Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Moser Baer going strong on Solar PV

After establishing its credentials in the world optical storage media market Moser Baer has been expanding its horizons by getting into manufacturing solar photovoltaics.

In late 2005 the company announced that it was getting into the PV business with a $25 million investment into a new wholly-owned subsidiary - Moser Baer Photo Voltaic. With an initial project cost of $58m the target was to reach a capacity of 80MW by 2007.

"Moser Baer is targeting the two segments in the PV value chain that are most attractive from a synergy standpoint, since they also leverage the company’s manufacturing competencies—solar cells and modules. At present, of the multiple technology options, crystalline silicon technology has proven to be the most viable for cell-making, with over 90% of global cell production based on crystalline silicon."

While MBPV seems to be concentrating on crystalline silicon while thin-film is grabbing all the attention, it should be noted that at present both technologies are more or less equal as far as capital costs go. While thin-film has a lot of inherent advantages that should see its cost going down, hetero-structures (as covered briefly here) offer an avenue for big efficiency increases with crystalline solar cells too, and the two technologies might remain neck-to-neck for some time. More importantly crystalline silicon is slightly more of a here-and-now solution.

Even so, MBPV certainly has hedged its bets on the future too. Last year they invested in three companies working on cutting-edge solar PV technologies and have established strategic partnerships with all three. With this they also get their fingers into the solar concentrator PV (Solaria and SelFocus) and nanostructure PV (Stion) pies. The investments are part of an earlier decision to invest $17 m in emerging technologies.

The coup de grace came in earlier this month when Moser Baer acquired Philips' optical technology and R&D subsidiary, OM&T. In many ways this was a dream acquisition for Moser Baer. It will help further consolidate MB in the optical media segment as OM&T is the only company outside of Japan that is shipping Blu-ray discs (MB is already established in the HD DVD-R segment). It also gives MB an entry into new formats like Holographic Storage and leadership position in Test Discs which disk manufacturers use to calibrate their drives. Most importantly the acquisition comes with a pool of highly qualified scientists who will continue to ensure a leadership position for the company in emerging technologies.

MBPV will benefit big time from the acquisition too. "OM&T also possesses world class capabilities in thin film, wet chemical processing, optics & concentration and testing procedures which will enable Moser Baer to take a significant leap forward in R&D efforts in multiple PV technology forays."

In the meantime, MBPV keeps its short-term focus right on track. They seem to have made a significant move to insulate themselves from the (current) world-wide shortage of quality silicon when they announced a partnership with a Solar World group company, Deutsche Solar.

'Commenting on the strategic alliance, Ravi Khanna, CEO, Moser Baer Photo Voltaic Ltd, said, "This arrangement will ensure that we have an assured supply of silicon wafers of top quality at competitive prices. With the agreement, we have secured over 50 per cent of our short- to medium- term requirement of silicon." '

Clearly this is one Indian company which is set for big things in the global solar stakes.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Feed-in Tariffs Promote Renewable Energy

Via WorldChanging...

Here is a quick primer on the "German model of feed-in tariffs (an obligation for utilities to purchase, at a set price, the electricity generated by any renewable energy resource)" from Canada's Ecology Action center.

The linked pdf argues strongly for a feed-in tariff system that encourages individuals to install alternate energy systems that lets them feed excess power generated back to the grid and get paid for it. The utility gets power without having to spend on new infrastructure. The individual takes the risk in installing the new infrastructure, but has a guaranteed market in the form of the utility which takes the 'risk' in marketing the new power.

Feed-in tariffs have been the force behind the spectacular success of renewables in Germany:

  • In the 1990s European countries introduced it and it’s now in India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Latvia, Brazil, Indonesia, Nicaragua, China, etc — over 30 countries
  • Germany is the most famous as it’s premium is the highest and since 2000 has produced a doubling in renewable energy fed into the German grid with a seven x increase in installed PV...
  • The German law guarantees the supplier with 20 years premium rates and pays more on a sliding scale
  • The sooner the installation is made from a commencement date the higher the feed in price — to encourage early take up
  • Germany wants to improve its long-term energy security, increase sustainable energy as a proportion of the total used and now 10.2% of electricity in Germany comes from renewable.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Thin-film Solar - getting there....

