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."

India Wind Power Update

A quick update on the wind power scene in India.

New Installations

Suzlon Energy is setting up a 150 MW wind power project in Sangli district of Maharashtra for Reliance Energy, which is part of the Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group. The project will be completed in two phases, and when complete will supply 380 million units per year, all of which REL will use for its distribution business in Bombay. In the next 2-3 years REL will set up 500 MW of wind power in various states, further boosting the domestic wind power scene. NTPC is also expected to give due importance to wind power in its, "plans to generate 1,000 megawatts of power through renewable energy sources by 2017".

New Manufacturing

In another move that is likely to benefit Indian wind power equipment manufacturers, Belgium-based Hansen Transmissions will set up a greenfield plant to manufacture gearboxes for wind turbines in the megawatt range, near Coimbatore. The plant will be operational in late 2008, and will reach full capacity of 1500 to 2000 gearboxes by 2010, at which time it will

Inorganic Growth

Meanwhile Suzlon's battle with Areva, the world's biggest manufacturer of nuclear power stations, to buy German wind-turbine maker REpower Systems goes on. Last month Suzlon topped the French Areva's offer of 105-euros per share with an offer of 126-euros per share. Areva responded yesterday with an offer of 140-euros per share. Areva already owns 30% of REpower, while Suzlon is partnering with Portuguese company Martifier, which owns 25% of REpower, and a consortium of banks led by ABM Amro, on the bid. In response to the new bid, Suzlon apparently is considering an offer of 160-euros per share.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Battery Warriors

While the future of the EEStor battery is clouded with uncertainty, there are a bunch of companies that are working on some less startling but significantly important improvements to battery technology - and their newest ally is nanotechnology.

More Recharge Cycles

One such company is Altair Nanotechnologies. "Lithium-ion batteries, commonly used in laptops and cellphones, have a relatively short life span because they use graphite, which wears out quickly in normal usage. The Altair team substituted a nanomaterial called lithium titanate that lasts much longer. The change lengthened the life of a lithium-ion battery from 750 recharges to between 10,000 and 15,000 recharges."

Safer Recharging

High profile A123 Systems used a different approach and a different nano-material. "Most safety issues in batteries occur during charging, and nanophosphate is much less prone to such problems. So A123 replaced the cobalt oxide in lithium-ion cells with nanophosphate." In addition to making the battery safer, it also ensured delivery of very high power. In fact an electric motorcycle based on such a battery achieved 0 to 60 mph in just 1.4 seconds. Based on its batteries, A123 has also developed a conversion kit that can convert regular hybrids into plug-in hybrids, though the kit is yet to hit the market.

Increased Shelf-life

mPhase addressed a different problem faced by the industry, and created a battery with indefinite shelf life. "Using nanomaterials and basic physics principles, mPhase kept the chemicals inside the battery from mixing – the cause of gradual power leakage – until it was used. Such batteries could be used for emergency lighting systems, for example, that might not be used for 10 years, but would require full power when needed."

The Future

There is some amazing research going on at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

"Prof. Angela Belcher, a biomolecular materials chemist at MIT, is trying to use biological methods, such as viruses, to assemble batteries", while, 'Professor Chiang, who also researches self- assembling batteries, imagines an ink-like substance that would allow one to "paint" a battery onto a device.'

If these techniques could revolutionize manufacturing of batteries, wireless charging will elevate battery applications to an entirely new level.

Despite all the naysayers, MIT researchers are gung-ho about the potential for ultracapacitors as batteries. This is similar to what EEStor plans to do, alternate technologies to achieve the same means would be good for the industry.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

EEStor - A Revolution in the Making?

When Business 2.0 published this list of 11 disruptors, or companies that, "will change everything", one company clearly stood out in that list, for if it could indeed deliver what was being claimed it would become the biggest disruptor of them all. Here was a product which could kill companies, industries and potentially entire economies - that was the scale of its disruptive potential. That company was EEStor, and the product, a battery.

