Making the transition

How much coal is there in the world? Where is it found? How much of it should we keep in the ground to avoid negative environmental impacts? Can renewable energy really replace it? How is the transition going to look like?
  • There are an estimated 1.1 trillion tonnes of proven coal reserves worldwide. This means that there is enough coal to last us around 150 years at current rates of production.
  • Coal reserves are available in almost every country worldwide, with recoverable reserves in around 70 countries. The most prominent reserves are in the USA, Russia, China and India.
A 2015 study in the journal Nature revealed that we need to leave at least 80% of the world’s known remaining fossil fuel (coal + oil + natural gas) reserves in the ground to prevent runaway climate change. It’s 2018 now.
What’s the alternative? A lot of doubts float around renewable energy’s power. Here’s taking the cloud off of it:
  • Renewable energy is not expensive.
  • Renewable energy is big enough to power the whole world.
  • Renewable energy can supply electricity 24X7.
  • Our infrastructure can handle renewable energy.
  • Renewable energy is not bad for the environment.


In India, coal is expected to stay for at least the next 30 years due to its abundance and cost advantage. In the meantime, we have a family of technologies called Carbon capture and storage (CCS) that can help.

Technology, however, doesn’t solve everything.

How do we make this transition humanely? What about the lives that are dependent on the fossil fuel industry? Iron & Earth is led by oilsands workers committed to incorporating more renewable energy projects into our work scope.

What happens to the landscapes where the coal mines exist? Worldwide, former mining lands have become valuable real estate.  This floating solar farm in China, for instance, sits on a coal mine.

Shout out: Thanks, D, for suggesting this topic! :)

Let there be light

2013-08-10 16.29.16
At Kihim beach, Alibaug. Three years back.

I was reading about Vitamin D this morning and found out that shade produced by severe pollution reduces ultraviolet (UV) energy by 60%. Imagine what it would do to us humans, plants, other species and even solar panels that rely on UV. To begin understanding this, the World Health Organization (WHO) has a good explanation on the difference between kinds of UV radiation. Sun’s light contains – visible light (one that we see and is divided into the seven colors of a rainbow), heat, and UV radiation. UV radiation can be divided into UV-A, UV-B and UV-C radiations. The ozone layer, water vapor and carbon dioxide absorb all of UV-C, almost all but not all of UV-B, and hardly any of UV-A. A lot has been discussed on the relation of these radiations and cancer, which you can read on the WHO page.

Levels of ozone at various altitudes and blocking of different bands of UV radiation. Source: Wikipedia

Let’s say that we are living in a severely polluted city. Except on week days when people usually go to work, people usually can access sunlight on weekends, but do people venture out on weekends? I for one preferred staying in to avoid traffic in Mumbai. Owing to severe pollution, we are already short of our vitamin D shot, plus such sedentary lifestyle is worsening the situation. As for the weather in the US, it is a lot of times cold for me, so I usually sit with my sweater on near my window where I get the sunlight I need. I had asked my husband that I need the sunlight to enter the house in the morning, so we rented a house that would provide us that. It wakes us up naturally, without the need of alarm clocks. I detest taking medicines/supplements and my food doesn’t contain a lot of fatty fishes that provide a lot of this vitamin.

“It has been suggested by some vitamin D researchers, for example, that approximately 5–30 minutes of sun exposure between 10 AM and 3 PM at least twice a week to the face, arms, legs, or back without sunscreen usually lead to sufficient vitamin D synthesis and that the moderate use of commercial tanning beds that emit 2%–6% UVB radiation is also effective.” Now where are we between 10 AM and 3PM? – Source:

On weekdays, during work hours I used to take a few minutes out of my schedule to soak in some sunlight. Not many companies and especially big buildings/corporates have such spaces and high-rise skyscrapers are so-called gas chambers – a case of bad indoor air quality. Nor are we are not getting the sunlight we need sitting in these skyscrapers neither in our cars.

