On February 22nd, at an event featuring film stars, astronauts and technology gurus, Acciona, a Spanish conglomerate, is due to inaugurate a new power plant a few miles from Las Vegas. In fact, the plant has been running since last June. But the technology it uses, known as "concentrating solar power' (CSP), is hot right now, as the Hollywood luminaries might put it. Acciona's new plant, called "Nevada Solar One', can generate up to 64 megawatts (MW)

Is it possible

Chicago wheat prices rose by the most in more than five years, breaching $12 a bushel for the first time as investors poured money into agricultural commodities on signs that global crop production isn't keeping pace with demand. Global wheat stockpiles will probably fall to a 30-year low this year, while corn inventories are headed for the lowest since 1984, the US department of agriculture said on February 8. Almost $1.5 billion flowed into farm commodities in the week to February 19, investment bank UBS AG said in an e-mailed report on Monday. Wheat, soybeans, corn and palm oil are among commodities that touched records this month, stoking prices of bread, pasta and noodles worldwide. The gains have driven up costs for food Companies from Kellogg Co to Nissin Food Products Co and complicated efforts to curb prices in China, India and Malaysia. "Speculators keep jumping into the market as supplies are very tight globally, especially spring wheat,' Takaki Shigemoto, an analyst with Tokyo-based commodity broker Okachi & Co. Dry conditions in some wheat-producing areas in northern China and also lent support, he said. Wheat for May delivery rose by the daily limit of 90 cents, or 8%, to $12.145 a bushel in after-hours trading on the Chicago Board of Trade, the biggest one-day percentage gain since October 2002. Record prices, led by scarce high-protein varieties, have not deterred buyers. Export sales from the US, the world's largest shipper of the grain, are up 56% since June 1 compared with the same period a year earlier. Global wheat stockpiles may fall to 109.7 million metric tonne by May 31, while corn inventories may decline to 101.9 million tonne as of October 1, the US government estimated on February 8. US inventories of wheat will drop to 7.4 million tonne, the lowest for the end of the marketing year since 1948, according to the USDA. Hard-red spring varieties, traded in Minneapolis, are in short supply as dry weather curbed output last year in the US and Canada. On the Minneapolis Grain Exchange, wheat for May delivery advanced $1.35, or 7.9%, to $18.4325 a bushel. The March contract, which has no limit because it is the closest to delivery, rose as high as $24.26 a bushel, after Monday becoming the first US wheat contract to top $20 a bushel. On the Kansas City Board of Trade, hard-red winter wheat for May delivery also rose as much as the 90-cent limit, or 7.7%, to $12.65 a bushel. Q4 earnings at Kellogg Co, fell 3.3% as price increases failed to keep pace with the higher expense of making Eggos, Frosted Mini-Wheat cereal and cookies.

Low carry-over stock coupled with likely fall in wheat output may compell India to import about 2 million tonne of the grain during 2008-09 marketing year, a report published by the US department of agriculture said. The country's buffer stock is expected to be below 4 million tonne. Wheat production is also pegged lower by 1.3 million tonne at 74.5 million tonne, compared to the previous marketing year, the report said. Wheat production is projected to be lower as the total area under wheat acreage has declined by 5,00,000 hectare. The fall in acreage has been in the states of Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Bihar due to poor soil moisture and higher temperatures during sowing, it said. USDA warned that India's wheat supplies are expected to come under pressure as demand for the grain through the public distribution system continues to rise. "Unless the government resorts to wheat imports, stocks by the end of 2008-09 marketing year could fall below the desired buffer stock level of 4 million tonne,' it added. With the general election due inearly 2009, the Indian government would take all steps to increase domestic supply of wheat and check rising prices, it said.

The country may harvest over 76 million tonne of wheat this season, if the current weather conditions remain favourable for the next three weeks, a top official said. "If weather conditions remain favourable, wheat production may touch the record level,' Union agriculture secretary PK Mishra told reporters. India recorded the highest production of 76.37 million tonne of wheat in 1999-2000. Mishra, said the weather conditions till the third week of March is very crucial for wheat, which requires a mean temperature of 20 degree Celsius. Except in Haryana, the mean temperature in most of the wheat growing states such as Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan is normal for the crop, agriculture commissioner NB Sing said. The temperature at some places in Haryana had gone up to 29 degree Celsius for two days last week, which may impact the wheat crop, Singh added. Overall, the prospect of wheat output is very good, the agriculture secretary said. "We have been monitoring the temperature in the wheat growing areas. It is within the normal, prescribed for wheat crop, although the temperature has increased from what it was two weeks earlier.' "It will be not less than 3% when the final figures come,' Mishra said.