The Promise

The buzz was that EEStor, Inc, a secretive Texas-based company, could deliver a battery based on ultra-capacitor technology that in out-performing any battery that existed today would present electricity storage solutions that would in one stroke make a variety of alternate energy solutions suddenly very viable - an ultra efficient and long-lasting battery would make wind and solar power plants very viable, as the vagaries of production would be ironed out - even at the level of individual homes. You would see electric cars able to compete with IC-engine cars favorably in terms of range and recharge times. We would at once see a big churn in two of the biggest industries of our time - oil and automobiles. The possibilities of course are endless.

So what exactly is the claim? Sample this, "EEStor’s products, to be known as Electrical Energy Storage Units [EESU], will start coming off a production line this year. The first EESU will be a 45 kg unit that gives a car a 350 km range and can be recharged in under ten minutes. In comparison with petrofuels, a EESU cars’s running cost will be 80% cheaper." And this, "The company boldly claims that its system, a kind of battery-ultracapacitor hybrid based on barium-titanate powders, will dramatically outperform the best lithium-ion batteries on the market in terms of energy density, price, charge time, and safety. Pound for pound, it will also pack 10 times the punch of lead-acid batteries at half the cost and without the need for toxic materials or chemicals, according to the company."

The Technology

Though capacitor-based batteries are not new, they have never been able to hold as much energy as electrochemical batteries of the same size. They would also discharge rather quickly, unable to hold the charge for long. On the plus side, they can store and release most of the energy with minimum losses, which means they are very efficient. They can also be charged very quickly. While this has ensured that they have their set of unique applications, they could never be used, say, to power electric cars.

The Skeptics

Because EEStor is so secretive, most of the latest news on the product has either come via the patent office, or the electric car company which currently has an exclusive deal to use their batteries. And because the company is quiet, there are a lot of unanswered questions out there. Do check out the comments section of this article for instance. Skeptics include a VP from Maxwell Technologies, which has been making ultra-capacitor batteries for a while now, though nothing close to the specs needed to compete with lead acid or lithium ion batteries. On its part, EEStor claims that releasing information would result in giving away a competitive advantage.

The Supporters

On the one hand we have ZENN a Toronto-based electric car-maker, who are planning to release a car based on the EEStor battery as early as this year. That is a vote of confidence from the consumer community. On the other hand we have hotshot venture capitalists Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, who had invested in EEStor back in 2005. Kleiner has a well-known early investment track record in companies like Google and Amazon.

Finally it makes sense to respect the bite of a dog that does not bark much.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Reva - "World's highest selling electric car"

With 700 of its electric vehicles plying on the roads of London, the Reva seems to have the highest number of electric cars in one city anywhere in the world. This is an achievement, though not quite what I had hoped for when I posted on the Reva's entry in the UK back in 2005.

In December last year, Reva received an investment of $20 million from Draper Fisher Jurveston and Global Environment Fund. This was the first investment for GEF in an electric car company, and it did come at a good time for Reva Electric Car Company (RECC) which was going through a financial crisis. The market needed better marketing and better cars, implying more R&D spend, but the sales pipeline was not generating enough optimism in that direction.

The company also claims to have become the "highest selling on-road electric vehicle globally" last year. Also, "Reva car is currently available on sale in India and is also marketed in UK", and some other European countries. Norway, Spain and Greece are likely to see some focussed marketing in the next few months in part via auto shows.

To put things into perspective, RECC has so far only sold 1800 cars globally. Looks like the company is pretty confident of that changing soon. Apparently it expects to sell another 300 cars in London alone in the next 6 months. And in the next 18 months, RECC intends to ramp-up its production from the current capacity of 6000 units annually, to 35,000 units annually in 18 months. That might help it retain its position as the top manufacturer of electric cars from a Chinese company which will build a plant capable of producing 20,000 units annually by 2007.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

World's biggest construction project - an Eco City

It is a fact that more and more of humanity is getting concentrated in cities, and nowhere is this process proceeding at a pace compared to that in countries that are growing fast - like China and India. I have in the past suggested that sustainability in the longer run should involve maximizing the percentage of humanity in cities, while making the cities themselves eco-friendly to the extent of having a zero environmental footprint.