Thin-film Solar is touted as the future of solar photo-voltaic technology. Shell recently got out of the crystalline solar cell business to concentrate exclusively on thin-film solar. Big boy of the thin-film world, Nanosolar, has Google as one of its investors. Konarka touting its "power plastic" has got a fair share of the media spotlight too. Swiss start-up Flisom is another of the company that is very bullish on the thin film technology.

Via TreeHugger, Anil Sethi, the chief executive of Flisom believes that within 5 years solar power will be cheap enough to compete with carbon-based electricity even in Upper Siberia.

The promise that nanotechnology will deliver paper-thin solar panels light and cheap enough to coat on entire buildings, and even people's clothes has been well published. The technology exists in the labs and is only awaiting commercialization. What holds back commercialization? The same that has held back solar power from going mainstream since the 1970's - cost.

Cost has kept solar power "just around the corner" for decades. Critics claim this as proof that it will always remain so, and the "tipping point" may never be reached. They are wrong. We have come a long way since the late 1970's - the capital cost of solar power has dropped from $100 per watt back then, to best case options of $3 to $4. And that progress was achieved using the cells that are comparable to micro-chips in cost of production, are as delicate as glass and very bulky to transport and install. Thin-film will be much more robust and cheaper. Unlike the pristine fabs that crystalline cells need, the new films will be, "mass produced in cheap rolls like packaging - in any color".

Mr Sethi believes his product will reach $0.8 per watt in 5 years, though a commercial launch is scheduled for late 2009 - presumably it should reach $1 per watt then. But Flisom has company - his counterpart Mike Splinter at Applied Materials believes his company will reach $1 per watt by then too. A safe assumption is that Konarka and Nanosolar should be there too.

But despite all its investments in alternate energy, the chief executive of Shell believes, "that in twenty years time we'll still be using more oil than now". Hmm... There are plenty of legendary visions that went awfully wrong like this one and greens will be fervently hoping that this one joins those. And a big boost to thin-film manufacturing should be the entry of China.

Update: Excellent post on Konarka, Nanosolar and Nanosys.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

More on the Solar Power House

The NEPC Solar effort which was widely covered in the media and the blogosphere actually raises many more questions than it answers.

Is NEPC a pioneer in this field?

There has been the implication that NEPC is a pioneer of sorts in commercializing solar power for home use. That is not true. Plenty of companies have been selling small-scale commercial solar power products ranging from Tata-BP Solar, which concentrates on the agricultural installations aided by heavy government subsidies, to Unitron Energy Systems which sells hybrid solar-wind solutions (again aided by heavy government subsidies).

But no other company has launched its product with the media blitz of NEPC. NEPC might well want to do to the renewable energy market in India what iPod did to the MP3 player market world-wide.

Does the product have a market?

NEPC POWER HOUSE (SOLAR), apparently the official name of the product, comes out in 500W and 1KW versions as of now, and will cost between Rs 100,000 (~$2300) and Rs 300,000 (based on various and slightly contradicting media reports). An entity with a monthly electricity bill of between Rs 4000 (~$90) and Rs 6000 will (as per the company) recover its investment in 4 to 6 years. Relatively few individual households in India have such electricity bills, but that does not mean the market is that restricted. There are plenty of commercial establishments that run up bills like that, and these are even now installing commercial solar products like water heaters like crazy. These companies provide a ready market for NEPC, as also to hybrid solutions providers like Unitron.

State governments from AP to Haryana are making solar water heaters mandatory in a wide variety of new buildings. This is bound to further increase awareness of the potential of solar power, and solar cells from products like the NEPC power house will increasingly compete with solar heaters for roof space.