A really good explanation on how plants use light is given here. Plants definitely do not use a lot of the green light in the spectrum because if it did we wouldn’t see their green color. How about plants in greenhouses, do they get the sunlight they want? UV is also known to cause damage to plants but plants have evolved to use it for them instead of against them. UV-B in sunlight actively promotes plant survival. It helps them keep pests and pathogens at bay. Artificial lighting such as those used in vertical farming these days, contains the blue and red region of the light spectrum needed for plants to grow. The primary light harvesting chlorophylls absorb light in the blue and red regions whereas carotenoids absorb in the blue and green regions. However, a simple light bulb won’t help grow a plant simply because it will lack this region of the spectrum. David Latimer’s bottle garden is another testament to plants living inside a glass structure. His bottle garden is a closed system that has been going on for more than 50 years, without any external input after it was closed. All it needed was a bit of sunlight.

Last but not the least, consumption of sunlight by solar panels. As mentioned on my previous blog on basics of solar power, sunlight is made of a range of wavelengths of lights – the electromagnetic spectrum. Silicon absorbs light of wavelengths close to the visible range. Photovoltaic response curve – solar cell output plotted against wavelength will show the wavelengths absorbed. In order to harness the entire spectrum, scientists have to engineer new materials. The effects of atmospheric pollution, according to this paper, may vary depending on the kind of solar cell. 2016-05-16 11-58-37
Source: Performance measurement reference conditions for terrestrial photovoltaics. C. C. Gonzalez, R. G. Ross. Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology for the U.S. Department of Energy

P.S.: “Let there be light” is an English translation of the Hebrew יְהִי אוֹר (yehi ‘or). The phrase comes from the third verse of the Book of Genesis.

A letter from the Sun

Infographic-page-001If the sun could talk and write like us humans, would he write a letter to us? If he did, will it look something like this? Well, I let the imagination roll.

With reference to the solar power basics series on GreenHatters, I thought I’ll crunch some information into a picture and I thought why not imagine it as the sun telling us himself? I’ve never made infographics before, so forgive me if it doesn’t look like a conventional infographic. Well, if you don’t like the infographic, I at least hope you can take something away from the data in it.

Anyhow, feel free to send in your comments.


Innovation Capitalism

India is one of the world’s fastest growing economies. Its propensity for innovation is apparent from a term widely used – jugaad. ‘Jugaad’ means an innovative idea for a resourceful improvisation. It is a land that hosts creative thinkers that have made place like Ralegan Siddhi a model for environmental conservation. By announcing newer reforms to combat economic decline, it has attracted foreign participation in investment. This serves as a helping hand for those waiting for such an opportunity.

To idealize India by saying it can become a stable country, is to ignore the fact that the problems it faces will never disappear in totality. It applies to other countries as well. Stagnancy of people’s wills to adapt will be the very obstacle in India’s path towards growth. Innovation capitalism will stimulate perturbation of attitude, reveal challenges for people to passionately work through. It will consequently provide the necessary employment. It changes the way we do things and change when embraced and worked upon can change our course to some place better. India’s high populace count not only translates into high consumerism but also into much needed power to fuel innovation.

Unwillingness of public is rooted in the lack of awareness of existing problems. It is therefore ignorance on the part of the people of the country when they fail to recognize the ramifications of extant issues. Power lies in the sheer number of people that reside in India. To use the willingness of such elephantine population is to help bring about the necessary change. A sense of thoughtfulness over the current scenario coupled with resource availability can help. Jonathan Rowson of the Royal Society of Arts says that our perception of waste is relative to our experience of scarcity. Along similar lines, without the screaming perception of exhaustibility of resources, the ground of innovation thus cannot be laid.

