As India's Climate Changes, Farmers In The North Experiment With New Crops

In the upper reaches of the northern state of Uttarakhand, small villages are rain- and snow-fed. As snowfall has declined, farmers are starting to plant crops in winter, when fields would usually lie fallow. (photo) Julie McCarthy/NPR

On a recent weekday, Vamsi Komarala guides me up to the rooftop of the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology in New Delhi, where he teaches physics. Fields of solar panels adorn the buildings.

I swipe an index finger across one of the panels to see if weeks of monsoon rains have washed it clean. My finger comes back filthy with grit.

Vamsi tells me the panels are washed twice a week, then explains the grime: "That is because in New Delhi, we have a lot of dust."

Dust is just one factor. The capital city and much of northern India are routinely shrouded in man-made pollutants. In fact, Delhi vies with Beijing for the dirtiest air in the world.

Many of India's 1.3 billion people — a fifth of the world's population — face pollutionthat is cutting short lives, stunting children's cognitive development and putting public health under terrific stress.

Air pollution is the leading risk factor for most deaths and disabilities in India, a country that's home to 13 of 20 of the world's most polluted cities.

The country's dilemma is stark: To lift millions from poverty, it will require ever more energy. But most of India's electricity is generated by coal-burning power plants. Millions of new cars choke the roads each year. Add to the mix the burning of garbage and crops, and it's a toxic cocktail that makes India the third-largest contributor of greenhouse gas emissions in the world, after China and the United States.

Under pressure to cut these emissions — which contribute to global warming and climate change — India is turning to its greatest source of clean, renewable energy: sunshine.

It's drenched in it 300 days of every year. Already, solar energy is changing the landscape across New Delhi, and the deserts of Rajasthan. But pollution is diminishing its power.

Better air quality, better solar power production

A new study has found that air pollution cuts the capacity of solar panels to generate power — and the smaller the particle, the more effective it is at blocking out the sun. Some of these very particles are dirtying the solar panels on the Indian Institute of Technology rooftop.

When solar panels are clean — like the ones on the rooftop of Delhi's Habitat Center, a conference and office complex in the central part of the city — solar energy production typically doubles, according to a new study led by Duke University researchers. Julie McCarthy/NPR
Michael Bergin of Duke University's civil and environmental engineering department, the study's lead author, says tiny particulate pollution can either absorb the sun's radiation or scatter the sunlight, diffusing the light that hits solar panels. He's created a model to measure that loss — which is substantial.

"We came up with between 17 percent to 25 percent reductions in solar energy production in India and China," he says, "and we believe that the effects might be a little higher since the model we use tends to under-predict the effects."

Unaccounted for are the effects of things like burning trash, a widespread practice in India. As for deposits on solar panels, Bergin and his Indian team monitored accumulations at the Indian Institute of Technology in Gandhinagar, in the state of Gujarat — and arrived at eye-popping results.

"After we scraped the particles off, we would watch the solar energy production typically double," he says. "So in three to four weeks in northern India, often the solar energy production — if you weren't to clean these panels — decreases by a factor of two. So that's really huge."

Improving air quality would vastly improve the production of solar energy. It would, says Bergin, "have huge health benefits. So I think this is just another reason to try to clean the air."

In the face of skepticism, the government has pledged to achieve 100 gigawatts of solar capacity by 2022, five times its previous target and a goal considered extremely ambitious. (In 2014, the entire world had 181 gigawatts of solar capacity.)

Agricultural opportunities

Hundreds of miles north of Delhi, in the state of Uttarakhand, the air is clean. And here, changing climate conditions can seem more like an opportunity to exploit than a looming threat to fear.

Along the hairpin turns of the Himalayas, brightly colored houses appear as though they're painted on the sheer cliffs, and join the steppes as they slip into the Ganges. Roaring rivers are swollen by the summer monsoons.

Okay Fair enough

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Facebook And Voters See The Benefit Of Clean Energy In Ohio

Facebook And Voters See The Benefit Of Clean Energy In Ohio

by: Environmental Defense Fund Energy Exchange Blog

Last month, Facebook announced its new $750 million data center will be located in New Albany, Ohio, just north of Columbus. Why did the social media giant choose this particular spot? Apparently, Facebook likes clean energy, stating, “The availability of renewable energy sources, including wind, solar and hydro, was critical to the decision.” And Facebook isn’t clean energy’s only fan in Ohio. A new poll from The Nature Conservancy (TNC) shows that voters in the Buckeye State overwhelmingly support developing more clean energy – like efficiency, solar, and wind – over more traditional resources, like coal and natural gas. And perhaps surprisingly, even voters in coal country are on board, saying policies that promote renewable energy will benefit the state’s economy. Encouraging results Conducted by Public Opinion Strategies, the nation’s largest Republican polling firm, the TNC poll reveals strong statewide support for increasing the use of efficiency and renewable energy. When asked whether “as a state, Ohio should put more emphasis, less, emphasis, or about the same emphasis as it does now on producing domestic energy from each of the following sources,” voters vastly preferred the clean electricity options. In Southeast Ohio, where coal customarily played a role in local economies, three-quarters of voters would like to see more efficiency and over half would like more of the state’s electricity to come from wind and solar. Moreover, over a quarter of Southeast Ohio voters prefer less emphasis placed on coal. And four-in-five voters in this region would like their elected officials to support policies that promote renewable energy. Where policy differs Clearly, Ohio voters recognize the economic benefits – like jobs and investment – that clean energy brings. According to TNC, “Poll respondents agree that state policies promoting renewable energy development in Ohio sends a clear message to investors that we are open for business.” Voters across Ohio want their lives to run on more clean energy and less coal. Yet, some state leaders want to halt the growth of renewables and energy efficiency. Last year, Ohio’s legislature tried to pass a bill that would have weakened the state’s clean energy standards and blocked investment. Fortunately, Governor John Kasich stepped in and vetoed the bill, vowing to protect jobs and the economy. Specifically, he was thinking of large tech firms – like Amazon and Google – who value operating on clean electricity. Facebook’s decision to locate its new renewable-powered data center in Ohio shows that Kasich was spot on. Despite last year’s defeat, state lawmakers introduced legislation in early 2017 to weaken the clean energy standards – again. The bill passed the House and may be taken up in the Senate in the fall. Voters across Ohio want their lives to run on more clean energy and less coal, and recognize this move will enhance the state’s economy. And by transitioning to low-carbon efficiency, wind, and solar, Ohioans will breathe cleaner air and live longer, healthier lives. We hope state legislators will follow Gov. Kasich’s lead and reject efforts to block clean energy growth. Why not give Ohioans what they want? By Dick Munson Originally Published on September 15, 2017 The Energy Exchange Blog is a forum where EDF‘s energy experts discuss how to accelerate the transition to a clean, low-carbon energy economy. Follow them on Twitter here: @EDFEnergyEX