Archive for ‘Technology’

02/12/2016

Indian Startup Plans to Land on the Moon in January 2018 – India Real Time – WSJ

An Indian aerospace startup has said that it will launch its mission to the moon in a year’s time, as it takes part in a Google-funded competition to become the world’s first-ever privately held company to make a soft landing there.

Team Indus‘s rover, nicknamed ‘Ek Choti Si Asha,’ or ‘one small hope’ in Hindi, won the Axiom Research team a million-dollar prize from Google last year.

A group of more than 100 scientists and engineers, including around a dozen former ISRO scientists, make up Axiom Research Labs’ Team Indus. The team is India’s only entry in the Google-funded Lunar XPrize challenge, which has a bounty of $30 million.

To win the prize, a team has to successfully place a spacecraft on the moon’s surface, travel at least 500 meters and transmit high-definition video and images back to Earth.

“A full launch vehicle from ISRO [Indian Space Research Organization] will launch our spacecraft into the orbit of the moon end of 2017,” Rahul Narayan, the fleet commander of the team, said at a news conference in New Delhi on Thursday.

The supermoon rising above Cape Town on November 14, 2016, when it was closest to the earth in 68 years.

The Team Indus spacecraft is expected to make it to the moon’s Mare Imbrium region by January 2018.

The race is on. Sixteen other teams from across the world want to make the 238,900-mile trip, and Team Indus is the fourth team to announce its launch plans, said Mr. Narayan.

“We are considering the team from Israel great competition at this point,” he said.

The Indian team’s plan is the country’s first shot at becoming the fourth nation to land gently on the lunar surface and unfurl its national flag, after the U.S., Russia and China.

The South Asian nation’s inexpensive Mars mission put its satellite Mangalyan, which now appears on India’s new 2,000-rupee bank notes, into the red planet’s orbit for $74 million in September 2014. The U.S. spent $671 million getting its Maven satellite to Mars orbit.

The team said its mission would cost $60 million.

Team Indus’s core leadership team, including fleet commander Rahul Narayan, fourth from left.

“We’ve already raised about $15 million through private equity,” said Julius Amrit, co-founder and director. The company aims to raise $20 million by charging companies or universities to put their instruments on board to collect data. It also expects to raise another $20 million from sponsorship, donations and grants.

Its top investors include Ratan Tata, chairman of the Tata group, one of India’s biggest conglomerates; Nandan Nilekani, co-founder of Indian outsourcing firm Infosys; and the owners of e-commerce website Flipkart Internet Pvt. Ltd.

“We are quite confident at this moment that we will have enough money to send our spacecraft to the moon,” Mr. Amrit said.

The Bangalore-based startup won a million dollar prize from Google last year for its WALL-E lookalike moon rover, which will shoot high-quality images, video and data and beam them from the moon’s surface to the company’s mission center in India.

 

But the mission isn’t without its challenges.“If you have to softly land, you need to be able to [precisely] manage your velocity and time [to switch your engines on and off],” said Dhruv Batra, Program Lead at Team Indus. “Unfortunately, there is no throttle-like mechanism in a spacecraft, like you have in a car.”

Another challenge is to be able to land at the right time of the day—to make sure the solar panels are able to power the gadgetry, while making sure the temperature isn’t too extreme for the batteries and other electronics to work properly.

“We are currently refining each and every output of our simulations to arrive at that level of precision we need,” said Mr. Batra.Seven years ago, Team Indus was one of the last teams to sign up for the Google challenge, and its founders had no prior experience in aerospace engineering or space sciences, said Mr. Narayan, the fleet commander. “It was just a dream.”

Source: Indian Startup Plans to Land on the Moon in January 2018 – India Real Time – WSJ

29/11/2016

Digital payment firms cash in on India’s money mess, but can it last? | Reuters

Digital payment providers in India have mobilised hundreds of extra workers to enrol small merchants and offered their services for free, betting that severe cash shortages will prove to be the opportunity of a lifetime.

