Column (OWC) type of device was most suitable for Indian conditions and a 150 kW pilot plant was actually built and commissioned in October 1991 in the breakwater of the Vizinjham Fisheries Harbor near Trivandrum in Kerala.

In 1993 the National Institute of Ocean Technology was established within the IIT-M campus and it took over the wave energy program. NIOT continues research on wave energy as part of its overall mandate to exploit India's ocean resources. While an improved model was again installed at Vizinjham in April 1996, we dont see details of much progress beyond that.

So the Maharashtra effort, though small should help revive efforts in this fledgling technology.

WEC Survey of Energy Resources 2001
From the Moon via the Tides
Big Californian Push for Wave Power
Wave Power gets Smarter

Friday, April 13, 2007

Energy Globe 2006 - The Winners From India

The Energy Globe awards for 2006 are out, and programs in India have won two awards. The International Awards are given in 5 categories (Earth, Fire, Water, Air and Youth) , plus a National Honorary Award.

First Prize in the Fire category

In a previous post, we had mentioned Selco India, a company which sells solar electrification systems to rural Indian households through consumer credit programs. Though the company and its business model is today quite strong, it probably would not have been but for the early level support received from the Indian Solar Loan Program led by the United Nations Environment Program in partnership with the UNEP Riscoe Center, and Indian banking groups including Canara Bank, Syndicate Bank, and their sponsored smaller cooperative banks.

In a just recognition of its great success, this 4-year $7.6 mn program launched in April 2003, receives the First Prize in the Fire category. UNEP has decided not renew the program in India recognizing that the business model is now strong enough to carry on without its support.

"A customer credit financing program for financing solar home systems... the program design involves an interest rate reduction, a direct support system of the market and a provider qualification process. Over the span of three years more than 16,000 Solar Home Systems have been financed through 2,000 bank branches and the interest subsidy has been mostly phased out."

Second Prize in Water Category

The second Energy Globe recipient from India represents a very famous brand - Sulabh International which runs the ubiquitous public toilets in India. Bindheshwar Pathak, wins the award for his Sulabh Sanitation Movement which has developed a simple and efficient method for producing bio-gas from human waste in public toilets. Also, using a simple technology called the Sulabh Effluent Treatment it can treat the waste water rendering it odorless, colorless and pathogen-free before releasing it back into the environment.

Its showcase project is a huge public toilet with bio-gas production facility in Shirdi, Maharashtra. Its the biggest such facility in the world and thirty thousand people can use the public toilets per day. Apart from creating sustainable and renewable energy it contributes big time to keeping the environment hygienic.

All The Winners

The list of all the International winners is here. It presents a list of interesting projects from around the globe, which I cannot do true justice to in this post. They range from solar driers to sustainable building to bio-gas projects. Please take time to go through the link to get an idea of how different peoples and cultures do their bit to get to a more sustainable existence.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Greenpeace's India 2050 Energy Scenario

Greenpeace has launched its report, 'Energy (R)evolution: A sustainable Energy Outlook for India' in New Delhi yesterday, which has some pretty sensible solutions for India to cut the pollution and keep the growth into the year 2050.

The report outlines the path and policy for India to take to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 4% by 2050, instead of a nearly 400% increase going by current standards. This makes more sense seen in the context that the report on India is a part of the Global Energy Outlook report which aims at a global reduction of CO2 emissions by 50% by 2050.

The report suggests a two-pronged approach to tackle pollution. On the one hand it stresses on increasing the contribution of renewables in the production of electricity, "from the current 4% to 10% by 2010, 20% by 2020 and 65% by 2050". The other focus area is energy efficiency, which should restrict primary energy demand increase from 27,000 Pita Joules in 2003 to just 37,000 PJ/a in 2050, instead of 72,000 PJ/a which would be the demand if no action was taken.

Total electricity production will rise from the current 120GW to 88GW. Of the total mix 25% will be produced from solar PV, 20% from wind, 11% hydro and 6% from biomass. On hydro, the stress is on small, mini and micro hydroelectric projects, which are environmentally friendly and will make up 60% of the hydro-electricity produced. Similarly biomass should not affect food produce and should be produced only from waste.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Random Updates On Solar Power

DIY Solar Cooker
We recently had a post on the Gadhia solar cooker (based on the German Scheffler cooker) which has made significant inroads into the Indian rural hinterland. Here is how you can build your own solar power cooker at a much lower cost.

Solar Drier for Chillies
In Coimbatore, researchers at the Post-Harvest Technology Centre of Tamil Nadu Agricultural University have developed and installed a Poly House Solar Tunnel Drier to dry agricultural products like chillies. The drier cuts down the post-harvest loss of 35% to 40%, and also reduces the time to dry chillies to 4% moisture content from 7-10 days to just 2-3 days. The drier was installed at a village with financial support from Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), through DHAN Foundation, Madurai.

