Off-grid power shines in India solar village

Updated 05 August 2012

Off-grid power shines in India solar village

LIFE IN THE REMOTE Indian village of Meerwada used to grind to a standstill as darkness descended. Workers downed tools, kids strained to see their schoolbooks under the faint glow of aged kerosene lamps and adults struggled to carry out the most basic of household chores.
The arrival of solar power last year has changed all that. On a humid evening, fans whirr, children sit cross-legged to study their Hindi and mother-of-seven Sunderbai is delighted people can actually see what they are eating and drinking.
“When it was dark, we used to drink water with insects in, but now we can see insects, so we filter it and then drink,” said the 30-year-old, whose flame-orange sari and gold nose ring are small defiances in a life close to the poverty line.
Meerwada, on a dirt track rutted by rains and outside the reach of the national grid, struck lucky when US solar firm SunEdison picked it to test out business models and covered the hefty initial expense of installing hi-tech solar panels in the heart of the village.
But rapidly falling costs and improved access to financing for would-be customers could encourage the spread of such systems down the line, while simpler solar schemes are already making profits in areas where the grid either does not extend or provides only patchy power.
And Asia’s third-largest economy, where just this week hundreds of millions were left without electricity in one of the world’s worst blackouts, needs all the help it can get in easing the strain on its overburdened power infrastructure. The country’s Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) hopes solar systems that bypass the national grid will account for just under one percent of total installed capacity by 2022. Still a mere flicker, but that 4,000-megawatt (MW) goal would be way up from 80 MW now when so-called off-grid solar systems are still out of reach for most of the country’s rural poor.
Large-scale solar facilities that directly feed the grid, such as those at an over 600 MW solar park recently launched with great fanfare in Gujarat, have been gaining traction for some time.
But potential growth in off-grid solar power offers a ray of hope to the around 40 percent of India’s 1.2 billion population that the renewable power ministry estimates lack access to energy. People like those in the village just 200 meters away from Meerwada, who rely on a hand pump for water and cook by torchlight as hungry goats creep up on them out of the gloom.
Covering initial investment on solar is key as, in a country with around 300 days of sunshine a year, subsequent costs are largely limited to maintenance and repairs.
“The high up-front capital cost is one of the adoption barriers (for solar projects),” said Krister Aanesen, associate principal at McKinsey & Company’s renewable energy division.
“Although diesel is more expensive on a full-cost basis, you defer cash outlay for the fuel ... the cash outlays are different and that’s one of the key challenges.”
Small-scale direct current (DC) systems from Karnataka in the south to Assam in the north-east have already cleared that hurdle, supplying simple lights and mobile phone chargers at 100-200 rupees ($1.80-$3.60) per month per light — prices that typically allow installers to cover their initial costs in time.
Private company Mera Gao Power fits roof-top solar panels and then transmission to other houses who pay about 40 rupees to connect, with costs thereafter about 25 rupees per week, said Nikhil Jaisinghani, one of the firm’s founders. That means it should currently take about 12 months to repay panel installation expenses of about $2,500 for 100 houses, though the cost is set to fall.
Initial expenses are far more onerous on more comprehensive mini-grids like the one in Meerwada, which includes a room full of batteries that can store enough electricity to provide round-the-clock supply to the village and which has recently started powering water pumps.
California-based SunEdison reckons it cost $100,000-$125,000 to build the 14 kilowatt (KW) plant in Meerwada, an expense that would have demanded fees way too high for the 400 or so villagers, whose per capita income is about $250 a year.
The firm expects initial capital costs to come down enough to make alternating current (AC) systems affordable in villages like Meerwada in a few years, with improving technology and fierce competition reducing hardware costs, while enhanced battery storage driven by the auto industry’s push on electric cars is also helping.
SunEdison, which sells solar power plants and services worldwide to commercial, government and utility customers, has over 50 MW of interconnected solar electricity in India, with projects ranging from small rooftop installations to part of the Gujarat solar park.
“Three years ago, the panel price was $2.60 per watt. Today it is 75 cents a watt. I don’t think it will halve in the next few years but I clearly see 50 cents a watt by 2014/15,” said Ahmad Chatila, president and chief executive of MEMC Electronic , SunEdison’s parent company.
In the meantime, the government is offering 30 percent of the project cost and in some cases low-interest loans for solar power systems under its Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission policy launched in 2010.
But that still means systems are beyond the reach of many poor, rural customers, so some solar companies are putting up the 20 percent deposits on loans required by banks or acting as guarantors for customers who are outside the conventional banking system.
Back in Meerwada, which lies in central India’s Madhya Pradesh, the villagers have added an unexpected ingredient to the cost equation — frugality. Lights even now are turned on only when darkness falls and fans target the youngest children and the elderly, saving on power use.
Only the village leader, Sampat Bai, has been able to afford a television but it’s open to all and her bare-walled main room is crowded when the latest epic dramas come on screen and the children have finished their homework.
Manorbai, a 30-something mother who is now making more money by working at night to mend and sew on her vintage black-and-gold foot-pedal sewing machine, has a simple message on the future.
“Our village has power and other villages should too,” she said.

