Solar power opens the door to banking for rural Indians

Solar power opens the door to banking for rural Indians
A worker cleans photovoltaic solar panels inside a solar power plant at Raisan village near Gandhinagar, in the western Indian state of Gujarat. (Reuters/File)
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Updated 04 August 2022

Solar power opens the door to banking for rural Indians

Solar power opens the door to banking for rural Indians
  • As India boosts its use of renewable energy in an effort to wean itself off climate-heating coal, the country is leaning heavily on solar energy to cut carbon emissions and help stabilize a grid squeezed by coal shortages

AITAWADE BUDRUK, India: Going to the bank in his home village in western India used to be a slow, frustrating process for Kiran Patil, as frequent power cuts — sometimes lasting for days — turned what should have been a quick errand into a lengthy ordeal.
The 59-year-old farmer often had to wait for hours in line at RBL Bank, his local branch in the village of Aitawade Budruk, or abandon his transaction and return the next day, wasting time he should have been spending cultivating his crops.
All that changed after the building was fitted with a set of solar panels and backup storage batteries in 2018, breaking the bank’s reliance on the power grid and giving it a steady supply of clean electricity.
“The transactions now are so smooth and fast,” Patil told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “These days we even find time for a quick chat with the branch manager over a cup of tea, to learn of the latest services and facilities.”
A more reliable banking experience is also bringing in new customers who previously didn’t have the time for long waits or who worried about never knowing when they would be able to access their money.
Since the solar power system was installed at RBL in Aitawade Budruk, the bank has been opening 25 to 30 new accounts every month — 10 times more than before, said branch manager Sandeep Banne.
As India boosts its use of renewable energy in an effort to wean itself off climate-heating coal, the country is leaning heavily on solar energy to cut carbon emissions and help stabilize a grid squeezed by coal shortages and surging demand from a population trying to keep cool during hotter summers.
But some communities have discovered another benefit to the solar power push: greater financial system access for millions of the country’s unbanked, including the estimated 20 percent of Indian adults, who have no access to a bank account or formal line of credit.
Raghuraman Chandrasekaran, founder and CEO of E-Hands Energy, the Chennai-based firm that set up the solar unit in Aitawade Budruk, said his company has installed such systems at more than 920 rural banks across India, helping bring more than 6 million people into the formal banking system.
The company plans to install units at up to 100 more rural branches before the end of the year, he said.
“Citizens in rural areas were walking or spending their precious money to transport themselves from their villages to the nearest bank branch, then waiting (there) for hours … simply because the bank did not have electricity all day and the computers could not work,” said Chandrasekaran.
“It was all misery.”

MODERN BANKING
The three-kilowatt solar power system at the Aitawade Budruk branch — which runs everything from the fans and lights to computers and alarm systems — means the bank now has reliable power about 95 percent of the time, said Banne, the branch manager.
On cloudy days, backup storage batteries take over, he said.
Firms like E-Hands Energy, Tata Power Solar and Husk Power Systems have so far outfitted more than 2,000 banks in rural India with solar power, estimates Shyam Kumar Garg, who retired as deputy general manager at the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development last October.
The systems feed into India’s efforts to install 500 gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy capacity by 2030, up from about 115 GW now, more than half of which is solar.
E-Hands Energy’s manager of operations Kakumanu Prathap Sagar said the solar systems the company has installed at banks around India is helping cut about 3,000 tons of carbon emissions every year.
Going solar can cut costs, too, said Banne at RBL in Aitawade Budruk, noting that the branch now spends a fraction of what it used to for grid electricity and diesel for its backup generators.
The solar systems cost between 130,000 and 150,000 Indian rupees ($1,650 to $1,900) for installation and maintenance for four years, and pay for themselves in about four years, he added.
For villagers, the biggest benefit is finally being able to use government services they never had access to before, said Pratibha Budruk, head of the Aitawade Budruk’s village council.
When the bank suffered power cuts and frequent loss of Internet connectivity, payments of pensions, students’ scholarships, loans and insurance were often delayed, putting a strain on people who relied on the money, Budruk said.
“The changeover of rural banks to solar power … has opened the doors of modern banking facilities for our local villagers,” she said.