Questions related to technological details...

Media reports have not been too helpful in this direction. We know that solar photo-voltaic cells are involved. Media reports also mention "cell technology", which from a previous report based on an NEPC press release that they were concentrating on fuel cell technology would lead one to deduce that they are using fuel cell-based batteries. If that is true, then it is indeed a technological leap for Indian companies in this area.

By no means does this seem to be technological marvel by world standards, but the key to success of solar technologies in India would be market penetration. And if by aiming for that NEPC is able to achieve any semblance of success, the market will be flooded with companies bringing in the latest of technological breakthroughs from Sydney to the Silicon Valley.

NOTE: If anyone has any additional details on the NEPC Power House, please feel free to leave some gyan or a link in the comments section... Thanks!

Friday, February 16, 2007

The Solar Reincarnation of NEPC

"NEPC launches world's first solar power house". After I saw this headline and read the related story and also this one I googled up "Solar NEPC", and guess what I found? This!

Yes thats a post The Indic View carried over a year and a half ago. We spoke about three companies there, among them NEPC and Suzlon. Since then Suzlon has gone public making Tulsi Tanti one of the richest men in India. NEPC on the contrary never could regain the pole position it once enjoyed in the fledgling wind power industry in the country and decided to exit it altogether. Late last year they announced that they were getting into renewables again and were working on a hybrid power system, "using solar cell, windmill, fuel cell technology".

Apparently that is the product they launched today, and it is either called "Power House" or "NEPC Power". The 500W version of the product is priced at Rs 100,000 (~USD 2400) while the 1KW one is priced at Rs 200,000. Over the next 2-3 months the company plans to launch 5 KW and 10KW versions too.

Despite claiming strong export potential they would first like to concentrate on the domestic market primarily, "eyeing power-hungry states like Delhi, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana for its solar products". While a patent has been applied for on this product, the company has budgeted Rs 550 million (~USD 13 m) for further research, development and production during 2007.

Lets hope this would be a big boost for commercialization of renewable technologies in India. Wind power is going strong, but it is generally expected to plateau at the 20 GW level from the 6 GW of today. There is no such limit on solar power. Apart from strong marketing NEPC could do well to keep an eye on promising new technologies being developed worldwide, as solar cells get cheaper and more powerful.

Related posts:
India Solar Power Update
Solar Energy a better investment than Fabs
India's Renewable Energy SEZ

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Great Indian SEZ Saga

The much awaited and much delayed take-off of the new generation of SEZs has run into another road-block - farmers protests. Is there any cause for optimism in this?

Over 3000 SEZs have been setup in different countries in the world (including in India where the first was set up in Kandla 14 years before China), and the SEZs in each country were different - had subtly different objectives - and achieved different levels of success. While in Mauritius their biggest achievement was employment generation (they provide 24% of the total employment within them) in South Korea they helped establish a services industry in an already fairly industrialized nation. Even the US built SEZs, mainly to uplift urban poor.

It would be fair to say however that out of the 3000 SEZs in operation around the world today, none have been as impacting as the 5 SEZs in China which will go down in history as the foundation on which the Chinese manufacturing behemoth was built. And since India has been building and operating SEZs from well before China, it is generally assumed that these 5 SEZs today are the inspiration behind the new SEZ policy in India. In that context, it would be interesting to note some differences.

For China back in the early 1970's the SEZs were essentially an experiment in capitalism and modernization in an otherwise communist and backward country. For India the rationale is similar to an extent. India is a notoriously difficult place to set up a business (by world standards). From land rights to bureaucratic labyrinths they all contribute to uncertainty in setting up a business in India. If the SEZs address that pain point, then that will be a big plus for India in the ease-of-doing-business ratings. And while SEZ Act 2005 does not go all the way in implementing labor reforms (which got dropped from the original draft), the individual states still have the mandate on that. It will take just one state to show the guts on that front and trigger a domino effect. So there is only reason for optimism there.