Solar Cell Prices falling
The cost of solar cells is falling. Despite the recent run-up in prices because of German demand, a multicrystalline solar module is available for as little as $4.31 per Watt peak (Wp) from a US retailer, while the minimum price for a thin film module is $3.00/Wp.

Update: via The Oil Drum, by 2010 power from the cheapest solar power will be cost competitive with power from a new coal-powered plant. Another research report on what is needed to get there, and beyond.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Renewable Energy Potential in Kerala

Kerala is one South Indian state that has not taken up renewable energy in a big way. While neighboring Tamil Nadu has a wind power generation capacity of 3000 MW, Kerala has nothing despite tremendous potential especially in the hilly regions.

G.M. Pillai, Director General of World Institute of Sustainable Energy (WISE), Pune, laments that a draft policy on wind power has been gathering dust in the state without implementation. The wind power potential in the state is estimated at 1000 MW, whereas the total power capacity in the state is currently 3000 MW. Moreover with a gestation period of just 3 months from start of construction to go-live, wind power is truly fast-track.

However despite the absence of state support, there seems to be some entrepreneurial success on the solar power front. Georgekutty Karianapally, an entrepreneur based in Kochi has developed some solar products that include a solar incubator and a solar milking machine. The solar incubator has interested the IIT to take up a project on it.

"He has also developed a 2 watt LED (light emitting diode) light that can replace a 15 watt bulb. The `zero watt bulbs' available at most of the outlets are 15 watt bulbs, according to him. About 8 lakh bulbs in this category are sold in the State every year, he says. If so, the power saved by replacing them with the LED lights would be equivalent to the power generated by a mini power generation plant, he observes." >Link

Nanotechnology Breakthrough For Solar Cells in NZ

A significant breakthrough by researchers in New Zealand might help bring down the cost of solar cells to just one tenth of the current cost.

"Dr Wayne Campbell and researchers in the (Massey University’s Nanomaterials Research) centre have developed a range of coloured dyes for use in dye-sensitised solar cells. The synthetic dyes are made from simple organic compounds closely related to those found in nature." - Link (via) The porphyrin dye they have developed is apparently the most efficient dye in the world.

The main reason for the lower cost would be a production process that uses titanium dioxide, a plentiful, renewable and non-toxic mineral. Silicon is also plentiful but the refining of pure silicon is a very energy hungry process.

Also unlike silicon-based cells that need direct sunlight, cells from this process will work in low-light conditions which makes them ideal for cloudy climates - and cloudy days in sunny climates.

The center will now work with commercial companies to incorporate the dyes into roofing materials or wall panels, and they already have several expressions of interest.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Big Biomass Initiatives In Haryana

Over the last two months, Haryana has been in the thick of action on renewable energy in India.

686 MW Power From Biomass

In Feb, Haryana signed MoUs with 7 independent power producers (IPPs) to set up 21 biomass-based power stations that would generate a total of 686 MW of power at a total set-up cost of $745 mn.

One of the IPPs
is a consortium of Gammon Infrastructure Projects Pvt Ltd and Barmaco Energy Systems Ltd which will generate a total of 154 MW of power. The plants would be set up in 8 different locations to ensure proximity with the sources. The plants would use inputs like rice husk, wheat husk and sugarcane straw which would be bought from local farmers presumably within a radius of 15-20 kms around the plant. This, in my opinion, would not just contribute to the local economy but also reduce the need for middlemen between the farmers and the power producers.

Govt Policy

At a recent business meet for, "Promotion of Biomass Gasifiers for Thermal and Electrical Applications", the Haryana Ministry of New and Renewable Energy highlighted its 35-point program of subsidies and fiscal incentives for promoting biomass gasification.

Haryana's Dept of Renewable Energy (HAREDA) has identified a potential of 1400 MW from biomass and this looks like a strong initiative towards reaching that potential. Still it makes a tiny fraction of the 40,000 MW Haryana needs/expects to ramp up over the next 3 years.

High-level Initiatives

Haryana also signed two more significant MoU's last month. The first was signed between GE and the Haryana Technological Park at the India launch of GE's Ecomagination, and is for the launch of a green building project in the state. This was followed up with an MoU with the state of Maryland, US. This agreement had the explicit objective of improving trade in clean and renewable energy sources, but was pretty wide-ranging otherwise.

Village-level Initiatives

At the village level Haryana increased the money in awards for panchayats that promote new and renewable energy sources by 50%. The awards would be given to panchayats that achieve maximum new solar power for unelectrified houses, maximum installation of biogas plants by houses that had potential, maximum usage of energy efficient chullahs (stoves) and bulbs, maximum adoption of solar cookers and maximum number of solar energy conservation devices.

