Activities out in the sticks may add more to GDP than was thought … India’s villages and towns, far from the gaze of foreigners and the urban elite, have been on a tear. Over the past decade new roads have been built. Almost everybody these days has a mobile phone. Electricity has become more common, as have computerised land records. Fewer people have to spend time collecting firewood, using bottled gas instead. New houses built with walls and floors of brick or cement are more durable than wooden huts, and need less maintenance. … It means people can turn their energy to starting businesses and escaping subsistence farming. Poultry production is booming, as it has become easier to get chickens to market. Villagers eat more processed food—India’s artery-clogging pudding, gulab jamun, now comes in packets, made in small factories in nearby towns. Better communications are vital. … A bigger economy is good news, but it raises two questions. First, can the informal economy be insulated from the problems affecting the rest of India? … The second question is how swiftly India can bring its black economy into the daylight.
A plan to export electricity looks cursed ...WAR in Afghanistan, corruption and regional rivalries: until recently these were the main hurdles to a $1.2 billion, American-backed project to send surplus electricity from Central Asia to energy-hungry Afghanistan and Pakistan. Now comes another: there is unlikely to be any surplus electricity. ... The concept, first aired eight years ago, was simple. In summer, when Afghanistan and Pakistan most need electricity, melting snow fills hydropower reservoirs beyond capacity in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. The idea was to harness the spillover, generating electricity to send south along a transmission line to needier places (see map). In winter, as rivers freeze and both former Soviet republics themselves face dire electricity shortages, all the electricity generated would be kept at home. ... But in the years since Western governments mooted the 1,200-kilometre (750-mile) power line, known as CASA-1000, electricity shortages in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan have worsened. This summer, to conserve water in readiness for the winter, Kyrgyzstan is actually importing electricity from Tajikistan.
Coal? Or the Sun? The power source India chooses may decide the fate of the entire planet. ... Already Earth’s fastest-growing major economy and its biggest weapons importer, India is on track to become the world’s most populous nation (probably by 2022), to have its biggest economy (possibly by 2048), and potentially to build its biggest military force (perhaps by 2040). What China was in the American imagination in the 1990s and 2000s, India will be in the next two decades—a cavalcade of superlatives, a focus of fears. ... officials and academics have long argued that Western nations are demanding that India industrialize without burning even a fraction of the fossil fuels that developed nations consumed when they industrialized. And Indians resent that Western nations insist on the right to judge Indian performance while refusing to help with the cost of transition. ... India’s demand for electricity is widely expected to double by 2030. …= Soon after being elected prime minister in 2014, he announced that India would produce 100 gigawatts of solar power by 2022 (the US now has about 20 gigawatts). ... To generate electricity from it, India plans to build 455 new coal-fired electric power plants, more than any other nation—indeed, more than the US now has. (India’s existing 148 plants, which provide two-thirds of its electricity, are among the world’s dirtiest and most inefficient.)
A critical part of any analysis of high-renewable systems is the cost of backup thermal power and/or storage needed to meet demand during periods of low renewable generation. These costs are substantial; as a result, levelized costs of wind and solar are not the right tools to use in assessing the total cost of a high-renewable system ... High-renewable grids reduce CO2 emissions by 65%-70% in Germany and 55%-60% in California vs. the current grid. Reason: backup thermal capacity is idle for much of the year ... High-renewable grid costs per MWh are 1.9x the current system in Germany, and 1.5x in California. Costs fall to 1.6x in Germany and 1.2x in California assuming long-run “learning curve” declines in wind, solar and storage costs, higher nuclear plant costs and higher natural gas fuel costs ... The cost of time-shifting surplus renewable generation via storage has fallen, but its cost, intermittent utilization and energy loss result in higher per MWh system costs when it is added ... Balanced systems with nuclear power have lower estimated costs and CO2 emissions than high-renewable systems. However, there’s enormous uncertainty regarding the actual cost of nuclear power in the US and Europe, rendering balanced system assessments less reliable. Nuclear power is growing in Asia where plant costs are 20%-30% lower, but political, historical, economic, regulatory and cultural issues prevent these observations from being easily applied outside of Asia ... National/cross-border grid expansion, storing electricity in electric car batteries, demand management and renewable energy overbuilding are often mentioned as ways of reducing the cost of high-renewable systems. However, each relies to some extent on conjecture, insufficient empirical support and/or incomplete assessments of related costs
Warren Buffett controls Nevada’s legacy utility. Elon Musk is behind the solar company that’s upending the market. Let the fun begin. ... SolarCity’s success is partly because the government provides subsidies and enables an arrangement called net metering, which allows homeowners with panels to sell back to the grid any solar energy they don’t use. This helps offset their cost of power when the sun’s not shining. Like more than 40 other U.S. states, Nevada forces utilities to buy the excess energy at rates set by regulators—usually the same rate utilities charge (hence, the net in net metering). In Nevada, it’s worked well. So well, in fact, that NV Energy, the state’s largest utility, is fighting it with everything it’s got. ... In just a decade, solar has gone from an enviro’s dream to a serious lobby that will be fighting these kinds of battles nationwide for years. ... Power companies may not be winning any popularity contests, but they’re developing their own renewable energy to keep up with changing attitudes and to meet state mandates.
