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Thursday, July 25, 2019

Understanding Bird Song...

The evening chirping signals the rest of the flock to come home before it’s time to be quiet and rest through the night. The birds continue singing until the last rays of light have faded in the evening.

You may have noticed a cacophony of birdsong in the wee hours of the morning. Scientists call this the dawn chorus. It can start as early as 4:00 a.m. and last several hours.

In the early morning, light levels are too dim for birds to do much foraging. Since light levels don't affect social interactions as much, it's a great opportunity to sing, instead.

The songs of birds are learned, not inherited, much as with humans. 

Usually a male that is defending a territory or attracting a mate will sing from one of the highest or most conspicuous spots available.

Birds usually do not sing around their nests. a few may sing a quiet "whisper song" that can be heard for only a few yards.

A bird may sing a song because it is well fed, stress free and happy.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Is India the top producer of solar power in the world ?

In their usual bhakt speak, someone tom-tommed how under Modi’s leadership, india is the largest solar power producer in the world. Is it ?

Till 2018, India had installed 33000 MW of solar power. China had installed 1.76 lakh MW.

The US, Japan and Germany had all installed far more of MW solar power than india.

Even in share of solar power in total electricity consumed, India was doing well at 5 % last year, but was beaten by Germany and Greece at 8 % each, and Italy, Chile and Japan at 7 % each.

India is the most vulnerable among 67 countries to climate risks. Extreme weather events seem to have become the latest risk to India’s renewable energy goals. Freak climatic conditions are damaging renewable energy projects, threatening a business which survives on wafer-thin margins. 

A storm in Rajasthan, known for its deserts and sunny days, tore through a solar park and blew away modules of various developers. In the adjoining state of Madhya Pradesh, a generator found sections of his project submerged in 10 feet of water due to unseasonal rains. 

In 2015, prime minister Narendra Modi’s government set an ambitious target to scale up India’s solar and wind power capacity to 160 gigawatts by 2022.
Capacity addition ramped up soon after the target was announced, but has slouched over 2018, with slow adoption of rooftop solar panels and investors growing wary over the viability of the large-scale projects auctioned by the government.
India’s renewable energy industry is not as hot anymore, and jobs have become harder to come by.
Only about 12,000 new workers found employment at solar and wind projects in the financial year ended March 2019, compared with over 30,000 in the previous year.
Overall, India achieved about 65 % of the capacity addition in renewable energy that it had targeted in the last three years. 
Poor policies are hurting India’s solar energy sector. There has been a dramatic decline in new capacity additions, and the trend is likely to continue. “Total installation of utility projects in financial year 2018-19 is expected at only 4.1 gigawatts (GW), down a very significant 55% over previous year and well short of MNRE’s (ministry of new and renewable energy) 16 GW annual plan,” Bridge to India said in Nov 2018.
Most of the solar panels used in India are imported from China and Malaysia. In July, India imposed a safeguard duty on solar panel imports from the two countries—25% for one year, 20% for the next six months, and 15% for the subsequent six months.
Besides, in September, the Indian government also moved to impose a cap of Rs 2.5 per unit as the maximum price that developers could quote at reverse auctions for solar projects.
This cap, along with the safeguard duty, acts as a “de-facto policy” that deters bidders.
Coal-fired plants generate 72% of India’s electricity. This, combined with the growth of coal-consuming industrial sectors like steel, is why the solid fuel source will continue to be integral to India’s economy in the next couple of decades. 

Tuesday, July 02, 2019


I was following up with a neighbor on keeping the wet and dry waste separate in his flat kitchen. We had last spoken on global warming a few weeks ago. He is a very conscientious man, doing a lot of good to the environment. But these were the mistakes he was making with wet and dry wastes (which hopefully would be corrected after yesterday’s conversation) :

·       He had kept two waste bins for wet and dry waste – one green, one blue. I explained it was not necessary to keep two separate bins – as the waste collector did not have two separate receptacles to collect wet and dry waste and the wet and dry wastes would be mixed in his cart.

