Solar – A Gift That Keeps Giving

Here’s a peek into what we have been doing at Oorjan for last few months, in which we got associated with a very noble cause I really wanted to share.

Solar Energy is making headlines daily these days. We hear of massive capacity allocation plans by central governments, of entire land masses being powered by solar only. I believe this is just the start of the revolution globally. Even more so in India – where we get <1% of our electricity from solar energy currently.

In these major announcements, we lose focus on how solar energy can empower us and people all around us, in a very tangible way. Solar energy (via photovoltaic cells) is elegant – it’s simple, lasts decades and is easy to adopt. The benefits are magnified when it is generated at the point of consumption – on your very own roofs. Just like people vouch by their kitchen gardens, this is your “electron garden” and I can promise you it takes less effort to maintain the latter 🙂

A recent project completed by Oorjan was a great reminder to some of these benefits. We installed a 6-KW project for Vatsalya Trust, an orphanage, in the heart of Mumbai, India. Based on Mumbai sunshine, we expect to produce on average 800 units of solar electricity per month. This saves the Trust around INR 9000 per month, or 30% of their bill at the current rates. This system will last 25 years (with a slight reduction is output annually).  In the context of a orphanage – this is a substantial saving that can be used towards the care-taking of the kids, with no change in their lifestyle. INR 9000 to the Trust means 4 kids’ monthly expenses are covered, which is significant considering they have about 30-40 kids at any point of time. They are already considering increasing the solar installation size.

This continues for EVERY YEAR of the project life. This project was donated to the orphanage, as part of the CSR campaign of some organizations – a perfect donation in my opinion. More should consider and follow suit.

I derived a lot of satisfaction in working with the Vatsalya Trust and it’s caretakers. What a PASSIONATE management team (all of them making Vatsalya their second careers after very rewarding careers in their early years)! They take in kids as young as 1- week old – it’s gut wrenching to see 3-day olds abandoned by parents… but thankfully being taken care of by Vatsalya. They have a cradle outside their gates, and have often found kids left in that overnight. They call themselves the “interim parents” while they try to place the kids in good families via adoption. They have 150 families waiting to adopt!

To list a few of their accomplishments, Vatsalya Trust has provided:

  • 30+ years of service in their mission.
  • Have placed 1200 kids in good families. The first few adopted kids have returned to serve the home with their own kids now. They do not allow kids with any kinds of physical limitations to be adopted and take care of them throughout their lives.
  • Are imparting free computer literacy classes to grown-up girls and placing them in corporate jobs, hence setting them towards self-sufficiency forever.
  • Have two more centers – one orphanage in Alibaug and a center for grown up, orphaned girls. They are also in the process of constructing an “elder’s home” nearby.

Friends, I would encourage you to open your hearts for this great institution. When you think of donating, please keep them in mind, for the cause of kids in general (not solar).

You can reach out to them directly at vatsalyatrustmumbai@gmail.com or http://www.vatsalyatrustmumbai.org/.  Ping me if you need help contacting them.

Rooftop Solar Plant @ Vatsalya

Rooftop Solar Plant @ Vatsalya

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B’bye 2014. Hello 2015!

Can’t believe but we are in 2015. Life is just whizzing past. So this seemed like a good time to take stock, keep some notes and stay honest.

2014 was good for the extended Deshpande family – most of the days we were happy and healthy. Very grateful for that!

Starting 2014, I had two resolutions – not eat chicken for the full year to see if I really miss it – like a crave-test. Our food choices are a big environmental impact and I just don’t like the idea much. Secondly, learn Marathi. During the course of the year, a weight plan “Project-58” was added in my journey to self improvement and discovery.

Easy parts first – still have not learnt Marathi. I understand it a bit better every passing day but have no confidence to speak it yet. Any improvement is only through osmosis. Although Baba had lovingly gifted an English – Marathi conversation book, and I carried it around every day for 6 months, didn’t get down to reading much from it. Having said that I would love to become conversational in Marathi one day…..