Immune Engineering: Genetically engineered immune cells are saving the lives of cancer patients. That may be just the start.
Precise Gene Editing in Plants: CRISPR offers an easy, exact way to alter genes to create traits such as disease resistance and drought tolerance.
Conversational Interfaces: Powerful speech technology from China’s leading Internet company makes it much easier to use a smartphone.
Reusable Rockets: Rockets typically are destroyed on their maiden voyage. But now they can make an upright landing and be refueled for another trip, setting the stage for a new era in spaceflight.
Robots That Teach Each Other: What if robots could figure out more things on their own and share that knowledge among themselves?
DNA App Store: An online store for information about your genes will make it cheap and easy to learn more about your health risks and predispositions.
SolarCity’s Gigafactory: A $750 million solar facility in Buffalo will produce a gigawatt of high-efficiency solar panels per year and make the technology far more attractive to homeowners.
Slack: A service built for the era of mobile phones and short text messages is changing the workplace.
Tesla Autopilot: The electric-vehicle maker sent its cars a software update that suddenly made autonomous driving a reality.
Power from the Air: Internet devices powered by Wi-Fi and other telecommunications signals will make small computers and sensors more pervasive.
Just a few tens of nanometres across, they are among a growing array of 'nanolights' that researchers are tailoring to specific types of fluorescence: the ability to absorb light at one wavelength and re-emit it at another. ... Many naturally occurring compounds can do this, from jellyfish proteins to some rare-earth compounds. But nanolights tend to be much more stable, versatile and easier to prepare — which makes them attractive for users in both industry and academia. ... Nanolights have already begun to find application in areas ranging from flat-screen displays to biochemical tests. And researchers are working towards even more ambitious uses in fields such as solar energy, DNA mapping, motion sensing and even surgery. ... Light is emitted when electrons are kicked up to higher energy levels by some outside source, such as ultraviolet light, then fall back down to lower levels.
The U.S. electric system is in danger of widespread blackouts lasting days, weeks or longer through the destruction of sensitive, hard-to-replace equipment. Yet records are so spotty that no government agency can offer an accurate tally of substation attacks, whether for vandalism, theft or more nefarious purposes. ... Most substations are unmanned and often protected chiefly by chain-link fences. Many have no electronic security, leaving attacks unnoticed until after the damage is done. Even if there are security cameras, they often prove worthless. In some cases, alarms are simply ignored. ... the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which regulates the country’s interstate power system, began requiring that utilities better protect any substation that could disable parts of the U.S. grid if attacked. ... FERC’s new rule, however, doesn’t extend to tens of thousands of smaller substations ... The grid was cobbled together during the electrification of the U.S. over the past 125 years. It is a fragile, interdependent system generally more vulnerable in summer when it is running closer to its limits. It is also at risk during low-demand periods, when power-plant operators and linemen perform maintenance. Fewer plants and transmission lines operating mean fewer options for delivering electricity during emergencies.
Is there a workable business model for products that are built to last, rather than to fall apart? This is an idea that I explored here in July, in a story about the L.E.D. quandary. That quandary, in short: companies are making a good thing—light-emitting-diode bulbs that conserve energy and last for years—but they can’t make money in the long run from products that rarely need replacing. As global light sockets fill with L.E.D.s, century-old corporate titans are getting out of the bulb business even before “socket saturation” tips sales into a decline. The question remains whether any company has an incentive to make a product that is not designed to fall apart or become obsolete.
Since launching in 2006, it has raised billions of dollars and installed hundreds of thousands of home solar systems, more than anyone in America. But lately SolarCity is in deep trouble. Customers aren't signing up in the numbers they did two years ago, back when oil was trading at more than $100 a barrel. U.S. lawmakers are investigating the company's financial practices. Earlier this year, in the span of two months, the company's stock lost 70 percent of its value. ... The company, in fact, could be one of the most risk-laden in operation today. To install solar systems across 27 states and Mexico, SolarCity takes on gobs and gobs of debt — billions of dollars a year. The eventual goal is to create a massive network of home solar systems. The problem is, if customers stop paying their SolarCity energy bills or investors stop lending, the company will blow up like the subprime housing bubble. ... As they built solar systems on one rooftop after another, they also burned through more and more cash. To attract more lenders, the company packaged and resold the debt to banks as complex bonds and other financial products that handed the financiers shares of SolarCity's tax credits.
