Monday, April 23, 2012

Nuclear power or dung

When I was a junior at the University of Minnesota, I had a roommate from Bangladesh.  Now I understand there are some serious differences between India and Bangladesh, but when it comes to the problems of economic development, there was much they had in common—lots of people, not much arable land, and a shortage of people with technical skills.  This explained why a young man whose father had a minor cooking oil monopoly in Dacca had sent his son to Minneapolis to study computer design (those were the heady days of Control Data, Honeywell, and big Cray mainframes so it wasn't as preposterous as it now sounds.)

My favorite characteristic of this roommate is that he had absolutely NO doubts in his mind that he and his friends were some day going to run his home country.  This lent gravitas to everything he wanted to learn.  Not surprisingly, we would talk about economic development far into the the wee small hours of the morning.  On one point, he was utterly unconvincing—he thought that his country could leapfrog from a pre-industrial state to a post-industrial one without having to industrialize.  "Why should a country like mine with so much underutilized human power get involved with development schemes that would substitute fossil fuels for muscle power?  After all," he would say, "we really have only two possible power sources—nuclear power and dung."  I am pretty certain he was only wishing for the nuclear power.  But he was right, Bangladesh (and India) did not have much in between.

Bangladesh never did become an industrial powerhouse like, say, Korea.  But every time I see a "Made in Bangladesh" label on a shirt or underwear, I see that she figured out a way to sell her cheap labor to the textile industry.  That's about as close as one can get to early-stage industrialization without actually jumping into the deep end.  Now if she made her own sewing machines and power looms, it would be different but in this form, it is sort of a post-industrial industrialization.  And of course, one of the limiting factors in her economic development was always energy.  Hard to build a modern society run on dung.

But suddenly, everything has changed with the advent of cheap PV cells—the third way between dung and nuclear power has now presented itself as a practical alternative to the Indian sub-continent.  Bangladesh has a LOT of sunlight.  Now if she cannot advance the material needs of her population, the problem is obviously social and cultural in nature.  In some ways, this will be a lot like those countries that never had the resources to wire themselves for telephones.  Now those places go straight to cell phones and it's the rich countries that did have land lines who find themselves catching up.

Power solution: India opens world largest solar park

Published: 21 April, 2012, 15:54

The world’s largest solar power field has been switched on in India’s western state of Gujarat. Accounting for 214 megawatts of photovoltaic solar capacity, it becomes larger than China’s 200 MW Golmud Solar Park, which previously held the record.

The newly-developed solar power park will be a 500-megawatt system using state-of-the-art thin film photovoltaic technology and should be fully completed by the end of 2014.

It now has an operational capacity of 214 MW and has already become the largest such single location in the world, spread over 3,000 acres of mainly wasteland. Gujarat environment chief S.K. Nanda says the state is ideal for the solar project because of its sparsely-populated desert in the north.

The project has become part of 600 megawatt solar energy addition to India’s power grid, including sections that were already operational.

Upon completion the park will reduce carbon dioxide emissions released into the atmosphere to the tune of 8 million tonnes and save around 900,000 tonnes of coal and natural gas per year.

It also gives a serious boost to India’s renewable energy ambitions. The country aims for solar power to account for 3 per cent of national capacity – or 1,000 MW – by 2013.

Overall, it wants renewables to make up 15 per cent of capacity by 2020, from 6 per cent today.

The foundation stone for the Gujarat solar power park was laid in December 2010, as part of the state’s Solar Power Policy. The solar energy sector is expected to create about 30,000 new jobs in the state over a period of time. more

1 comment:

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