Sunday, February 20, 2011

Ten Green Ideas That May Never Take Flight

Here is the link to the article from Green Tech Media...

I do not succumb to the authors views on automobiles (3 wheeled cars and battery swaping stations could be feasible). There is not enough data to write them off even before they have their fair chance.

Nevertheless an interesting read.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

India - Energy and Policy Crisis

Indian energy policies are blindly following EU's policies and not addressing our energy problems. Our energy needs are significantly different. We are a growing economy with a huge energy deficit (in 2005 our deficit was 11% peak and 7% off-peak - of a 140000+ MW installed capacity) and our energy demand is growing roughly at 4% year on year. To just maintain the same level of growth, we need to double our energy generation every 15 years (excluding any growth due to higher living comforts). We need to have 320 GW by 2025 and 640 GW by 2040! Compare this to 160 GW established in the last 60+ years.

EU (and even US) have a very low electricity growth rate compared to India. Their electricity generation infrastructure is well established and any renewables they are adding is just for greening up their infrastructure. India is at growing stage, we need policies that should address energy growth, security (indigenous resources to provide price insulation) and climate change. So EU's policy of feed in tariffs to green electricity infrastructure addresses only climate change but not renewables growth. Consider this, Germany - leader in solar industry just installed - 8.87 GW in the last 10 years. We need to install 160 GW in the next 15 years !!! We need policies that make renewables compete with coal in free market, not feed in tariffs which is still a licensed and regulated market draining govt resources.

Our policies should put renewables on par with coal. Since renewables pay for itself in 7 ~ 10 years (with large scale manufacture and deployment pay back will come down), our policies should help finance the renewables. First solar and Green Tech media ppl both tell me that high initial cost is putting off investments in renewables. So why not take away incentives for coal to help finance the renewables or provide low cost capital? We should not subsidize renewables but rather provide the initial capital for investment.

As a post script, a note on feed in tariffs. It accelerates the pay-back but with feed in tariffs

1) It is no longer a free market so less opportunity for innovation and slow growth. In India solar is projected to grow only to 22GW in 10 years.
2) It drains the govt resources - our present solar feed in tariff policy will cost govt 14,00,000 crore rupees.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Innovative Technologies – Calera:

Energy, Environment, Food and Healthcare are slowly becoming the defining challenges of our generation. Our present population is 6.8 bn and it was half this size when my dad went to college, now I am in college!!! UN projects 9 bn population in 20 years with more than 60 % of them in urban areas. All this will push our basic resources - energy, food, shelter, and healthcare. With status quo energy and food prices will reach disproportionate heights and will have a significant impact in our society and environment. But with technology and free market, may be it can be solved.

So this is the first in a multi-part blog on technologies and companies which can radically change our world. The first one is on Calera.


Calera is a company which wants to convert all the carbon dioxide emitted by thermal (coal- or gas-fired) power plants into cement or bricks. Further more they also want to convert atmospheric carbon dioxide into cement. Too good to be true, isn’t it?

The technology in principle is very simple. It is just chemistry, specifically Catalysis. CaCO and MgCO3 (Calcium and Magesium Carbonate) is the biggest ingredient in the manufacture cement. So what Calera proposes to do is that, it plans to combine CO2 with seawater or any kind of hard (salt) water and produce lime stone in the presence of a catalyst (the catalyst is ofcourse a secret!). The salt water provides calcium and magnesium ions and this water get sprayed in carbon dioxide to naturally get converted into calcium and magnesium carbonate. This could be then used in a variety of ways. Either spray-dry into cement or use it as precursor material along with concrete aggregates for building walls or roads.

A pilot plant is up and running in Santa Cruz, California. The technology is in the developmental stage but the science behind it is very promising. It can potentially convert all (less profitable) thermal power plants into (highly profitable) cement factories and in the process also eliminate carbon emission.

P.S - Carbon Sequestration or the idea of storing carbon dioxide is not new but to make it as cement or brick and use it as a product is very innovative. Most of the proposed carbon sequestration technologies involve liquefying carbon dioxide and store it in depleted oil / natural gas wells.