 


Tesla CEO Elon Musk showcases humanoid robot at event

Updated 01 October 2022

Tesla CEO Elon Musk showcases humanoid robot at event

  • Musk says Optimus will be an “extremely capable robot,” unlike other humanoid robots that don’t have the intelligence to navigate the world by themselves

SAN FRANCISCO: Tesla CEO Elon Musk showcased his much-touted humanoid robot ‘Optimus’ at the electric vehicle maker’s “AI Day” event on Friday.
The billionaire has said a robot business will be worth more than its cars, hoping to expand beyond self-driving cars that have not yet become a reality despite his repeated promises.
A prototype of the robot walked on stage and waved to the seated audience. A video of the robot carrying a box, watering plants and moving metal bars in the automaker’s factory was shown.
“Our goal is to make a useful humanoid robot as quickly as possible,” Musk said at the event being held at a Tesla office in Palo Alto, California.
“There’s still a lot of work to be done to refine Optimus and prove it.”
Musk said currently humanoid robots are “missing a brain,” saying they don’t have the intelligence to navigate the world by themselves, and they are also very expensive and made in low volume.
By contrast, he said, the Optimus will be an “extremely capable robot,” to be made in very high volume, probably, ultimately millions of units and is expected to cost much less than a car, at under $20,000.
Musk is also expected to discuss Tesla’s long-delayed self-driving technology. In May, Musk said that the world’s most valuable car maker would be “worth basically zero” without achieving full self-driving capability, and it faces growing regulatory probes, as well as technological hurdles.
“There will be lots of technical detail & cool hardware demos,” Musk wrote on Twitter late on Wednesday, adding the event was aimed at recruiting engineers.

Tesla’s live demonstration record is mixed. Launches typically draw cheers, but in 2019 when Musk had an employee hurl a steel ball at the armored window of a new electric pickup truck, the glass cracked.
The key test for the robot is whether it can handle unexpected situations.
Musk announced Tesla’s plan for humanoid robots at its AI day in August last year and delayed this year’s event from August to have its robot prototype working, with a plan to start production possibly next year.

Tesla teased the unveiling of the bot on social media with an image of metallic robotic hands making a heart shape. But building human-like, versatile hands that can manipulate different objects is extremely challenging, said Heni Ben Amor, a robotics professor at Arizona State University.
Initially, Optimus, an allusion to the powerful and benevolent leader of the Autobots in the Transformers media franchise, would perform boring or dangerous jobs, including moving parts around Tesla factories or attaching a bolt to a car with a wrench, according to Musk.
“There’s so much about what people can do dexterously that’s very, very hard for robots. And that’s not going to change whether the robot is a robot arm or whether it’s in the shape of a humanoid,” Jonathan Hurst, chief technology officer at Agility Robotics, a humanoid robot firm, told Reuters.
Musk has said that in the future robots could be used in homes, making dinners, mowing the lawn and caring for the elderly, and even becoming a “buddy” for humans or a sex partner.
He is due at Friday’s event to give updates on Tesla’s much-delayed plan to launch self-driving cars, and on its high-speed computer, Dojo, which was unveiled last year and the company has said is integral to its development of self-driving technology.
Musk has said he expects Tesla will achieve full self-driving this year and mass produce a robotaxi with no steering wheel or pedal by 2024.
At an “Autonomy” event in 2019, Musk promised 1 million robotaxis by 2020 but has yet to deliver such a car. 


Hold your horses! Colombian senator rides through Congress

Updated 29 September 2022

Hold your horses! Colombian senator rides through Congress

  • Colombia Congress has allowed members to bring their pets 

BOGOTA, Colombia: Members of Colombia’s Congress can now bring their pets to work, in a world first, and for one senator, wild horses couldn’t have dragged him away from marking the first day of the new rule.
Alirio Barrera showed up to work astride his white horse. 
He first rode through the capital Bogota before steering his steed into the halls of Congress, to make a statement about the importance of horses for the Colombian countryside.
“It is a tribute to the farmers, to the men and women, to the herdsmen who live with horses. To all those people who work in the fields,” he told AFP, holding his horse — named Pasaporte — by the bridle.
Senate president Roy Barreras announced the new policy last week, with his dog lounging in his lap. This makes the Colombian Congress “the first in the world to be pet-friendly,” he said.
For Barrera, “my pet is my horse.”
“If the law is for one, let it be for all.”
But his ride to work rubbed some colleagues the wrong way. Senator Andrea Padilla criticized what she called “an immature attitude with which he wanted to ridicule a good decision.”
“It is not the same thing to take a dog to the office as a horse,” she said. “A horse suffers on the asphalt, on the sidewalk, it suffers on these waxed floors.”
 