China is taking a step in this direction, by setting out to construct 11 eco-friendly cities, starting with Dongtan on Chonming island just off Shanghai. When ready in 2030 it would be 75% the size of Manhattan, and have one-third the eco-footprint of Shanghai (and about half the world average). The plans suggest an environmentalist's dream - pristine wetlands beside a metro station from where people cycle back to their solar powered homes. Ideally situated homes will also have windmills to supplement the solar power, as will a central biomass energy station. The automobiles would be electric, and these will include zippy sports cars which the towns residents can use for an evening drive into Shanghai via the 30 km bridge and tunnel link to the center of Shanghai which will then be just a 20 minute drive away. Food (vegetables) for the city will be grown within the city, water will be recycled, as will all municipal industrial waste - thus no landfills.

The Dongtan project has been making waves in the eco-fraternity. It is being seen as an inspiration for cities world-wide. For instance, "Mayor of London Ken Livingstone is reportedly interested in Dongtan as a possible blueprint for development in London".

The skeptic speaks

Setting up eco-cities is no doubt a great effort, but the context somehow reminds one of efforts like in this image, where officials literally painted a mountainside green (click on the image for the link to the story).

Further, even when Dongtan is fully set up in 2030, it will only have a population of half a million. The other ten eco-cities will probably have less. Meanwhile China already has 90 cities with a population of 1 million or more. The capital Beijing counts the number of blue sky days it gets in a year - and that does not take into account the shade of blue. And while the biomass generator of Dongtan is being readied, coal plants will keep keep popping up by the dozens each year. From a propaganda perspective there is no doubt that the eco-cities will be a spectacular achievement for the Chinese leadership.

On the bright side

The bright-side-potential of course is huge. The eco-cities if built will be a giant leap forward for the concept of sustainability. Simple concepts that are tried and tested in the eco-cities can then be quickly replicated in already established cities, while the cities could definitely serve as role models for any new cities, towns or even townships being built.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

The SunCube - an Innovative Solar Power solution

Last month, an Indian company, Square Engineering, signed an agreement with Green and Gold Energy (GGE) "to build a 30-megawatt (MW) facility in India for the manufacture of 100,000 SunCubes per year".

Green and Gold Energy were working on the SunBall rooftop solar concentrator systems back in 2005. As solar concentrator systems went, it was a very simple and elegant solution and even worked well on sloping rooftops. Manufacturing issues however forced GGE to go back to the drawing board. So they came back with something better - the SunCube, which not only solved the manufacturing problems, but also enabled the company to cut costs. GGE now claims that their product can compete with traditional power without subsidies. Well, a commitment to annually manufacture 100,000 units in India should speak volumes for their confidence.

Solar concentrator systems have been a relatively less hi-tech but highly effective solution for a while now. The Sunflower is a similar system that has been making waves, but apparently will not reach the international market till some time in 2008. Compared to the Sunflower the SunCube is a significantly simple product, though it works on a similar process - solar concentrators focusing the sun's rays onto a small solar cell with a microchip-controlled motors that keep the concentrators pointing to the sun.

Lets check out the commercial prospects of the SunCube in India. The annual output for one SunCube is: 0.3 X 365 X 5 (this is the daily KWhs per sq m - I am taking this as 5, which is just above average for India). That gives us about 550 units of power per year, or about Rs 1100 per year. That is a conservative estimate of course - commercial establishments would save double of that at least.

Now what will the product cost? The company website claims a price of US$1025, or about INR 46,000, including tax in Australia. If manufactured in India, it should cost a little less than that. Plus the central govt gives a subsidy of up to 125,000 per KW. I dont know the KW rating of the SunCube, but working backwards from 500 units, and assuming 6 hours of sunlight per day, I can assume a KW rating of 0.25, which means a govt subsidy of about INR 31,000. This brings down the cost of the SunCube to just INR 15,000, which a home can recover in about 13 years, and a commercial establishment can recover in half that time. Importantly for the rest of the 25 year life of the product, the power will be free. But yes, it does look like it would need govt subsidies to compete in India; and feed-in tariffs. Since both factors see a happy confluence in India, we should see a bright prospect for the SunCube.

