Sunday, April 26, 2009

Very Positive News From India, Though Implementation Will be the Key

As someone who has been vocally critical about the lack of attention towards Renewable Energy in India and towards Solar Energy in particular, I am glad to say that I have reason to celebrate today. After the small steps taken by the State Governments of Haryana, Karnataka and by municipalities in Maharashtra, news comes in today vide The Hindu about a massive Central Government plan to make India a global leader in solar energy generation:

There are few countries in the world that have India's potential as far as solar energy is concerned. Some of the most pleasant climate in the world and almost 325 -plus days of sunshine across the country make it a most sensible exercise to look at this abundant resource and use it to generate power and to warn water for the use of the Indian people, not to forget the fact that this is bound to reduce the huge amounts of foreign exchange that India sends out to import coal and crude oil. After some so-called "experts" came up with idiotic pronouncements about solar energy in the recent past, I was personally disillusioned about what was happening, though this is fantastic news to say the least. I guess it had to happen - there might be the odd idiot but there are vastly more educated and concerned individuals in the country.

That said, I would like to stress that this positive beginning will take hard work as far as implementation is concerned. I have always been supportive of Indian tax support for renewable energy products - this is even better. India has huge amounts of foreign aid as well as governmental funds available for various projects. A careful focus on this new Solar Mission can only save billions in foreign exchange and also clean the country's air up. Let us not forget that India was one of the world's pioneers in harnessing wind power, at a time when the country was poor and foreign exchange was a scarce commodity. With some of the world's best engineers and with money available now, there is no reason why, with some effort, the country cannot become a solar energy powerhouse.

I see several advantages in this apart form savings in foreign exchange, reduced pollution, and this blog's all-important aim of showing fossil fuels the fist:

1. Increased employment from training lakhs of new workers in installing and servicing solar systems

2. Increased secondary employment from transportation, marketing, billing and other office services for businesses that will become involved in this field

3. More research and development leading to this sector advancing faster and innovation bringing better products by the day

4. Better foreign exchange earnings - make no mistake: a huge market like India will require more and more companies to set up manufacturing facilities in the country and then to export them from India. If Hyundai does this for cars, take it from me - manufacturers of solar systems will do the same as well

5. Reduced spending on healthcare as pollution drops. People who are less sick will automatically save more money as they will not have to spend it on medical treatment

And the list could go on . . . right now, I am not going to think about making it longer. I need to celebrate.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Excellent Article on Green Building Basics

While there is a lot of greenwashing that takes place these days in the rush by some corrupt businesses to capitalize on the popularity of the green movement, ("greenwashing" being just a polite term for bullshitting) the fact is that it is quite easy to go green whether this refers to how someone lives or how they build their homes. How Stuff Works, the Discovery Channel's popular show and website has an excellent series of articles on the subject at:

Hopefully, this should give those who want this information in simple and uncomplicated language something to enjoy reading and then implement in their lives. Thanks, Treehugger, for the link to your sister website!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A Very Interesting New Technology that Could Make Rice Husk and Other Vegetable Waste A Very Useful Raw Material

One way of making homes energy efficient is to insulate them properly. This reduces the amount of energy required for heating as well as for cooling and reduced pressure on heaters and air conditioners means reduced costs and less strain on the environment especially when the bulk of the electricity that we use comes from fossil fuel sources. The New York Times's Green Inc Blog has this very interesting piece about a company that uses fungi, agricultural waste and a type of naturally occuring mineral to manufacture an advanced insulating material:

In India, for some time now, rice husk has either been used to make cheap paper, as feed for mushrooms in the few places where they are cultivated for export or burned either in biofuel based powerplants or in the open air for festivities like Bhogi / Sankaranti. My feeling is that this new technology, if licensed and used in South Asia, would offer significantly more value addition than any of the other uses talked about so far as to make this a very viable project. And, if the insulating material were used in homes, it would make them vastly mroe efficient than what is available in that part of the world right now. In the USA this is used as a substitute for Styrofoam. Homes in South Asia do not use styrofoam and are utterly inefficient as far as insulation is concerned. There is potential here - will anyone rise to the challenge? If someone wants to do this, Evocative Design's website is:

India's Water Mess - A Sign of the Disaster in the Making as Chhatisgarh Farmers Commit Mass Suicide

I am grateful to Dr Mayraj Fahim for the main article here as well as other pieces referenced later on in this post. This blog is about Renewable Energy but I have focused on grain storage and water conservation in the past - indeed, my interest in water conservation is one of the reasons why I personally believe that wind energy is an important way forward as far as energy is concerned. Wind turbines do not need water for cooling, making them a superb way of generating electricity in a clean manner and without using water which is already a scarce resource in several parts of India. Ask me - I grew up in Madras and while I lived with my parents at the government owned Old Tower Block, I never had to worry about water. The government keeps its own happy. The hassles came when I got married and left home - the only reason why we had water on a daily basis at Gowri Chitra Gardens where my wife and I lived before we came to the USA is that the building implemented rain water harvesting long before it became fashionable. On the flip side, in the poor state of Chhatisgarh, several farmers have committed suicide because they have run out of ground water as this article shows: This is news that you will not see in the Indian newspapers. They are too busy lying about how great life is in India. What are some dead poor farmers in Chhatisgarh when there is India Fashion Week waiting to be covered in Mumbai, with a dinner with some nubile models thrown in?