Secondly comes the question of size. Consider this: "The top three SEZs in China cover 326 square kilometers in Shenzhen, 132 square kilometers in Xiamen and 122 square kilometers in Zhuhai, compared with 119 square kilometers for RIL's project near Mumbai and 98 square kilometers for the Haryana SEZ." While the RIL projects are the biggest, a majority of the remainder of the proposed 200 SEZs in India are relatively minuscule in size. Critics contend that the main advantage of an SEZ is scale-related.

Point granted - but while we are not looking at a Shenzhen, we are looking at sizes that compete with the rest: for a start. No one is pretending that the current frenzy in setting up SEZs is going to be a one-wave-wonder. We will definitely have wave 2 and wave 3 and maybe more. And the developers of this wave of SEZ building will learn from this round (and so will the governments) and should surely do better in the next waves. So if we let a thousand SEZs bloom then the successful ones will be role models for the next wave. Also as it should be clear, this is where the Indian SEZ model distinctly differs from the Chinese model - and who knows? This model might actually work better. We are letting in all types of SEZs in all different sizes - isnt that the strength of a truly open market?

But the problem that has now put the SEZ program in limbo is related to neither of these. It is related to land acquisition. There are a bunch of criticisms claiming anything from the loss of arable land will affect food output to the jobs actually created will be less than those lost, which range largely from baseless to worst case scenarios. But the real problem, and the one that forced the govt to step in relates to rehabilitating the dispossessed. This is where we differ from China.

China contrary to public opinion does take pain to rehabilitate dispossessed people - but when it cannot, it does not let that stop it. India does not have that luxury - which is a good thing. It is very important to ensure that the people losing land and livelihoods are taken care of, and do not head into destitution. This makes even more sense from an economic perspective.

Essentially, when you are creating value at the scale at which the SEZs are promising, there is surely enough to go around to share with the poor people in the area. Call it CSR at the micro-level if you will, but at the macro-level you are just building up your market, and your hinterland (plus keeping the political peace). So while it may or may not benefit the SEZ developers in the short-run, it is good for the economy as a whole. This is something like the route SemIndia is taking for its fab city project - adopting villages that get affected - effectively rehabilitating them. On the other hand is the route that Reliance is taking for its MahaMumbai SEZ - they are simply buying the land directly from the farmers by paying hefty premiums. While this might seem fair on the face of it, the average poor villager does usually display the financial intelligence to manage economic windfalls of this nature and ends up splurging it away. (To put things into perspective, Reliance has a much bigger project than SemIndia in terms of land and dispossessed families.)

The Reliance approach is just a more advanced form of the approach that most of the governments took leading to the current miasma of farmers' protests. Effective rehabilitation should involve a more holistic solution that leads to the farmers getting established with new livelihoods. Though a challenge this is also an opportunity for the govt to lift some of its citizens from a mere near-subsistence level to living and working in a clean environment with all basic amenities.

More effective rehabilitation of the displaced farmers is a win-win solution for all parties concerned - the politicians get a satisfied electorate, the farmers get a new and better life with much increased economic prospects, and the companies themselves get CSR bragging rights in the short-term, and contribute to building up markets for themselves in the longer term.

In short the govt deciding to re-think the land acquisition procedures is good. This is not to say that I expect the govt will decide to toe my near-utopian line, but something is wrong and whatever they decide I do hope that wrong will be righted a little.

Update (February 20, 2007): HP and CA drop IT SEZ plans in Bangalore and Hyderabad respectively owing to a change in norms. List of approved projects drops to 235.