·       A big plastic packet would be best for dry waste, hung at the tap below the sink – the kind of packets we get with presents or with big items we buy. we can even buy and keep such packets – as this one plastic packet will save all the rest of the dry waste from being mixed with wet waste and will be recycled itself in any case.

·       The neighbour had not monitored that his maids were putting dry and wet wastes in the different spaces for them correctly. One needs to check for about a week or so and then everyone is habituated.

·        His wet waste bin had a plastic packet into which the wet waste went and was given to the waste collector. I told him plastic mixed in wet waste would keep it from composting in oxygen rich conditions which was best. When wet waste was buried below plastics, the wet waste composted without oxygen – giving rise to lots of methane which was lethal for global warming.

·       In our home we just tear up newspapers in napkin sized pieces, kept ready in a stack in kitchen for various tasks. Such newspaper pieces went to the bottom of the wet waste bin and sides also if needed after it had been washed and dried. They kept the bin from getting too dirty and could be composted with the wet waste.

·       The neighbor was giving out the dry waste daily even if in a separate packet. I told him such small packets would not be collected by rag pickers and would remain mixed in wet waste. Dry waste needs to be stored in the kitchen only in big packets and till it is stuffed full. Takes about a week or so until it is a big bag. Then it has to be securely tied on the top and given to waste collector. Such a bag is worth 100-150 rs. to the ragpicker and is immediately plucked out and processed for the recycling industry.


Into the Boiling Pot..

The planet has experienced 42 straight years (since 1977) with an above-average global temperature.
The past five years have been the five warmest years since records began in the late 1800s. 

The global temperature in 2018 was the fourth-hottest on record, scientists announced in the 1st week of Feb 2019. Only 2016 (warmest), 2015 (second-warmest) and 2017 (third-warmest) were hotter than 2018.

Sharp rises in levels of methane

Sharp rises in levels of methane – which is a powerful greenhouse gas – have strengthened over the past four years. 

Some researchers believe the spread of intense farming in Africa may be involved, in particular in tropical regions where conditions are becoming warmer and wetter because of climate change. 

Rising numbers of cattle – as well as wetter and warmer swamps – are producing more and more methane, it is argued. 

If nothing can be done about the rise in methane levels, then even more cuts will have to be made in CO2 emissions. 

Inefficiencies contributing to global warming

Perhaps as much as half of British emissions, one report recently calculated, come from inefficiencies in construction, discarded and unused food, electronics, and clothing; two-thirds of US energy is wasted; globally, according to one paper, we are subsidising the fossil fuel business to the tune of $5tn each year. None of that has to continue. Americans waste a quarter of their food, which means the carbon footprint of the average meal is a third larger than it has to be. That need not continue. 

Five years ago, hardly anyone outside the darkest corners of the internet had even heard of bitcoin; today, mining it consumes more electricity than is generated by all the world’s solar panels combined, which means that in just a few years we’ve assembled a programme to wipe out the gains of several long, hard generations of green energy innovation. It did not have to be that way. And a simple change to the algorithm could eliminate that bitcoin footprint entirely.

Will Forest Fires be our nemesis ?

In southern California, December is meant to bring the start of rainy season. Not in 2017. The Thomas fire, the worst of those that roiled the region that year, grew 50,000 acres in one day, eventually burning 440 sq miles and forcing the evacuations of more than 100,000 Californians. A week after it was sparked, it remained, in the ominous semi-clinical language of wildfires, merely “15% contained”.

Five of the 20 worst fires in California history hit the state in the autumn of 2017, a year in which more than 9,000 separate fires broke out, burning through almost 1.25 m acres – nearly 2,000 sq miles made soot. 

In the summer of 2018, the fires were fewer in number, totalling only 6,000. But just one, made up of a whole network of fires, together called the Mendocino Complex, burned almost half a million acres alone. 

In total, nearly 3,000 sq miles in California turned to flame, and smoke blanketed almost half the country. 

Things were worse to the north, in British Columbia, where more than 3 m acres burned, producing smoke that would travel across the Atlantic to Europe

Then, in November, came the Woolsey Fire, which forced the evacuation of 170,000, and the Camp Fire, which was somehow worse, burning through more than 200 square miles and incinerating an entire town so quickly that the evacuees, 50,000 of them, found themselves sprinting past exploding cars, their sneakers melting to the asphalt as they ran. It was the deadliest fire in Californian history.

