As his friends gather on the lamp-lit porch to swap stories, children play in the yard, Bloomberg Markets reports in its May issue. Inside, after decades of cooking in the dark, Anand’s mother prepares the evening meal while a visiting neighbor weaves garlands of flowers.
In October, Bangalore-based Simpa Networks Inc. installed a solar panel on Anand’s whitewashed adobe house along with a small metal box in his living room to monitor electricity usage. The 25-year-old rice farmer, who goes by one name, purchases energy credits to unlock the system via his mobile phone on a pay-as-you-go model.
When his balance runs low, Anand pays 50 rupees ($1) — money he would have otherwise spent on kerosene. Then he receives a text message with a code to punch into the box, giving him about another week of electric light.
When he pays off the full cost of the system in about three years, it will be unlocked and he will get free power.
Before the solar panel arrived, Anand lit his home with kerosene lamps that streaked the walls with smoke and barely penetrated the darkness of the village, which lacks electrification. Twice a week, he trudged 45 minutes to a nearby town just to charge his phone.
“Things are much easier now,” Anand says, describing how he used to go through 5 liters (1 gallon) of fuel a month, almost half of it bought from the black market at four times the price of government kerosene rations. “There was never enough.”
Anand is on the crest of an electricity revolution that’s sweeping through power markets and threatening traditional utilities’ dominance of the world’s supply.
From the poorest parts of Africa and Asia to the most- developed regions in the U.S. and Europe, solar units such as Anand’s and small-scale wind and biomass generators promise to extend access to power to more people than ever before. In the developing world, they’re slashing costs in the process.
Across India and Africa, startups and mobile phone companies are developing so-called microgrids, in which stand- alone generators power clusters of homes and businesses in places where electric utilities have never operated.
In Europe, cooperatives are building their own generators and selling power back to the national or regional grid while information technology developers and phone companies are helping consumers reduce their power consumption and pay less for the electricity they do use.
‘Power to the People’
The revolution is just beginning, says Jeremy Rifkin, a professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and author of The Third Industrial Revolution (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011).
Disruptive to the economic status quo, the transformation opens up huge opportunities to consumers who may find themselves trading power in the future much as they swap information over the Internet today, he says.
“This is power to the people,” says Rifkin, who was once best known as a leading opponent of the Vietnam War.
For now, though, the alternative-energy industry still relies on subsidies in much of the developed world, and governments are reining in aid for clean energy as they struggle to trim their budget deficits.
Germany, the biggest market for solar panels, plans to cut subsidies to owners of photovoltaic generators by up to 29 percent in April and said it would impose monthly reductions thereafter.
End of the Boom
“Governments are running out of cash,” says Benny Peiser, director of the London-based Global Warming Policy Foundation, which is described by its chairman, former U.K. Chancellor of the Exchequer Nigel Lawson, as “open-minded on th
e contested science of global warming.”
“The boom will eventually come to a halt once the subsidies come to a halt,” he says.
And yet as subsidies are wound down in Europe, investors such as Boston-based Denham Capital Management LP are shifting their attention to developing markets. In March, Denham invested $190 million in a joint venture with Madrid-based Fotowatio SLto build solar parks in South Africa and Latin America.
India has 30 gigawatts of mainly diesel generators that could be replaced by cheaper solar power tomorrow, says Tarun Kapoor, joint secretary at the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy. (One gigawatt is enough energy to power about 200,000 U.S. homes.)
Utilities Under Pressure
Within a decade, installing photovoltaic panels may be cheaper for many families than buying power from national grids in much of the world, including the U.S., Japan, Brazil and the U.K., according to data from Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
The ultimate losers in this shifting balance of power may be established utilities. They’ve invested billions of dollars in centralized networks that are slowly being edged out of markets they’ve dominated.
“Over the next decade, utilities are going to be under a lot of pressure,” says Gerard Reid, a partner and energy banker at London-based investment adviser Alexa Capital.
Reid predicts that power prices will come down across Europe as new entrants that create electricity from renewable sources break up traditional utilities’ oligopoly.
As it is, with big utilities also generating more and more power with alternative fuels, renewables provided 20 percent of the European Union’s power in 2010, up from 14 percent five years earlier, according to the Paris-based Renewable EnergyObservatory. The EU aims to raise that share to about 34 percent by 2020.