From the Moon via the Tides

"If you take a square meter on the ground, with solar, you have around 100 watts of energy. A square meter in the air, with wind you may have a thousand watts. But off the coasts of Europe and North-America, you have energy densities of 20,000 to 70,000 watts per square meter of ocean" - Max Carcas of Ocean Power Delivery

Ocean power or tidal power is essentially a form of lunar-cum-solar power. The potential is not really as great as that claimed for wind or solar. The total usable tidal power of the world's oceans is equal to that of all the nuclear or hydroelectric power plants in the world, whereas, "Wind power could generate enough electricity to support the world's energy needs several times over" according to the famous Stanford University study. Solar power? As the Russians showed back in 1992, a 25 yard wide reflector in space could light up a 2 mile wide stretch on earth. Also according to a more detailed study of the tidal power potential world-wide released by the Wind Energy Council, the annual plant load factor rarely approaches 30% (wind does better than that sometimes.)

However ocean power continues to reflect an important interim step towards global power nirvana. Solar and wind power farms are sprawling structures, but in certain regions ocean power generating structures can be much more compact and face a bright economic future. There have been some studies in this direction in India with potential sites identified in Gujarat and West Bengal:

"The identified economic tidal power potential in India is of the order of 8000-9000 MW with about 7000 MW in the Gulf of Cambay about 1200 MW in the Gulf of Kachchh and less than 100 MW in Sundarbans. The Kachchh Tidal Power Project with an installed capacity of about 900 MW is estimated to cost about Rs. 1460/- crore generating lectricity at about 90 paise per unit. The techno-economic feasibility report is now being examined."

Monday, February 12, 2007

Freezing Energy - an innovative solution

Some real cool out-of-the-box thinking on solving a very pertinent problem! The linked Treehugger post suggests simply operating all refrigerator warehouses to operate at one degree of temperature higher during the day (thus using less power), and correspondingly set themselves to one degree lower during the night (compensating for the power lost during the day). In the end it will make no difference to the products stored in the refrigerator as the temperature will average out.

The problem of sporadic supply is the bane of renewable sources like wind and solar - how can we make a windy day compensate for a non-windy day? Or even a windy-hour compensate for a non-windy hour?

Solar power is the closest that we have to an inexhaustible supply of energy in the long-run, and I have in the past suggested that the solution lies in putting those solar panels into space. Long-term there is nothing better than that. But in the interim we have to do whatever we can to fight the carbon-addiction, and save what we can of our ecosystem. That being the case smoothening the spikes in power generating capacity seems of paramount importance if wind and/or solar are to ever go mainstream. Right now you need conventional power generation systems as a back-up for every mega-watt of wind- and solar-based power capacity that goes online.

Obviously the solution is in storage - store the power when you have excess and use that excess when you are short. And the best way to do that is to use a battery - OK, an ultra-capacitor-based "battery". And batteries are too inefficient and expensive right now. Will a cheap and ultra-efficient battery be Nirvana for the renewable energy world?

Maybe yes and maybe no, but a cheap and efficient means to store energy (effectively electricity) will revolutionize the world even if we did not consider the potential effect of renewables. Consider the electric car: everyone agrees that battery technology is the only thing that holds the electric car from killing the IC-engine. More importantly consider the power generation scene today - everyday there is a period of off-peak demand, when the power stations have to keep generating power at near-peak capacity. What if the power stations could store this power during off-peak hours, and release it during peak hours? I dont have the statistics but it would be safe to say that this would double power availability with no increase in generating capacity.

Going back to the icy-solution mentioned above, I would think that the easiest way to implement it is for the electricity companies to announce separate peak and off-peak rates. The refrigerators will automatically follow suit!

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Maharashtra's power woes

As widely reported in the media, Maharashtra faces a severe power crisis.

Andhra Pradesh has spare producing power but no fuel (read natural gas). So is a potential solution, the usage of expensive naphtha instead of gas? The Maharastra state electricity distribution company, Mahavitaran, is suggesting just such a solution, though it would have to pay a whopping Rs 8.30 per unit causing it to bear an additional burden of Rs 300-500 crore per month.