Now dont rule the Sunflower out, yet - when it comes out in 2008, it will cost only $450 and will be mass-produced in China. The SunCube does have a headstart though, and maybe manufacturing in India will help it bring down prices substantially. Whatever the result, the competition should be good for solar power as a whole.

A Non-Traditional Push for Green Energy

Bank of America is showing how an organization traditionally not considered at the forefront of the energy revolution can try to make a big difference for sustainable energy. The Green Wombat reports that BofA is making a big $20 billion push in favor of green energy by encouraging it both with customers and within itself.

"The bank will spend $18 billion on commercial green lending." This includes due consideration for green efforts of a company on a loan application: "a company that makes less carbon-intensive widgets will score higher on a loan application than one whose production process consumes more fossil fuels." Incentives like lower interest rates will also benefit house mortgages where customers meet energy efficiency standards in new homes. An "eco-friendly" credit card will send a percentage of each purchase to environmental organizations.

Separately, "$2 billion will be spent on consumer programs and efforts to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions and environmental impact of its own operations. The bank itself will spend $1.4 billion to ensure all new offices and bank branches meet green building standards and spend $100 million on energy efficiency measures in older facilities. Earlier this year Bank of America offered $3,000 rebate to any of its 185,000 employees that buy a fuel-efficient hybrid car."

Green Wombat wonders if BofA would finance a range of alternate energy projects that currently fall outside the radar of VCs, or those without access to VCs. This includes capital-intensive projects like factories and 250-MW solar power plants. That, is a tantalizing thought.

Update: Interview with James Mahoney, director of public policy at BofA. The "tantalizing thought" above was confirmed wrong:

"Green Wombat: Will Bank of America be involved in project financing, say for utility-scale solar power plants or wind farms?

"Mahoney: We generally are not involved in project finance. As a general matter, I’d say no."

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Gadhia - Solar Cooking System Major

The current boom in solar technology manufacturing in India is epitomized by companies like Solar Semiconductor - set-up by US-based NRIs, with a base in the US, working with cutting-edge solar PV technologies with an eye as much on the international market as on the Indian one. But India already has a significant solar power culture in the cooking and heating arena, and at the forefront of that revolution were companies like Gadhia.

Gadhia Solar Energy Systems was founded by the Gadhia couple when they returned to India in 1988 from Germany with the German Scheffler cooker. Though the Scheffler cooker was a wonderful application of solar power, the Gadhias felt they had to change the product to better suit the Indian market.

"First there should be local components as far as possible, second, made with local skills and third operate it with people who did not know much about science and physics. So that's why had to modify," Deepak (Gadhia). >>Link

Last year, in a project sponsored by an Austrian NGO Gadhia supplied solar cookers to all 36 families in Bysanivaripalle a village 125 km northwest of Tirupati. As a result, "The village saves 72 tonnes of firewood, or 5,832 kg of LPG, cutting carbon dioxide emissions to the tune of 104 tonnes a year".

The company is now promoting Solar Steam Cooking Systems which they have already installed at the Shirdi and Tirupati temples. "Gadhias are also looking at applications like crematoriums and cooling plants in hospitals and hotels...", as well as, "applications like drinking water from sea water, desalination, food processing, waste water evaporation".

While the oncoming PV boom would be a great sign for India, including for the rural masses, there will always be a market for efficient applications of solar technologies like the Scheffler systems.

Monday, March 05, 2007

MBPV to set up the world's largest Thin Film Solar Fab

Just days after inaugurating a 40 MW PV cell production facility (which is on target to reach 80 MW this year), Moser Baer Photo Voltaic announced much more ambitious plans for manufacturing thin film solar cells: to build the biggest plant in the world, in technology partnership with Applied Materials.

The technology partnership will enable a synergy between Moser Baer's manufacturing and technology strength, its European R&D lab and Applied Material, Inc.'s process and equipment development expertise. The combined capabilities bring scale economies to this industry by manufacturing thin film modules that are four times larger than current modules, making it a disruptive technology that provides a road map to sub-dollar per watt costs.

The $250m project will start with 40 MW and ramp up to 200 MW by 2009. Since the thin film market demand is estimated to reach 2 GW by 2010, MBPV looks set to capture 10% global market share by then. This would however be less than the proverbial tip of the iceberg. By 2010 thin film will be able to compete with fossil fuel power (without subsidies) and will see exponential growth from that stage.