The “chicken fast” went quite well and I was able to successfully keep it out of my plate for the whole year. Since it was a “crave-test” ….I figured I do miss chicken sandwiches once in a while. So I will probably go back to some chicken going forward. Also, it’s an easy source of protein and building some muscle is part of 2015 plans.

Lastly, the update on Project-58 is in the post itself. I am 30% down from my starting point. 70% more to go. Learnt a lot trying to get there, so here is what I believe is needed besides regular exercise:

  • Reduce carbs – I have to find out a way of reducing the carb cravings. I LOVE bread and the more fresh/hot it is, the more vulnerable I am. (any ideas?)
  • Reduce sugar – I am typically not indulging on sugar or other food on a daily basis. But there are ways to cut down on my sugar intake – in beverages (tea/coffee) and other mithai. I will start by sticking to sweets couple of times a week only.
  • Increase protein intake and build muscle. I have gotten into a routine of 30-minute runs lately, which I am enjoying. I want to get my running speed to about 9.5 -10 kmph from about 8 currently, but this will require better body-strength than I have currently.

OK, so now the 2015 plan. Always in threes – it is Oorjan, Oorjan and Project-58.

Easy first – for the weight, I’ll stick to basic routine. No training plans.  No preparation for runs, etc. Just modified diet and some regular exercise. Because really, I don’t want to spend any mental threads on anything besides Oorjan and the kids….

I want to just get my third kid (Oorjan) to run this year. I am looking forward to a remarkable year of learning and (hopefully) growth. I have wanted to do this since IIT (or even earlier) and I am lucky to have the right support to attempt entrepreneurship now. In 2014, I hypothized solar and distributed generation are not being offered correctly in the country. Independence is more than just about the lowest cost.  The timing, ideas and execution are going to be tested in 2015. Oorjan is my way to trying to make an impact – both economic and environmental.

I wish for a very happy, healthy, successful 2015 to all my friends and readers! Let’s hope for a cleaner and more peaceful world in 2015.

Parting Thoughts – Solar Thermal / CSP

As of this month (August 2014) – I am no longer with AREVA. I have ventured out on my own and finally “just effing doing it” – but more on that later.

I have been associated with solar thermal (CSP) for almost 5 years now, split evently between California and India. Have written a couple of posts about what I thought were the primary advantages, drivers and challenges for the technology (at the time) here and here. It has been an excellent ride in terms of learning of whether a fledgling technology can flourish or not, may or may not, in fact, depend on the technology as such. CSP did not ever “really take off” in USA but here I will focus on the reasons in India.

Large scale CSP in India is broken at the moment. I see no meaningful revival in the next 4-5 years and most likely, ever.

Two of the main advantages of the solar thermal technology that remained in the last 3-4 years were (1) energy storage and (2) hybridization with other steam based power technologies like coal, biomass, combined cycle plants, etc. Of course there is the localization and job potential in India, but much of that can be obtained with PV as well.

Energy Storage

CSP can provide energy storage using molten salts. It’s proven with many 100s of MW running in Spain successfully for the last many years. It increases the upfront cost, but the idea is that the added generation should offset this added cost over the lifetime. It also provides a “firmer” output than you will get with solar direct technology as the variation in power generation can be managed.

Now India needs more electrons on the grid, day or night. Most of us have read articles about the “power deficit” in the country and those numbers don’t even include the unelectrified 100 million or so!In addition the question about firmness of the grid with the renewables variability is constantly being proven as a red herring, with Germany, Portugal and California production profiles leading the way. Energy storage and firmness is just a “nice to have” feature at the moment, especially if it comes with any risks of defocussing time and money towards PV programs.

Hybridization

Now this is quite relevant in the context of India have to import a lot of the coal and gas. There are MANY plants running way below their expected utilization due to fuel supply problems. Integrating CSP into those, would be a great win-win. So why are we not doing it? 