Signing people up, however, may be the easy part.

Getting shops and customers to change their reliance on cash permanently will involve convincing people like Mohammad Javed, a 36-year-old meat shop owner in New Delhi.

Working out of a bustling market in the capital, he is surrounded by banks and ATM machines, but says he does not know how to use a credit card machine, let alone a mobile wallet.

He says business has dropped since Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s shock move on Nov. 8 to ditch higher value banknotes, but Javed does not believe mobile app providers offer a solution to his problem – or to his customers.

“We don’t have knowledge or resources to open a mobile wallet or card-swipe machine, and our customers who pay 100-200 rupees ($1.46-$2.92) are not interested either,” he said.

Javed’s reluctance is a reality check for the likes of Paytm and smaller rival MobiKwik, which have gone into promotional overdrive since Modi’s announcement.

The prime minister, whose government supports digital payments, brought in demonetisation to crack down on the shadow economy and improve tax collection.

“Why should India not make a beginning in creating a ‘less-cash society?’,” he said on Sunday, “Once we embark on our journey to create a ‘less-cash society’, the goal of ‘cashless society’ will not remain very far.”P

ROMISING SIGNS

The companies say results have been promising so far.

Paytm, backed by Chinese Internet giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd (BABA.N), has added 700 sales representatives since Nov. 8, taking its number of agents to 5,000.

Advertisement boards of Paytm, a digital wallet company, are seen placed at stalls of roadside vegetable vendors as they wait for customers in Mumbai, India, November 19, 2016.

The company, which has 4,500 full-time employees, plans to double the number of agents to more than 10,000, as it aggressively expands its network.

It says it has nearly doubled the number of small merchants signed up to its services to 1.5 million in the last few weeks and added eight million clients to the 150 million it had before the banknote ban.

MobiKwik, whose backers include U.S. venture capital firm Sequoia Capital and American Express (AXP.N), said it had increased its agent base to more than 10,000 from about 1,000 before the Modi move.

Merchants on its platform have risen to 250,000 from 150,000 previously, and chief executive Bipin Preet Singh said they were aiming for a million in up to two months. It has added 5 million accounts since Nov. 8, bringing the total to 40 million.

But challenges loom.

Credit Suisse estimates more than 90 percent of consumer purchases are made in cash, as millions still do not have bank accounts. Those who do have bank cards mainly use them to withdraw from cash machines.

Sales of cheap smartphones have boomed in recent years, but internet networks remain patchy, especially in rural India. Financial literacy and technology usage also remain low.

Dillip Kumar Agrahari, a vegetable seller in a Mumbai suburb, recently signed up to Paytm but does not know how to operate a smartphone.

He hopes switching to digital payments will improve his business as the cash crunch drags on, but says he will have to depend on a cousin to help with accounts.

Many businesses have traditionally opted for cash transactions because they are hard for the tax man to trace, given sales taxes are typically at least 10 percent.

Mangal Singh, a furniture store owner, said nearly 80 percent of his business was transacted in cash, even though he accepts credit card payments.

“We are working on wafer-thin margins,” he said. “If we are asked to pay 12.5 percent tax and other charges, we will have to close down our shops.”

Concerns also remain about the infrastructure for mobile payments, as customers or merchants from one platform cannot transfer payments to another.

MobiKwik said it had started offering wallet-to-wallet transfers, though not all rivals were on board.

WHEN WILL PROFITS COME?

The challenges raise questions about whether the business models of mobile payments providers are sustainable.

Paytm recently slashed fees until Dec. 31, from a system of fees that ranged from 1 to 4 percent, with the most lucrative coming from telephone and utility bill payments.

MobiKwik is not charging fees until March 2017.The closely-held companies are loss-making.

Paytm Chief Executive Vijay Shekhar Sharma said the company expected to reach profitability in two years, without giving details. MobiKwik’s co-founder Upasana Taku said they hoped to become profitable in mid-2018.