Related link: Biopact has an excellent post on Haryana's biomass initiatives.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Indian World's Tallest Building Aspirants

A rash of new developments promises to change India's traditionally low FSI structure and throw up a bunch of potential claimants to the title of the World's Tallest Building.


India has traditionally been a low Floor Space Index country, which has resulted in relatively few skyscrapers (buildings over 24m in height) outside of downtown Bombay. Even in the financial capital the towering structures top out at just under 160 m , with the Shreepati Arcade and the MVRDC World Trade Centre. Some structures under construction like the SD Towers would actually breach the 200m mark. 160m or even 200m is tiny by world standards where the Empire State Building set a 449 m record way back in 1931. In fact India has fallen so far down in the global tall building stakes that Qingdao a small city in China, has more high rise buildings than the whole of India and more than twice as tall buildings.

In 1998, the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi announced plans to build a giant 678 m building near Jabalpur in Madhya Pradesh to house his "World Capital". At that height it would not only have dwarfed the then world's tallest Petronas Towers, or the current Taipei 101, but would have made them seem rather small in volume too. Few people took this claim seriously, and today mentions are largely confined to email forwards.

The more serious and purely commercial proposals would not come until the turn of the millennium.

The Noida Tower

The next big blow in the World's Tallest Building (WTB) stakes in India came almost 7 years later was from Hafeez Contractor when he proposed the Noida Tower. At 710m it would tower over all except the Burj Dubai which would top out at 800m. The proposed design is either pretty cool, or monstrously ugly, depending on who you ask - though to the credit of the designer it never fails to evoke a response. "The building is to look like the peaks of Himalayas, and is scheduled to be open for business by 2013. The building will contain a 50-floor five-star hotel, a 40-story glass atrium and 370,000 sq meters of shopping space." (Link) It will be part of the Noida City Center built over 140 hectares.

Gurgaon's Sector 29

Last year another Delhi satellite town, Gurgaon, jumped into the fray. Gurgaon intends to build 4 towers of 140 floors each as part of its Golden Triangle City Center in Sector 29. While the Noida Tower seems to be caught up in the city bureaucracy, the Gurgaon proposal comes from the Haryana govt. Also unlike in Noida, Gurgaon has elaborate plans to tackle the parking and transportation problems that are inherent when such huge structures come up. These include multi-level parking structures, and both monorail and metro connectivity to ease traffic congestion.

Manhattans of Delhi and Mumbai

This year the results of opening the "floodgates for FDI" in real estate are finally showing. The first quarter of this year alone saw major FDI (and local) investment commitments into 4 mega-construction projects, which if successful should bring 4 new mini-cities onto the map of India. The "mini" prefix might be redundant though because two of those being built by DLF and the Al Nakheel group from Dubai on a 50:50 basis are each being planned to be "three times the size of Manhattan". These would be one each outside Delhi and Mumbai, on 20,000 acres each. Now the comparison to Manhattan one hopes will extend to the height of the buildings in these cities. And if that happens, we should go someway towards an Indian presence in the tallest buildings in the world list. Better still, we might see serious competition between Indian cities and construction companies to build the tallest building in India.

All said and done, the skylines of Indian cities are likely to see some serious alterations.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Orb Energy - A Focus On The Solar Scene

Orb Energy is a firm in Bangalore which seems to have a clear focus on building up the Indian solar retail market.

Business Model

Orb Energy is a newly established solar energy company (as a spin-off from Shell Renewables), based in Singapore. Last August they tied up with a clutch of cleantech investors including CleanTech Europe, Renewable Capital and the Singh Family (founders of New Look, a UK-based ladies fashion retailer). In October, they announced a $2.5 m investment in a plant in Bangalore to assemble and market solar systems for power backup and heating. The business plan was to set up 25 service branches within the state and have sales to 100,000 residential and commercial customers in five years.


The company seems to have a well-focussed approach to the Indian market. Dozens of players in India already offer what Orb is offering. However the difference seems to be in the approach, where there is a focus on branding and an effort to tailor the solutions for specific needs, whether in the residential sector or in variety of commercial requirements, from IT to hospitality to the manufacturing industry. The company also provides financing via its tie-up with Karnataka Bank. Considering the spread of its branches in Karnataka there seems to be a strong emphasis on reaching out to the rural customers.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Moser Baer Ties Up Supplies Via Investment

Moser Baer has bought a 40% stake in Slovenian company, SolarValue AG. SolarValue has a plant that manufactures solar grade silicon and is targeting a plant capacity of 4400 tonnes. The investment from Moser Baer helps it in that direction.