When trees die – by natural processes, by fire, at the hands of humans – they release into the atmosphere the carbon stored within them, sometimes for as long as centuries. In this way, they are like coal. This is why the effect of wildfires on emissions is among the most feared climate feedback loops – that the world’s forests, which have typically been carbon sinks, would become carbon sources, unleashing all that stored gas. 

The impact can be especially dramatic when the fires ravage forests arising out of peat. Peatland fires in Indonesia in 1997, for instance, released up to 2.6gigatons (Gt) of carbon – 40% of the average annual global emissions level. 

The train-wreck journey from 2 C to 4 C average rise in global temperature

At 2Cthe ice sheets will begin their collapse, bringing, over centuries, 50 metres of sea-level rise. 

An additional 400 million people will suffer from water scarcity, major cities in the equatorial band of the planet will become unlivable, and even in the northern latitudes heatwaves will kill thousands each summer. 

There would be 32 times as many extreme heatwaves in India, and each would last five times as long, exposing 93 times more people. This is our best-case scenario. 

At 3C, southern Europe would be in permanent drought, and the average drought in Central America would last 19 months longer. 

In northern Africa, the figure is 60 months longer: five years. 

At 4C, there would be 8m more cases of dengue fever each year in Latin America alone and close to annual global food crises. 

Damages from river flooding would grow thirty-fold in Bangladesh, twenty-fold in India, and as much as sixty-fold in the UK. 

Globally, damages from climate-driven natural disasters could pass $600tn – more than twice the wealth that exists in the world today. Conflict and warfare could double.

Economic impacts of disasters

Major natural disasters can and do have severe negative short-run economic impacts. Disasters also appear to have adverse longer-term consequences for economic growth, development and poverty reduction. 

A full reassessment of the economic and financial impact of a major disaster should be made 18 to 24 months after the event.

Government's misuse of the Life Insurance Corporation of India

I have been reading about how Life Insurance Corporation (LIC) is dangerously close to its minimum reserves.

IRDAI approval to LIC to acquire a further stake in IDBI Bank was in clear violation of the Insurance Act, which does not allow any insurance company to acquire more than 15 per cent stake in another company. 

A pet format for politicians and senior government officials to steal from us :

  1. Prevail upon bankers to give loans to corporates who don’t intend paying that money back to the bank. Witness the 900 crores given to Mallya by IDBI Bank. The money given away is your and my deposits with the bank.
  2. When the bank cannot pay its depositors back when the depositors need their money, infuse capital into the banks from tax money taken from you and me. The Govt. put 10,000 crores into IDBI Bank a while ago.
  3. When the government feels short of money – simply raid into another depository of our savings – the LIC. Force them to put money into banks the politicians and senior Government officials caused to fail. LIC put  23000 crores in buying Government’s stake in a seriously loss making bank and is being asked to shell out another 10,000 crores as IDBI isn’t on its feet still.
Just six months after the Govt. forced LIC to pay it 21000 crores to pick up its stake in failing IDBI bank, the bank has requested LIC for a further 10,000 crores to make up for the money it gifted away to scammer corporates. Yet the same bank lost 4000 crores in just one quarter ending Dec 2018.

BJP leader Yashwant Sinha's comment after the ONGC stake sales, "This is daylight robbery," might look more reasonable to some. 

LIC has the insurance money of nearly 20 % Indians.

LIC holds 25 % stake in Infrastructure Leasing and Financial Services (IL&FS). The heavily debt laden IL&FS has been on a loan defaulting spree

Over the years, LIC has become the rescuer of anything that goes wrong in the world of financeThe money that LIC has, is the premium paid by its policyholders. Hence, unlike taxes paid by the taxpayers, this money does not belong to the government. It belongs to the policyholders of LIC.

It is worth remembering that LIC is not an asset reconstruction company or a distressed assets management fund or a vulture fund, which buys troubled assets cheaply and then tries to revive and sell them. It doesn't have any expertise in managing and running financial institutions, which are in trouble.