I have also talked about the fraud being committed in India not going in for a modern grain storage system both on this blog as well as in articles in the Indian media. NABARD has had over $ 200 million in funding available from Kreditanstalt fur Wiederaufbau and the Swiss Development Corporation for non-farm sector loans for over 20 years as far as I know. I had arranged for an expert to talk to the Ministry for Agriculture in New Delhi when the current government had just been elected five years ago on this subject, without pushing any particular company or agenda. They took the information that I had arranged and did nothing. That is the Indian way - farmers commit suicide when they are in debt and pests eat three times the amount of grain that people do in India. The poor die of starvation but the Ministry of Agriculture will not implement an old plan of setting up co-operatives to run grain storage businesses and rent them to the FCI with shares given to farmers so that they have an income during lean times, and the silos actually save tens of thousands of grain. What was it about Nero playing the harp while Rome burned? India has thousands of Neros working simultaneously and in co-operation while Indians die of starvation. This country is a basket case. Make no bones about it. The following links show you exactly why:

1. India's Green Revolution is Heading for Collapse

2. A US blogger explains why the USDA's India estimates for a 2009 wheat crop are bogus

3. This is what happens when wheat crops fail - the country is forced to import wheat. And more farmers will commit suicide . . .

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Some Cautious Forward Movement on Solar Energy in the USA

I am grateful to Dr Mayraj Fahim for this article on Alternet which describes the potential gains as well as risks that face entrepreneurs in the field of solar energy in the USA. There is one factor that the author of the article is possibly not sure off which I must mention here - rapid competition in advancing the field of solar photovoltaic power is bringing down the costs of manufacturing solar photovoltaic panels and efficiency is being pushed up every few months by new developments as companies and universities around the world take up the challenge of making solar cells more efficient and cheap. This is a fact that is known to the entrepreneurs who are involved in this industry and that is why people in Germany are happy to put their money into ventures in this field.

There is considerable movement in the field of renewable energy and if there is any disappointment, as far as I am concerned, it is in the fact that South Asia is not looking at this with the same degree of seriousness that the West is. With India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka etc bathed in sunlight around the year, just imagine the potential . . . But then, I would be repeating myself like a scratched record if I go on now.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Green Advocates Begin Talking About Sailships

Visitors to this blog would know that I am, personally, obsessed with the idea of transporting goods by sea, and by sailships in particular. Treehugger and Low Tech Magazine, both blogs that I subscribe to and which can be accessed through the reading lists here, have taken up the cause as the following posts indicate: and Low Tech Mag's original story that sparked this discussion is:

Those who have their own views on this subject, are welcome to post there. I hope someone with an entrepreneurial bent thinks about this and does something like start a shipping business with sailships . . .

Air India Follows Emirates in Saving Fuel

After a dispute with Air India (where the consumer courts ruled in my favor) many years ago, I swore never to use that airline and I am convinced thhat I did the right thing. Recently, when my mother in law visited Chicago, I told the jokers at their counter that I never traveled in their miserable apology of an airline and that I never would. My mother in law is a masochist - no one who isn't one, would want to spend their own money to travel on this airline, in my opinion. But then, as my late grandmother used to say, you could find something useful even in a dead snake if you tried. Treehugger has this post about Air India saving fuel:

Considering that the jokers who run this Indian public sector farce have been living on handouts from the Central Government for decades, this must be one way the management is trying to keep this airline afloat. I guess, from the viewpoint of this blog, it saves fossil fuel from being burned and polluting the atmosphere - Air India have to be acknowledged for showing fossil fuel the fist. That said, Emirates, probably the best international airline these days, have a much bigger program than Air India's and they were there even earlier. With considerably more planes than Air India can even dream about buying, they do a much bigger job of saving fuel.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Tata to Build Extended Range Electric Jaguars

There were more than a few rumors some months ago about a strangely silent Jaguar that had been filmed at the Nurburgring and considerable speculation took place on dedicated blogs on the subject at the time. Now, Autoblog Green has confirmed that Jaguar have an extended range electric version of their XJ under development: My first reaction is to congratulate the Tatas on this. Yes, an Indian company that has bought a leading Norwegian Electric Vehicle Engineering business, offered Electric only versions of its Indica for sale in Europe and which is also collaborating with various other technology developers like the designers of the French Air Car, was not going to let an opportunity to use this technology on its prize brand, Jaguar, go idle. The speed with which the Tatas have gone ahead, needs to be praised.