For Moser Baer it helps tie up silicon supplies for Moser Baer Photo Voltaics' planned ramp-up in capacity to 80 MW of solar cells by this year. MBPV recently inaugurated 40 MW of solar PV cell manufacturing capacity, for which it has tied up for supplies with a Solar World group company. The tie-up with SolarValue will ensure MBPV has enough supplies for the additional 40 MW which is scheduled to come on line by the end of this year.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Danish company buys 50% in Indian Solar firm

Danish solar products company SolarCap has bought a 50% stake in Emmvee Solar Systems, a Bangalore-based manufacturer of solar water heaters and photovoltaic modules.

Emmvee produces the "Solarizer" brand of solar heaters. Following the infusion of cash from the stake sale the company is looking to expand its capacity from the current 500,000 sq m to 2 million sq m within the next 6 months. It also gives Emmvee the access to technology from SolarCap as well as a range of solar thermal products which can be launched in the Indian and global markets.

In addition to getting cash to expand, the Indian company here also gets a strategic global partner and the capability to overhaul its range of solar thermal products to global standards, thus giving it a competitive edge in the global economy. This should be seen as another important way for Indian companies to move up the ladder towards ensuring their survival in an increasingly global market.

Emmvee also operates a fully automated manufacturing facility for solar photovoltaic modules, which was installed by Spire Corporation last year. The plant has equipment for "solar cell stringing and lay-up, lamination and module testing as per IEC standards", and a capacity of 15MW. Production is mainly for export.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Khandelwal Solar's big plans in the PV space

While the general trend seems to be companies manufacturing solar photovoltaics in India to sell abroad, Khandelwal Solar plans to import solar photovoltaic modules and cells from a Chinese company to sell in India. Noida-based Khandelwal Solar Power Ltd has signed an MoU with Shanghai-based Solar EnerTech Corp to import and market the latter's products in India. But in keeping with the trend, they have big manufacturing plans too.

Marketing Agreement

"The MOU agreement establishes the framework towards the formation of a strategic partnership aimed at developing product sales in India as well as opening additional markets throughout Asia. The agreement outlines a six-year plan whereby KSPL would be supplied solar materials and products alongside technical training and consultative expertise on the design and manufacture of customized solar applications.

"The framework further elaborates that within fiscal 2007, Khandelwal will purchase 2Mw of solar cells and modules, representing an approximate $7.5 million in revenue for Solar EnerTech. Furthermore, KSPL agrees to purchase an additional 20Mw of solar modules and 10Mw of solar cells in 2008, and from 2009 to 2012, Khandelwal will annually purchase 20Mw of solar modules and 20Mw of solar cells in order to supply projected market demands within India."

Manufacturing Plans

Interestingly the company is also very bullish on manufacturing in India. Their website speaks of a project to manufacture solar photovoltaics in India, projecting a 3 phase capacity increase to 100 MW, also indicating that they have production orders to take care of 5 years worth of production.

I contacted Khandelwal Solar on this seeming discord in priorities and they clarified that the manufacturing project is still very much on, and the first solar modules and cells should start rolling out from the plant by June 2008. Currently the company is seeking private placement investments into the project, largely from NRI's. The marketing deal with Solar EnerTech Corp is an attempt to start penetrating the market right away.

Manufacture of solar PV products would mark a big jump for the Khandelwal group who have been manufacturing small semi-conductor components in India in technological coordination with Siemens.

The Indic View
would wish them luck in both endeavors.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Essar and REpower to build wind turbines in India

REpower shot to fame in India because of Suzlon's battle with French nuclear power giant Areva to acquire it. Regardless of the outcome of that battle though, REpower seems set to come to India.

REpower is teaming up with the Essar group, under a license agreement signed last year, to start design and construction of 1.5 MW to 2 MW wind turbines in India, and to market them in South East Asia. There is the likelihood of a future JV to build or import 3MW to 5MW turbines. This JV would also have access to other technological developments at REpower, and the market could also be expanded beyond South East Asia. REpower has entered the Chinese market separately through a JV with Chinese companies, North Heavy Industry Corp and Honiton Energy Ltd.

"Essar had plans to set up the manufacturing plant in a port-based location with initial investments of Rs 50 crore." >>FE

Update of the Suzlon-Areva battle for REpower

The REpower supervisory and management boards have recommended that shareholders accept Areva's last bid (140 euros per share) over Suzlon's (126 euros). However in an interesting twist REpower also suggested that it would prefer to be acquired via a joint bid by both companies. The rationale seems to be that while either of the two companies could help REpower in its growth plans, a combination of the two would offer far more.

Exploring Synergy of Clean Energy Sources

"Available 24/7" is obviously not a phrase that solar or wind power plants swear by. For obvious reasons - these are forces of nature that we can only harness when they are available. The sun does not shine at night, and the wind only blows at peak capacity about 30% of times in the best of locations. So that means that they will always stand at a serious disadvantage versus fossil fuel based solutions where the power source can be easily stockpiled and used as and when required.

