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When Lucy line Wanja Silas installed a 12-volt solar power unit at her home to help her children study at night, little did she know it would become essential to her and her neighbors in Gakunga village, central Kenya, during the coronavirus pandemic?

Wanja, a 48-year-old farmworker, said she had not made any money since the country’s lockdown started in March, but the solar photovoltaic (PV) unit she purchased in January means she no longer needs to buy kerosene for lamplight.

And she can also help others in her area who are without electricity, either because of faults on power lines around the country due to heavy rains since March or because they could not pay their bills after losing their jobs during the pandemic.

“My neighbors who are experiencing blackouts now come to me so that I can charge their phones for them for a fee,” she said, adding that they pay 20 to 50 Kenyan shillings ($0.19-0.46).

“There is no money out there. I do not know what I could be used to buy kerosene if I had not installed this solar unit.”

With extreme weather and the economic impact of COVID-19 plunging many Kenyans into darkness, alternative energy sources are increasingly important – even for families connected to the grid, said Pamela Mukami Njeru, a community health volunteer in the central Mt. Kenya region.

One in four Kenyans – mostly in rural areas – do not have access to electricity. Those who do face high costs and frequent blackouts due to unreliable supply.

As cases of the novel coronavirus continue to climb in Kenya, the lack of reliable power can be a matter of life and death, said Njeru, whose work involves taking patients with urgent health problems to and from hospital.

“Without a power source, families facing an emergency are not able to keep their mobile phones charged to call us. This is how having a solar unit which can supply power all day and night can save lives,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

In early May, Kenya suffered a nationwide blackout that lasted about six hours, and the following month, more than 20 counties lost electricity for about 10 hours.

Bernard Ngugi, managing director of the Kenya Power and Lighting Company, told reporters in June that the blackouts were the result of work being done by the company to replace damaged power lines or to upgrade the network to connect new customers.


Wanja had hoped to be one of them. She applied for an electricity connection in 2016, but local officials said her application was turned down because she lived too far from the main road.

Worried the kerosene lamps she used for lighting could cause a fire or the toxic fumes would harm her children’s health, she decided to put some of her savings into buying a solar system.

Now she has power through the blackouts, she saves the dollar a week she used to spend on kerosene and her children can study safely, she said.

“Sometimes I would even take the tin lamp to use in the kitchen, leaving my children in darkness. But now I do not have to because there is solar lighting in my kitchen,” Wanja said.

If more Kenyans switched to solar, the move could also help curb climate change, according to a 2018 report by Stockholm Environment Institute Africa researchers.

Replacing smoky fuels such as kerosene, wood and charcoal with solar energy could help reduce emissions in Kenya by 1.8 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2030, it said.

In 2015, less than 1% of Kenya’s electricity came from solar – with most generated from fossil fuels, hydropower and geothermal energy – but the country has the potential to push that up to more than 7% by 2030, the report added.

The researchers linked the slow uptake of solar energy to high investment costs in recent years, noting that upfront costs involved in generating one kilowatt of energy from solar were more than three times as much as those for hydropower.

“We have the solutions and we have the technologies. But the important thing is up-scaling these so that renewable energy generation can become cheaper in Africa,” said Mbeo Ogeya, one of the report’s authors.


Stephen Nzioka, deputy director of renewable energy at Kenya’s Ministry of Energy and Petroleum, said the costs of solar energy are falling.

A report published in June by the International Renewable Energy Agency noted that the cost of utility-scale PV solar power dropped by more than 80% between 2010 and last year.

“We are encouraging renewable energy technologies and (their) dissemination, but also combining mini-grids with solar PV systems,” said Nzioka, adding that the government had removed import duty on solar products.

Harriet Lamb, CEO of British climate charity Ashden, has called for investors, governments and philanthropic groups to create a $35-million fund to support community-based clean-energy businesses during the COVID-19 outbreak, as customers struggle to pay.

“Off-grid solar offers a lifeline for around 470 million people, keeping lights on and equipment working in health facilities, small businesses and households,” she said in a statement earlier this month.

“But some clean energy businesses are vulnerable to collapse without support to see them through the pandemic.”

Wanja said the weekly payments she makes on her solar unit work out at 55 Kenyan shillings a day.

Yet, while the government is now easing the coronavirus lockdown, she still has no work – so even that small but essential cost is proving too much.

“Much of my income comes from doing menial jobs, but now there are none because of COVID-19. I cannot afford to pay the daily fee. We need help,” she said.

($1 = 107.9000 Kenyan shillings)

Source – https://www.reuters.com/article/us-kenya-energy-solar-feature-trfn/solar-keeps-lights-phones-on-for-rural-kenyans-during-pandemic-blackouts-idUSKCN24O20X


News, Solar

As a relatively rare and expensive heavy metal, cobalt serves as a vital but costly part of today’s lithium batteries, not just in terms of price but also for the environment and well-being of those tasked with mining it

Due to its excellent conductivity and durability throughout charging cycles, cobalt has served as a key material in the cathode of lithium batteries since its inception, but it has come under fire lately due to the harmful effects of the related mining operations. These include exposing workers to dangerous levels of toxic metals, but also the degradation of natural landscapes and water supplies.