Further Reading:

Saturday, March 6, 2010

College days

Hi Guys,

Thought everyone should read this. I realised this only late in Amrita and more so after coming here. I still have couple of years of college left, so trying to make full use of it. (via karthik)


...are we stuck in High School?

I had two brushes with higher education this week.

The first was at a speech I gave in New York. There were several Harvard Business School students there, invited because of their interest in marketing and exceptional promise (that's what I was told... I think they came because they had heard that Maury Rubin would make a great lunch!).

Anyway, they asked for my advice in finding marketing jobs. When I shared my views (go to a small company, work for the CEO, get a job where you actually get to make mistakes and do something) one woman professed to agree with me, but then explained, "But those companies don't interview on campus."

Those companies don't interview on campus. Hmmm. She has just spent $100,000 in cash and another $150,000 in opportunity cost to get an MBA, but...

The second occurred today at Yale. As I drove through the amazingly beautiful campus, I passed the center for Asian Studies. It reminded me of my days as an undergrad (at a lesser school, natch), browsing through the catalog, realizing I could learn whatever I wanted. That not only could I take classes but I could start a business, organize a protest movement, live in a garret off campus, whatever. It was a tremendous gift, this ability to choose.

Yet most of my classmates refused to choose. Instead, they treated college like an extension of high school. They took the most mainstream courses, did the minimum amount they needed to get an A, tried not to get into "trouble" with the professor or face the uncertainty of the unknowable. They were the ones who spent six hours a day in the library, reading their textbooks.

The best part of college is that you could become whatever you wanted to become, but most people just do what they think they must.

Is this a metaphor? Sure. But it's a worthwhile one. You have more freedom at work than you think (hey, you're reading this on company time!) but most people do nothing with that freedom but try to get an A.

Do you work with people who are still in high school? Job seekers only willing to interview with the folks who come on campus? Executives who are trying to make their boss happy above all else? It's pretty clear that the thing that's wrong with this system is high school, not the rest of the world.

Cut class. Take a seminar on french literature. Interview off campus. Safe is risky.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Parambikulam Wildlife Sanctuary Trek

Parambikulam wildlife sanctuary was the setting for 2 day trek / stay in the forests with my brother and cousins. The 2 day break was a great bonding / thrilling / interesting experience for all of us. (Thanks to Karthik for writing this blog :) )

Stats from the trek into the forest.

Most of the trek was on flat terrain, except for day 2. The steep incline can be seen from this map. Thanks to my garmin , for the stats :)

Route we followed : Coimbatore - Pollachi - Top Slip - Parambikulam. Except for 10-12 km just before top slip, the rest of the roads were in top condition, especially, the road between top slip and parambikulam.

Vishnu and Niranjan on the long straight section on the hills.

At a place we stopped by to have lunch..

Car parked, it is time to head into the forest...

Went past this dam, a km into the trek...

On our way to the forest stay..

Scenic, wooded pathway .. had elephant dung all over the route

It was an easy stroll all the way - the guide kept enthralling us with the stories of the forest

Tiger's pug mark that we came across , on the trek - apparently,28 tigers are found in the Parambikulam sanctuary. The place we were staying at night, was in the home territory of 2 tigers.

The Samba deer that we spotted on our trek in..

A massive tree that was on the way ..

Some more deer on the grasslands..

In front of the place we stayed at night - 6 km into the forest.

The view from the house...

Stay at the house was the scarriest experience in a long time - as the night enveloped all around us, with the guide taking us through the stories of the forest, we got increasingly nervous about staying outside the house.

With every movement around us being keenly observed by us, the wild cat droppings from the top of the tree was enough to get us running inside the house :)

With the doors closed tight, we had our dinner ( cooked by the guide , at a place with basic facilities ) and we resigned for the night.

Crossing a river, early next day, to reach a grassland..

We then returned to the base and drove 15 km to the parambikulam dam, to start the trek on day 2. We set out to climb the peak seen below , enveloped by the clouds ..

Thick wooded route -

There was thick vegetation all over and it was quite steep, going up the mountain ..

That was the steepest section - all of us struggling to go up...!!

A wild elephant had passed though this bush!!

And more climb!! There were leeches all over the place !!