Power grids therefore have had to balance off the addition of any solar or wind power with equivalent power from a conventional power plant. Of course this leads to inefficiencies as the conventional power plant does not get to operate at full capacity, thus increasing the cost of its output.

Denmark uses hydro-electricity from neighboring Germany, so it tends to draw more and less power depending on how the wind is performing. This works well because the flow of water that generates the hydro-power can always be controlled. Of course this is not an ideal scenario but it does present an interesting case study on how a combination of renewable power sources can help overcome the disadvantages of each.

In India, small solar-wind hybrid systems are slowly getting popular, aided by huge govt subsidies. On a much larger scale California is building two 50 MW solar thermal power plants, which will use biogas from cow dung as a backup fuel source.

If this experiment is successful, Indian policy planners should take note. India has the largest bovine population in the world, and the second largest human population. The sun is also especially generous with India. Energy independence thus seems only a matter of infrastructure.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

German Firm to make Biogas from Bagasse in India

The Indian biogas space is attracting international attention - and investments. While FuelCell Energy is looking at generating power (at least in part) from biogas in an "ultra-clean" way, Biogas Nord has set its eyes on the huge potential to generate biogas in India.

Via Biopact: German company, Biogas Nord is one of the world's biggest biogas companies. It takes its first step into India's rapidly growing biogas market with a contract for the construction of a large biogas plant for a sugar factory in Maharashtra. The Shree Tatyasaheb Kore Warana, is a sugar factory that produces 40,000 tons of bagasse a year. The biogas plants not just produce biogas, but also leave behind high-quality fertilizer. A big plus for the environment is that it prevents the emission of the greenhouse gas methane from the bagasse.

"The highly efficient biogas plants installed by Biogas Nord AG are based on a flow-storage process. This involves the operation of several tanks (fermenters) with biomass substrate continuously flowing through them".

The contract was worth 1.8 million euros, and Biogas Nord would well be setting its sights on the 165 sugar factories in Maharashtra, which is about half the number in India.

e.Volution - the Air Car in a previous Avatar

Even as the Tata-MDI deal to build the air car in India is creating waves, there is a feeling of "been-there-done-that" already. For it was back in 2000 that the MDI technology first made a splash as the e.Volution at the Auto Expo Africa 2000 in Johannesburg.

The e.Volution made waves back in 2000. Zero Pollution Motors was to manufacture the car in South Africa. "There are currently two factories in France, with the first models expected on the streets later this year. There are five factories planned for Mexico and Spain, with three in Australia. But South Africa will be the second country after France to open a factory and begin production." (BBC)

The e.Volution also won an entry on the popular tech site

Interestingly the car again made a splash 2 years later. By this time, going by the original schedule it should already have been on the streets of Mexico City where the govt had already placed an order for 40,000 air cars, while about 10 factories in 6 countries were churning out thousands of air cars. This time the splash it was at the Paris motor show in 2002, in the country where it was developed in the first place. The only change was that a refuel was to cost 1.5 Euros as against just 30 cents in the case of the e.Volution.

It does not look like any of the plans have materialized. Despite the best efforts of MDI, the car does not seem to have become commercial yet. The website for Zero Pollution Motors shows a site under construction, though I did find this listing for an office in New York City (which also mentions the same under-construction website).

So what could be different with the new deal?

It seems to me that the Tata's might just be the first group with serious experience in the automobile sector that is tying up with MDI. Notice too that the Tata's have not made any big noise about the deal, indicating probably that they are very cautious (and likely serious) about it too.

Also MDI seems to have made some progress since 2000 and 2002. They now have 4 models against just the van that was displayed in SA. The car touts an amazing array of electronic gadgets. Interestingly the price seems to have come down from the $10,000 mentioned in 2000 to just about $7,000 that media reports suggest now. Prius, Tesla and Volt have also made alternate energy vehicles very cool in a world serious about fighting the oil addiction.

All these factors could on the one hand indicate that the time for the air car has finally come. On the other, it might just reinforce its status as vaporware.

Credit: Riot for pointing to the e.Volution, via his insightful comment on the original post.

FuelCell Energy coming to India

In another sign of cutting-edge alternate energy technology coming into India, US-based FuelCell Energy plans to invest $100 mn in setting up infrastructure for fuel cell power plants, in a plan that will later involve R&D and manufacturing.

The Plans for India

FuelCell plans to set up its first unit in Gujarat. The company does not want to go the subsidiary route and is in talks with Reliance, L&T and Kirloskar for possible tie-ups. The company also claimed that the investment could go as high as $500 mn to $1 bn.

