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    Dated : Friday, August 11, 2017

Solar sector unfazed by India-China tensions

By Sapna Gopal
As reports of the border stand-off between India and China continue to hog headlines, one of the concerns raised is whether this would have a bearing on the solar sector in India because local project developers are dependent on solar cells and modules imported from China.
Of the $2.34 billion worth of solar equipment brought into India in 2015-16, a staggering $1.96 billion (83.61 per cent) worth of solar cells and modules were produced in China, Energy Minister Piyush Goyal told Parliament in November 2016. India imported solar and photovoltaic cells worth about $826 million from China during the April-September period of 2016-17.
Those in the industry feel border tensions will not affect the sector. "I don't think the current political situation will have an impact on the trade because whatever China exports, Indian trade is just a fraction of that," Indrajeet Dudile, co-founder and director, Sunshot Technologies, told "Our trade with China will not be more than $60 billion vis-a-vis Chinese net exports, which is more than $2.5 trillion."
“Even if the tension is there, I don't foresee any issues till the time the Government of India takes a stand that imports from China will be stopped for all the sectors. It cannot be specific to renewables," said an official at the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE). “The rise in the cost of solar is a phenomenon that needs to be seen separately than that of the tension between India and China. An increase in prices will be due to the demand and supply considerations. It should not be linked to any kind of dispute between India and China. If the market signals are such that the demand for solar is increasing to the extent that it has an impact on the cost of solar, then this is a generic phenomena, which is not specific to the India-China dispute."
Sunil Jain, CEO and Executive Director, Hero Future Energies, believes that irrespective of the tensions, imports had to be impacted since the Indian government is already working on an anti-dumping duty petition filed by domestic manufacturers. “China already has anti-dumping measures across Europe and the US. So, this had to come logically in India and it will definitely impact the imports, but I believe the impact will be partial as our back-end for domestic manufacturing is not ready yet; we are still importing wafers and cells from China," he noted
“India has around 4 GW of solar panel assembly lines and around 1 GW of cell lines. With new technology, some of these cell lines would need an upgrade. At best, we can stop import of panels, but wafers and cells still have to be imported, and if China increases the prices of wafers and cells, are we ready for it?... Backward integration of domestic manufacturing has to be in place, if we are serious about curbing imports from China," he added.
“Till the time there is no specific issue of this nature that India should stop buying from China, it will not impact imports because it is not specific to solar modules. There are many other things which are being imported from China, including for the mainstream power sector and machinery," the MNRE official explained.
The last two years have witnessed an impressive growth of the solar sector. While India added 4 GW of solar power capacity in 2016, the generation capacity of solar rose from 2,650 MW on May 26, 2014, to 10,000 MW on March 10, 2017. However, in order to achieve its longer-term goal of 100 GW of solar PV capacity by 2022, India will have to bolster its domestic manufacturing capacity, which currently stands at around 6.5 GW for modules and 1.6 GW for cells, as per data from MNRE. “In the absence of manufacturing, India will need to import $42 billion of solar equipment by 2030, corresponding to 100 GW of installed capacity," warned a report by KPMG.
The MNRE official said that the capacity of solar modules in India is 8,000 MW, while for cells it is 1,500 MW and this is not sufficient to achieve the government's aims.
“Some amount of import will be there because we have set ambitious targets, and therefore, we will have to import till the time we have manufacturing capabilities," he said. (IANS) 


'India needs to be more transparent in snow leopard conservation'