Though MahaVitaran, in its previous avatar as the Maharashtra State Electricity Board, has paid more for power in the past, a record Rs 35 per unit in June 2000 because of a global rocketting in naphtha prices, it might still reach a situation where it will not be able to pay employees.

The only bright side is that the Maharashtra govt understands and has made strong efforts to tackle this problem in the longer term - and yes, some of them involve using renewable energy! More on that in a later post, but regardless of the alt-e efforts, the govt will bring onboard 17 GW by 2012 - all via carbon-based sources.

Friday, February 09, 2007

India Solar Power Update

Monthly update on the solar power scene in India...

To start with, India moved to joint second position in the E&Y Country Attractiveness Indices, which rank countries according to their desirability as locations for investing in renewable energies such as wind and solar power, even as the US reinforced its position atop the list.

On a related note, the list of energy companies in the World Economic Forum's 2007 Tech Pioneer Awards makes interesting reading. Not that there is any Indian company in that list (though there is one each in the biotech and IT lists). The list is dominated by US companies (9 out of 15), which might be considered a surprise since Europe and Japan are seen as far more environment conscious.

India has been invited to join the European Union's Seventh Research Framework Program (FP7). "The programme will fund research and development activities by companies, Government organisations and universities across diverse sectors like IT, biotechnology, energy and environment." Kapil Sibal, the Indian Minister for S&T said energy was the key sector specifically mentioning, "clean-coal energy, solar energy and hybrid fuels for automobiles".

Russian Physicist and 2000 Nobel laureate Zhores I. Alferov was in India recently and while speaking at the Institute of Mathematical Sciences (IMSc) stressed on solar power as the way forward for India. Thats a vote of confidence for solar power from the scientific community in addition to the solid vote from the business analyst community. Alferov won the Nobel for his work on semiconductor hetero-structures, and he believes that hetero-structures are the way forward to build PV cells in solar concentrators that would be cost-competitive against oil and atomic energy.

Financial Times has a story on Harish Hande of Selco India, who has built a successful business out of selling solar-powered home lighting systems to the rural poor. Based in Bangalore, his products currently serve 75,000 rural households, schools and seminaries. Since a lot of his customers are so poor, he has had to work hard to get banks to finance his products for them - but with the business such a success banks are rather eager to lend right now. This year he expects a big hit in business because of a shortage of solar panels due to huge demand from Europe, but expects production to catch up with his requirements next year.

Update: Link to the E&Y Country Attractiveness Index (pdf - restricted circulation)

Thursday, February 08, 2007

India Bio-diesel Update

Monthly update on the bio-diesel scene in India

Mahindra and Mahindra, one of the giants of automobile manufacturing in India, has unveiled 100% bio-diesel versions of its Scorpio and Bolero SUVs for "real world usage trials". They also unveiled a 5% bio-diesel tractor.

Unlike with gasoline/ethanol, there is no concept of flex-fuel cars in the diesel/bio-diesel landscape. So automobiles will move gradually from 100:0 (bio-diesel:diesel) to 98:2 to 95:5 and so on. The Indian Railways currently runs some trains at 95:5, and has big plans for bio-diesel, including involving farmers to grow Jatropha on 40,000 hectares of wasteland.

Idea Cellular wants to use bio-diesel to power it base stations in villages that are outside of the electricity grid. Most likely this will be for villages that that erratic grid supply, rather than no grid supply at all (otherwise there might be no market if people cannot charge their cell phones in the first place.) But this would likely put Idea in a strong position to sell their cellular services in villages that will get electricity as part of the Rajiv Gandhi Gramin Vidyutikaran Yojana of the Rural Electrification Corporation. A lot of these villages will get power from a combination of different sources like biomass gasifiers, bio-gas-based generators and solar panels. Importantly these may remain cut-off from the grid. The very fact that Idea is looking at these customers as a potential market goes to show the confidence it has in the Government programs.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Solar Energy a better investment than Fabs

"...if the government wants to provide incentive for a new industry to come, then those should go towards solar energy rather than towards semiconductor Fab manufacturing. " - Bhavin Shah of JP Morgan speaking on the sidelines of the JP Morgan IT Conference.