Unrealistic ideologies often weaken the grasp of reality. Some start-ups often take up a very good idea but fail to produce the desired results. This may be due to lack of transparency and effective communication, two among various other possible reasons. Out of desperation, some even start with a false purpose. When an organization turns a business idea into a fake social cause, it is sure to attract its own doom than true innovators. Starting with a false ideology will not help the idea to become a reality. Start-ups can do what huge organizations can’t and this is where their potential lies. They are flexible, adapt to changes apace and are unaffected by bureaucracy as much as bigger organizations are. They take in the middle-class that provides stability to the economy. Start-ups enjoy the freedom that many big organizations don’t. While venture capitalists and angel investors are in the limelight when it comes to start-up funding, personal loans and investments from friends and family make a huge share of contribution. Crowdfunding too works many a times. It is clear that ideas when given a chance and economic support can help strengthen the nation’s economy. Incentives and privileges are natural propellers. Albeit some individual inventors make their way to success, it is not easy ride for everyone. By easing and simplifying the infrastructure of the whole start-up process can go a long way for such individuals. This can be done by providing special assistance. It is the development of such entrepreneurial culture that will boost start-ups. Since India is a developing country, the scope for innovations and their gains thereby is visibly large.

Industrial pressure is a deterrent that is powerful. Yet it is not powerful enough if the model of innovation capitalism is to be achieved. Owing to pressure from the Endosulfan manufacturing companies, India was a laggard in banning the toxic chemical. If it had been done soon enough, it would have paved way for innovation of better and safe chemicals much earlier in time. Green chemistry is quickly catching up in India and is to stay. Some politicians fail to acknowledge the requisites and are reluctant to embrace new technologies. It is evident from their inaction in the case of pollution of river Ganga. To add to that is the ignorance of public, which when eradicated can drive these politicians to do what is needed to be done.

Sometimes regulations laid by the government are the only way out. Strict measures such as these have been effectively implemented in the past. Without the pollution act, companies would have continued with their business as usual. Regulations have played a huge role in encouraging creation of new technologies.

The growth of renewable energy sector and moreover the quick dive into it has made India the fifth largest country with installed windpower capacity. India’s dense population and its apt location on our planet have made it a fitting candidate for solar energy installations. National Solar Mission aims India to become a global leader in solar energy. The partisans involved in this mission will benefit from policy conditions needed for creating a conducive atmosphere for innovation capitalism. Hence, active participation of government is essential, in a direct or in-direct manner.

The millennial generation of India and elsewhere has different taste than the previous ones. They are inspired by cool things. Moral obligations often dampen their spirit. Instead, a real dialogue with them can help us tap their passion and help them become the inventors of our times. Today’s generation understands and respects gender equality and reciprocate well in such conditions. Understanding the mindset of the younger generation that constitutes a huge portion of India can aid the sustainability of innovation capitalism. Universities are a crucial part in the development of these budding youngsters.

Together, aiming at quality over quantity, India can become the most productive nations in this world. With most of the national workforce in agriculture, industries allied to this sector will benefit the most from the ingenuities pertaining to this sector.

Innovation makes business sense. If we realize this, India shall survive the economic downfall and continue to be world’s leading economies.

I wrote this essay as a response to question: How can “innovation capitalism” drive India’s technological and economic development? This was for the McKinsey Reimagining India Essay Project. Please feel free to comment on this down below in the comments section. To see the winning entries of this project, click here.

SolarChat on Twitter: American Corporate Solar Champions

Last week, I participated in a #SolarChat on Twitter, “American Corporate Solar Champions,” which showcases corporate solar champions featured in SEIA’s “Solar Means Business” report. Questions from Raina Brett Russo ‏@EcoOutfitters.

Here are some of the questions that interested me and to which I answered:


My answer: (Or rather a question back) I wondered if any of the business models included rental or secondary market (second-hand) for solar panels? Also, promising and long-lasting solar panels (Solar cell degradation)

Companies involved in the renting/leasing business:

Source: Howstuffworks, theenergycollective


My answer: Geography and demographics. #solarchat #India is a great place for the solar industry to flourish.