SOLAR POWER CHALLENGES
In a country where 65 percent of the population lives in rural areas, according to the World Bank, switching rural banks to solar power might even slow the migration of young people from villages to cities as more economic opportunities at home arise, said energy management expert Binoy Krishna Choudhury.
“Solarising banks is a good step to developing the rural economy,” said Choudhury, who teaches at the Indian Institute of Social Welfare and Business Management in Kolkata.
But projects to bring solar panels to rural banks face a raft of obstacles, said Russell deLucia, director and founder of the Small-Scale Sustainable Infrastructure Development Fund, a US-based nonprofit.
Potential hurdles include finding ways to transport and install the equipment in far flung, often off-road locations, said deLucia, whose company helps E-Hands raise funding for its solar power projects.
Once the systems are up and running, finding skilled technicians nearby to fix anything that goes wrong is another issue, he said.
Despite those challenges, Budruk, the village council head, wants to see more banks tap into solar power as a way to both improve the lives of rural communities and limit worsening climate change impacts such as extreme heat.
“Installing solar systems in the banks is like planting trees throughout the year for purifying the air we breathe,” she said.
“When the whole world is trying hard to slow global warming and the impacts of climate change, this is a small contribution from our village.”


DCO startup passport cuts the red tape on cross-border trade

DCO startup passport cuts the red tape on cross-border trade
Updated 13 August 2022

DCO startup passport cuts the red tape on cross-border trade

DCO startup passport cuts the red tape on cross-border trade
  • Program helps startups do business across borders more efficiently while maintaining their local footprint

RIYADH: The Digital Cooperation Organization, a global initiative focused on improving the digital economy, is working toward encouraging fledgling companies to tap international markets through its startup program.

Called Startup Passport, the program helps startups do business across borders more efficiently while maintaining their footprint in their country of origin, said Hassan Nasser, vice president of international affairs of DPO.

The program has opened up potentially lucrative markets with a combined population of over half a billion people and a combined gross domestic product of nearly SR7.5 trillion ($2 trillion), reported the Saudi Press Agency.

Hassan Nasser

“By creating a new market expansion in DCO countries and beyond, you will positively impact these other markets,” said Naseer.

He said that the expansion of startups would create new economic entities, improve employment within DCO member states and nurture innovative solutions.

By creating a new market expansion in DCO countries and beyond, you will positively impact these other markets.

Hassan Nasser

According to Nasser, these innovative solutions could find wider acceptance with most startups focusing on sustainability and conservation.

In fact, the DCO Global Roundtable Series at the World Telecommunication Development Conference in June was meant to bring together global leaders to advance digital prosperity.

Naseer explained that the roundtable provides a platform for leaders worldwide to exchange perspectives on improving cooperation in the digital space and delivering an inclusive, sustainable digital economy.

The first roundtable had around 35 participants from 20 different countries.

FASTFACT

$2tr

The program has opened up potentially lucrative markets with a combined population of over half-a-billion people and a combined gross domestic product of nearly SR7.5 trillion ($2 trillion).

In Nasser’s view, cross-border cooperation is one of the critical reasons for the existence of DCO. “That’s one of the reasons DCO exists, to help on that and drive this cross-border cooperation,” he said.

Developing an efficient model requires cooperation, reducing costs and increasing return on investment by defining the best solution.

“There are a lot of challenges when it comes to digital investment, digital skills, digital empowerment, where we need more cooperation,” Nasser said.

As Nasser explained, DCO does not compete with anything but addresses a gap and complements a need.

The DCO will deliver its future roundtables in Latin America, Europe, Asia, and the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

Commenting on the UN General Assembly, he said it “will be a place where we get a global audience for this important session.”

He added: “A vital component of the organization’s mission is launching initiatives that will benefit all member states.”

With 11 member nations, DCO aspires to bring inclusive growth in the digital economy across its member nations, such as Bahrain, Djibouti, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, and Cyprus.

The organization was launched in early 2022 at LEAP, a global event for future technologies held in Riyadh.


Acciona rejects carbon-intensive projects to meet environmental commitments

Acciona rejects carbon-intensive projects to meet environmental commitments
Updated 13 August 2022

Acciona rejects carbon-intensive projects to meet environmental commitments

Acciona rejects carbon-intensive projects to meet environmental commitments
  • The company is bidding for NEOM in the heavy civil area with hopes of contributing to the Kingdom’s projects

DUBAI: Spain's Acciona, a leader in sustainable solutions for infrastructure and renewable energy, has been rejecting projects that are not carbon neutral as part of its commitment to environmental protection.

According to a top executive, the company has been turning down projects directly involved in oil and gas extraction or production since they will add to the carbon dioxide emissions on its balance sheet.

Founded in 1931, the company has been carbon neutral since 2016, said Acciona's Middle East Director-General Jesus Sancho while speaking to Arab News.

Jesus Sancho

"That's something easy to say, but it is very difficult to achieve for a company which is present across 60 countries in the world," he said.

That’s something easy to say, but it is very difficult to achieve for a company which is present across 60 countries in the world.

Jesus Sancho

Sancho explained that one part of the company invests solely in renewable energy to achieve carbon neutrality. Acciona owns and operates its assets, including more than 12 gigawatts of renewable energy, contributing to negative carbon emissions.