Enter the Phone Company
European utility stocks are already suffering as entrants using new technologies pour in to meet demand. The Bloomberg European Utilities Index touched a seven-year low in September, and German power futures contracts were in the doldrums as of March 12.
The changing makeup of power generation is attracting companies from other industries as well as smaller developers such as Simpa Networks, the venture capital-backed developer that installed Anand’s solar panels.
Bharti Airtel Ltd. (BHARTI), India’s biggest mobile operator, for example, has signed on as a partner to a pay-as-you-go solar microutility called SharedSolar to sell airtime and electricity to Bharti’s 50 million subscribers in Africa.
In many underdeveloped regions, it hasn’t made economic sense for utilities to build the capital-intensive infrastructure required to deliver energy from traditional sources.
‘Second Great Leapfrog’
In parts of Africa, the poor, lacking electricity, buy power in the form of batteries, kerosene and candles; in effect, they’re paying as much as $4 per kilowatt-hour, according to Vijay Modi, a Columbia University professor who heads the SharedSolar project. That’s about 66 times what a resident of Manhattan is charged for electricity.
Simpa co-founder Paul Needham says filling the power gap will entail a transformation similar to the one in which mobile phones bypassed traditional landlines to deliver telecommunications services to vast populations in India and Africa.
“What we’re seeing is the beginning of the second great leapfrog story,” says Needham, who estimates that 1.6 billion people in the world don’t have access to electricity.
In Europe, competition from the growing renewables sector is forcing traditional utilities to become greener.
Dinosaur of the Year
Two years ago, environmentalist group Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union dubbed Chief Executive Officer Juergen Grossmann of RWE AG (RWE), Germany’s second-largest utility, dinosaur of the year for his role in helping to persuade the government to extend the lifetimes of the country’s nuclear reactors.
In February, RWE invited reporters to Essen, the heart of Germany’s coal and steel industry, to tout the 22 billion-euro ($29 billion) company’s expansion into renewable energy and smart grids.
RWE created an online store selling energy-efficient appliances and this year will install 100,000 smart electricity meters in Muelheim an der Ruhr, once a Ruhr Valley center of coal mining and steelmaking.
“The new-energy transformation is greener, more decentralized,” Bernd Widera of RWE’s power distribution unit said during the 2012 E-world conference in Essen.
The most-advanced technologies and policies are being road- tested in Germany. In Feldheim, a village of 43 homes near Berlin, Michael Knape strides across the soccer pitch.
As the area’s mayor, he’s showing a group of visitors from China, Japan and the U.S. the field’s brand-new floodlights, financed by levies on the local wind farm and powered by a mix of wind and biogas generators.
The lights are hooked up to a 450,000-euro local grid that in October 2010 made Feldheim the first German municipality to run entirely on its own renewables-fueled generators.
“Here you can see what the future could look like,” Knape tells the group. “The people aren’t green idealists. They are on board because the electricity is cheaper.”
Local families pay 17 euro cents per kilowatt-hour for power, 31 percent less than what EON AG, Germany’s biggest utility, charges the residents of neighboring Niemegk for electricity. Feldheim’s prices, set by the cooperative that owns the local power grid, are guaranteed for 10 years.
Feldheim’s households put down about 3,000 euros each to help pay for the village heating system. Half of the 1.7 million-euro cost was covered by a grant from the European Regional Development Fund. The remainder was financed with a bank loan paid back through heating bills.
Germany is now the world’s biggest renewable power producer, with 53.8 gigawatts of wind and solar generators.
“The people in Germany have taken matters into their own hands and overhauled the energy mix despite vicious resistance from the big utilities,” architect Rolf Disch says.
Disch is an iconic figure in the world of energy innovati
His home in Freiburg, southern Germany, which he built in 1994 and still lives in, was the first in the world to produce more energy than it consumes, he says. Disch built a tract of 59 energy-producing homes in the town.
Wolfgang Schnuerer, a retired elementary school principal, bought a “plus energy” house in Freiburg in 2004, paying about 15 percent more than the cost of a similar property with a traditional power supply.
‘The Great Transformation’
Through a south-facing, triple-insulated glass facade, sunlight pours into the house, which is heated, when needed, by a local biomass cogeneration plant.
His heating bill, in a town where winter temperatures drop to as low as minus 15 degrees Celsius (5 degrees Fahrenheit), was just 144.64 euros or all of 2011 — 96 percent less than what he had paid at his previous home.