Fitch Ratings believes that once the cash crunch subsides, some merchants and customers will go back to business as usual, using notes to pay for transactions.

“I would expect some amount of behavioural changes,” said Fitch analyst Saswata Guha. “We’re still not sure if this shock per se is incentive enough for them to completely change the way they do things.”

($1 = 68.1384 Indian rupees)

Source: Digital payment firms cash in on India’s money mess, but can it last? | Reuters

25/11/2016

China breaks patent application record – BBC News

China-based innovators applied for a record-setting number of invention patents last year.

The country accounted for more than a million submissions, according to an annual report by the World Intellectual Property Organization (Wipo). It said the figure was “extraordinary”.

Many of the filings were for new ideas in telecoms, computing, semiconductors and medical tech.

Beijing had urged companies to boost the number of such applications.

But some experts have questioned whether it signifies that the country is truly more inventive than others, since most of China’s filings were done locally.

What is a patent?

A patent is the monopoly property right granted by a government to the owner of an invention.

This allows the creator and subsequent owners to prevent others from making, using, offering for sale or importing their invention into the country for a limited time.

In return they must agree for the patent filing to be publicly disclosed.

To qualify as an “invention” patent, the filing must contain a new, useful idea that includes a step – a new process, improvement or concept – which would not be obvious to a skilled person in that field.

Some countries – including China – also issue other types of patents:

Utility model patents. The ideas must still be novel, but it is less important that there is a “non-obvious step”

Design patents. These require the shape, pattern and/or colour of a manufactured object’s design to be new, but do not require there to be a novel technical aspect

Skewed figures

A total of 2.9 million invention patent applications were filed worldwide in 2015, according to Wipo, marking a 7.8% rise on the previous year.

China can lay claim to driving most of that growth. Its domestic patent office – the Property Office of the People’s Republic of China (Sipo) – received a record 1,101,864 filings. These included both filings from residents of China and those from overseas innovators who had sought local protection for their ideas.

The tally was more than that of Sipo’s Japanese, South Korean and US equivalents combined.

Applicants based in China filed a total of 1,010,406 invention patents – the first time applicants from a single origin had filed more than one million in a single year.

But they appeared to be reticent about seeking patent rights abroad.

According to Wipo, China-based inventors filed just 42,154 invention patent applications outside their borders – Huawei and ZTE, two smartphone and telecoms equipment-makers, led the way.

There was a rise in the number of medical tech patent filings from China

By comparison US-based inventors sought more than five times that figure. And Japan, Germany and France also outnumbered the Asian giant.

One patent expert – who asked not to be named – suggested the disparity between Chinese inventors’ local and international filings reflected the fact that not all the claims would stand up to scrutiny elsewhere.

“The detail of what they are applying for means they would be unlikely to have the necessary degree of novelty to be granted a patent worldwide,” he said.

But Wipo’s chief economist said things were not so clear cut.

“There is clearly a discussion out there as to what is the quality of Chinese patents,” said Carsten Fink.

“But questions have also been asked about US and other [countries’] patents.”

And one should keep in mind that China is a huge economy.

“If you look at its patent filings per head of population, there are still fewer patents being filed there than in the United States.”

Patent boom

Part of the reason so many applications were made locally was that China set itself a target to boost all types of patent filings five years ago.

Sipo declared at the time that it wanted to receive two million filings in 2015.

The government supported the initiative with various subsidies and other incentives.

Adding together China’s invention, utility and design patents, its tally for 2015 was about 2.7 million filings, meaning it surpassed its goal by a wide margin.

One London-based patent lawyer noted that Chinese firms were not just filing patents of their own but also buying rights from overseas companies.

“This all goes to show the growth of the telecoms and high-tech industries in China, and that these companies are playing a more significant role globally than hitherto,” said Jonathan Radcliffe from Reed Smith.