As for renewable energies, the company has solar thermal, photovoltaic, concentrating solar-thermal power and wind farms, all of which are carbon-negative and offset the carbon dioxide generated by the other areas of the company, he added.

The challenge for Acciona, which has invested approximately SR1.8 billion ($500 million) in projects, is minimizing each project's carbon footprint to achieve carbon neutrality.

FASTFACT

$500m

The challenge for Acciona, which has invested approximately SR1.8 billion ($500 million) in projects, is minimizing each project’s carbon footprint to achieve carbon neutrality.

"We are focusing on projects aligned with our philosophy," he said, adding that his company's sustainability master plans were well aligned with Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030's goals.

The company's sustainability commitment has already invited the attention of the futuristic smart city, NEOM.

Acciona, according to Sancho, is bidding for NEOM in the heavy civil area with hopes of contributing to the Kingdom's projects.

The company is currently working on water treatment plant projects in the Kingdom. It has also set up desalination plants in Alkhobar 1, Alkhobar 2 and Shuqaiq 4.

Acciona also built the Shuqaiq 3 desalination plant to full capacity, producing 450 million liters of potable water daily. In addition, the plant is equipped with energy-efficient seawater reverse osmosis technology.

 


Five Chinese state-owned companies to delist from NYSE amid US tensions

Five Chinese state-owned companies to delist from NYSE amid US tensions
Updated 12 August 2022

Five Chinese state-owned companies to delist from NYSE amid US tensions

Five Chinese state-owned companies to delist from NYSE amid US tensions

SHANGHAI: Five Chinese state-owned companies, including oil giant Sinopec and China Life Insurance, said on Friday they would delist from the New York Stock Exchange, amid economic and diplomatic tensions with the US, according to Reuters.

The companies, which also include Aluminium Corporation of China, PetroChina and Sinopec Shanghai Petrochemical Co, each said that they would apply to delist their American Depository Shares this month.

The five, which in May were flagged by the US securities regulator as failing to meet its auditing standards, will keep their listings in Hong Kong and mainland Chinese markets.

Beijing and Washington are in talks to resolve a long-running audit dispute that could see Chinese companies banned from US exchanges if they do not comply with US rules.

Washington has long demanded complete access to the books of US-listed Chinese companies, but Beijing bars foreign inspection of audit documents from local accounting firms, citing national security concerns.

There was no mention of the auditing dispute in separate statements by the Chinese companies outlining their moves, which come amid heightened tensions after last week’s visit to Taiwan by US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

“These companies have strictly complied with the rules and regulatory requirements of the US capital market since their listing in the US and made the delisting choice for their own business considerations,” the China Securities Regulatory Commission said in a statement.

The agency added that it would keep “communication open with relevant overseas regulatory agencies.”

The oversight row, which has been simmering for more than a decade, came to a head in December when the Securities and Exchange Commission finalized rules to potentially prohibit trading in Chinese companies under the Holding Foreign Companies Accountable Act. It said 273 companies were at risk.

Some of China’s largest companies including Alibaba Group Holdings, J.D Com Inc. and Baidu Inc. are among them. Alibaba said last week it would convert its Hong Kong secondary listing into a dual primary listing which analysts said could ease the way for the Chinese ecommerce giant to switch primary listing venues in the future.

In premarket trading Friday, US-listed shares of China Life Insurance and oil giant Sinopec fell 5.7 percent about 4.3 percent respectively. Aluminium Corporation of China dropped 1.7 percent, while PetroChina shed 4.3 percent. Sinopec Shanghai Petrochemical Co. shed 4.1 percent.

A spokesperson for NYSE declined to comment. A spokesperson for the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board, the audit watchdog overseen by the SEC, did not immediately provide comment.

Losing Patience? 

Market-watchers were split over what the delistings might mean for the audit deal, with some saying it was a bad sign.

“China is sending a message that its patience is wearing thin in the audit talks,” said Kai Zhan, senior counsel at Chinese law firm Yuanda, who specializes in US capital markets.

The companies said their US traded share volume was small compared with those on their other major listing venues.

PetroChina said it had never raised follow-on capital from its USlisting and its Hong Kong and Shanghai bases “can satisfy the company’s fundraising requirements” as well as providing “better protection of the interests of the investors.”

Global fund managers holding US-listed Chinese stocks are steadily shifting toward their Hong Kong-traded peers, even as they remain hopeful the audit dispute will eventually be resolved, Reuters reported this week.

“These companies are very thinly traded with very small US market cap so it is not a loss for US capital markets,” Brendan Ahern, CIO of Krane Funds Advisers, which has a New York-listed fund focused on Chinese tech plays, wrote in an email.

He and analysts said the delistings could pave the way for China to comply with the US requirements, since the five companies concerned likely have sensitive information China would not want exposed in an audit review.