Sensors gave machines the ability to perceive things like light, altitude, and moisture by converting stimuli into ones and zeros. The coming revolution will be filled with what are called “actuators,” which do the reverse. They allow machines to simplify our world by converting those ones and zeros back into some form of force, such as light or magnetic waves, or even physical pressure that can push objects. The actuator, like the sensor before it, is part of technology’s relentless quest to make machines do more and more things with greater and greater efficiency, as epitomized by the microprocessor, the most efficient information device ever made. ... whole industries will be reshaped. The market for fossil fuels, for example, will suffer a new setback, as power for your electric vehicle can be delivered from a simple charging plate that works in much the same way your Apple Watch gets juiced up in its cradle. The life-sciences market will have to adjust to a world where tests can be performed and therapies delivered from a capsule you swallow to detect cancer. And robots that use actuators to move parts with great precision—and can be recharged wirelessly—will take on more manufacturing tasks. ... One of the most promising is made of a compound of gallium and nitride, referred to as GaN. It’s far more efficient than silicon at converting the movement of electrons into energy radiating outward.
Williams’ discovery of the mysterious block was followed by dozens of reports of similar findings on beaches across western Europe. The blocks, materializing from the Atlantic surf, would cast the spotlight on gutta percha, a Victorian commodity whose obscurity belied its crucial place in modern communications. The humble latex would accelerate global telecommunications to a previously unimagined pace; cement the British empire’s grip over the world’s critical messaging systems; and spur industry and academia to devise some of the foundational theories of modern physics. ... The Victorian system of submarine cables literally laid the foundation, in many cases, for today’s fiber-optic networks. The globe-spanning networks of the day spawned business titans, and technological innovators, that bear close parallels to today’s internet-enabled tycoons. Gutta percha was largely replaced by polyethylene by the 1950s, ending a century of industrial telecommunications use. ... in 1832, a Scottish surgeon stationed in Singapore with the East India Company named William Montgomerie wrote a paper about gutta percha’s unique properties: it could be moulded in hot water but it hardened as it cooled. ... It was as if the Elon Musks or Steve Jobs of the day were all focused on the same, potentially world-altering technology. ... Pender’s businesses left a legacy. Vestiges of his cable empire live on in today’s telecom conglomerates. His firms formed the core of Cable & Wireless
Then, last June, the renovation team discovered Ketra, an LED lighting startup from Austin that promised some pretty big things. ... The first was what Ketra calls “natural light”: white light sources that imperceptibly change their color and intensity throughout the day to mimic the lighting conditions outside. The second was an extreme degree of control. Ketra lights could be wirelessly grouped into zones of any number of lights that could all be separately adjusted via custom software on a wall panel, computer, or phone. The third was precision. Each Ketra bulb contained a patented sensor that measured its own color 360 times a minute to make sure the light being produced was the light being requested. Ketra was selling precisely measured, nature-approximating light, accessible throughout the massive office at the press of a button. ... who really needs them? Being all things to all people doesn’t come cheap. A single Ketra bulb costs about $100. ... before you can sell millions of dollars of high-tech lighting to some of the world’s biggest companies, you have to convince them that there is a very big problem with their light. ... At the heart of Ketra’s tech is an LED chip capable of temperature-optical feedback, which senses heat and color output in real time and adjusts itself according to that data.
In the industrialized world, the power grid is so reliable that we take it for granted. But in India, where blackouts are a sad fact of daily life, being connected to the grid is no guarantee of reliable electricity. In a 2015 study of villages in six Indian states [PDF], for example, the vast majority reported having fewer than 4 hours of electricity per day; nearly half of the households that reported having a grid connection nevertheless had effectively no electricity. Chief among the reasons they cited were poor reliability, quality, and affordability. In many parts of the country, even middle-income households still find themselves held hostage to frequent power cuts that can last anywhere from a few hours a day to most of the day. Those who can afford to often install diesel generators, an expensive and polluting option. ... Then, too, roughly a quarter of a billion Indians, or one-fifth of the population, live without access to any electricity at all ... The Indian government has taken a traditional approach to electrification, which focuses on building up generation, transmission, and distribution. But there’s a better way that’s more affordable, more efficient, and much faster and easier to deploy.