Snakes can't hear as they don't have an ear, it is often believed. But, a new study has found that the reptiles do possess an "inner' ear with a functional cochlea which they use to detect vibrations caused by prey. A team of international researchers has carried out the study and found that the ears of the snakes are sensitive enough to not only hear the prey approaching, but also to allow the brain to localise the direction it is coming from. According to the researchers, any disturbance at a sandy surface leads to vibration waves that radiate away from the source along the surface. These waves behave like ripples on the surface of a pond after a stone is dropped into water. However, these sand waves propagate much quicker (the speed is about 50 metres per second) than at water surface. But on the other hand, much more slowly than, for instance in stone and the amplitude of the waves may be as small as a couple of thousands of a millimetre. "Yet, a snake can detect these small ripples. If it rests its head on the ground, the two sides of the lower jaw are brought into vibration by the incoming wave. These vibrations are then transmitted directly into the inner ear by means of a chain of bones attached to the lower jaw. "This process is comparable to the transmission of auditory signals by the ossicles in the human middle ear. The snake thus literally hears surface vibrations,' the study's lead author J Leo Van Hemmen of the Technical University, Munich was quoted by the ScienceDaily as saying. In their study, combining approaches from biomechanics and naval engineering with the modelling of neuronal circuits, the team has shown that the snake can use its ears to perform the same trick for sound arriving through sand.

Railway minister Lalu Prasad Yadav's announcement of a 5% cut in the freight rates for moving petrol and diesel is indeed an effort to bring back the oil traffic from roads to the railways. The reduction in freight rate, announced as part of the Railway Budget proposals for 2008-09, is not sufficient enough to warrant any cut in the consumer prices of petrol and diesel. The freight rate cut will help the oil Companies

Build infrastructure' has become the favourite slogan of India Inc and is seen as the most important action for development. The discussion usually focuses on the massive investment required and the difficulties of providing it, but rarely on the way infrastructure planning is done. Official plans propose increasing the power generation capacity by 60% over the next 5 years and by 600% by 2031. According to the Planning Commission's working group on power, an investment of Rs 9,70,000 crore will be required just for the next five years. These projections are seen as natural for development. But there are several irreconcilable problems with this approach, which are leading to a crisis. The earlier we review our path, the better it is for our Economy and for democracy. Our plans are not accompanied by an assessment of impacts, nor a check on whether they are realistic. We do not estimate the land and water needed to install and run proposed power plants, nor do we check tariff impacts of investments. Even ballpark estimates of the number of people to be displaced are rare even though, potentially, the numbers can be large. For example, a study by the coal ministry estimates that coal mining alone will displace 8.5 lakh people in 20 years. Getting water or land for new power projects is going to be impossible without major social conflicts. Getting fuel will not be any easier. According to current estimates, known Indian coal reserves will be used up in 50 years. In this scenario, Indian energy imports will upset even the international fuel Markets. Three corrections are urgently needed in infrastructure planning. First, we should recognise that social and environmental costs are real and are paid, usually by the poor. These costs should be included in the cost of electricity. Second, the focus should shift from energy consumption to services. Current planning focuses on electricity

Even though the government has recently allowed state-owned oil marketing Companies to marginally increase the prices of petrol and diesel, one doesn't need to use rocket science to figure out that the hike is just not enough to help Indian Oil Corp, HPCL and BPCL to tide over their losses. These downstream Companies have been selling petrol, diesel LPG and kerosene much below the actual price. To keep voters happy, the government decided to limit the hike in a range of Re 1-Rs 2 a litre when Rs 9 for petrol and Rs 11 for diesel were actually required. Also, the prices of LPG and kerosene were left untouched. This was when kerosene needed to be increased to Rs 20 a litre and an LPG cylinder priced close to Rs 330. At the same time, a partial relief package was promised to the oil Companies. This included issuance of oil bonds of a higher quantum

State-run Oil and Natural Gas Corp (ONGC) on Monday said it has reconfigured its proposed mega petrochemical plant at Dahej in Gujarat, bringing down the cost by Rs 1,100 crore to Rs 12,440 crore. The board of directors of ONGC, which met here on Monday, approved the revised configuration of Dahej Petrochemicals Project being implemented by the company's subsidiary ONGC Petro-additions Ltd (OPAL). The project was initially configured with a styrene butadiene rubber (SBR)