Category Archives: CHS-SACHETAN

India’s solar energy development – 2

CHS’ founder, Winin Pereira, whilst acknowledging the advantages of solar power, focussed on issues relating to the toxic materials used in solar panels.

Pereira saw the need for safe disposal methods for the earlier panels and research into materials replacing those currently used in solar panels being replaced. ‘Energy and Lifestyles’ (co-author Subhash Sule,1988) listed some of the highly toxic materials in thin film cells – selenium, cadmium and titanium dioxide – and pointed out that some very strong acids are used to etch the surface of the solar cell to improve light entrapment, commenting “These materials, and their recycling, have to be handled carefully”.

In 2004, a Californian government report issued during the governorship of Arnold Schwarzenegger (who continues to campaign on environmental issues), also stressed potential  risks during the manufacturing process:  

The greatest environmental risk with silicon cells is associated with the use of gases (arsine and phosphine) during the manufacturing process.

At sites with installed PV modules, release of trace elements from sealed modules is unlikely except due to explosion or fire.

 Leaching of trace metals from modules is not likely to present a significant risk due to the sealed nature of the installed cells and the plan for recycling of spent modules in the future. 

The most likely routes for environmental release of trace elements are from accidental spills during the manufacturing process. At sites with installed PV modules, release of trace elements from sealed modules is unlikely except due to explosion or fire. Leaching of trace metals from modules is not likely to present a significant risk due to the sealed nature of the installed cells and the plan for recycling of spent modules in the future.

A variety of off-site treatment methods are utilized to manage the chemicals produced by photovoltaic facilities. The types of treatment facilities used include publicly-owned treatment works, metals recovery systems, solvents/organics recovery systems, and energy recovery systems.

The goal of the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition (SVTC) is environmental sustainability and clean production for industry. Its members ‘envision a toxic-free future in which each new generation of technical advances includes parallel and proportionate advances in social and environmental justice’.

Five years after the 2004 report, STVC produced a White Paper with a section on hazardous materials used in solar PV cell production: “Potential End-of-Life Hazards for Solar PV Products”. It recommended:

  • reduction and eventually elimination the use of toxic materials and development of environmentally sustainable practices.
  • ensuring that solar PV manufacturers are responsible for the lifecycle impacts of their products through Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR).
  • proper testing of new and emerging materials and processes based on a precautionary approach
  • expansion of recycling technology and design products for easy recycling
  • and protection of the health and safety of industry workers and the community throughout the global PV industry, including supply chains and recycling.

There is agreement that solar panels become toxic waste at the end of their working lives if they are not properly recycled.

Environmental Progress notes that only in the EU are solar panel makers required to collect and dispose of solar waste at the end of their lives and even there, solar panels are currently exempt from the 2010 WEEE regulations requiring manufacturers to take back all equipment at the end of its life. With regard to the recycling of silicon-based modules and non-silicon based panels it has two goals:

  • To encourage the industry to develop products that are easier to recycle and use fewer raw materials
  • and to lead producers to factor in the cost of the collection and end-of-life treatment of their products into the cost paid by the consumers.

The European photovoltaic industry has set up its privately funded take-back and recycling schemes PV CYCLE which has been operating across Europe since 2007. There is a Compliance Inspectorate which allows manufacturers and component importers to register as WEEE-compliant, providing waste holders and customers with relevant information on their legal status. The EU is convinced that the manufacturers’ voluntary take-back scheme is effective.

But is this yet another case in which the risks of self-regulation by industry should not be countenanced?





Most desi cows and buffalo breeds give A2 milk

The fascination for exotic cattle breeds has been the bane of Indian dairy industry”. We return to these words by CHS co-founder Winin Pereira, first entered on this site after reading Devinder Sharma’s 2010 blog quoted in the CHS-Sachetan archives

gir cow2In a recent blog, Sharma informs us that India’s Ministry of Agriculture is setting up two research stations to improve the neglected breeds and Rajasthan is the first State to appoint a Minister for Cow Affairs.