LIC has investments in 20 public sector banks, along with owning IDBI Bank. Given the mess in public sector banks, LIC already has a huge risk built into its investment portfolio.

Why are our homes cooler than our neighbours ?

Friends from Kochi, Chennai, Mumbai and Bhiwadi asked me how to cope with the heat when home. I have shared some ideas before. Am reiterating some of them again.

My claim is that our homes have been way cooler than our neighbours’ facing the same orientation with same flat design. Everyone who visits remarks how cool our homes are in summer.

Our homes are not only cool, but continuously provide some interaction with nature (most homes remain largely shut off from it), and more fresh air than available in a normal home.

The principle components to address heat loads at your home are : 1 Roof. 2. Windows 3. Ventilation 4. Shading open areas around your home. We will let the discussion on roofs be for now, but can have it if one of you wants to.


Windows are typically only 18% of the overall house but account for 50% of a home’s energy loss. Single paned glass windows are about 15 times less insulated than the typical walls and roof of a well-built house.

Indian homes normally have casement windows of 3 mm glass, pictured below.

Picture by Karl Gruber
I was surprised to discover today that the casement windows we are used to in india have much lower performance on many parameters than do louvre windows, including on cross ventilation. A louvre window is pictured below but I have not seen it used in the Indian context in living areas.

If ever some window glasses break and have to be replaced, you may consider thicker glass as replacement, say 10mm. It is better at noise control and passes 10 % less solar radiation into your home. It also conducts heat 5 % less than the normally used 3 mm glass.
But double glazing – having two parallel fixed glass window panes rather than one, can lessen transfer of heat through glass (conductivity) by more than half compared to a single window glass. And it can lessen solar radiation (how much sunlight passes through the glass) by 25 %.

We did our double glazing cheaply without breaking the window frames - by installing a second fixed glass of 6 mm inside for windows we did not wish to open. It was fixed where the jali windows wld have come had we wanted them. The openable glass windows on the outside were replaced by 8 mm fixed glass. Having varying thickness of glass creates better sound insulation as well.


SUNBLOCK roller blinds OUTSIDE glass windows and doors will reduce conduction of heat by one-third over SINGLE glass windows alone, and reduce solar radiation by over 40 %.
But sunblock roller blinds outside DOUBLE glass windows will reduce heat conduction and solar radiation by two-thirds.

Thick CURTAINS INSIDE will perfom only half as much to block heat as sunblock roller blinds outside. The same roller blinds inside, will perform much better than curtains.

VENETIAN blinds, a picture of which is given below, apparently perform inside better than curtains, but I have not yet begun using them.

My experience with using FILMS on glass says, the films cut out only light and still let in nearly all of the heat.

For any window covering, curtain or roller blind, lighter colours or WHITE are much better to reflect heat than darker colours, and make a substantial difference to heat gain inside the building.


I know of just ONE household that uses ventilation like we do – and they too, say their home is much cooler than their neighbours.

So what is it that we are doing ? When outside air feels cooler than inside (anywhere from 6-11 pm these days), we open ALL possible windows and doors fully, and let them be open till about 8-9 am the next morning.

In our present 850 sq feet utsav flat for example, there are EIGHT openings to the outside – all are opened and closed as per schedule.

When the outside air feels warmer than inside in the morning, we shut doors and windows, only to open them again in evening.


If the areas around your home are hot, they will RADIATE heat inside. So balconies, aangans and soil areas around your home should be protected from getting hot.
We do this by hanging thick plastic or canvas curtains outside our balconies (once these are gone we will graduate to sunblock roller blinds).

We have trees and vines shade large areas around the house, also installing green nursery cloth at roof level over open areas as needed.

We have had garden areas with ground soil surrounding our house / flat for only 10 years.
For twenty years before that, we only had balconies / paved areas outside/around the house.

We planted TALL TREES IN POTS (even 10-12 inch diameter pots will support 6-8 feet tall trees and bushes) and placed them outside windows and in paved areas around the house so they brought coolness and gave us the feeling of gardens.