CATL, which had capacity to produce 7.6 gigawatt hours of batteries last year according to Goldman Sachs, says that by 2020 it plans to produce more than the gigafactory, the Tesla Motors and Panasonic joint venture that opened in Nevada in January and is expected to be the largest producer in the US. That would potentially make it the biggest battery factory in the world. ... Backed by aggressive government policies —ranging from subsidies for electric vehicles to restrictions on foreign rivals — China’s battery companies are beginning to dominate an industry which has been led for three decades by South Korean and Japanese manufacturers such as Panasonic, which makes the battery cells for Tesla cars. ... As carmakers invest more heavily in electric vehicles the lithium-ion battery will be a key technology for at least the next decade ... worth $40bn by 2025 and dominated by China.
Already, the four companies that in 2015 provided 88 percent of the world’s lithium can’t keep up: Lithium contract prices have increased from $4,000 per metric ton in 2014 to as high as $20,000 today. ... That’s why a host of junior entrants are scrambling to get into the game. Whoever can figure out the extraction and chemistry required to get lithium out of the ground and into batteries stands to capture a significant share of the market. But as with any commodity, it’s a precarious business. ... Lithium can be mined from rocks, as in Australia and China, but in Clayton Valley and the lithium triangle it’s extracted from briny aquifers. ... The best hope new entrants have of catching Albemarle lies in a process being developed by Tenova SpA, an Italian engineering company. This method, which strips the lithium using an ion-exchange system and returns the water to the ground, would allow companies to skip evaporation ponds, slashing production time from months to hours while yielding a higher concentration of lithium.
The market for portable battery packs generated $360 million in the 12 months ending in March 2017 in the US alone. The brands behind these packs are largely anonymous — Kmashi, Jackery, and iMuto — and they often stay that way. ... Except Anker. The steady rise of the company’s profile is proof that it’s possible to meet one very specific consumer need and ride that wave as it continues to ripple out to other markets. A majority of Anker’s sales come from cables and wall chargers, and it’s now moving into the smart home and auto market — anywhere a plug and a cable can solve a problem. ... Yang and his team started a company with the sole purpose of selling a better third-party accessory. But they stumbled onto a more lucrative reality: mobile phones, once niche luxury items, are now ubiquitous centerpieces of our digital lives. Each of these phones, and all the products that connect to them, need their own cable and plug. And each and every day these devices die before we want them to. ... In many ways, Anker’s success is born from the failures of premier manufacturers like Apple and Samsung. Where those companies introduce points of friction — like ever-thinner devices with short battery lives — Anker offers a remedy. ... Anker takes a more straightforward approach by solving the inevitable problems technology creates.
There are about as many people living without electricity today as there were when Thomas Edison lit his first light bulb. More than half are in sub-Saharan Africa. Europe and the Americas are almost fully electrified, and Asia is quickly catching up, but the absolute number of Africans without power remains steady. A World Bank report, released in May, predicted that, given current trends, there could still be half a billion people in sub-Saharan Africa without power by 2040. Even those with electricity can’t rely on it: the report noted that in Tanzania power outages were so common in 2013 that they cost businesses fifteen per cent of their annual sales. Ghanaians call their flickering power dum/sor, or “off/on.” Vivian Tsadzi, a businesswoman who lives not far from the Akosombo Dam, which provides about a third of the nation’s power, said that most of the time “it’s dum dum dum dum.” The dam’s head of hydropower generation, Kwesi Amoako, who retired last year, told me that he is proud of the structure, which created the world’s largest man-made lake. But there isn’t an easy way to increase the country’s hydropower capacity, and drought, caused by climate change, has made the system inconsistent, meaning that Ghana will have to look elsewhere for electricity. “I’ve always had the feeling that one of the main thrusts should be domestic solar,” Amoako said. “And I think we should put the off-grid stuff first, because the consumer wants it so badly.” ... Electrifying Africa is one of the largest development challenges on earth. Until recently, most people assumed that the continent would electrify in the same manner as the rest of the globe. ... Solar electricity, on the other hand, has become inexpensive, in part because the price of solar panels has fallen at the same time that the efficiency of light bulbs and appliances has dramatically increased. ... It will be years before it makes financial sense for solar companies to expand to the most remote and challenging regions of the continent.
- Also: Ars Technica - Solar energy has plunged in price—where does it go from here? 5-15min
- Also: Motherboard - We’re a Cheap Battery Away From Phasing Out Fossil Fuels < 5min
- Also: Quartz - IIT: An Indian berry contains a crucial ingredient for creating cheap solar cells < 5min
- Also: Los Angeles Times - China has conquered Kenya': Inside Beijing's new strategy to win African hearts and minds < 5min
- Also: Stanford - Bringing Online Shopping to Rural Africa, One Shopkeeper at a Time < 5min