So there is considerable interest in sourcing alternatives, with some promising possibilities to emerge of late, including an experimental battery developed at IBM that uses materials sourced from saltwater instead.

The University of Texas at Austin team is throwing another candidate into the mix, having developed a new class of cathodes that don’t involve cobalt at all. Generally speaking, the cathode of a lithium battery is made from a mix of metal ions including cobalt, nickel, and aluminum. Cobalt is the most expensive of these elements and can account for around half the materials cost of the entire battery.

“Cobalt is the least abundant and most expensive component in battery cathodes,” says study author Arumugam Manthiram. “And we are completely eliminating it.”

The team achieved this by tweaking the recipe to produce a cathode made of 89 percent nickel, with the rest formed from manganese and aluminum. The key, the researchers say, is that during the synthesis the ions of these different metals are distributed evenly across the cathode. This overcomes a key shortcoming with other designs, where the ions bunch up in places and degrade the performance of the battery.

In addition to overcoming this fatal flaw, the team says the new battery has some other advantages. The higher nickel content enables the battery to store more energy, which would mean a greater range for electric vehicles or longer battery life for mobile devices per charge. The team has created a new startup to try and bring new technology to the market.

“We are increasing the energy density and lowering the cost without sacrificing cycle life,” Manthiram said. “This means longer driving distances for electric vehicles and better battery life for laptops and cellphones.”


News, Renewable, Solar

Despite making significant progress in solar power generation, India still relies on China for equipment

India has made significant progress in creating capacity for solar energy generation in the last few years. The Prime Minister’s emphasis since 2014 has given a new fillip to solar power installation. The unit costs of solar power have fallen, and solar energy has become increasingly competitive with alternative sources of energy. India expanded its solar generation capacity eight times from 2,650 MW on May 26, 2014, to over 20 GW on January 31, 2018, and 28.18 GW on March 31, 2019. The government had an initial target of 20 GW of solar capacity by 2022, which was achieved four years ahead of schedule. In 2015, the target was raised to 100 GW of solar capacity by 2022.

Relying on imports

This rapid progress should have been made earlier, however. India is energy deficient, yet blessed with plenty of sunlight for most of the year. It should have taken a lead in solar panel manufacture to generate solar energy long ago. Despite the new policy focus on solar plant installation, India is still not a solar panel manufacturer. Just as India has had no overall industrial policy since economic reforms began, there is no real plan in place to ensure solar panel manufacture. The share of all manufacturing in GDP was 16% in 1991; it remained the same in 2017. Solar power potential offers a manufacturing opportunity. The government is a near monopsonistic buyer. India is regarded by the global solar industry as one of the most promising markets, but low-cost Chinese imports have undercut its ambitions to develop its own solar technology suppliers. Imports, mostly from China, accounted for 90% of 2017 sales, up from 86% in 2014.

Substituting for imports requires human capabilities, technological capabilities and capital in the form of finance. On the first two capabilities, the supply chain of solar photovoltaic panel manufacturing is as follows: silicon production from silicates (sand); production of solar grade silicon ingots; solar wafer manufacturing; and PV module assembly. The capital expenditure and technical know-how needed for these processes decrease from the first item to the last, i.e. silicon production is more capital-intensive than module assembly. Most Indian companies are engaged in only module assembly or wafer manufacturing and module assembly. No Indian company is involved in silicon production, although a few are making strides towards it. According to the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (2018), India has an annual solar cell manufacturing capacity of about 3 GW while the average annual demand is 20 GW. The shortfall is met by imports of solar panels.

So we may not see domestic players, in the short term at least, replacing imported ones. While the safeguard duty now puts locally-made panels on par with imported ones in terms of cost, the domestic sector needs to do a lot more to be effective. For instance, it will have to go down the supply chain and make the input components locally instead of importing them and putting the modules together here. Public procurement is the way forward. The government is still free to call out bids for solar power plants with the requirement that these be made fully in India. This will not violate any World Trade Organization commitment. However, no bids will be received as manufacturing facilities for these do not exist in the country. But as Ajay Shankar, former Secretary, Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion, argues, if the bids were large enough with supplies spread over years, which gives enough time for a green field investment to be made for manufacturing in India, then bidders will emerge and local manufacturing can begin.

Lessons from China

China’s cost advantage derives from capabilities on three fronts. The first is core competence. The six largest Chinese manufacturers had core technical competence in semiconductors before they turned to manufacturing solar cells at the turn of the century. It takes time for companies to learn and put in action new technologies. When the solar industry in China began to grow, Chinese companies already possessed the know-how. Experts suggest that the human and technical learning curve could be five to 10 years. Indian companies had no learning background in semiconductors when the solar industry in India began to grow from 2011. State governments need to support semiconductor production as part of a determined industrial policy to develop this capacity for the future.