Air Conditioners and the Summer Heat

A report has estimated that there is at least 40 per cent difference between summer and winter afternoon peak and 60 per cent difference in the summer and winter evening peak in cities like Delhi because of electricity demand from ACs.

Delhi’s peak demand has doubled in last 10 years, growing faster than the population of the city. This reflects wider use of AC as primary cooling device in place of desert cooler and fans.

Air conditioners consume 6-10 times the electricity of coolers.

Peak power deficit in India stood at 0.8 per cent and the overall energy deficit remained 0.6 per cent in 2018-19. We may soon be a power surplus nation after a long journey to get there. But in so doing we have been sharply increasing our carbon emissions over the years.

Room air conditioners must be responsible for almost a third of the electricity consumed by homes and offices in 2014-15 as reported by the Central Electricity Authority.

Energy Efficiency Ratio (EER) is calculated as the rated capacity of the system (how much does it cool) divided by its rated total power input. So a 1.5 ton ac which has cooling capacity of 5000 w and uses 1500 w as power input has an EER of 3.3 (5000 divided by 1500).

A minimum EER of 2.7 is allowed in india, given star rating 1. That would be equivalent to a cooling capacity of 4000 w with a power input of 1500 w.

India’s 5 star EER rating starts at 3.3+. Japan’s is double and even china uses ACs rated at 6 EER.

The advert released on 23 March 2015 by Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE) showed that the models of Samsung, Godrej, Panasonic, O General, Whirlpool, IFB and Videocon had failed the compliance test. Their 3 star and 4 star Room Air Conditioners (RAC) models could not qualify for even 1 star rating. No reports on compliance have been made public by BEE since the publishing of advert in March 2015.

Tests done recently found that even the highest rated energy efficient AC in our country will perform at two-third efficiency as the outside temperature reaches 50 c. Power consumption will go up by 28 percent while cooling capacity comes down by 20 per.

In fact, Energy efficiency drops by 2.5 per cent for every degree rise in external ambient temperature above 35 degree C. And power consumption rises by 2 per for every degree rise over 35 c. Ability of the ac to remove heat from the room drops by 1.3 per for every degree rise above 35 c.

Tests found that on average, ACs in india deliver only 77 per of their stated cooling capacity even at 35 c ambient temperature. This further decreases by 11 per when the temp climbs to 50 c.

The EER is calculated at about 27 c internal temperature. If the ac is set to achieve a lower temperature inside, then there is a further 2 per drop in EER for every degree of lower temp.

Thus in both situations – when the ambient temperature outside is 35 C but internal temperature that the AC has to achieve has been set at 20 C, the efficiency of the appliance drops by over a third.  And it drops by a third even when the ambient temperature outside is 50 C and the internal temperature to be achieved is 27 C.

Average drop in cooling capacity was measured at 20 per cent when the thermostats setting was lowered from the standard 27 degree C to 20 degree C.

Overall, in both situations – when the ambient temperature outside is 35 C but internal temperature that the AC has to achieve has been set at 20 C, there is a drop in cooling capacity to 70 %. There is a similar drop in cooling when the ambient temperature outside is 50 C and internal temperature to be achieved is 27 C.

There was also a 5% drop in efficiency with 55 % humidity. This is expected to be higher if 90 % humidity were applied.

Dense urban areas and highly commercial areas in Delhi have urban heat island effect with temperatures in these areas higher by 8-11 C compared with the city’s ambient temperature at the time.

For instance average ambient temperature conditions in Delhi in months of April, May and June is about 38 degree C but micro-climate of Connaught Place, central business district in Delhi, during same time would be 46-48 degree C. Also RACs themselves contribute to the heat island by warming up the immediate environment outside.

Tests in Tokyo indicate that raising the air conditioner’s thermostat from 26 C to 28 C and using an electric fan can reduce electricity consumption by up to 22 percent. After the Fukushima disaster when Japan faced major power crisis, Japanese government mandated that all ACs in the country should not run at temperature setting lower than 28 C. It introduced Bush Shirt rule to relax dress code in work place to encourage comfortable clothing.