Vishnu "skating" down - it was the best option given the steep inclines! All of us were struggling for foothold and stability. Coming downhill took almost twice the time of going uphill.

A leech on Ram - we burned the leech ( and his leg! )

Jam in the tubes came in very handy!!

More deer that we spotted on our drive back to the base camp.

This was the most thrilling moment during the entire trek - it was worth all the money and more. Vishnu was at the wheels and when we took a turn, we came right in front of a wild elephant crossing the road. After taking a few steps to cross the road, the elephant stopped and came charging at us.

I was sitting next to driver's seat and my heart almost skipped a few beats. Vishnu kept his cool and kept the car still. He switched to reverse but kept the car still / idle. Elephant took a long, hard look at us. That was probably the longest / scariest 5 minutes!!! No lights / flashes or anything to distract the elephant

Elephant slowly decided to move on - took a few steps to cross the road and waited to see our reaction. We stood still and the elephant moved into the forest and we went our way...

An awesome 2 day break - i hope to return to this place again and explore more. Next time, we will spot the tiger :)

Sunday, January 24, 2010

2009 ! :)

2009 was fun filled and by far the most productive year for me personally and otherwise. Was it because of the fleeting nature of human memory or was I very lucky throughout the year! So I write this one just to recollect my small personal triumphs and failures.

1. I kick started 2009 in freezing cold with my best buddies at Manhattan watching the “Ball Drop” among million other people. It was madness to spend the night outdoors with the mercury hovering around -20deg C. But it was a truly amazing experience.

2. I spent the 2008 Christmas Eve on a low note after being fired by my old advisor (The recession ate away our research grants). To say disappointed was being very modest especially after putting in 16 hours a day for the previous 4 months. On the brighter side, he was a great mentor, learned a lot from him and I still look up to him.

3. I got a nice 2009 New Year present – a fully funded assistantship. My crazy ideas will henceforth be funded by the university. My previous advisor and a few of my PhD friends’ generous recommendation helped me out in getting me this financial assistantship. As a part of the assistantship I was supposed to teach budding engineers on how to use Matlab.

4. Teaching a class of 60 students was a great learning experience. It was scary and definitely challenging but it was also fun to teach kids, motivate them, and come up with new ways to explain the concepts. Many years from now, I want to be a teacher / lecturer, I feel it is the best profession to inspire and motivate children.

5. Joined a new research group, got an inspiring and deeply passionate advisor (friend?), opportunity to once again work on solar energy with new friends.

6. Washington DC Trip – White House, Independence Day fireworks, Black Bird and the drive to DC.

7. Awesome time at Six Flags with a gentle ‘Kiss’ from Giraffe.

8. New Hampshire Trip – the climb to Mt. Monadnock with Sriram and Kau helping me, pushing me, and in some places lifting me so I can reach the top – drive to Mt. Washington.

9. Listening to U2 concert in a fully packed NY Giants stadium.

10. Me and Brian coming up with a new idea of depositing thin film semiconductors for solar cells. Pitching the idea to Birnie, to mentor and fund the research work.

11. Spending many nights in university to bring the ideas to life and sleeping in the dept lounge.

12. The single biggest disappointment was giving up the ‘Asha’ running training mid way. Someday I would like to attempt that once again.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Facebook for school & college education

Software’s are driving and catalyzing innovations in all spheres of our daily lives. And as more and more ‘focused’ software’s are being developed, the impacts they create will also get bigger and bigger.

Four years back people could have never foreseen Facebook / Orkut creating such a big impact. It has become one of the most essential tools helping us ‘connect’ and ‘reach out’ to friends and family across the continents. All this and more in a single web page. It has changed the way as to how we build and grow our friendship.

This made me wonder if we were to develop software / software’s focused for our school and college education, how will that be? What features should it have? I decided I will make a go and list down things which I would have if I was the software architect (Software development and me are miles apart!).

I made 4 categories – Student Assist – Teacher / Professor Assist – Parents Assist – Career Assist. These are just to organize and list down the features but the final system should integrate and bring it in a single, simple and easy to use package. Also I think the final system should utilize multiple types of devices PC’s, mobile phones, PDA’s, Kindle’s and a lot more.