“The fact we are now seeing them suing and being sued for patent infringement in Europe and in the US on subject matter such as mobile phones and telecoms standards – and indeed seeing Chinese companies suing each other over here in Europe for patent infringement – shows that they have truly arrived.”

Source: China breaks patent application record – BBC News

17/10/2016

China launches longest manned space mission | Reuters

China launched its longest manned space mission on Monday, sending two astronauts into orbit to spend a month aboard a space laboratory that is part of a broader plan to have a permanent manned space station in service around 2022.

The Shenzhou 11 blasted off on a Long March rocket at 7:30 am (2330 GMT) from the remote launch site in Jiuquan, in the Gobi desert, in images carried live on state television.

The astronauts will dock with the Tiangong 2 space laboratory, or “Heavenly Palace 2”, which was sent into space last month. It will be the longest stay in space by Chinese astronauts, state media reported.

Early on Monday, Fan Changlong, a vice chairman of China’s powerful Central Military Commission, met astronauts Jing Haipeng and Chen Dong and wished them well, state news agency Xinhua reported.

“You are going to travel in space to pursue the space dream of the Chinese nation,” Fan said.”With all the scientific and rigorous training, discreet preparation, and rich experience accumulated from previous missions, you will accomplish the glorious and tough task… We wish you success and look forward to your triumphant return.”

Shenzhou 11 is the third space voyage for Jing, who will command the mission and celebrate his 50th birthday in orbit.

In a manned space mission in 2013, three Chinese astronauts spent 15 days in orbit and docked with a space laboratory, the Tiangong 1.Advancing China’s space program is a priority for Beijing, with President Xi Jinping calling for the country to establish itself as a space power.

China insists its space program is for peaceful purposes.

Shenzhou 11, whose name translates as “Divine Vessel”, will also carry three experiments designed by Hong Kong middle school students and selected in a science competition, including one that will take silk worms into space.

The U.S. Defense Department has highlighted China’s increasing space capabilities, saying it was pursuing activities aimed at preventing other nations using space-based assets in a crisis.

China has been working to develop its space program for military, commercial and scientific purposes, but is still playing catch-up to established space powers the United States and Russia.

China’s Jade Rabbit moon rover landed on the moon in late 2013 to great national fanfare, but soon suffered severe technical difficulties.

The rover and the Chang’e 3 probe that carried it there were the first “soft landing” on the moon since 1976. Both the United States and the Soviet Union had accomplished the feat earlier.

China will launch a “core module” for its first space station some time around 2018, a senior official said in April, part of a plan for a permanent manned space station in service around 2022.

Source: China launches longest manned space mission | Reuters

14/10/2016

Infosys cuts annual revenue target for 2nd time as U.S. election, Brexit weigh | Reuters

India’s second-largest software services exporter Infosys Ltd cut its fiscal-year revenue growth target for the second time in three months on an uncertain business outlook, sending its shares tumbling more than 5 percent.

Reporting a 6.1 percent rise in second-quarter net profit, Infosys said on Friday it now expected revenue to grow between 8 percent and 9 percent in constant currency terms in the fiscal year to March 31, 2017. Its previous revenue growth target, issued in July, was 10.5-12 percent, already lowered from the up to 13.5 percent it said it expected in April.India’s more-than-$150 billion software services sector depends on North America and Europe for the majority of its revenue. The impending U.S. presidential election and the implications of Britain’s ‘Brexit‘ move to exit the European Union have both weighed on spending by western clients.

Infosys had warned in August it was seeing some “softness” in business after the June Brexit vote in Britain.

Chief Executive Vishal Sikka said in a statement on Friday the revision took into consideration “our performance in first half of the year and the near-term uncertain business outlook”.

After falling as much as 5.3 percent after the guidance cut was announced, Infosys shares were trading 2.6 percent down at 0453 GMT in a Mumbai market that was little changed.