The company has entered into a technology partnership with US-based Applied Materials to build the unit in its existing SEZ at Greater Noida... The unit for making thin films would be commercially operational by March 2008... Applied Materials CTO Mark Pinto said, "India holds tremendous potential both as a worldwide hub for solar panel production and as an end market for photovoltaic electric power." >>Rediff

Moser Baer PV, currently the hottest solar PV company in India, obviously intends to become the Suzlon of the relatively more hi-tech solar PV industry. A strong PV manufacturing capability will raise the hi-tech profile of Indian industry to that of those on the cutting-edge of semi-conductor and nano-technology manufacturing.

Links: Report on
MBPV production facility on track

Sunday, March 04, 2007

India's 17th Nuclear Reactor Goes Critical

India's indigenous nuclear reactor, Kaiga 3, achieved criticality earlier this week (10:10 am IST on Feb 26th). The 220 MWe pressurized heavy water reactor in Uttara Kannada district in Karnataka will start supplying electricity to the grid by the end of March. For the scientists and engineers working on the project it was a time for celebration.

At a press conference following a celebratory ceremony, Anil Kakodkar, chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, said the construction technique had been perfected: "Five years is the international benchmark for completing nuclear power plants and along with the project completion costs for this unit, there is going to be a new benchmark."

NPCIL claim that the new reactor was constructed domestically for just Rs 984 ($22.33) per installed kW. NPCIL estimate it could do the same job in certain countries for Rs 1200 ($27.24) per kW. Compared to a global average price of new nuclear construction of $1500 per kW, Indian contractors could occupy a unique place in the world reactor market. >> World Nuclear News

The numbers do look too good to be true (feedback on corrections is welcome). However, if they are true, then they represent a huge cost advantage for the Indian nuclear reactor industry. So while the US is looking for huge business opportunities in the domestic Indian nuclear power market, India is looking for opportunities in countries like Cambodia, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam, which have smaller electricity grids where the 220 MW reactors would be ideal.

Of course India will have to break into the NSG first, which despite US enthusiasm might be more difficult than building the breakthrough technology. Well the scientists and engineers have delivered - it is largely up to the politicians and diplomats now.

The Dabhol Return - On Track

For years we lamented that while Maharashtra was suffering from severe power shortage, the state-of-the-art 2 GW gas-powered Dabhol power plant was rotting. Though the power shortage will remain for now, Dabhol at least is set to make a comeback at optimum capacity - despite problems that still remain.

Maharashtra will likely get some relief from its power woes in the next month or two when Dabhol starts supplying power from its 700 MW first phase which is already complete. The pipeline supplying gas will be ready in April while the second phase is expected to be ready in time for the summer bringing on line another 700 MW. By December the third phase will come on line too which will push the total capacity to 2100 MW. The power being supplied at Rs 3.3 (US$ 0.075) per unit will be considerably lower than the Rs 8.3 it proposed to pay, and almost Rs 9 it ultimately agreed to pay to buy naphtha-powered electricity from AP.

While the State Govt is eagerly waiting for the 2100 MW Dabhol will bring on line by December, Ratnagiri Gas & Power Pvt. Ltd. (RGPPL), the present owners of Dabhol may have other plans than to sell all of that power to the Govt at the contracted rate. The reasons are purely economic.

The deal to sell power to the Govt at Rs 3.3 was struck when gas prices were in the $2-$3 range. Now that price is in the $7-$8 range, "making the plant financially unviable". This in addition to current cost over-runs on the project of around Rs 1,000 crore (~$225m). The financial institutions supporting the project are expected to shell out close to Rs 1,800 crore (~$400m) for a full refurbishment of the plant. To make good the losses, the owners hope to sell the output of phase 3 at Rs 4 per unit after rolling that phase off into a merchant plant. For its part the Maharashtra Govt has offered to fund a Rs 450 crore shortfall in funds for the project.