The second source of cost advantage for China comes from government policy. The Chinese government has subsidised land acquisition, raw material, labour and export, among others. None of this is matched by the Indian government. Perhaps even more important is a commitment by the government to procure over the long run — without that the investment in building up the design and manufacturing for each of the four stages of production of solar power equipment would come to nought.

The third is the cost of capital. The cost of debt in India (11%) is highest in the Asia-Pacific region, while in China it is about 5%.

Fifteen years ago, the Chinese could also have remained dependent upon imports from Korea or Germany; they did not. Remaining dependent on imports only leads to short-term benefits for India. A continuation of the current approach means India’s energy sector will be in the same condition as its defence industry, where enormous amounts of money have been spent procuring weaponry — so much so that India has been the world’s second-largest importer of defence equipment for years.

In the solar panel manufacturing sector, the Indian government allows 100% foreign investment as equity and it qualifies for automatic approval. The government is also encouraging foreign investors to set up renewable energy-based power generation projects on a build-own-operate basis. But the Chinese government is clearly adopting an aggressive stance while the demand for solar power in India continues to grow, as does the government’s commitment to renewables. In 2018, China cut financial support to developers and halted approval for new solar projects. As a result, Chinese producers will cut prices to sustain their manufacturing plant capacity utilisation by sustaining exports to India. In other words, the Chinese strategy is to undercut any planned effort by India to develop the entire supply chain capacity within India so that dependence on imports from China continues. As a counter, India needs a solar manufacturing strategy, perhaps like the Automotive Mission Plan (2006-2016), which is credited with making India one of the largest manufacturers of two-wheelers, three-wheelers, four-wheelers and lorries in the world. This would also be a jobs-generating strategy for an increasingly better-educated youth, both rural and urban.

source – https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/india-needs-a-solar-manufacturing-strategy/article27526839.ece



The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world in many ways, some obvious and some less so. Now, scientists have quantified an effect that lies a few links down the chain, finding that solar panels in certain cities have seen a boost in output, due to a reduction in air pollution.

Much of the world has essentially ground to a halt this year, as many countries issue stay-at-home orders to try to curb the spread of the virus. With fewer cars on the road and planes in the sky and many factories and industry on pause, we’ve seen air pollution drop sharply over COVID-19 epicenters like China and Italy.

But the line of dominoes doesn’t end there. Recent reports have suggested that this could affect the performance of solar panels in some areas. And now a research team led by MIT has set out to quantify those effects.

The researchers focused on Delhi, India, which is one of the smoggiest cities in the world. They found that after the country implemented mandatory lockdown on March 24, pollution levels dropped by half. As a result of the clearer skies, the total output of solar panels in the country increased by 8.3 percent in late March, and by 5.9 percent in April.

The team says that these deviations are three to four times higher than would be expected from regular fluctuations in such a short time period. And while the numbers themselves may not sound like very much, the researchers point out that it could translate to a fivefold increase of the profit margin of these systems.

“This is the first real quantitative evaluation where you almost have a switch that you can turn on and off for air pollution, and you can see the effect,” says Ian Marius Peters, an author of the study. “You have an opportunity to baseline these models with and without air pollution.”

According to the team, the finding could suggest that solar energy could form a positive feedback loop. The more panels that are installed, the cleaner the air becomes and the more efficient existing solar panels become.

Of course, that’s a pretty idealized version of events. In practice, tangible effects may only really be noticed in places with high air pollution in the first place, like Delhi. The researchers say they investigated earlier reports about similar solar power boosts in the UK and Germany, but the data suggests that the biggest contributing factor was merely a run of nice weather.

“The air pollution levels in Germany and Great Britain are generally so low that most PV installations are not significantly affected by them,” says Peters.

With no end to the pandemic insight, it’s likely that we’ll continue to find interesting side effects in a range of areas.

The research was published in the journal Joule.


News, Renewable, Solar

The shocking spread of COVID-19 pandemic has caught all countries off guard and disrupted all socio-economical activities and anticipated huge human life as well as economic loss which are not easy to makeup despite huge economical stimuli by all countries. This pandemic has exposed tall claims of scientific and technological advancements made by mankind and post-COVID-19 world’s outlook shall change forever.

Economic activities are suffering huge losses and early sectorial analysis with different methodologies giving inconsistent reports because this pandemic shall have a multidimensional, multi-sectorial, multi-regional effect and as COVID-19 pandemic is still not contented, similar reports shall give insights of the problem. This paper deals with certain impacts the solar energy generation sector likely to face in the post-COVID-19 pandemic scenario.

Source – https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3580341


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