For its fiscal second quarter to Sept. 30, its consolidated net profit rose 6.1 percent from a year earlier to 36.06 billion rupees ($541.51 million), ahead of analysts’ estimates of 35.26 billion rupees. Revenue rose 10.7 percent to 173.1 billion rupees.The company said on Friday it added 78 clients during the three months to September, taking its total number of active clients to 1,136.

($1 = 66.5919 Indian rupees)

Source: Infosys cuts annual revenue target for 2nd time as U.S. election, Brexit weigh | Reuters

07/10/2016

India telecoms spectrum auction raises $9.9 billion, Vodafone tops spending | Reuters

Vodafone Group Plc (VOD.L) was the biggest spender in an Indian mobile phone spectrum auction that raised a total $9.9 billion for the government, as carriers competed to boost subscribers in the world’s fastest-growing internet services market.

The proceeds of the auction, which ended on Thursday after five days of bidding, helped India raise about 658 billion rupees ($9.87 billion).

That figure was well below the $84 billion worth of spectrum on offer however, as carriers shunned the priciest category of airwaves, snapping up less than half of the total on offer.

Yet given the vast volume available, no one had expected the priciest spectrum – that offers deeper reach – to be bought now, as data demand in India is still in its infancy and data costs in the ultra-competitive market are falling, making it harder for carriers to justify big cash outlays.

JPMorgan earlier on Thursday had projected the auction would generate between $8 billion and $12 billion.The government had budgeted for 646 billion rupees ($9.7 billion) as revenue from the auction in the current fiscal year ending March. It will receive some 320 billion rupees upfront, as carriers are allowed to make payments in instalments.

Vodafone, which in recent months injected $7.2 billion in its Indian unit, the market’s No.2, bought spectrum worth more than $3 billion, according to a source with knowledge of the matter.

Market leader Bharti Airtel (BRTI.NS) bought $2.13 billion worth, while No. 3 player Idea Cellular (IDEA.NS) spent $1.92 billion at the auction.

The three rivals, which together hold more than 60 percent of the Indian market of a billion-plus mobile subscriptions, are being challenged by new entrant Reliance Jio Infocomm, backed by India’s richest man Mukesh Ambani.Reliance Jio, which has the most 4G airwaves across India’s 22 telecoms zones, last month launched services with free voice calls and cut-rate data prices, triggering a price war. It bought spectrum worth $2.05 billion.

Although among India’s top three, Vodafone and Idea lag Bharti and Jio in terms of 4G presence, and were seen beefing up their high-speed data networks by aggressively bidding in the latest spectrum sale.

Idea said on Thursday it had been able to complete its mobile broadband footprint in all 22 service areas after the latest auction. Vodafone was yet to give details.The government found no takers for the best-quality and the priciest 700 megahertz airwaves, offered for the first time.

Carriers instead purchased spectrum in the 1800 and 2300 bands that can also handle 4G traffic.

All seven carriers including Reliance Communications (RLCM.NS) and Tata Teleservices that participated in the auction bought some spectrum, Telecoms Minister Manoj Sinha told reporters on Thursday.

The auction was India’s largest by spectrum volume.

Source: India telecoms spectrum auction raises $9.9 billion, Vodafone tops spending | Reuters

03/10/2016

How Google’s Bicycle-Riding Internet Tutors Are Getting Rural Indian Women Online – India Real Time – WSJ

The internet fails to reach millions of women in the small towns and villages of India, so Google is trying to deliver it to them — by bicycle.

The Alphabet Inc. unit has built an army of thousands of female trainers and sent them to the far corners of the Subcontinent on two-wheelers, hoping to give rural woman their first taste of the web. Each bike has a box full of connected smartphones and tablets for women to try and train on.

The idea is to give people who have never even sent an email a better understanding of how being connected could improve their lives. Families that can afford to be online often chose not to be because they do not see the value. Meanwhile women are sometimes blocked by their families from new technology.