Schnuerer, 75, an asthma sufferer, says he stopped taking cortisone four months after moving into the house because its filtration system ventilates the air every 90 seconds, which has alleviated his respiratory condition.
“I call it our feel-good house,” he says. “We’re saving carbon emissions and making money with it.”
The feel-good factor will spread, says Mahesh Bhave, who teaches business strategy at the Indian Institute of Management Kozhikode in Kerala.
‘Things Will Be Different’
“As renewable energy prices drop, every household and business has the incentive to become a stand-alone power plant,” he says. “This is the great transformation of our time.”
For Anand, solar-powered electricity is a pathway to prosperity: It allows him to work a few extra hours each day on chores, such as shelling betel nuts, that need to be done in the light. Local children can boost their chances of one day getting a better-paying job by extending their study time.
Other villagers are catching on. His neighbor Chandra, who also uses only one name, 42, has bought the same solar system as Anand’s, and six other families are awaiting installation.
Looking across the rice paddies, Anand takes in Halliberu’s 60 homes.
“Come back in a couple years and everyone will have one,” Anand says. “Things will be different.”
To contact the reporters on this story: Ben Sills in Madrid at firstname.lastname@example.org; Natalie Obiko Pearson in Mumbai at email@example.com; Stefan Nicola in Berlin at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Michael Serrill at email@example.com; Reed Landberg at firstname.lastname@example.org
Imagine if all HDB rental flats have access to such facilities, it will lower your utility bills by more than 50%, and payment can be pay as you use via mobile phone, debit cards or cash cards thru the Internet. Now if these can be installed in the rural areas of china, or even North Korea? (hint, hint)what can these changes mean to add to the prosperity of the poor?
– Contributed by Oogle.
(Reuters) – A new biotech corn developed by Dow AgroSciences could answer the prayers of U.S. farmers plagued by a fierce epidemic of super-weeds. Or it could trigger a flood of dangerous chemicals that may make weeds even more resistant and damage other important U.S. crops.
Or, it could do both.
“Enlist,” entering the final stages of regulatory approval, has become the latest flashpoint in the debate about the risks and rewards about farm technology. With a deadline to submit public comments on Dow’s proposal at the end of this week, more than 5,000 individuals and groups have already weighed in. Dow Agrosciences, a unit of Dow Chemical Co, hopes to have the product approved this year and released by the 2013 crop.
The corn itself is not the issue — rather it is the potent herbicide chemical component 2,4-D that is the center of debate.
The new corn is engineered to withstand liberal dousings of a Dow-developed herbicide containing the compound, commonly used in lawn treatments of broadleaf weeds and for clearing fields of weeds before crops like wheat and barley are planted.
Enlist is the first in a planned series of new herbicide-tolerant crops aimed at addressing a resurgence of crop-choking weeds that have developed resistance to rival Monsanto’s popular Roundup herbicide. It is part of an expanding agricultural arsenal advocates say is key to growing enough food to feed a growing global population.
But while 2,4-D has a long history of effective use, the chemical’s volatile nature also worries environmentalists because winds, high temperatures, humidity can cause traditional forms of the herbicide to migrate from farm fields where it is sprayed to wreak havoc on far-off crops, gardens, and trees that are unprotected from the invisible agent.
Environmentalists are pushing the government to pause before opening the door to what they say could be a destructive turn.
Opponents include some specialty crop farmers who fear 2,4-D herbicide use could cause widespread damage to crops that are not engineered with a tolerance to it. It is so potent that its use is tightly restricted in some areas and at certain times of the year in some U.S. states.
“It is a major issue for farm country,” said John Bode, a lawyer for a coalition of farmers and food companies seeking regulatory restrictions or rejection of Dow’s plans.
“Massive amounts of 2,4-D… can cause major changes, threatening specialty crops miles away,” said Bode, an assistant Secretary of Agriculture in the Reagan administration.
The financial stakes are high as well. Dow projects a “billion dollar value” in a product line that is its biggest challenge yet to the dominance of top seed company Monsanto’s revolutionary Roundup herbicide and its genetically modified “Roundup Ready” seeds. Dow hopes to expand Enlist into soybeans and cotton.
Where Roundup once killed weeds easily, experts say that now, even heavy use of the herbicide using the key chemical glyphosate often fails to kill “super weeds.”
