Friday, May 25, 2007

Indian Ashden Award Finalists

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

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

Biotech, Kerala

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

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

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

SKG Sangha, Karnataka

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

However, the benefits to the farmers goes beyond that.

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

All the finalists

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

The Awards Ceremony

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

Related post:
Energy Globe 2006 - The Winners From India

Friday, May 11, 2007

Reva Hits Major Roadblock In The UK

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

Safety Concerns

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

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

Argument versus counter-argument

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

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

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

Our Opinion

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

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

Reva - set for big time

Green Fuel Station and a Chinese Reva

Eco-friendly transport system for Delhi

Reva - "World's highest selling electric car"

Tatas bringing the Air Car to India

Thursday, May 10, 2007

India Wind Power Update

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

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

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

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

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