ENLARGEA web trainer who is taking part in Internet Saathi, the joint program of Alphabet, Inc.‘s Google and local philanthropy Tata Trusts, in the village of Habibwala, in Rajastan, India, Sept. 28, 2016. PHOTO: GOOGLE

Bhagwati Kumari Mahawar got her very first taste of the internet just a month ago.

The 19-year-old used a smartphone Google brought to her remote village in the desert state of Rajasthan to search for designs of mehndi, the elaborate henna designs Indian women get on their hands and feet. Then she looked up information on how to sew a blouse.

ENLARGEBhagwati Kumari Mahawar in the village of Habibwala, in Rajastan, India, Sept. 28, 2016. PHOTO: GOOGLE

“I really wanted to learn,” she said, sitting in the shade near the Google bicycle and a water buffalo.In the project, called Internet Saathi, Google partnered with local philanthropy Tata Trusts to show women in rural India how to connect to the web.

Instructors are trained in how the web works, and then are given bicycles with large boxes on the back containing internet-enabled devices running Google’s Android mobile operating system. The newly equipped “saathis” — or “partners” in Hindi — then cycle from village to village providing instruction to their peers.

“I wasn’t sure if I could do it or not,” said the instructor who helped Ms. Mahwar get online, 30-year-old Kamla Devi Mahawar, who is unrelated to her pupil.

She never used the web until she began her Saathi training ten months earlier, but since then has enjoyed showing women how to search for information like recipes and stitching guides, and showing them how to use voice queries if they are unable to type in text.

ENLARGEWomen look at cell phones as part of Internet Saathi, the joint program of Alphabet, Inc.’s Google and local philanthropy Tata Trusts, in the village of Habibwala, in Rajastan, India, Sept. 28, 2016. PHOTO: NEWLEY PURNELL/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

In a demonstration, she sat on the ground while half a dozen women circled around her, watching as she searched for images of nearby temples and forts. Some women want to learn how to use Facebook Inc.’s WhatsApp messaging service, while others simply want to make phone calls, she said.

Since the program’s launch last year, about 9,000 guides have helped reached 1 million women, Google said, noting that the program fits its mission of helping expand internet access globally.

India is an increasingly important commercial market for the Mountain View, Calif. search titan given its nascent internet economy.

While the country is home to more than 1.2 billion people, consultancy McKinsey & Co. reckons some one billion people still lack regular web access. More online consumers in the years ahead could mean more users of Google’s services, like its search engine, email and Android.

A bike used by an instructor who teaches women how to use the web, part of Internet Saathi, the joint program of Alphabet, Inc.’s Google and local philanthropy Tata Trusts, in the village of Habibwala, in Rajastan, India, Sept. 28, 2016. PHOTO: GOOGLE

Last week, at an event in New Delhi, Google executives said they are expanding their efforts to reach Indians with products and features like a new version of its YouTube app designed to work even on India’s often sluggish mobile networks.

Asked how her work with others could be made easier, Ms. Mahwar, the trainer, was quick to point out that better web connectivity is key.

“The internet doesn’t work half the time,” she said. Fixing that “would help a lot.”

Source: How Google’s Bicycle-Riding Internet Tutors Are Getting Rural Indian Women Online – India Real Time – WSJ

30/09/2016

Glass loos with a view open in China – BBC News

Whatever will the Chinese think of next?

China’s recent obsession with glass tourist attractions has gone round the U-bend with the opening of some see-through treetop public toilets.

The loos, near Shiyan Lake in southern Hunan province, have fabulous views of both the forest below and other people using the facilities.

Cubicle walls, even those between the men’s and women’s sections, are only separated by lightly frosted glass.

But state media said few visitors dared use the loos on their opening day.

Image copyrightBARCROFT IMAGESImage caption

Shy users of the urinals may take comfort from the privacy barriers between them, though not in the fact they are made of glass

Despite a boom in the construction of glass bridges and walkways in scenic locations in China in recent years – in some cases so popular they had to be closed – these are thought to be the first entirely glass public bathrooms in the country.