“We see this as a positive sign. This is consistent with our view China will decide what companies would be allowed to be US-listed and thus subject to SEC’s audit investigations,” Jefferies analysts wrote in a note.

China Life and Chalco said they would file for delisting on Aug. 22, with it taking effect 10 days later. Sinopec, whose full name is China Petroleum & Chemical Corporation, and PetroChina said their applications would be made on Aug. 29.

China Telecom, China Mobile and China Unicom were delisted from the US in 2021 after a Trump-era decision to restrict investment in Chinese technology firms.

That ruling has been left unchanged by the Biden administration amid continuing tensions. 


US Stocks — Futures up as easing price pressures set Wall St. for weekly gains

US Stocks — Futures up as easing price pressures set Wall St. for weekly gains
Updated 12 August 2022

US Stocks — Futures up as easing price pressures set Wall St. for weekly gains

US Stocks — Futures up as easing price pressures set Wall St. for weekly gains

BENGALURU: US stock index futures rose on Friday, setting the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq for a fourth straight week of gains on easing bets of another super-sized interest rate hike by the Federal Reserve.

The S&P 500 is up 15 percent from mid-June, with the latest boost coming from a slower-than-expected rise in consumer prices and a surprise drop in producer prices in July.

The benchmark index is within sight of a 50 percent retracement of its bear market loss and investors are watching the 4,231 level. The index last closed at 4,207.27.

While policymakers remain firm about a further tightening in monetary policy until inflation pressures fully abate, traders see a 63.5 percent chance of the Fed raising rates by 50 basis points next month instead of a 75 basis points hike.

The Fed has raised its policy rate by 225 basis points since March as it battles to cool demand without sparking a sharp rise in layoffs.

High-growth and technology stocks such as Tesla and Nvidia rose 1 percent each in trading before the bell as investors flocked back to riskier assets.

Growth stocks have underpeformed their value counterparts so far this year on worries that rising Treasury yields due to aggressive rate hikes will pressure their valuation.

Investors bought $7.1 billion in equities in the week to Wednesday, according to a Bank of America note, with US growth stocks recording their largest weekly inflow since December last year.

Meanwhile, banks looked set to extend their rally for sixth straight week, with JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Goldman Sachs gaining 0.4 percent each in premarket trading.

At 07:28 a.m. ET, Dow e-minis were up 106 points, or 0.32 percent, S&P 500 e-minis were up 13.75 points, or 0.33 percent, and Nasdaq 100 e-minis were up 42 points, or 0.32 percent.

Rivian Automotive Inc. slipped 0.2 percent even as the electric-vehicle maker reported better-than-expected second quarter revenue.

The University of Michigan’s preliminary survey of consumer sentiment for August is expected at 10:00 am ET. 


Gold eyes fourth straight weekly gain on dollar weakness

Gold eyes fourth straight weekly gain on dollar weakness
Updated 12 August 2022

Gold eyes fourth straight weekly gain on dollar weakness

Gold eyes fourth straight weekly gain on dollar weakness

LONDON: Gold prices inched lower on Friday but were still on track for a weekly rise, as an overall weakness in the dollar offset pressure from an uptick in bond yields and expectations of further rate hikes from the US Federal Reserve.

Spot gold was down 0.2 percent at $1,786.06 per ounce, as of 1200 GMT.

Bullion was still headed for its fourth straight weekly gain, up nearly 1 percent in its longest weekly rally in almost a year.

US gold futures fell 0.3 percent to $1,801.10.

The dollar edged 0.4 percent higher on the day, but was down about 1 percent for the week.

A weaker greenback makes bullion less expensive for overseas buyers.

“Inflation easing a little has aided gold’s rally to $1,800. But risk assets were quickly preferred and gold’s rally stalled. If risk appetite fades over the next couple of weeks, that could support a move above $1,800,” OANDA analyst Craig Erlam said.

Market participants have toned down expectations of an aggressive rate hike by the Fed after cooler-than-expected inflation data released earlier this week.

However, recent comments by some Fed officials continue to highlight a hawkish tilt. Gold’s appeal tends to dim amid high-interest rate environment, as the metal yields no interest.

Fed’s Mary Daly said on Thursday that while a half-percentage-point interest rate hike in September “makes sense,” she is open to the possibility of a bigger hike.

“The ongoing tightening of monetary policy is still having a braking effect on gold... Market participants remain correspondingly cautious and have been withdrawing funds from the gold ETFs of late,” Commerzbank said in a note.

Weighing on gold, US Treasury yields hovered near a three-week high.

Spot silver fell 0.1 percent to $20.28 per ounce, palladium slipped 1.5 percent to $2,242.90. Platinum fell 0.8 percent to $948.29 per ounce.