Daily Archives: June 11, 2011

Job ads show Google wading deeper in clean energy

Google has invested significant money and employee time in clean-energy technologies over the past few years but recent job openings point to stepped-up efforts to build its own products.

There are currently five renewable-energy engineer job openings listed on Google’s job site, including a top manager position at its Mountain View, Calif., headquarters that hints at Google’s bigger ambitions.

The “head of renewable energy engineering” will lead a research and development team within Google to lower the cost of renewable energy. “As the engineering leader of Google’s clean energy initiative, you will be responsible for building a team of top technologists to develop disruptive new technologies that dramatically lower the cost of renewable electricity – with the goal of making renewable energy cheaper than coal within a few years,” according to the job posting.

The other job openings specify skills in designing and prototyping utility-scale renewable-energy systems. Google is seeking people able to assess and create different renewable-energy technologies with the potential to be cheaper than coal-generated electricity, including solar, wind, enhanced geothermal, and other “breakthrough technologies,” according to a listing. Another job is geared at making Google’s operations more sustainable, such as reducing its energy use and achieving the corporate goal of carbon neutrality.

Google first launched its renewable energy cheaper than coal initiative in 2007. The company invested in a few start-ups and took a number of measures to improve the efficiency of its operations. In the past several months, though, Google has sped up its activity in renewable energy.

In April, its Google Energy subsidiary invested directly in a wind farm in Oklahoma located near a planned Google data center. Altogether, Google has also invested more than $400 million in renewable energy, including a large wind farm in Oregon and a large solar project in California earlier this year.

Yesterday, it announced that it is expanding to 450 electric-vehicle charging stations on its campuses, acting as a corporate customer to advance electric-vehicle technology.

Through its philanthropy Google.org, Google invested in start-ups, including high-wind company Makani Power, enhanced geothermal companies, and solar company BrightSource Energy, which filed to go public earlier this year. The company also developed PowerMeter, a home energy monitoring Web application, the only energy-related product Google has released.

In 2010, Google’s green-energy czar Bill Weihl said that engineers had built a prototype of a sun-tracking mirror called a heliostat which could lower the cost of solar energy. Weihl also told Reuters that Google was discouraged in the amount of money going into early-stage renewable-energy technologies.

By expanding its internal research and development around clean energy, Google appears to be stepping up its commitment to develop more technologies internally.

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Momentive and Targray to Bring Photovoltaic Materials to the Indian Market

Momentive Performance Materials, a pioneer in silicones and other advanced materials, has extended its global distribution agreement with Targray Technology International, one of the world’s leading suppliers of silicon and advanced materials to the solar industry.

The expansion will bring photovoltaic (PV) materials such as silicone adhesive, sealant and potting material solutions to the Indian market.

Targray’s Vice President of solar division, Dan Murray stated that the Indian PV industry is a strategic market, which offers potential opportunities in the future. The expanded agreement will enable both companies to effectively bring sealing and potting products to increasing number of solar customers in India.

Momentive is pleased to expand the distribution agreement with Targray to include the PV market in India. According to the company, Targray is the right partner to distribute its solar specific silicone potting and sealing solutions in India and across the world. The PV products from Momentive meet manufacturing process requirements, provide protection against harsh weather and offer enhanced field durability.

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Synapse Helps Make Clean Electricity Affordable for Low Income Households in India

Synapse Helps Make Clean Electricity Affordable for Low Income Households in India
Pay-As-You-Go Solar Energy System from Simpa Networks Improves Quality of Life While Reducing Fossil Fuel Consumption.

Synapse Product Development engineers are currently helping Simpa Networks realize their idea to bring clean, safe, and sustainable energy services to 20 million people by 2020 through a pay-as-you-go in-home solar energy system.

“We are always looking for ways to work with Clients whose values are culturally similar to ours,” said Chris Massot, Vice President of Sales & Marketing of Synapse. “Working with Simpa is a wonderful opportunity for us to use technology to promote the expansion of sustainable energy.”

Synapse designed and built the Simpa Regulator™ prototypes currently being tested with customers in Bangalore, India. The Simpa Regulator™ hardware platform enables the Progressive Purchase™ pricing model by metering and adjusting electricity availability in response to the entry of payment codes by customers. The result is a secure, low-cost, intuitive, rugged, and tamper proof device that allows Simpa to test and prove their new pricing model with real customers, giving them valuable new information about customer needs and desires.

“Our engineering team developed a cost-optimized hardware platform in a tamper-proof enclosure running an encrypted payment entry and validation scheme,” said Cameron Charles, Project Manager at Synapse. “This has been a great opportunity for our team to design something for a set of users who would not normally have access to this type of product.”

Nearly 1.6 billion people lack access to electricity, and another one billion lack reliable grid connections. Most rely on traditional fuel such as kerosene for lighting and often need to travel great distances for services such as mobile phone charging. These energy expenditures can consume up to 30% of household income.

“We are thrilled to be partnering with Synapse through this critical phase of development,” said Paul Needham, President of Simpa Networks. “Their team was able to understand our requirements and develop a solution that was ready for installation in customer homes. Based on our synthesis of customer feedback, Synapse was able to quickly turn around new iterations of our Simpa Regulator™ which were back in front of customers right away for real-time testing.”