Semiconductor manufacturing represents the pinnacle of manufacturing capability for a country. Nations rush to get investments in this sector from the handful of companies that have this technology. The glory though is not always accompanied by financial riches. Margins for manufacturers are thinner than the silicon wafers they make. And now JP Morgan in a recent report state that it does not do much for the economy either, though chip design firms like this one are more than welcome.

The interesting thing though is that the solar energy industry is being suggested as an alternative.

"There are still many opportunities for innovation for solar energy industry. Currently, the solar cells are based on semiconductor technology, but there are opportunities to change the materials that could generate much lower cost and bring down the cost of solar energy. Also, with lot of rural demand for energy, solar energy is ideally suited.

"While this industry will be competitive, the growth opportunity is very strong given Indian energy dependence and requirements; we feel it is ideally suited for India. So if the government wants to provide incentive for a new industry to come, then those should go towards solar energy rather than towards semiconductor Fab manufacturing"

Sunday, February 04, 2007

India's Renewable Energy SEZ

In what could be the single biggest boost for Renewable Energy in India, the Ministry of Non-Conventional Energy Sources has been working on setting up an SEZ for manufacture of renewable energy equipment. A brief history...

After a meeting with Minister of New and Renewable Energy Vilas Muttemwar, back in June 2006, the German Minister for Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety Sigmar Gabriel told a press conference,"A German business delegation will soon visit India, and explore with the Indian industry and the government, the possibilities of investments in the SEZ for renewables."

More details emerged one month later at the inaugural function of `Green Power 2006', a national conference and exposition on renewable energy organized by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII). A Special Purpose Vehicle called Future Energy Zone India Ltd (FEZ) was being promoted by Malavalli Power Plant (Bangalore) and European investors.

"The SEZ will house industrial R&D units, laboratories such as CPRI, testing units, educational and vocational training centres. Besides, an area for vendors will also come up. Later, industrial parks, convention centres and a logistics and transportation zone will be considered.."

The SEZ is to come up on 1000 acres of land and will generate 600 MW using renewable energy for captive purposes.

In infrastructure costs the SEZ will need, "about US $ 2 billion... just for setting up manufacturing units of poly silicon modules, cells, panels for solar energy, besides units for making turbines for wind energy, hydro and equipment for generating bio mass energy. "

Meanwhile, Parliament was told in October that the ministry had received investment proposals worth US $ 2.1 billion from US and German companies.

Among potential locations that the respective states have offered are Chennai, Vishakhapatnam and the Mangalore-Udupi region. Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh are also in the race to bag the SEZ.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

The Sustainability Challenge - II

Here is a quick follow-up on some of the ideas discussed in the last post.

Global Warming:

It took us a while to accept that global warming was a reality. It is taking some of us even longer to accept our role in it. While it is true that the earth has been warming up since the end of the last ice age, it seems pretty certain at this point that we have indeed accelerated the process. Then again, the weather patterns on earth since the beginning of human civilization are certainly not indicative of long-term patterns - for example the world was largely covered in ice just 10,000 years ago. But we could take our responsibility for this acceleration seriously and try and mitigate effects for the short-term. Severe political problems prevent a united and effective global front against reduction of global warming pollutants today - so the solution just might lie in altering weather patterns in our favor as a temporary move. Here is one of the more cost-effective ideas.

Ecological footprint:

Apparently the glitz of a rising nation like the UAE already gives them the biggest ecological footprint in the world. On towards reducing it now.

As I have mentioned before it sure looks like the future of humanity lies in the city - our biggest and most impacting invention. Sarah Rich has this excellent post over at WorldChanging on self-sufficient cities. The bulk of the ideas relate to cities growing their own food. This has several inherent advantages: more greenery within the city leads to a cleaner and more pleasant environment. Plus the absence of far-flung supply chains leading into the city further reduce costs - both financial and environmental.