Well, the stock answer from the policy-makers is that it’s difficult to measure, hence incentivize the contribution of CSP in such plants due to “thermal” not electric contribution. This is an excuse. Many more complicated incentive problems have been solved in the energy space. So it’s more a function of the opportunity cost – the subset of plants that are in good solar region AND have flat land nearby AND have spare capacity AND compatible turbines is small. Maybe a few 100MW all over India. Similar challenges lie with biomass integration too. So the potential dent it can make in India RE goals is quite small.

Having said that, the CSP industry also did not serve itself well. It ended up being a visible failure due to developers and external financial factors, and the policymakers lost interest. Of course there are many other reasons that are debated ad nauseum, but in the end  it could not prove itself enough to be given a real second chance.

Currently, PV industry is way ahead in terms of price and deployment. That has turned out to be the real DISRUPTION in the solar industry and will continue to lead the way for a more solarized and cleaner world.

Project 58

rock n roli

In the remaining 6 months of 2014, I hope to accomplish Project 58.

That is my happy weight (in kgs), and I have about 5 more to go.

Why 58?

  •  Mostly because I want the weighing machine to NEVER tip 60kg, no matter how full I am. So I am building in some buffer for occasional indulgence, in the design itself.
  • Last time I was at the weight was probably 2007. Hrishi and I did a ton of serious hikes around the time, and I probably felt the strongest ever physically at the time.

But here’s the rub, I have no plans to diet or even follow any strict regime. I love food too much and discipline not so much. So generally what I have been following so far is 1-hr gym (cardio, and strength), twice a week. I mix in an occasional swim. Once weather gets better I might…

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Project 58

In the remaining 6 months of 2014, I hope to accomplish Project 58.

That is my happy weight (in kgs), and I have about 5 more to go.

Why 58?

  •  Mostly because I want the weighing machine to NEVER tip 60kg, no matter how full I am. So I am building in some buffer for occasional indulgence, in the design itself.
  • Last time I was at the weight was probably 2007. Hrishi and I did a ton of good hikes around the time, and I probably felt the strongest ever physically at the time.

But here’s the rub, I have no plans to diet or even follow any strict regime. I love food too much and discipline not so much. So generally what I have been following so far is 1-hr gym (cardio, and strength), twice a week. I mix in an occasional swim. Once weather gets better I might mix-in some outside running as well. Foodwise, the only change is to skip rice/chapati 3-4 times a week for dinner and load up on vegetables, dal, salad only. Otherwise, my only life-mantra is to diversify the food selection as much as possible on a regular basis and keep everything in moderation.

The goal is a nice and slow ~1-kg/month. It seems quite doable – let’s see….

——–

I think this project warrants a running commentary. So for those inclined to hear my fat-tales, hop on…

Update: 25-July-14

In the two weeks since posting this, I have gone through an up and down cycle. Had work travel for a couple of days (read super delicious 5- star food, two times a day and to-die-for breakfast buffet at ITC Chola, Chennai). This followed another party. So I gained 1-kg. Needed a week to lose that. So 15-days on, I am still where I was…

Update: 23-Aug-2014

So it’s been 6-weeks since the original post and I am down only 1-kg. 4kg in 4 months. It’s difficult to manage the weight yo-yo when some travel, any travel gets involved, both for managing food and sticking to the 2/week gymming plan. In addition there are birthdays and other occasions to attend to – basically life 🙂

Update: 15-Nov-2014

Well, the status report on this is horrendous. I am still 4kgs away from the target and frankly, having trouble figuring out how will I get there eventually. The best was 61 kg (3 kg away) but now has jumped back to 62kg :(.

In fact, since August this goal stopped being the top-most. I started Oorjan after committing to this. At the current pace of events (Hrishi’s travels, mine, sick kids and family, school commitments and what not) – I am struggling to give the right kind of attention of the business and as I said this come after that. So, it’s tough man 😦

If I can be sub-60 by the end of the year – I will celebrate mildly!