Like Pereira, Mr Sharma dispels the myth that all Indian cows are low in productivity. They both remind us that several Indian cow breeds – Gir (above left), Kankrej, Ongole, Sahiwal among others — are doing well in Brazil. Milk yield from Gir in Brazil has now crossed 70 litres. Sharma adds that ‘ironically, semen of pure bred Indian breeds is now being imported from Brazil into India’.

In his widely appreciated passage about India’s Kasaragod Dwarf breed, Sharma added “The milk is nutritious, rich in alpha-2 casein proteins which means it is particularly useful for diabetic and hypertension patients”.

The writer had not heard of this A2 milk from cows whose milk is free from the A1 protein. It is recommended for people who are diagnosed as being ‘lactose intolerant’ – suffering from abdominal pain, nausea, diarrhoea and/or constipation after consuming milk. Note a sceptical Wiki entry – which might have a commercial bias.

devinder sharma 3Sharma reports that the sale of A2 milk in Britain and Ireland has reached Rs 10- crore in just one year after its launch and is now available in 1,000 stores there. He continues: “In Australia and New Zealand, A2 milk is now the fastest growing with a share of 8% of the milk market, the sales increasing by 57% in a year . . . Meanwhile, China has emerged as a strong market for A2 milk after the scandal surrounding the sale of spurious baby milk powder some years back . . .

“What makes it more significant and relevant for us is that most desi cows and buffalo breeds contain A2 allele gene. In other words, 100 per cent of milk of desi cattle breeds contains the A2 allele making it richer in nutrients and much healthier than the milk of exotic cattle breeds.

“If you are not drinking A2 milk, the chances are that in the long term you are likely to suffer from allergies, diabetes, obesity and cardio-vascular diseases. While the exotic cattle breeds may be producing higher milk but because of the concentration of A1 allele gene in their bodies, the milk they produce is much inferior in quality.

“Studies by the National Bureau of Animal Genetic Resources (NBAGR), Karnal, have established the superiority of A2 milk in Indian breeds. In a detailed study scanning 22 desi breeds recently, it found A2 allele to be 100 per cent available in the five high-yielding milk breeds – Red Sindhi, Gir, Rathi, Shahiwal and Tharparkar. In the remaining breeds, the availability of A2 allele gene was 94 per cent. Comparatively, in the exotic breeds Jersey and Holstein Friesian, the availability of A2 allele gene is very low.

“The economic cost of promoting desi breeds is relatively much higher given the health advantages, especially in a population where diabetes, cardio-vascular diseases, allergies, digestive disorders are on an upswing. Since A2 milk builds up immunity, it certainly offers a big advantage over the commonly sold milk.

“In India, I am sure consumers would be willing to pay a premium if Mother Dairy and Amul for instance is able to sell A2 milk in pouches. At the same time, promotion for A2 milk will help farmers shift to traditional breeds which very well integrate with natural farming systems. Promotion of A2 milk will also make hundreds of gaushalas spread across the State turn economically viable”.

Solar energy in the 90s – 1:


carter road mangroves

In 1998, Energy & Lifestyles – a paper by Winin Pereira and Subhash Sule – was written in the Centre for Holistic Studies in Carter Road, Bandra, overlooking the mangroves that they and others worked so hard to save. Some extracts follow.

The sun delivers enough energy to the Earth in one year to meet mankind’s current consumption some 10,000 times over. The problem has always been how to trap and make use of this solar power.

The achievements of India in the field of renewable energy seem remarkable. Over 400,000 solar photovoltaic systems (producing about 28 MW) have so far been installed for commercial applications, home and street lighting, water pumping and rural telecommunication systems in remote areas. About 400,000 square metres of solar collector area have been installed, for domestic, commercial and industrial water heating. Nearly half a million box-type solar cookers are also in use.[Nishad, 1997] About 925 MW capacity of wind power is installed.[TERI Newswire, 1997]

In spite of all this, by the year 2012, only some 10% of the total installed power generating capacity in the country is likely to be based on renewables. [Nishad, 1997]

Winin Pereira3(Ed:World Energy Outlook 2012: Global Energy Trends (IEA, page 218), however, estimates renewables’ share of total generation in India by 2012 at 14%. Pereira, an accomplished physicist, also highlighted the polluting and energy intensive nature of solar PV technology in a way that few care to dwell on even today. He predicted that, over time, these adverse factors will gradually be addressed and minimised – see Mulvaney 2005 onwards: Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, author of ‘Towards a just and sustainable solar industry’: Hazardous Materials Used In Silicon PV Cell Production, which also touches on measures which are reducing energy use in the production process.)