Another form of self-contained city-building might be in the ocean real estate development that is just catching on. Of course the initial efforts are to just build ultra-exotic and luxurious hotels, but consider this: if you can build a human habitat under the sea, you can just as surely build it anywhere else on earth, or even in space. And since we live at a time when environmental concerns are so high, it is likely that any under sea developers will face strong scrutiny to ensure that they don't pollute their surroundings in any manner. Of course the actual pollution would most likely get transferred elsewhere, but would still be a good start as the sources of pollution get more isolated.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

The Sustainability Challenge

This is a comeback post, after a rather long hiatus. Thus a statement of purpose is probably in order. If the quest for alternate energy is a quest towards sustainability, then what is the Utopia that the quest for sustainability should lead to?

Sustainability is today the biggest challenge facing human civilization. Sustainability essentially means two things - the survival of human civilization, and the continuance of life in Earth's biosphere with a proportionately small or absent human footprint.

The separation of these two goals is rather important. While humanity has been responsible for altering the natural environment, in the slightly longer term these changes are meaningless, in the view of the changes nature itself brings about. Global warming has been going on ever since the ice age started ending and human intervention (in either direction) might not matter much over the span of even a few decades. Events in the past have led to mass global extinctions, at least one of which almost wiped out the human race even before civilization began.

Another reason for the separation is that the human race probably already has a global footprint which which is too big for nature to sustain. Cities are the most unsustainable places from the nature perspective - a city is an organism built and sustained only by human intervention. And as cities grow, and more and more of the human population gets concentrated in them, the more they get isolated from nature. The solution then should be to make that isolation total.

Today cities only "take" from nature in the form of land and mineral resources, fresh air and water. Nature does not really get much in return - pollution perhaps. But what if we isolate cities from nature?

What if the cities could manage with the amount of resources they already had? Resources could be recycled - almost all resources. We are not talking about today - we are talking about Sustainability Utopia. If we had the technology to build a city with some resources, and then run the city with those resources, recycling to the maximum extent possible (including air and water) and where additional resources are required, bring them in from extra-terrestrial bodies, we could make that city a microcosm within the biosphere - one that neither takes from, nor gives to the rest of the biosphere.

This has two advantages. The first and more obvious one is that we give nature a chance to recover from our ravages and become more of itself. The second is probably the more important one - we delink ourselves from the destiny of the rest of the species on the planet - at least the ones in "nature". We thus isolate ourselves from the vagaries of planetary cataclysms like asteroid hits, super-volcanoes, super-storms, and ice-ages. Moreover, such mini-biospheres could be re-created on other planets, or even in space. They would represent the biggest ever triumph for human civilization over the forces of nature.

Apart from a myriad of technologies that would need to be generated to get to this utopia, probably the biggest hurdle from the physical universe would be the huge amounts of energy required to power these mini-biospheres. The biggest source of energy in our part of the galaxy is the sun. The sun presents us an option to hedge our bets against a civilization-threatening event. If we can make solar technology so powerful and easily available that each and every building on earth can generate its own power, and feed into a smart-grid to give and take power as required, we will do to power what the Internet has done to information. But this would essentially be an intermediate step. In the longer run, we should put huge solar panels into space, orbiting the earth, and transmitting power to individual households till the day power becomes virtually free. The only catch is that the power consumers on earth must not pollute - in any manner at all.

Should we then ignore all other forms of energy since the ultimate smart source is solar? No, because the solar utopia is still a few decades away. In the meantime the pursuit of other alternate forms of energy will fuel the drive to reduce the footprint of human civilization on nature. It also has the potential to change global politics presenting a huge potential for conflict reduction, since energy is a major source of human conflict. Not just will we not see wars over oil, but if energy is abundant, we can desalinate sea water, reducing conflicts over water.