India supports robust populations of the endangered snow leopard but its conservation-research data is not shared and doesn't contribute to the global efforts to conserve the species, whose numbers worldwide are estimated at between 4,080 and 8,700. The country needs to be more transparent, a US biologist has said.
Human encroachment and habitat degradation in the Himalayas are among the factors that are threatening the existence of the highly elusive snow leopards in the wild.
“Raw data (on the snow leopard) is almost not shared, nor is there a good legal framework or enforcement or budget," Falk Huettmann, Associate Professor with the Institute of Arctic Biology, Department of Biology and Wildlife, University of Alaska, Fairbanks, told IANS in an interview here.
He was in this Colombian city for the Society for Conservation Biology's 28th International Congress for Conservation Biology (ICCB 2017). Good science could help in the conservation of the snow leopards. But there is too little science, too simplistic, too fragmented efforts and many hidden agendas, he added, also pointing to the over-commercialised non-governmental organisations (NGOs) involved in conservation of the snow leopard in India.
Studies in India's high-altitude regions of Himachal Pradesh's Spiti and Jammu and Kashmir's Ladakh regions show the presence of one snow leopard per 100 sq km. The overall population is estimated at between 200 and 600.
Mincing no words, Huettmann said India's research on the snow leopard is not as well developed as it could be, considering that the country has such a huge potential and very sophisticated infrastructure like its own satellites to monitor wildlife. “I would rather say research (on the snow leopard) in India is primarily funding and NGO-oriented. There are too many competing entities and too much outside money and so is the outside influence," he maintained.
The biologist said "the Indian government is not strong enough to hold out (to these influences), and also lacks the expertise to make headway on its own". As an example of expertise, he mentioned "statistical inference, based on the latest methods like machine learning predictions" and said that some agencies "might say all is fine because of some earlier population numbers". “However, that's not true and there is much more to the story," he said.
Most raw data is not shared or contributed to global efforts like the GBIF (Global Biodiversity Information Facility), an international open data infrastructure funded by governments and part of the Rio convention, he noted. According to Huettmann, several factors pose threats to the snow leopard and they cannot really be broken down to just one, or a few.
For instance, habitat loss and intrusions like roads, urbanisation, electrification, poaching, human pursuit, tourism and even stray dogs are among the factors, he said.
Disease, contaminants and inbreeding might also contribute.
“Snow leopards need wild space and cold temperature, things we are very short of these days," Huettmann said. On initiatives the government should take to conserve the snow leopard, he said: "India must be less cliquey and convoluted in the science, do open and transparent conservation, and use the latest and modern science and policy." (IANS) 


Mining in Tibet poses threat to black-necked cranes

By Vishal Gulati
Mineral exploitation, infrastructure development and changes in agricultural practices are severely threatening the survival of the black-necked crane that is endemic to the Tibetan Plateau in the Himalayas, says a new international study.
It calls for effective and powerful conservation measures by Chinese authorities to maintain unharmed the habitat of the crane, an Alpine species that breeds in the extensive landscape of high Central Asia, including Ladakh in India, whose global population is estimated at around 10,000.
Owing to the Tibetan Plateau's environmental inaccessibility to comprehensive field research, the black-necked crane, revered as a "spiritual bird" in Tibetan Buddhism, remains the world's least-studied crane species.
Under China's Western Development Scheme, many critical but unassessed human activities are pervasive in crane's breeding habitat, says the study, published by Springer Nature last month.
However, it says, deficient knowledge on these threats are widely overlooked, which greatly constrains current research and regional conservation activities.
The study was conducted by a team of researchers led by Xuesong Han of the College of Nature Conservation in Beijing Forestry University. Falk Huettmann of the US Department of Biology and Wildlife in the Institute of Arctic Biology of the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, was also associated with the study.
“The rapid development in the Tibetan Plateau, especially water conservancy projects and mining, is a big threat for the survival of black-necked cranes and other endemic species," Huettmann, a wildlife ecologist specialising in macro-ecology and global conservation, told IANS on the sidelines of the 28th International Congress for Conservation Biology (ICCB 2017) in this Colombian city. The human interference index is quite high in the Tibetan Plateau region, he added.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classifies the black-necked crane, the flagship species in Tibetan Alpine wetland ecosystems, as "vulnerable" because of its decreasing global population of 10,070 to 10,970.
The northern parts of the Hengduan Mountains and the southeastern Tibet Valley, the northern side of the middle Kunlun Mountains, parts of the Pamir Plateau, the northern Pakistan Highlands and the western Hindu Kush are its main potential breeding areas.
The researchers also attribute the decline of the cranes to the change in cropping patterns and rise in population of feral dogs.
They observed their breeding habitats are commonly fragmented by fences in Zhaguo in Tibet, which prevent chicks from escaping from predation by the Tibetan foxes or dogs.
Highland barley was traditionally planted in the middle and lower reaches of the Brahmaputra river. However, the the government changed the land use from crane-edible barley plantations to "crane-unbeneficial" but highly-profitable cash crops such as rapeseed.
The massive Han Chinese migration for constructing tourism and affiliated infrastructure is especially serious.
Likewise, the large-scale construction of water conservancy projects - nine large hydro power projects are scheduled or already constructed on the Brahmaputra and Mekong rivers, the potential breeding area of the cranes.
In contrast to the Tibetan nomads, the hunting traditions of the local Uygur people also severely threaten the survival of cranes and other wildlife, says the study. In summer, the crane migrates to the eastern Pamir, which in recent decades has been affected by frequent military activities, terrorism and a massive Afghan refugee flow into northern Pakistan.
The researchers propose that threats and their links to the western development of China must be assessed for the long-term maintenance of the endangered crane species and other wildlife on the fragile Tibetan Plateau. (IANS) 

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