 


‘Gangsta’s Paradise’ rapper Coolio dies at age 59

Updated 29 September 2022

‘Gangsta’s Paradise’ rapper Coolio dies at age 59

LOS ANGELES: Coolio, the rapper who was among hip-hop’s biggest names of the 1990s with hits including “Gangsta’s Paradise” and “Fantastic Voyage,” died Wednesday at age 59, his manager said.
Coolio, whose legal name was Artis Leon Ivey Jr., died at the Los Angeles home of a friend, longtime manager Jarez Posey told The Associated Press. The cause was not immediately clear.
Coolio won a Grammy for best solo rap performance for “Gangsta’s Paradise,” the 1995 hit from the soundtrack of the Michelle Pfeiffer film “Dangerous Minds” that sampled Stevie Wonder’s 1976 song “Pastime Paradise.”
He was nominated for five other Grammys during a career that began in the late-1980s.
Born in Monessen, Pennsylvania south of Pittsburgh, Coolio moved to Compton, California, where he went to community college. He worked as a volunteer firefighter and in airport security before devoting himself full-time to the hip-hop scene.
His career took off with the 1994 release of his debut album on Tommy Boy Records, “It Takes a Thief.” It’s opening track, “Fantastic Voyage,” would reach No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100.
A year later, “Gangsta’s Paradise” would become a No. 1 single, with its dark opening lyrics:
“As I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I take a look at my life and realize there’s not much left, ‘cause I’ve been blastin’ and laughin’ so long, that even my mama thinks that my mind is gone.”


David Bowie’s handwritten ‘Starman’ lyrics sell for over £200,000

Updated 27 September 2022

David Bowie’s handwritten ‘Starman’ lyrics sell for over £200,000

  • The handwritten lyrics sold for five times as much as the £40,000 estimate
  • The lyrics were previously on display as part of the V&A Museum's David Bowie Is collection

LONDON: David Bowie’s original handwritten lyrics for the pop classic “Starman,” part of an album that catapulted him to international stardom, on Tuesday sold at auction in Britain for £203,500.
Released as a single in 1972, the song about a Starman who would “like to come and meet us but he thinks he’d blow our minds” featured on the Ziggy Stardust concept album.
The handwritten lyrics sold for five times as much as the £40,000 estimate.
The winning bidder was Olivier Varenne, director of acquisitions and alliances and collections at the Museum of Old and New Art in Tasmania, on behalf of a private collector.
“We had almost unprecedented interest from around the world for this historic piece of memorabilia,” said Paul Fairweather of Omega Auctions.
“We’re very pleased with the incredible price achieved and are sure the lyrics will be rightly prized and treasured by the winning bidder.”
The lyrics were previously on display as part of the V&A Museum’s David Bowie Is collection. They had been owned by the same person since the 1980s.
The A4 page features handwritten amendments and edits by Bowie, including corrected spelling mistakes and additions.
The lyrics were sold as part of a David Bowie and glam rock sale on Tuesday.
In 2019, the first demo of Bowie singing Starman sold for 51,000 pounds after gathering dust in a loft for nearly five decades.
Bowie can be heard telling his guitarist Mick Ronson, who died in 1993, that he has not finished singing the song when he tries to end the demo.
The singer, born David Jones, died aged 69 in New York in 2016.


Outspoken Myanmar beauty queen held by Thai immigration

Updated 23 September 2022

Outspoken Myanmar beauty queen held by Thai immigration

  • Han Lay has been held at Bangkok's main international airport since Thursday after arriving on a flight from Vietnam
  • In a post on her verified Facebook page on Friday, Han Lay said she feared the Myanmar police would come and get her at the airport

BANGKOK: A Myanmar beauty queen who spoke out against the military coup in her homeland appealed Friday for help after being refused entry to Thailand by immigration officials.
Thaw Nandar Aung, better known by her professional moniker Han Lay, has been held at Bangkok’s main international airport since Thursday after arriving on a flight from Vietnam.
She made headlines in March 2021 when she urged the world to “save” the people of Myanmar from the military, which had seized power a month earlier.
Thai immigration officials said she was denied entry to the kingdom because of a problem with her passport.
In a post on her verified Facebook page on Friday, Han Lay said she feared the Myanmar police would come and get her at the airport.
“I request to Thai authority from here please help for me,” she wrote in English, adding that she had contacted the UN refugee agency.
A Thai official told AFP that Myanmar police had not spoken to her and said it was up to her to decide where to fly to from Bangkok.
While in Bangkok competing in the Miss Grand International contest, the former psychology student spoke out against the coup, which ousted the civilian government led by Aung San Suu Kyi.
“I want to say from here to the world: please support the Myanmar people,” she told Thailand’s Khaosod English news outlet.
“So many people die in Myanmar by the guns of the military... Please save us.”
Myanmar has been in chaos since the coup, with the junta struggling to quell resistance to its rule.
A military crackdown on dissent has left more than 2,300 civilians dead, according to a local monitoring group.
The junta puts the civilian death toll at almost 3,900.

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