Monster storm Irma heads toward Florida

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Florida: Hurricane Irma is sweeping through the Turks and Caicos Islands and approaching the Bahamas and northern Cuba (Miami Herald) as it continues toward South Florida, which expects it to make landfall by early Sunday.

The storm, which was downgraded to category four on Friday, has caused at least a dozen deaths throughout the Caribbean (NBC) and left more than 60 percent of households in Puerto Rico without power (NYT). It is expected to pass through the center of Florida, hitting both its east and west coasts. Governor Rick Scott warned that Irma is expected to be “much more devastating” than Hurricane Andrew (BBC), which killed sixty-five people and caused billions of dollars of damage a quarter century ago.


“It would be tough enough for shoreline communities if erosion proceeded at the same pace as it did in the late 20th century. More serious challenges, including accelerating sea-level rise and intensifying storms, have greeted them in the new century,” Eric Roston writes for Bloomberg.

“Puerto Rico’s plunge into darkness has been long coming. In July, the huge, government-owned power authority defaulted on a deal to restructure $9 billion in debt, effectively declaring bankruptcy. It has neither modernized nor kept up with maintenance,” Frances Robles, Kirk Semple, and Vivian Lee write for the New York Times.

“Previous administrations focused on adapting to climate change, with an eye to what the planet would look like in the future. But events such as Harvey, and probably Irma, show that we have not even adapted to our current climate (which has already changed because of our influence),” Michael E. Mann, Susan J. Hassol, and Thomas C. Peterson write for the Washington Post. (Council on Foreign Relations)

Hope of a new treatment for knee pain

Jyoti Singh

New Delhi: Researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology Roorkeehave tested a new method for treating problems relating to knee joints using a novel nanomaterial, and found it effective in initial studies.

Scientists used a specific ferrite nanomaterial, embedding it with Poly vinylidene fluoride (PVDF) to make a magnetic-dielectric composite. This material, researchers say, can be used to provide thermo-regulated treatment for osteoarthritis. It is also biocompatible.

The effectiveness of the new composite has been tested using a computer model of knee patella and preliminary bio-compatibility studies have also undertaken to study its biosafety. The results of the study have been published in Journal for Materials Science – Biomaterials.
Researchers said that it may be possible to implant the nanomaterial around affected regions and then use heat therapy to ‘activate’ nanoparticles which can then keep heating the affected region. “Since polymer-based nanoparticles can be injected around knee joints, they will be able to provide long term heat therapydue to their thermal properties,” pointed out and Prof. K.L. Yadav, who led the research team.

Prof.Yadav told India Science Wire that it would be possible to implant the new material into knee joints once a liquid formulation was developed. “The heat generated by nanoparticles, when heat treatmentis given, will spread over the afflicted area for a long duration without affecting nearby cells or tissues. This will help us in getting a focused treatment only in the area where the therapy is required,” he added.

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease which leads to loss of bone cartilage and eventual inflammation of bone and joints.The present line of treatment for of Osteoarthritis involves anti-inflammatory drugs and steroids, which critical side effects. Other techniques like knee replacement costly. “We wanted to develop a low cost, affordable, safe and simple therapeutic technique to inhibit the progression of the disease and enable the patient to recover faster,” he added. The team is also planning to carry forward the research with human clinical trials in collaboration with hospitals.

The research team included S. Mohapatra, R. Mishra, P.Roy, S. Satapathi along with K.L. Yadav. (India Science Wire)

Twitter handle: @ashajyoti11

US Diplomatic Security: “Cinderella Story” busts human trafficking Network

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New York City/Seoul: Operation Cinderella Story, a United States Diplomatic Security Service (or DSS) -initiated and -led criminal investigation has dismantled a transnational human trafficking criminal network operating in the Republic of Korea and the New York City area.
The criminal enterprise laundered millions of dollars in illicit proceeds from secret New York City brothels catering to more than 70,000 pre-vetted customers.

Over the course of a 20-month investigation in the United States and South Korea, two DSS special agents and a forensic accountant linked a dozen conspirators to more than 150 financial accounts that controlled business operations for numerous seemingly independent brothels operating in the New York metropolitan area.

In April of 2016, the DSS New York Field Office and other federal agencies executed 10 simultaneous search warrants across three federal judicial districts in and around the New York area. With support of the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Southern District of New York, 11 targets of the investigation were indicted and arrested on 33 criminal counts, including conspiracy, money laundering, visa fraud, and violation of the Mann Act.
In addition to the 11 indictments, DSS anticipates approximately $3 million will be recovered in seized assets and fines.

DSS special agents at the regional Security Office in Seoul brokered a solid partnership during the investigation — highlighting the effectiveness of DSS’s global reach in neutralizing international criminal conspiracies.

Coal-fired plant load factor  in India falls by 2.1 percent point in the first half of 2017

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  • About 24% of households in India are yet to be electrified.
  • Sporadic outages continue to plague the country.

New Delhi: Though the overall coal-fired plant load factor (PLF) in India fell by 2.1 percentage point (pp) year over year (yoy) to 60% in the first half of 2017, with the gas based PLF dropping by 1.9 pp to 22%, Fitch Ratings believes that India could actually produce a power surplus in the financial year ending March 2018 (FY18), with an energy deficit of just 0.6% in the first three months of FY18 – a period of usually high seasonal electricity demand.

The optimism expressed by Fitch is in sharp contrast with the reality in terms of sporadic outages that continue to plague the country. At the same, time, about 24% of households in India are yet to be electrified.

Addressing Affordability and Accessibility is Key

Fitch feels that the inability of financially stressed power-distribution companies to purchase power, along with the absence of adequate network coverage, exerts significant downward pressure on India’s thermal power utilisation.

About 86% of total potential bond issuance from the sector has provided some immediate relief for distribution companies in 16 states from a penalising high interest cost. However, the cost-revenue gap remains at INR0.42/kilowatt hour (kWh) along with aggregate technical and commercial (AT&C) losses of 20.6% (for 24 Indian states, as per updates available in August 2017). Improving these operational inefficiencies will drive any sustainable improvement. On the other hand, the government exceeded its target of setting up transmission lines again in 1H17.

Continued momentum in this regard will address the country’s electrification woes to an extent.

Renewables – Falling Tariffs, Rising Capacity

The new tariff-based auction for wind power yielded prices of INR3.5/kWh in February 2017, down from the lowest regulatory tariff of INR4.2/kWh. Solar tariffs also hit a new low of under INR3.0/kWh in May 2017 – making solar the cheapest source of electricity in the country.

However, any near-term variations will be driven by changes in Chinese solar module prices. India added 25GW of capacity in FY17, of which 58% was renewable – a record-breaking contribution.

Electricity Prices, New PPAs under Pressure

Electricity prices at exchanges in India dropped by another 11% yoy to INR2.4/kWh in FY17. Tariffs are taking a hit mainly from the prevailing electricity demand-supply dynamics, lower coal costs and a decline in renewable tariffs. Distribution utilities are shying away from signing new long-term power purchase agreements (PPAs) for both thermal and wind capacity – while awaiting clarity on the auction route for wind power, supported by the availability of cheaper spot electricity.