Update: 31-Dec-2014

Well the verdict is out. I am at 61.5 kg at the end of the year. Since July I was able to lose a solid 1.5 kg ;). There are things that I have learnt in the course of this project – leaving it for the next post though.

So of course the 2015 resolution is to stay the course and achieve the remaining reduction over the year.

And just like that she’s not an infant anymore….

Roohi turned 1 yesterday – yup already!!

Almost everyone, almost by habit these days, remarks how quickly the time went by. And it’s true it seems my thirties are just flying by. Even a new born could not slow it down. I have to admit the second kid was way easier than the first one. So many things were different – Hrishi and I were way more chilled about small kid things like letting her cry. Hrishi more than me, to my chagrin often 🙂

We live with “support” aka parents now – so she spent her first year in one big happy family where parents were just another set of care-takers. Like all kids I know, on most days, she likes to hang out with her grandfather more than with me. Same holds for Hridyan still actually…It also allowed me to get back to fulltime job when she was around 6 months. So thanks to my MIL, things went back to normal pretty quickly.

With fulltime help at home, the bottles, washing, making meals, etc have all been easier.

She’s also been a darling in terms of no colic and is generally happy to sleep :))

Sharing a lovely birthday card that my Mami made for her.

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Some milestones from year-1:

Month 2 – smile

Month 4 – roll-over, back to tummy

Month 5 – tummy to back

Month 6 – sitting up, introduction of outside food, making some sounds

Month 7 – Pointing to milk bottle to indicate she wants milk. Am still amazed at how early she did that!!

Month 9 – crawl, , saying baba-dada

Month 10 – first teeth, holding objects and standing

Month -11 – first real word “ball”

At birthday – walking with a walker. Not so enthusiastic to try free walking yet.

At 1-year, she loves books, playing a with ball, going for strolls and more books. Started enjoying musical toys recently, especially interacting with them. Is more moody than Hridyan was and is less generous with smiles 🙂

The best part, by far, is watching Hridyan and Roohi together. He in his infinite innocence one day remarked “Mumma, I don’t know why I love Roohi so much”. Hridyan has become all protective already and does not like our “let-her-cry” experiments. When he returns from school, then she tries to communicate with him in her own language and they kinda just enjoy each other’s company for a while. It is the most beautiful thing to watch and I feel blessed to watch it so closely! Here’s to a lifetime of such memories.

God bless my little angel for a long, happy, loving and healthy life!

 

 

 

Smiles, baths, sleep and celebrations – first two months

Roohi turned two months on 18th Aug. It has been delightful, relatively stress-free two months. 100% mommyhood for the first time ever. (with Hridyan I was back for class/assignments in 2 weeks).

Some things are same – many different from the first time around…

For a start Roohi likes to sleep. (Hridyan did not. I remember sending emails to my MBA groups at 3:00 am because both Hridyan and I used to be awake not knowing what else to do). I have never had to wake up more than twice at night with her, normally its once. Even that one time, we go through the feed and go back to sleep. No fuss. That takes care of the biggest source of stress of most parents.

She smiles a lot – makes it that much easier for all of us. Is bright and cheery in the morning and responds to “good morning”, etc with super broad smiles. In the first month she was smiling at her dreams probably, but now positively smiles back at us. In fact we think she might be a talker, cause she is already cooing, etc

Another big diff from last time is bath time – this one is a monsoon baby. She wails when we get her OUT of the water. It’s unbelievable. Head bath, soap, shampoo – bring it on!!!

Finally we have some massage also going on this time – both mom and baby are indulging. I love massaging her. Its a great routine. She likes it and we get some precious moments together every day. I have also started yoga classes – hopefully my back will get back (hee hee) into shape quickly this time.

As expected, we have visitors and various celebrations going on. We had the Naamkaran ceremony, 1st month birthday celebration, Masi visit and 2nd month celebrations, in addition to continuing “hello” trips. Coming up is the festive season – so this is just warming up.  Aaah…..the life in India 🙂