However, it not the first time those busting to go have been exposed a little more than they might like by the enthusiasm for glass.

There were reports recently of some male toilets in a university dorm in Hunan which included one very public cubicle.

Image copyrightBARCROFTImage captionUnusually, a head for heights is a requirement for a job as a cleaner there

Image copyrightBARCROFTImage caption Awkward: cubicle walls are only lightly-frosted, even between the men’s and women’s sections

News of the wide-view WCs at Shiyan Lake sparked a range of reactions online.Responding to a Facebook post about it by state television channel CCTV, Ejike Nnadi summed up the feelings of many: “Hell no.”

Others were more taken by the idea. “You’ll be surprised by what you can tolerate when you really, really need to go,” said one post.

Another nodded towards another modern use for restrooms: “I’d be in there ’til my battery hit zero if there was signal in there!”

Image copyrightBARCROFTImage captionThe well-lit lavs are built on a steep hillside

Tina Chen took a dimmer view of all such projects though. “(It) is not about being shy, just again someone had extra money to waste.”

Image copyrightGETTY IMAGESImage caption Unusual glass structures have provided popular photo ops for tourists across China

Awkward or not, it is hoped that these bathrooms for the brave will encourage tourists to visit the countryside around Changsha city and admire the spectacular autumn colours of its forests.

Source: Glass loos with a view open in China – BBC News

23/09/2016

A glowing future | The Economist

UPON learning (via a terse government statement) that their bustling port city in eastern China had been tipped as the likely site of a plant to recycle used nuclear fuel, residents of Lianyungang took to the streets last month in their thousands. Police, whose warnings against demonstrations were ignored, deployed with riot gear in large numbers but only scuffled with the protesters, who rallied, chanted and waved banners in the city centre for several days. “No one consulted us about this,” says one woman who participated in the protests. “We love our city. We have very little pollution and we don’t want a nuclear-fuel plant anywhere near us. The government says it is totally safe, but how can they be sure? How can we believe them?” she asks.

Such scepticism is shared by many in Lianyungang, which already hosts a nuclear-power plant (pictured), and elsewhere in China, where the government plans to expand nuclear power massively. China started its first nuclear plant in 1994. There are now 36 reactors in operation, and another 20 under construction (see map). A further four have been approved, and many more are in the planning stages. Only one new plant has been built in America, in contrast, since 1994; four more are under construction. By 2030 China is projected to get 9% of its power from nuclear, up from 2% in 2012. In absolute terms, its nuclear generation capacity will have increased eightfold over the same period, to 750 billion kilowatt-hours a year, roughly America’s current level.

After disaster struck Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power station in 2011, the Chinese authorities briefly halted this pell-mell rush toward the nuclear future, announcing a moratorium on the construction of new plants, urgent safety checks on existing ones and a prolonged policy review to decide whether nuclear power would remain a part of China’s energy strategy. The following year, however, the government resolved to carry on with its nuclear-energy programme.

The need is clear. Despite slowing economic growth, energy consumption per person is projected to rise dramatically, with no plateau in sight before 2030. Pollution from coal-fired power plants, China’s main source of electricity, causes widespread respiratory disease and many premature deaths each year, a source of persistent public anger. China has also made ambitious promises to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. If it hopes to meet such targets, it will need to embrace nuclear, “because the only other truly reliable 24/7 source of electric power is coal,” says Zha Daojiong of Peking University.China’s utilities are also keen. The state-owned firms that run all the country’s nuclear plants are thought to earn a good return on their investment (their accounts are too murky to be certain), in part because their official backing allows them to finance new reactors very cheaply, and in part because regulators have fixed power tariffs in a favourable manner. One estimate put the return on nuclear assets between 2002 and 2012 at 7% a year, compared with 3% for coal- and gas-fired plants.