Speaking about the plans, Pinakin Patel, Director Special Systems and Research, FuelCell Energy, had some interesting comments to make. He claimed that the production cost of power would be $1000 per kw, as against $3000 in the US, because of lower cost of components. I presume he means capital cost. '"Moreover, the power generated there (USA) is around 1,000 mw while given the market conditions in India and the huge demand we are looking for an initial power generation of 10,000 mw,” said Patel, adding that the company would, however, begin at a lower level of power generation at 10 MW capacity to 100 MW capacity to avoid risks.' Though initially the company will import fuel cells from its US plants, eventually it hopes to manufacture them in India.

"Fuel Cell Energy will be operating in India in phases beginning by the end of 2007 or early 2008".

What this means for the power scene in India

FuelCell Energy represents cutting-edge technology in ultra-clean electric power generation from renewable sources like bio-gas, or from "cleaner" sources like natural gas. The company recently installed a 1 MW power plant that will run on gas generated from 30 millions gallons of waste water everyday. Among other initiatives the company has also tied up with Air Products to build a Hydrogen Power Station by combining their Direct FuelCell power plants with Air Products' advanced gas separation technologies.

Though India is not big on hydrogen, there is a big stress on power from municipal waste and biomass where the waste is converted into biogas and then run through combustion-based generators to produce electricity. Fuel cells do this in a much cleaner and efficient way. Also at $1000 per KW, the capital cost is very competitive with more traditional power plants. Even if natural gas is used instead of biogas, the plant will still pollute far less than a traditional natural gas plant, which itself is much cleaner than a coal plant.

Update: FuelCell also has a 10 year agreement with Korean power producer POSCO Power to sell and develop fuel cell generation plants in South Korea.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

E-Bikes - Revolution in the Making

From California to China, e-bikes are rapidly becoming popular. India is no exception, though it is just taking off, and the segment they cater to in India might be totally different.
In many countries around the world, e-bikes are essentially electric-motorized bicycles. So they are popular among bicyclists who want to "move up". In India on the contrary, they are being positioned as low-cost, low-maintenance and "cool" replacements for motorcycles and scooters.

From Bangalore-based Ekovehicle's Eco-Cosmic I in 2005 to a wide range of manufacturers today, the electric bike segment in India is crowded and also set to explode. From next to nothing two years ago, companies sold 50,000 electric bikes in India last year. Electrotherm, a company traditionally into furnaces and metal melting, is one of the big new entrants into the space, having launched its bikes branded 'No Petrol' YObykes in a number of states like Gujarat, Orissa, West Bengal and Maharashtra. Probably the biggest promise however is held out by the Hero group's joint venture with British company Ultratech. The joint venture company called Ultra Motors should give a big boost to the e-bike industry bringing in Hero Motors' vaunted distribution, marketing and after-sales network.

The power of most bikes is equivalent to their 25 cc petrol counterparts, with a max speed ranging from 25 to 40 kmph. The lower power also means no registration or taxes or even a license. But they cost less than 10 paise ($0.002) per km, and get totally charged in a few hours. Moreover the speed does lie within the average speed range of traffic in most Indian cities.

The Outlook

Apart from the players mentioned above the market also has players like Avon Cycles, KEV India, Kaiser Auto Moto, Standard Group, Atlas Cycles and Ace Motors. Electrotherm alone plans to sell 150,000 vehicles a year by next year, while Ultra Motors also has a similar target.

Tata-BP Solar to invest $300mn to reach 300 MW

Tata-BP Solar is the grand-daddy of solar photovoltaics manufacturing in India. In a major ramp-up strategy announced yesterday, Tata-BP outlined plans to retain their pole position in the solar space in India.

Set-up in 1991, as a 51-49 JV between BP Solar and Tata Power, their Bangalore solar cell plant currently has a capacity of 52 MW. The initial phase of the ramp-up will see an investment of $100mn in proportion of the stake in the JV by BP Solar and Tata Power. This investment will see an increase in plant capacity to 128 MW in the next 20 months. A subsequent investment will increase the capacity to 300 MW by 2010.

We have seen a spate of investments in PV manufacturing in India including Moser Baer PV's 250 MW thin film plant and Solar Semiconductor's 50 MW plant (with a potential to ramp up to 100MW). Tata-BP seemed to be spurred by these developments going by this statement from BP Solar president and CEO Lee Edwards: "This investment (USD 100 million) is part of the roadmap laid out to ensure that the firm retains its number one position in the Indian subcontinent". In the longer-term the company expects to export about 60% of the produced modules.

So how does the Tata-BP ambition compare with MBPV and Solar Semiconductor?

Tata Power is backed by one of the oldest, biggest and most dynamic corporate groups in India. BP Solar is backed by one of the top 5 global petroleum firms, and BP has loudly declared its strategy in the energy space by changing its tag line to "Beyond Petroleum". In terms of size and "lineage" therefore Tata-BP is a giant against up-starts in its space. But dont count the new kids out yet.