NEW HERBICIDE TEMPERS ‘DRIFT’
Some weed scientists are supportive of Enlist. In the southern third of Illinois, prime corn-belt country, infestations of the invasive water hemp weed have doubled each year over the past three years, according to Bryan Young, weed scientist at Southern Illinois University.
“The de-regulation of Enlist herbicide-tolerant corn will expand grower options for controlling problematic weeds and has proven in my research to be effective as such,” Young wrote to the USDA in a letter supporting Dow’s application.
Dow officials say they are aware of the problems with 2,4-D “drift” and volatility, and that the new herbicide has been formulated to reduce those factors dramatically.
Dow says that if farmers use the new Dow version of 2,4-D properly, drift is reduced about 90 percent, and tests show the new product has “ultra-low volatility.”
Even many opponents of Dow’s new herbicide say it is an improvement of generic rivals using 2,4-D. But they say Dow’s version will be expensive enough that many farmers will probably buy cheaper generics to spray on the 2,4-D-tolerant corn.
Dow acknowledges that lure, but says it will work to steer farmers to its brand.
“I don’t think you can ever guarantee it, but we are doing all we can to try to incentivize people and educate people,” said Tom Wiltrout, Global Strategy Leader for Seeds and Traits at Dow. “We were worried too. That was one of the big debates we had. Chemistry is the key. We think we’ve got an answer.”
David Simmons, an Indiana farmer who grows corn and soybeans but also runs a vineyard and winery, says his young grapevines have suffered significant damage from drifting 2,4-D applications at neighboring farms, forcing him to fight to recover damage claims from fellow farmers’ insurance carriers.
“I’m faced with looking five years down the road. Is it even going to be profitable to grow grapes if I continue to get this damage every summer?” Simmons said.
Due to the already-known effects from “drift,” opponents have requested that some form of an indemnity fund be established to pay loss claims from farms damaged by inadvertent 2,4-D applications. Dow has opposed that safeguard.
Opponents have flooded the U.S. Department of Agriculture with petitions and pleas for either rejection of Dow’s new corn, or strict regulation before use of 2,4-D is expanded into millions of acres in the U.S. agricultural heartland. More than 90 million acres of corn alone will be planted in 2012.
Last week, the Save Our Crops coalition representing more than 2,000 U.S. farmers filed legal petitions with the USDA and the Environmental Protection Agency demanding the government scrutinize Dow’s plans more closely. The group has said it could file a lawsuit to try to stop the new type of corn.
Steve Smith, director of agriculture at Indiana-based Red Gold, the world’s largest processor of canned tomatoes, calls the 2,4-D issue a “ticking time bomb.”
“We are all producers and people who have no problem with new technology. But we see this new piece of it having side effects that we don’t think people have adequately thought of,” said Smith.
Others fear Enlist and 2,4-D may only be only the beginning of a new wave of dangerous farm chemicals. Chemical giant BASF and Monsanto plan to unveil by the middle of this decade crops tolerant to a mix of the chemicals dicamba and glyphosate.
This increasing use of chemicals will only spell worse weed resistance in years to come, warn weed scientists and environmentalists.
“It’s a chemical arms race,” said Andrew Kimbrell, a lawyer at the Center for Food Safety opposed to the new crop systems. “It’s a scary scenario. We won’t be able to do anything with these weeds other than use machetes.”
Instead of using more chemicals in order to plant corn on the same field year after year, U.S. farmers should be rotating crops more, a technique proven to challenge weed resistance, many weed scientists say.
Dow says that while Enlist farmers’ best option for now, it will not be the only long-term solution for weed resistance.
“There is no silver bullet here,” said Joe Vertin, Dow’s global business leader for Enlist.
(Reporting By Carey Gillam; Editing by David Gregorio)
The answer is it will do both. Do you want a half past six answer or a proper answer which will not damage your crop or the environment or your future income? Instead of using more chemicals in order to plant corn on the same field year after year, U.S. f
armers should be rotating crops more, a technique proven to challenge weed resistance, many weed scientists say.
– Contributed by oogle.
UNITED NATIONS: UN leader Ban Ki-moon said Monday he will visit Myanmar to support democratic reforms and called for a “harmonious” deal allowing opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to take an oath as a deputy.
