Monday, November 26, 2012

Invest in Solar Power for the Next 30 Years

After the roller-coaster year that First Solar has had, it may be time to reassess whether or not the company and/or the entire solar industry is even viable.  In full disclosure, I am a big fan of solar as a concept.  However, it remains to be seen if the wide-scale implementation of solar power is economically feasible.  If there is one company that has what it takes to make it work, it is First Solar.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Was it such a flop show?
THE just concluded spectrum auction, dubbed by the Congress as a flop show and a failure, reveals a different picture on closer scrutiny. The government has mopped up Rs 9,407.64 crore from 22 licence areas against Rs 9,280 crore from 122 licence areas in 2008. The market conditions were vastly different in 2008 from conditions today. The Sensex breached the 21,000 mark in January 2008; it was hovering around 18,500 at the time of the current auction. Unlike now, there was no dearth of international funding to the telecom industry in 2008. With a view to proving wrong the CAG loss figure of Rs 1.76 lakh crore and to help the UPA government recover from the taint of allotting spectrum in 2008 at a price arrived at in 2001, telecom companies had formed a cartel and only five participated in the current auction. In 2008, more than 575 companies queued up for spectrum, creating a virtual stampede when telecom minister A Raja came out with his first-come-first-served policy to favour a few pre-chosen companies. Spectrum is not a perishable commodity. It can be re-auctioned when market conditions improve. The government’s expectation of Rs. 40,000 crore from spectrum sale this fiscal was unrealistic. In 2008, India had only 234 million mobile subscribers with a market potential of 800 million. Nearly 20 million mobile subscribers were added every month during 2008-09. After the mobile subscriber base touched 900 million with a tele-density of 70 per cent as against 24 per cent in 2008, the subscriber growth has reached a plateau, making substantial investment in the industry risky.  The average revenue per user has also come down from Rs 316 in 2008 to Rs. 97 per month now.
It is shameful to see Congress ministers vilifying the CAG to save their face. Information and broadcasting minister Manish Tewari went to the extent of mockingly asking, “Mr CAG, where is the 1.76 lakh crore?” Had auction been held in 2008 when demand for 2G spectrum was at its peak, it would have fetched much more than the Rs 1.76 lakh crore the CAG estimated as presumptive loss. It ill becomes the Congress to blame the CAG and the Supreme Court for the spectrum mess the UPA government finds itself in. The Supreme Court direction on cancellation of licences and disposal by auction was solely to undo the illegality in procedures followed by the government in allotting 2G spectrum in 2008. Now is the era of 3G and 4G spectrum and the demand for 2G would naturally be low. Yet, garnering Rs 9,407.64 crore for 22 licences against Rs 9,200 crore for 122 licences is no mean achievement. Of the 22 telecom circles the country was divided into, there were no bidders in three ~ Delhi, Mumbai and Karnataka ~ as a result of cartelisation. There was no bidding in Rajasthan because of the high base price discovered during the auction of 3G spectrum in 2010. Failure to achieve the target does not mean that the CAG’s estimated loss was incorrect or that there was no corruption in the allotment of 2G spectrum.

SINCE India began its nuclear programme in the 1950s, it has aimed to tap the ample thorium reserves that lie within its borders. Construction is finally set to begin on a reactor that will produce electricity from India’s most convenient fuel for the first time. But with a checkered past on the subject, the country’s promises of a new dawn for nuclear rest on shaky ground.
Last week, the Nuclear Power Corporation of India (NPCIL) put out statements to the Indian press touting the safety of its new Advanced Heavy Water Reactor (AHWR), which could break ground near one of the country’s conventional reactors next year. Once operational, they claim it will fulfil the vision of India’s 60-year-old blueprint for thorium-based nuclear energy production, generating 300 megawatts of power from thorium more safely than nuclear energy has ever done. NPCIL’s technical director, Shiv Abhilash Bhardwaj, told the press that such reactors will be so safe they can be built right inside major cities like Mumbai.
The rhetoric is familiar: for decades, thorium has been repeatedly held up as a cheap, clean way forward for nuclear power. Compared with the uranium-based fuel cycles, thorium produces far smaller amounts of radioactive waste elements – including plutonium, which remains dangerous for tens of thousands of years.
But the reality is that there’s nothing new about the AHWR, says Craig Smith, a nuclear engineer at the US Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. Smith says Bhardwaj’s claims that the reactor will be safe enough to build in urban areas simply do not stand up. The reactor will convert thorium to uranium-233, which then splits to produce heat and other elements with short half-lives. If an accident were to occur, this dangerous mix of chemicals could be released into the environment.