One potential stumbling block for Tata-BP is BP Solar's adamant loyalty to silicon-based PV, while more and more PV gurus are increasingly putting their weight behind thin-film. Both points have their merits, but currently more experts are in favor of thin-film. The new companies would be equally adept in both technologies - thin-film and silicon crystalline.

A great leveller would be the increasingly important role played by financial institutions today, as demonstrated in Tata Steel's takeover of Corus, a company many times it own size. What this means is that if the smaller companies can convince financial institutions that they have a great product/idea/plan, the financial edge of their giant competitors would be rather blunted.

One thing is for sure though: there are exciting times ahead in the solar space in India.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Tatas bringing the Air Car to India

Imagine a car that is as green as an electric car, has more than twice the range, and re-charges in half the time. That is the promise of the air car, and the Tatas hope to manufacture and launch such a car in India soon.

Last month Tata Motors signed a deal with Moteur Developpment International (MDI), a small family owned firm based in France, for application of MDI's compressed air engines technology to cars for the market in India. Gizmag has exciting details including on the Tatas' plans to manufacture and launch these cars in India - though not a timeline yet.

What's New?

The MDI-Tata car will run on compressed air. The technology has been around for a while, though their application in automobiles is relatively new (no such car is commercially available yet). Since electricity would be used to compress the air, the cars essentially run on electricity - so they are almost as clean as electric cars. Where they score above electric cars are that the energy is not stored in batteries but in a rather simple tank, hence they are cheaper and have a greater range.

The Engine
The core of the compressed air engine would be a single-piston engine powered by the expansion of compressed air. MDI's single fuel engines will run purely on compressed air and cars with these engines will top out at 50 kph . The dual fuel engine cars will have the capability to switch to a combustible fuel at speeds above 50 kph, and when on this mode the compressed air tank gets refueled too.

Fuel and Efficiency
The compressed air can be refilled at special facilities at petrol stations in quick time (2-3 minutes), or in 3-4 fours plugging in the car's electric compressor to the mains. So the car will essentially run on electric power converted into compressed air. Once filled up, the car should run for 200 to 300 kms. Each commercial refill should cost about $3 (or Rs 135). Recharging from the mains at home however should cost far less.

Body and Advanced Features
"The MiniC.A.T is a simple, light urban car, with a tubular chassis that is glued not welded and a body of fibreglass. The heart of the electronic and communication system on the car is a computer offering an array of information reports that extends well beyond the speed of the vehicle, and is built to integrate with external systems and almost anything you could dream of, starting with voice recognition, internet connectivity, GSM telephone connectivity, a GPS guidance system, fleet management systems, emergency systems, and of course every form of digital entertainment. The engine is fascinating, as is and the revolutionary electrical system that uses just one cable and so is the vehicle’s wireless control system. Microcontrollers are used in every device in the car, so one tiny radio transmitter sends instructions to the lights, indicators etc

"There are no keys – just an access card which can be read by the car from your pocket." >>link

The Tata angle

Tata Motors is expected to support further development and refinement of the technology, especially for the Indian market. Tata might setup a plant in India to manufacture 3000 cars initially. In a 3 shift operation that number could go up to 9000 cars annually. The plant might manufacture one or more of the four current MDI models - car, taxi (5 passengers), pick-up and van.

The Outlook

The Gizmag article is generating a lot of interest. At the time of posting it is approaching a 1000 diggs which is huge, though skepticism remains, as in slashdot categorizing it as potential vaporware.

But the scenario seems optimum - the car should cost under Rs 300,000, and with the great mileage and advanced electronic features to boot it should give tough competition to the Reva to hold on to the title of India's #1 clean car. May all the clean cars win!

Sunday, March 18, 2007

OPEC changing its spots?

You know that renewable energy is here to stay when the biggest beneficiaries of the current carbon-addiction start chanting the renewable mantra.

While the big daddy of oil, Saudi Arabia was going the Jatropha route is old news, more and more members of the OPEC cartel are going in for renewable technologies.

On the biofuel front, while UAE is looking to the jojoba, a small desert plant to make biodiesel for domestic consumption, Saudi intends to export its jatropha-based biodiesel. Venezuela is joining the ethanol rush in South America, while Indonesia hopes indigenous ethanol will restore it to the status of a petroleum exporter.

On the solar power front, the Abu Dhabi has big plans in the UAE. To start with, it is setting up a 100 MW solar power plant for $350 mn, which will come on line by 2009, and power 10,000 homes. This will be the first solar power plant in the Gulf. Beyond this one plant though, Abu Dhabi intends to put big money into the development and commercialization of clean energy technologies, starting with the setting up of a bachelor-level research center in collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and also a special economic zone for the clean energy industry.