Ban said he will leave for Myanmar at the end of the week and meet with Suu Kyi, for the first time, and President Thein Sein. He is expected to arrive in Yangon on Sunday.
Ban told reporters Myanmar’s transition has reached “a critical moment.”
“Now is the time for the international community to stand together at Myanmar’s side,” he added, hailing “landmark” by-elections that saw Suu Kyi win a parliamentary seat.
“But this fresh start is fragile.”
The UN secretary-general welcomed moves by the European Union and United States to suspend sanctions and said he would discuss ways the United Nations could help the country. “They deserve our full support,” he said.
Asked about a dispute between Suu Kyi and the president over taking the oath of office, Ban said: “I sincerely hope they are able to find a mutually harmonious way to have smooth proceedings of the parliament.”
Suu Kyi’s party has refused to swear to “safeguard” an army-created constitution in the first sign of tension with the government since the democracy icon’s electoral victory.
With a teeny waist, disproportionately large breasts and wide, icy-blue eyes, 21-year-old Valeria Lukyanova says she is the real natural deal. A real-life Barbie, that is.
That’s what she claims anyway. Many are crying foul to her claims of her au natural Mattel-branded looks. Whether she underwent plastic surgery or uses photoshop to carve out that waist remains unclear. On her blog, the model notes that she is the most famous woman on the Russian Internet because of her doll-like appeal.
Hundreds of photos on her Facebook page show a wide-eyed, nearly fake-looking Lukyanova posing in a variety of scanty outfits. But with nearly 8,000 subscribers to her Facebook page, it’s unclear whether Lukyanova exists at all, or whether it’s all a hoax thanks to the world of photo editing.
“Live” Indexing via Google Search
Ya, I know you have achieve “Live” indexing via Google search, I can find the above info on Facebook, the rest are just repetition of the news, I really wonder if she really has her own blogsite, or is this another publicity stunt?
– Contributed by Oogle.
By Sebastian Anthony on April 20, 2012 at 11:45 am. Scientists at Northwestern University in Chicago, with funding from the National Institutes of Health, have successfully bypassed the spinal cord and restored fine motor control to paralyzed limbs using a brain-computer interface. The researchers have created a neuroprosthesis that combines a brain-computer interface (BCI) that’s wired directly into 100 neurons in the motor cortex of the subject, and a functional electrical stimulation (FES) device that’s wired into the muscles of the subject’s arm. When the subject tries to move his arm or hand, that cluster of around 100 neurons activates, creating a stream of data which can then be read and analyzed by the BCI to predict what muscles the subject is trying to move, and with what level of force. This interpreted data is passed to the FES, which then triggers the right muscles to perform the desired movement. The end result is a computer network that effectively replaces the nervous system and restores remarkably accurate fine motor control to a paralyzed arm — watch the video below and be amazed. You will notice that, as always with bleeding edge science, the subject of this study is a rhesus monkey rather than a human — but our anatomy is very, very similar to that of our primate cousins. The novel element of Northwestern’s neuroprosthesis is the introduction of a brain-computer interface. At the moment, state-of-the-art solutions use FES devices with pre-programmed basic movements (arm lift, hand open, etc.) that are triggered by small muscle movements in non-paralyzed muscles. With the BCI, rather than listening for second-hand signals, around 100 neurons from the specific region of the motor cortex that handles arm and hand movements are used. As you can see from the video, not only is this approach responsive, it seemingly allows for a whole range of grasping movements. Now, it’s important to bear in mind that we’re a long way away from human trials — these monkeys had a multi-electrode array directly implanted into their brains — but, even so, we should still be very excited. This is a hugely important step towards bionic implants that make paralysis a thing of the past. It might even be the answer to other neurological diseases, such as Parkinson’s. The research paper (paywalled) notes that, worldwide, 130,000 people per year sustain spinal cord injury — with half of those becoming paralyzed from the neck down. Even healthy humans — especially those of transhumanist stock — might want to replace or augment their nervous system with a computer network. Due to slow clockspeed and neuron-neuron signal propagation, human reaction time is fairly lackluster — but what if we had a computer coprocessor and electrical wiring that kicked in, when needed? Like modern cars that have complex timing and power control systems, what if humans could run faster or stay awake longer if we had a computer system to help out? You’d be able to connect to your on-board (on-brain?) computer via your smartphone, of course, and tweak various settings…