In the fabrication of PV cells large amounts of energy are required for producing the basic very high purity silicon and for every further stage of PV cell manufacture. Because of the need for other non-renewable resources for the manufacture of voltage converters, their voltage inverters (DC to AC), and other infrastructure, they would add to an already resource-depleted and over-polluted world. [Pereira, 1992, p 22] It is quite possible that the total fossil energy consumed in the fabrication, installation and maintenance of the PV cells, as well as that of the required storage systems, will be high compared to their output during their limited lifetime.

While PV systems do not emit CO2 and other gaseous pollutants, the efficient types use cadmium sulphide and other chemicals as dopants of silicon, in their manufacture. Because these chemicals are highly toxic and persist in the environment for centuries, disposal of used cells could become a major environmental problem. However, the most promising cells in terms of low cost, mass production, and relatively high efficiency are those being manufactured using silicon, either crystalline or amorphous. These materials make the cells less expensive and environmentally safer than the heavy metal cells. [Pimentel et al., 1994] The PV industry uses the ‘below-specification’ silicon of the waste of the semiconductor industry to lower costs but this source is getting exhausted. If a dedicated manufacturing concern is now set up, a huge quantity of fossil fuels will need to be used and costs will rise.

Some of the latest materials being worked on in thin film cells – selenium, cadmium and titanium dioxide are highly toxic. At present the industry uses some very strong acids to chemically etch the surface of the solar cell to improve light entrapment. These materials, and their recycling, have to be handled carefully.

There is a proposal to build a huge PV installation in the Rajasthan desert. This could have unpredictable effects on the local microclimate. It would deprive large areas of sunlight, which could have disastrous effects on plant photosynthesis, causing a large loss of biomass, reducing the fodder and fuel production of the region. [De, 1997].

rajasthan solar projects mapped

The discredited Enron corporation, in partnership with Amoco, withdrew from its 50-MW solar PV project at Jaisalmer in Rajasthan, but many others proceeded – see the interactive map.

Next: Solar energy – 2: almost twenty years later


Solar energy – 2: almost twenty years later


pv tech logoIt is reported that India’s energy minister, Piyush Goyal, said that the current National Solar Mission target of 20GW by 2022 would be increased to 100GW – more on the PV Tech website.

Akhil Gupta, Akhil Handa & Mayank Rawat offer a few suggestions ‘to execute this grand vision’ in India’s Economic Times.

economic times india logo

One is to remove the perception that solar energy is expensive. At all times, solar is substituting for imported energy, which is far more expensive.

When a solar plant is commissioned, it will displace diesel for 70-80% of its
generation and imported coal for the rest.

India gets 70% more solar radiation than European countries. This means the same solar panels yield 70% more power in India. In addition, peak demand in India coincides for 70-80% of the 70-80% of the time during which solar energy is harnessed. This peak demand is mostly met by diesel, which costs almost double that of solar electricity, currently at Rs 6-7 per kWh.

sheep grazing solar bavaria                                                                      In Bavaria

Fortunately, solar power requires far fewer clearances than for coal and doesn’t require contiguous land. Fears about alienation of fertile land now appear to be minimal, crops are grown and animals appear to graze quite happily near solar panels and wind turbines.

cultivation india near wind turbines                                                  In Dhule Maharashtra

However if man-made security risks arise – disruption of the power supply – they could lead to protection of and limited access to these sites.

As Pereira noted, the sun delivers enough energy to the Earth in one year to meet mankind’s current consumption some 10,000 times over. The problem has always been how to trap and make use of this solar power . . . we miss the thoughtful response he would have made to these reports of progress.