Why are the oil cartel members going the renewable route?

With countries like Venezuela and Indonesia at least the strategy seems to be to use either locally produced or imported biofuels, while maintaining their status as oil exporters. This might reflect a strategy among the oil cartel members to use their ill-gotten oil wealth to go renewable themselves while selling oil to the rest of the world for as long as they can. For this might also mean that the rumors that oil production in these countries has peaked have some truth in them, or at least that the figures of uninterrupted supply for several decades is not correct. Or it could just mean that as renewables are getting more and more competitive, they are becoming an option whose time has come, for whoever can afford them.

At the very least, this represents an admittance by the oil cartel that it may never again be able to price oil to undercut renewable energy options. And that sure is a positive thought.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Geo-Engineering Gaining Traction as an Option

Clean, green, renewable energy powering an overall eco-friendly existence for the human race is generally the over-riding message of sustainability. However, even if we stop burning carbon and cutting the forests at this exact minute, we still have the accumulated effects of centuries of the industrial revolution. Sustainable practices at best prescribe preventing further destruction of the natural balance, and they at best achieve only a slowing down of the rate at which we destroy it. So while we look at decelerating the earth's loss of health, weFrom will have to at some time start looking at restoring the health too.

The biggest aspect of the earth's health affecting us today is Global Warming - the earth is getting hotter. Geo-engineering looks at ways to alter the earth's atmosphere to fight the green-house effect, either by reducing the gases causing the greenhouse effect, or creating an environment that reflects more and more sunlight back off the earth - either off the surface of the earth, or even before it reaches the surface.

In many ways we have been practicing geo-engineering for a long time - and not just by contributing to the greenhouse effect. One theory even says that 40,000 dams along certain mid-latitudes has increased the earth's spin. But whatever we have done so far has largely been inadvertent side effects of some other action. We did not deliberately engineer global warming. So does that justify geo-engineering counter-actions?

Just as we did not intend or even accurately foresee that the industrial revolution would bring macro-climate change (though there were scientists' warnings even then), there is little assurance that deliberate efforts will not have unintended and unfortunate side effects, in addition to the anticipated ones.

And yet we could reach a stage where the climate change has reached such drastic limits that we may not have any option but to take drastic measures. In that context it is important to research geo-engineering technologies. A fair amount of research is being done in this field and it seems to be the preferred plan of action for a Bush administration that pulled out of the Kyoto treaty. Keep watching this space - there is definitely going to be more action in this arena.

Friday, March 16, 2007

GE launches Ecomagination in India

GE finally launched its Ecomagination initiative in India last month, nearly two years after the company first announced that it was hitching its future to the growth of clean energy, clean water, and other clean technologies through a commitment to what it called 'ecomagination.'

"The ecomagination initiative was launched in New Delhi by John Rice, GE vice chairman and president & CEO, GE Infrastructure as well as Lorraine Bolsinger, vice president, ecomagination in the presence of Kapil Sibal, minister for science and technology, Government of India."

A range of new and existing initiatives were showcased at the function.

Green Buildings and Aircraft Engines
An MoU was signed between GE and Haryana Technology Park to launch a green building project in the state, under which the two will, "collaborate in a number of initiatives to create a truly green building project of world standards specifically in the areas of utility services like power generation and distribution, lighting, water treatment, security, sensing equipment and other environmentally friendly solutions."

At the function GE announced the sale of aircraft engines from its ecomagination portfolio to Air India for the aircraft it has ordered, in a deal valued at over $2.2 bn. In addition, GE will help Air India in its initiative to become an environmentally sustainable airline with sound environmental programs and practices including green buildings.

Revenue and Investment
While targeting $1 bn annually from its ecomagination products by 2010, GE also said they would invest $150 mn into R&D on eco-friendly technologies at its technology center in Bangalore.

Existing products

Despite the late launch of the initiative, some GE Ecomagination products are already installed and running in India.

Rural Electrification: "Through the GE rural electrification program, GE Energy is providing Malavalli Power Plant Private Limited (MPPL) with 30 Jenbacher JMS320 engines, which will be used to generate combined heat and power to meet electrical, refrigeration and heating needs within rural communities. The Jenbacher engines operate on a variety of alternative or specialty fuels including biogas, crop residue, municipal solid waste, landfill, coal mine methane and industrial waste gases."

Water Purification:
"GE has also developed a solar-powered fresh water purification system, which combines solar technology with salt and particulate-reducing water purification systems."

Wood Replacement in Railway Coaches: "For the interiors of railway coaches, the Indian Railways have chosen GE's Lexan 953R, pre-coloured Blue, because of its re-cyclability, aesthetics, high strength and conformance to the flame retardant, low smoke emission standards."