Yes, there are the usual idiots screaming about problems with the cars before they have been built, skeptics who claim that the Tatas have no money - they just got a huge loan for Jaguar today - and those who just say that this can't be done. I remember a lot of clowns saying this about the Nano too. I cannot, but laugh at the collective "expertise" of these dolts and must thank Autoblog Green too for bringing this news from Autocar magazine to their huge readership. I shall be eagerly watching this development process.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Solar Powered Gadgets do NOT have to be expensive

I have this post from the British Telegraph newspaper which describes an invention that has been widely talked about in the media over here, though I have not seen it reported in any Indian newspaper yet: I think that the design of a cheap solar heater to boil water to purify it could just as easily be used to cook rice or boil vegetables or meat, for example. I remember similar cookers being sold in Chennai at the Chintamani Co-operative stores some decades in the past but am not sure if they are still sold there. In any case, the UP and Haryana state governments make and sell solar cookers which cost a lot more. Perhaps, there is time for someone to look at making cheap ones and selling them? No need to worry about gas cylinder delivery delays, kerosene, etc . . . Hope this opportunity for entrepreneurs finds a sympathetic ear here!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Abdullah Starts Whining About Alternative Energy

After acting like thugs for the major part of their history, the Saudi Arabians have suddenly started acting like hurt kindergarten girls. And, the reason for this is their fear of the world destroying them by switching to alternative energy: This link to a piece on Treehugger has been reported on several other websites as well.

I have a few things to say about this - if this does work in bankrupting the desert thugs, the world needs to go far it as fast as it can! No country has held the world to ransom and in so many different ways as the Saudis. Leave aside, for a moment, their sending the bulk of the 9/11 hijackers or of their funding terrorist groups in virtually every country around the world. Leave aside, also, their thuggery towards their own people - I do not have the room on this blog to go into the regular abuses of human rights conducted by Saudi thugs and neither is there enough room even in a set of volumes as bulky as the Encyclopedia Brittanica. And, like a parasite that sucks on the blood of the creature that it lives on and grows stronger while making the organism that it feeds off weaker even as it introduces diseases in addition to sucking its blood, the Saudis have been supplying the rest of the world with oil and bleeding it systematically, building palaces for themselves and sending funds and arms to jihadis everywhere else in the world.

Now, these thugs want to offer their deserts as locations for the rest of the world to generate solar powered electricity from. There has been talk for some time of large solar powered electric plants in Saudi Arabia sending power via transmission lines to Europe. If the Europeans fall for this colossal fraud, they deserve whatever problems they are certain to get. There are enough European locations as well as locations in other civilized countries that are located closer to Europe than Saudi Arabia from where the Europeans could get their solar power if they feel that what they could generate in Europe itself would not be enough. As far as the Saudis are concerned, it would be best to work hard towards reducing the use of oil, to let them spend the trillions of dollars that they have on whatever they want to, and then let them go back to their camels. SOmeone out to read out Shelley's "Ozymandias" to them. I can only hope that the Saudi sheikhs meet with the fate of the Egyptian pharaohs as soon as possible. They deserve it.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Don't Tell Me That You Wouldn't Want to Live in a House that Looks Like This . . .

One of the things that always amazes me is the many ultra-modern house designs that come up in this country and the continued building of drab monstrosities in India. Old buildings in India had a charm of their own - what you get these days (and what has been available for the past forty years, which is how long I have kept an eye on things) is completely inefficient, drab and lousy architecture. In hot cities you find people building homes with large glass windows and then using air conditioners to cool the insides - why on earth does anyone have to be so utterly stupid? And, in pleasant places like Kodaikanal, where my father bought a very nice place when I was a boy but sold for "development" later on, you have homes that are closed off to the outdoors despite it being cold up in the hills and there being beautiful scenery all around.