Strengthen social, community based food systems and ensure the survival of small food producers and local markets


food sovereignty grain coverSubhash Sule, CHS-Sachetan’s director, sent a link to a report by GRAIN, ‘a small international non-profit organisation that works to support small farmers and social movements in their struggles for community-controlled, biodiversity-based food systems’.

It recently published the 20 page report about the way supermarkets are undermining people’s control over food and farming in Asia.

A Bangalore case history was given which is summarised here.

nirmalIn Bangalore’s Bazaar Street, kiosk trader Nirmal has been leading 200 or so other traders with shops in Bazaar Street in a successful 20-year resistance against eviction to make way for the construction of a new mall. Occupants would typically be retailers like the transnational giant Metro, which has already opened a wholesale market a few hundred metres away. Corporate supermarkets are expanding rapidly in Asia, taking revenue out of traditional food systems – out of the hands of peasants, small scale food producers and traders.

In Nirmal’s view, losing the stalls would affect not only the traders, but their regular customers. “Most of the customers are unskilled labourers on day wages. In the supermarket you cannot ask to buy cooking oil for only 5 rupees (8 cents US),” he says. “These low income customers that we serve every day won’t be able to afford to buy anything if these stalls are to be replaced by a mall.”

In this prime location, not far from the railway station, an agricultural produce market committee, created by the government to facilitate farmers to sell their produce and get reasonable prices, has enabled local farmers of surrounding villages to bring fresh produce, fruits, vegetables, and spices.

There is, however, some dissatisfaction with the APMC’s (regulations, charges and delayed payments) and on October 1st it was reported that the Delhi government has issued a notification allowing the opening of new wholesale markets in the capital, which will be outside the purview of the three APMC markets. Read on here.

20i2 Delhi demo by street vendors

20i2 Delhi demo by street vendors

Continuing a campaign ongoing for some years, on 5 February 2014, thousands of street vendors marched on the Indian Parliament pressing for the adoption of a Street Vendors Bill and the reversal of national policies that allow foreign companies to invest in the retail sector.

Almost 40 million people in India still rely on the informal trade sector and fresh markets, so the resistance is fierce.

Asia’s small traders are the final link in the local food supply chain that ensures the procurement and distribution of food grown on millions of small farms across the region. These traders usually procure their fresh fruit and vegetables, meat, eggs and fish from wholesale markets where nearby farmers bring their produce every day.

Corporate retailers rely on totally different systems of procurement and distribution. Each supermarket chain coordinates its own procurement of products centrally for all of its outlets around the world. Foods are supplied by transnational companies that can consistently supply large volumes according to exacting standards set by supermarkets. Procurement and distribution for supermarkets is fully integrated, “from farm to table” as they like to say.

In Bangalore some farmers have been drawn into making contracts with companies supplying supermarkets, promising guaranteed markets, stable and higher prices and technical assistance. But farmers say the terms and conditions they must follow are too complicated and onerous; their harvests are often rejected and go to waste, and payments by the contractors are regularly late.

Rudresh, a farmer from Hoskote said “I’ve been growing vegetables and selling it directly to the consumers in nearby market. I do not know how to sell it to Metro. They only buy the top quality produce, but in the local market I sell all my vegetables, at varying prices, according to the quality”.

nagpur marketA snapshot from a videoed walking tour of a market in Nagpur

Another farmer from the same district says that retail companies are trying to take control of a piece of land where a farmers’ market has existed for decades: “They plan to build a huge market complex that would of course be occupied by big companies. Where shall we go and sell our produce?”


The current global food distribution system is unsustainable and undermines food sovereignty. The expansion of supermarkets puts small farmers in direct competition with industrial agriculture, and also has negative impacts on local markets and communities, with major implications for the entire food chain. Corporate supermarkets are expanding faster in Asia than anywhere else on the planet and taking revenue out of the hands of peasants, small scale food producers and traders.

Across the region, there is growing awareness of the threat posed by global retailers and a growing resistance against their expansion. GRAIN urges continued envisioning, building strategies and alternatives to the supermarket model of food distribution, moving forward in a way that strengthens social, community based and public food systems and assures the survival of small food producers and local markets.

The report may be read in pdf format by clicking on a link here.