China even harbours ambitions to export its growing expertise in nuclear power. After relying first on Russian designs, and more recently importing American and French ones, China has also developed indigenous nuclear reactors. A recently approved deal with Britain, valued at $23 billion, will see China help finance a French-designed nuclear-power station and possibly build one of its own design later.

But China’s nuclear push has its critics. These include those who live near proposed nuclear facilities. Many, like the protesters in Lianyungang, are happy to have the power they need to run their air-conditioners but want to keep the unpleasant parts of the operation far from their doorsteps. Chinese now has a word for NIMBY: linbi, a fusion of the words for “adjacent” and “shun”. The government has repeatedly backed down in the face of public demonstrations, twice agreeing to relocate a uranium-enrichment plant, for example. It has also put the decision about the reprocessing plant in Lianyungang on hold.

Yet attitudes to nuclear power may be less hostile than in many Western countries. A study published in 2013 found an even split between supporters and opponents of expanding China’s nuclear-power industry. Compared with their counterparts in the rich world, Chinese citizens showed much greater “trust and confidence in the government” as the manager of nuclear policy and operations, the emergency responder in case of accidents and the provider of reliable information about the industry. The lead researcher for that study, He Guizhen of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, says that even protesters like those in Lianyungang are not implacably opposed. “Their message is not really that you can’t build these things no matter what, but that we are concerned about safety, especially after Fukushima, and we demand that you take safety seriously,” she says.

It appears this message is getting through. Early this year the government acknowledged in a white paper that its system for responding to a nuclear accident had “certain inadequacies”. In April officials revealed plans to draft a national nuclear-safety law. In May officials announced 600m yuan ($91m) in funding for six new nuclear-emergency squads, which would be ready for action by 2018. In August—on the same day that protesters marched in Lianyungang—China conducted its first “comprehensive nuclear-security emergency drill”. This week the government said officials must consult locals before settling the location of new nuclear facilities.

Deborah Seligsohn of the University of California, San Diego, says that because China’s nuclear-power industry is centrally run and limited to a handful of companies, authorities are able to keep tight control over safety standards, and that they have not hesitated to slow projects down when seeing signs of strain. Supervision, however, falls to several different agencies and levels of the bureaucracy. The burden of inspecting and managing the growing number of plants, she says, could be better handled by a more independent regulator in charge of its own budget.

In July China Energy News, a newspaper, reported that “quality problems” with domestically manufactured pump-valves were forcing some plants to shut down unexpectedly. (Most plants have since switched to imported valves.) More alarmingly, regulators this month revealed that a radiation-monitoring system at the Daya Bay nuclear-power station, which is within 50km of the huge cities of Shenzhen and Hong Kong, had been turned off inadvertently for three months before anyone noticed. Since no radiation leaked, the government deemed the oversight an event of “no safety significance”—one of several such lapses this year. The residents of Shenzhen and Hong Kong, presumably, would not see it in quite the same way.

Source: A glowing future | The Economist

23/09/2016

Indian-Born Biologist Is Among MacArthur ‘Genius Grant’ Winners – India Real Time – WSJ

Manu Prakash grew up folding origami paper frogs and cranes in his hometown in northern India.

Indian-Born Biologist Is Among MacArthur ‘Genius Grant’ Winners

So it seemed natural for the 36-year-old Stanford University biologist to build an inexpensive microscope for the developing world that can be put together from a single piece of paper.“

I was inspired by tools like pencils, and what it takes to make those tools available to everyone,” he said. “The goal is to enable and inspire others to do science.”

His Foldscope, which costs less than $1 to produce and includes built-in lenses, is now used in 130 countries to help identify infectious diseases, among other things.

The gadget helped propel Mr. Prakash, along with 22 others, into the ranks of the MacArthur “genius” grant recipients, who are awarded a no-strings-attached $625,000 grant by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation for showing exemplary creativity in their fields.

Source: Indian-Born Biologist Is Among MacArthur ‘Genius Grant’ Winners – India Real Time – WSJ

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