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Despite Fears of a Bubble, Microfinance Needed for Growth

BHUBANESWAR, India, Jun 10, 2011 (IPS) – Sambari Naik never went to school and is determined to give her daughter Rebati an education. But 13-year-old Rebati seldom did well in her studies, often dozing over her books beside a flickering and smoky kerosene wick lamp in their house, which had no electricity.

Things changed, however, when 45-year-old Sambari brought home a solar lamp system on a 900- rupee (20-dollar) microfinance scheme from Bharat Integrated Social Welfare Agency (BISWA), a non- profit organisation working in 18 Indian states and headquartered in the eastern state of Orissa, which has some of India’s lowest socio-economic indicators.

Rebati is now doing well in school, while Sambari and her husband Khedu work at the brick kiln near their village of Ankhadihi in Orissa’s Sambalpur province. The couple earned 140 rupees (three dollars) laying up to 800 bricks a day. But most days now they earn more, putting in extra hours after sundown by the light of the solar lantern.

Best of all, the Naiks save about 200 rupees (5 dollars) a month since they no longer have to buy the six to eight litres of kerosene they needed to light wood stoves and wick lamps. This amount now repays the monthly instalment for Sambari’s loan from BISWA.

“This new lantern lights up all corners of our one-room hut during storm and rain, and does not go off like the kerosene lamp. We go out into the dark to answer the call of nature without fear of snakes,” says Khedu Naik.

The Naiks belong to a Self-Help Group (SGH) in Sambalpur that has received assistance from BISWA, which partnered with the Delhi-based The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) to provide renewable energy sources for the poor through microfinance. The partnership intends to cover more villages in the neighbouring underdeveloped states of Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand.

BISWA started out in 1994 as a non-profit extending microcredit to poor people, mostly women, to grow their income through small enterprises. But its subsequent strategy was to converge what it now terms social finance with social development initiatives.

The thousands like Sambari who are linked to women collectives affiliated with banks or SGHs have benefited from BISWA. Social finance now ensures their daughters’ higher education, and allows them to combat malaria through health loans and to access safe drinking water and sanitation facilities.

Orissa’s capital Bhubaneswar is one of the fastest-growing cities in eastern India. While converting its 2,000-year-old heritage zone into a global tourist destination, the local government sought to rid the city of the common practice of defecating in the open.

Among others, BISWA put its microcredit strategy to work. At the 87-household Gyana Nagar slum in the heart of Bhubaneswar’s heritage area, 24 women from four SHGs got loans ranging from 8,000 to 17,000 rupees (180 to 380 dollars) in 2008 to rebuild old or construct new toilets with baths.

“Though the loan is taken by the women, understanding its importance, the family pitches in to repay,” says borrower Mini Behera. Many women like Sambari Naik and Mini Behera say the benefits from these loans have brought them a stronger voice in family decisions.

BISWA’s financial services strengthen the ability of the poor to achieve the Millennium Development Goals – a series of anti-poverty and development targets adopted by the world’s governments in 2000, with a 2015 deadline – on their own terms in a sustainable way, says BISWA founder and chairman Khirod Chandra Malick.

The non-profit works with around a million rural women in India, and the number of those benefiting from its microfinance programme is growing.

“Microfinance is a critical anti-poverty tool. When the poorest (traditionally considered non-bankable), especially women, receive credit, they become economic actors and are empowered, to improve not only their own lives but also the lives of their families, their communities, and their nations. Microfinance can help make India’s economic growth more inclusive,” adds Malick.

BISWA works with various organisations, corporate entities and relevant government agencies, taking as much as six months to motivate and build capacities after which it lends amounts between 5,000 to 20,000 rupees (110 to 445 dollars) through bank-linked SHGs.

The repayment structure is on an easier monthly basis – not weekly as with many lenders – on diminishing balance with interest rates at 24 percent, up from 19 percent in March 2011.

“This model is key to BISWA’s microfinance sustainability,” says Jharana Mishra, BISWA’s chief manager for research and documentation. Microfinance incorporates an insurance component, unlike microcredit, that prevents borrowers from debt traps exacerbating their financial vulnerability.

Malick says integrating BISWA’s activities with microfinance brings many a challenge. “Structuring innovative yet feasible projects and motivating the poor to take ownership of these; maintaining the pace by striking a balance between expansion and sustainability of microfinance projects and mobilising funds for these are some of the major ones.”

India has roughly 400 microfinance lenders with a combined 207 billion rupees (4.6 billion dollars) in outstanding loans to 70 million poor people.

The glut of investments in the microfinance sector over the last several years and the scramble among the poor to take, in many cases, multiple loans at a quarter of the 100 percent annual interest rate that local Shylocks had been charging, has raised fears that the sector could be feeding a bubble.

Triggered by a spate of loanee suicides, more regulations coming from the Reserve Bank of India are expected to bring down interest rates and reduce aggressive lending and collection practices, potentially squeezing out smaller players. The industry is thus expected to become more transparent and accountable.

With a potential base of 120 million unbanked homes, the demand for microfinance in India is likely to rise. But the challenge is retaining the social focus, as BISWA is trying to do, and serving as the last-mile bridge to the low-income population excluded from the traditional financial services.

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