Saturday, April 28, 2007

Essar-REpower Venture Delayed

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

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

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

More On NIOT's Desalination Plant

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Solar Roof Programs - I


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

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

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

#1 - Production at point of Consumption

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

#2 - Reduced Infrastructure Costs

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

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

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

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

So the obvious answer is...

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

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

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

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

Saturday, April 21, 2007

NIOT's OTEC-based Desalination Plant

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

The Technology

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

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

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

Cost Effective Technology?

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

Looking ahead

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Small Wave Power Plant in Maharashtra

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

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

The Indian Wave Energy Program

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 13, 2007

Energy Globe 2006 - The Winners From India

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

First Prize in the Fire category

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

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

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

Second Prize in Water Category

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

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

All The Winners

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

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Greenpeace's India 2050 Energy Scenario

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

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

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

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

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Random Updates On Solar Power

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

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

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

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

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Renewable Energy Potential in Kerala

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

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

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

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

Nanotechnology Breakthrough For Solar Cells in NZ

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Big Biomass Initiatives In Haryana

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

686 MW Power From Biomass

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

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

Govt Policy

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

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

High-level Initiatives

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

Village-level Initiatives

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

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

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Indian World's Tallest Building Aspirants

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


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

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

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

The Noida Tower

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

Gurgaon's Sector 29

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

Manhattans of Delhi and Mumbai

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

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