Best places for solar power:

India‘s high population and high solar insolation, makes it a perfect place for solar power installations. While it is gaining speed in this sector, there are other countries who have harnessed solar energy and these are:

  1. The Netherlands
  2. France
  3. Australia
  4. Italy
  5. South Korea
  6. China
  7. United States
  8. Japan
  9. Spain
  10. Germany

Source: Discovery News

Further reading: Washington Post for solar resource map of US and Wiki for solar resource map of India.


My answer: Money and transparency.

One other thing I’d like to add to this is ‘effective communication’. People need to know how they can benefit from solar technologies.


My answer: Finance research in solar energy. Governments can ask schools to include solar and renewable energy options in their curriculum and not just in a passing way.


My answer: For me @TeslaMotors has done a great job at making me love solar impacting EVs.

For the whole list of questions and to see what others had to say, click here.

Any thoughts you’d care to share? Please do.

Learning from nature

Why make our own mistakes when we can learn from nature? Through unfathomable amounts of trial and error that nature has gone through, it would only be wise to learn how nature does what it does. Biomimicry is what we name – our process of learning from nature. The earliest of examples of biomimicry has been the making of an aeroplane. It is when we tried to see how birds do it is when we understood how humans could fly too. Sonar technology was invented after studying the echolocation that bats use to navigate.

2013-09-07 17.34.53 (1)Green Chemistry and Biomimicry:

Green Chemists too can learn from it as sustainable chemistry is what nature is good at. Nothing goes to waste you see? It is in nature lies the secrets of producing inherently safer chemistries. The enzymes that are at work in our body right now are natural catalysts. This gives rise to bio-catalysis. Learning from corals that fix carbon to create vaccines that do not need refrigeration are few of the many applications that have their origins in biomimicry.

Let’s also see how nature has inspired industries.

Paper and pulp industry:

Paper is made from wood fibres that are bonded together by a natural adhesive known as lignin. Lignin must be removed in order to make paper. While one may think of lignin as waste, it is not. Lignin after separation is used for producing other chemicals and may be also to produce an oddly sounding product called ‘liquid wood‘, a plastic replacement. This entire process is called ‘pulping’ and is done through physical and chemical processes. These processes are water and energy intensive. To ensure that less water and energy is used, scientists have come up with a solution that uses a deep eutectic solvent. These solvents occur naturally: plants produce them during droughts.  Not only that, these scientists used the genius of penguins to solve the problem of high water usage during the drying process that follows pulping. To escape from seals underwater, these birds release trapped air bubbles which form a thin layer of air around their plumage, reducing friction. This gave the researchers an idea to suspend the fibres in a viscous fluid and then expel the fluid by modifying the viscosity around the fibres.

Fuel industry:

Plants are very efficient machinery that can store sunlight directly into storable chemical form. Researchers led by a MIT professor produced something known as a ‘artificial leaf’, a device that can harness sunlight to split water into hydrogen and oxygen without needing any external connections, just like leaves do.

Solar industry:

In the field of solar energy, plants are an exemplary. Have you seen the sunflowers move as they track the position of the sun in the sky for maximum absorption of solar energy? That’s something to learn from and scientists have come up with sunflower-inspired solar panels that track the sun without using motors. Another example of biomimicry in this industry are the dye-sensitized solar cells, that are solar cells inspired by photosynthesizing plants.  Along similar lines, researchers at the Institute of Chemical Technology (ICT) (the institute I majored from) have developed 18 synthetic dye molecules, which can be used to make indigenous dye-sensitised solar cells (DSC) that absorb solar energy.

Windmill industry:

To reduce the drag in wind turbines, some researches decided to use the riblet technology. The channeling effect was first noted in shark skin research in the 60s and 70s, which was first studied by NASA to incorporate it into aerospace engineering.

Water-treatment industry:

Discovery of aquaporins, integral membrane proteins that form pores in the membrane of biological cells, are nature’s very own filters. Inspired from this a Danish company Aquaporin has developed a new approach to seawater desalination.

To know more about such extraordinary lessons on conservation of material and energy, go to AskNature.

Here’s a mind boggling video of the physics of water in trees. Do you think we can take away something from this as well?