I like the Inhabitat website for their regular features of interesting architectural concepts - this link is to one such: Stillwater Dwellings builds prefabricated homes which you can design to your requirements. I do think that there is a major market for this kind of home in South Asia. The time taken to build one of these homes would be short, you could have a far more efficient home if you use your common sense than the mason-built monstrosities that you get nowadays and the aesthetics would also be vastly superior to what is available at the moment. I daresay these kinds of energy efficient prefabricated structures would be ideal homes for India and other South Asian countries because of their low cost and their sheer efficiency compared to the homes available there at the moment. Stillwater's website is: Check their building plans out on their website.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Green Building and Conservation CAN Go Together

I love this New York Times piece about the lovely city of Pittsburgh and how the local authorities there have managed to preserve lovely old buildings and green them in keeping with modern energy-saving trends: I am reminded of the house that I was born in on Broadway in Madras a long time ago, right across the road from the Sarafaly Mansion. My father had his clinic in front and we lived in the huge rooms in the back. With 20 ft high ceilings and two businesses on the ground floor, it was the home where I lived until my grandfather's death in 1976. The building was subsequently torn down and a monstrous shopping complex put up in its place. Loansquare Park, where we would play as children, became an open toilet for truck drivers to park their trucks around and defecate. And, a lot of lovely old buildings in the surrounding streets including MacLean Street, Armenian Street and so on met the same fate as my old home. Two years ago, my wife traveled to Chennai with the idea of buying a house there - the crowding put her off so badly, that we abandoned every idea we had of doing this. We did not buy a bigger home in Chicago because we see this city as going from its current miserable state to even worse - hopefully, soon, we shall move to a better part of the USA and in a better place than this, though the Windbag CIty is a better city in many respects than any place you care to name in India.

There were arguments about this trend even then - conservationists mourned the loss of character of a city that had once been known as a "garden city" and which had then been renamed Chennai, the latter name coming to be associated with its smell (a blend of rotting fecal matter and untreated exhaust fumes) and the horrendous crowds and ridiculously flawed "development" that turned the place, even in my not that long time there, into a miserable Indian ghetto. Those who spoke of "development" came out with the theory that the old buildings were not very energy efficient and that people did not need to live in homes like those. I would like to show those clowns the fist just as I do to fossil fuels. They, and they alone, are the kind whose mentality has turned India into a filthy mess. There still are some of the old homes in Chennai, Mumbai, Kolkata and several other large and small cities across the country. Many of the homes are owned by people who are reasonably wealthy and the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage does some work in attempting to keep some of the better old buildings still standing. I would invite those who would like to preserve the grand old buildings to look at Pittsburgh - there are many Indians in that part of the USA. Perhaps, they need to take back a sense of what it means to preserve their heritage. Again, I can say that all of India would benefit from this.

Will India Rise to This Chinese Challenge?

The New York Times reports a Chinese plan to lead the world in the building of electric powered cars: The Chinese have a huge amount of money from their export oriented economy at a time when the rest of the world is not doing very well. They also have been looking at buying up some car companies in Europe - Austin Rover is already Chinese owned, for example. And while their local industry has been making rip-offs of popular western designs, this is, perhaps, the first sign that the Chinese are interested in focusing on a huge, new emerging market. Look at it this way - an electric car does not need an engine and this means no worries about emissions etc. The Chinese already manufacture a lot of cell-phone batteries etc for the rest of the world - exactly the kind of batteries that drive the expensive Tesla cars. And their labor, already cheap, is now going to be even cheaper with huge numbers of workers out of jobs in the various Chinese export mills in that country's coastal South. So why not use these workers to build and flood the world with cheap electric transportation?

My question here is where does this leave India? The most that India has had to boast about s far as cars are concerned is about the Tata Nano - a cheap car with an internal combustion engine that is certain to clog the already terribly crowded Indian roads and pollute the air over India even more. Tata have access to advanced electric car technology through their acquisition of a Norwegian company and they do sell electric Indicas in Europe. Unfortunately, they cannot sell these in India thanks to the lousy state of affairs vis a vis power generation in the country. With as much as eight hours or more of power cuts a day in every major Indian city (and, most probably, worse conditions in the rural areas) where on earth are Indians going to charge their electric cars even if they buy them? Another area where China seems set to beat India hollow if you look at the massive deficiencies in Indian infrastructure . . .

Or wait! If - and this is a big "if" considering Indians' penchant for government jobs or the new magic destination - software industry and call center jobs - some Indians could find that they have some entrepreneurial spirit, then there are major avenues for marketing renewable energy products in the country. Small wind turbines and solar water heaters and solar roofs and windows, advanced buildings which help save on cooling / heating costs as the case may be, larger-scale projects that woudl take the algae in shit carrying "rivers" like the Adyar and the Cooum in Chennai, for example, and convert the algae into biofuel, sewage-treatment plants that would use methane to generate power and so on. The technology is available and has been for years. Even in these recession-hit times, money is available to work on the smaller projects, at least. Perhaps, and this is a big "perhaps" like the "if" that came earlier in this post, someone is thinking about doing something about this in India at the moment. I daresay that whoever does his job right could become the next Ambani or Tata or whatever you want to call him. There has to be more than a little potential in making life more comfortable for at least the 300 million strong Indian middle class. And as this huge group does well, life will improve for the 700 million poor Indians makinf life even better.

Will India rise to the challenge? I, for one, hope that it will . . .