The decision currently lies with the central govt which has formed an empowered Group of Ministers (eGoM) for the purpose. Though led by Pranab Mukherjee, it has 4 ministers from Maharashtra and that in true triumph of politics-over-economics might well swing the scales in favor of the state. Meanwhile the Central Govt is also considering a proposal to sell the third phase off to a private developer.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Big Californian push for Wave Power

As pointed out in an earlier post, what we call wave, tidal, ocean or lunar power (though not technically all the same) may not hold the potential that wind or solar has to solve the world's energy problems, but in its own way it has great potential in some locations around the world.

California is probably the leading green-conscious state in the US, and is driving innovation in green technologies like few other regions in the world. To meet state mandated targets the power utility PG&E continues to explore a variety of alternate energy sources. Now it is seriously considering wave power.

From Point Break to Pacific Blue, the waves of California's northern coast are legendary among surfing enthusiasts. PG&E intends a little more productive use of this awesome force of nature.

The Green Wombat reports that PG&E is going ahead with plans to set up two 40 MW wave farms, an effort when completed 3 years from now could make PG&E the biggest wave power generator in the world.

Pelamis Wave Energy Generator'PG&E is in early discussions with wave energy companies Ocean Power Technologies of New Jersey, the U.K's Ocean Power Delivery and Ireland's Finavera Renewables, utility spokesman Keely Wachs told Green Wombat. Ocean Power Technologies is developing what it calls a PowerBuoy. The device floats on the ocean's surface and as the buoy bobs around on waves, the motion is converted to mechanical energy that drives a generator. Ocean Power Delivery's wave energy generator consists of snake-like, hinged cylindrical sections called a Pelamis (image). As the Pelamis moves on the waves, the motion powers hydraulic motors connected to a generator. Finavera is making what it calls an AquaBuoy that "converts the kinetic energy of the vertical motion of oncoming waves into clean electricity. " '

The projects called WindConnect were recently fast-tracked and PG&E is also partnering with neighboring states to explore the options of getting wind power from British Columbia in Canada which is known to have huge potential.

Friday, March 02, 2007

MBPV production facility on track

Moser Baer Photo Voltaic is on track to meet its 2007 production targets.

Moser Baer India has said that Moser Baer Photo Voltaic (MBPV) Mar. 02, 2007 announced that it has successfully completed final line integration and trials on its initial 40 MW crystalline photovoltaic cell production facility. The company remains on target to achieve 80 MW of capacity in the second half of 2007.

MBPV plans to clearly straddle multiple future technologies and emerge as an engineering and technology driven company. The company is decisively responding to the rapidly expanding solar PV market, where worldwide demand far outstrips supply. MBPV is moving towards technological leadership in this high growth industry and developing a sustainable competitive edge by investing into disruptive technologies.

The global photovoltaic market is on a high growth curve - sales expected to grow over 6x to USD 40 billion by 2010. This demand is also highly price elastic. A lowering of PV electricity costs to conventional levels could exponentially expand this market as PV starts to penetrate into base load demand of electricity.

Related post: Moser Baer going strong on Solar PV

Solar Semiconductor to manufacture PV modules

Solar Semiconductor is setting up a solar PV module manufacturing facility in India. For this facility, they recently purchased a module manufacturing line from P. Energy of Italy.

The line has an annual capacity of 50 MW, and is highly automated. It line can handle both standard and custom module designs. The plant has the option of adding a second line within one year of the completion of installation of the current line.

Gabriele Pettenuzzo, the President of P-Energy expressed, "P.Energy is very proud to start with this first venture in India. This module line will be the most automated PV module assembly line in Asia. In this line we'll install 4 robots in different locations in the line- at lay up, trimming and framing stations. It is also the first time that we are providing a tabber and stringer with the capability of providing two or three bus bars." - Link

Apart from crystalline silicon, the plant will also be able to handle amorphous, BIPV and thin film modules. Kewl!

In many ways this announcement shows the way forward for the Indian solar PV industry. Adhering to world class standards this plant represents a growing competency among solar equipment manufacturers and points to a bleeding-edge technological future for the lot. Solar Semiconductor represents a new generation of solar manufacturers. With offices in California and Hyderabad, it is managed by a group of NRI's with a strong business and technology background. And so also VC funds.