Léontine Gallois contributed reporting.

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Syria’s Surprising Solar Boom: Sunlight Powers the Night in Rebel Idlib

HARANABUSH, Syria — When the Syrian government attacked their village, Radwan al-Shimali’s family hastily threw clothes, blankets and mattresses into their truck and sped off to begin new lives as refugees, leaving behind their house, farmland and television.

Among the belongings they kept was one prized technology: the solar panel now propped up on rock next to the tattered tent they call home in an olive grove near the village of Haranabush in northwestern Syria.

“It is important,” Mr. al-Shimali said of the 270-watt panel, his family’s sole source of electricity. “When there is sun during the day, we can have light at night.”

An unlikely solar revolution of sorts has taken off in an embattled, rebel-controlled pocket of northwestern Syria, where large numbers of people whose lives have been upended by the country’s 10-year-old civil war have embraced the sun’s energy simply because it is the cheapest source of electricity around.

the Islamic State lost its last patch of territory in Syria in 2019, the northwest was importing fuel from Turkey that was much purer but cost more than twice as much, now about $150 for a 58-gallon barrel of Turkish diesel, compared with $60 for a barrel from eastern Syria a few years ago.

That price spike pushed customers into the arms of solar power, said Ahmed Falaha, who sells solar panels and batteries in the town of Binnish in Idlib.

He had originally sold generators, but added solar panels in 2014. They weren’t popular at first because they produced less electricity, but when fuel prices went up, people noticed at night that their neighbors who had solar panels still had lights while they sat in the dark. Demand grew, and in 2017, he stopped selling generators.

“Now we work on solar energy day and night,” he said.

His best sellers were Canadian-made 130-watt panels that had been imported into Syria after a few years at a solar farm in Germany, he said. They cost $38 each.

For those with more to invest, he had Chinese-made 400-watt panels for $100.

His standard package for a modest home consisted of four panels, two batteries, cables and other equipment for $550, he said. Most families could use that to run a refrigerator or washing machine during the day and lights and a television at night.

As people got used to solar power, he started selling large installations to workshops and chicken farms. He recently sold his largest package yet, 160 solar panels for about $20,000, to a farmer who had nearly gone broke buying diesel to run his irrigation pump and needed a cheaper alternative.

“It is expensive at the start, but then it’s free,” Mr. Falaha said, showing a video on his phone of the solar-powered sprinklers watering a lush, green field.

Farmers who embraced solar appreciated the lack of noise and smoke, but what mattered most was price.

“Here, the last thing people think about is the environment,” Mr. Falaha said. Nearby, a colleague of his poured battery acid down the shop’s drain.

Outside of town, Mamoun Kibbi, 46, stood amid lush green fields of fava beans, eggplants and garlic.

In recent years, the price of diesel to power the family’s 40-year-old irrigation pump had gotten so expensive that it erased Mr. Kibbi’s profits. So last year he shelled out nearly $30,000 to install 280 400-watt panels on the flat roof of a defunct chicken farm.

The large swath of panels were on a seesaw base connected to a winch so he could adjust their angle to the sun through the day. When it was sunny, the system kept the pump going for eight hours. It worked less well on cloudy days, but he was pleased with how his crops looked so far.

“It is true that it costs a lot, but then you forget about it for a long time,” he said.

Most people in northwest Syria have simpler energy needs and much less money to invest. More than half of the 4.2 million people in the rebel-held area have been displaced from elsewhere, and many struggle to secure life’s basics, like healthy food, clean water and soap.

But many of the refugee families living in crowded tent camps have at least one solar panel that produces enough energy to charge their phones and power small LED lights at night. Others have three or four panels to power such luxuries as internet routers and televisions.

In the city of Idlib, Ahmed Bakkar, a former fireman, and his family had settled in the second-floor of a four-floor apartment building whose roof had been punched in by an airstrike.

The family had moved six times during the war and lost nearly everything along the way, Mr. Bakkar said. Most of the rooms in the family’s current apartment lacked windows, so he had hung blankets to block the wind. They couldn’t afford heating oil, so they burned pistachio shells to keep warm.

But he had managed to buy four used solar panels that sat on a rack on the balcony, facing the sky.

When the sun was out, they provided enough energy to pump water up to the apartment so they didn’t have to carry it up, and they charged a battery so the family could have some lights at night.

“It works for us because it’s free energy,” said Mr. Bakkar, 50.

His nephew, also Ahmed Bakkar, was less impressed.

“It is an alternative,” he said. But if Syria were more functional and the family could simply plug into the grid, “it would be better.”

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At India’s Funeral Pyres, Covid Sunders the Rites of Grief

Mourners in protective gear, or watching from home. Long waits at the cremation grounds. The trauma of loss has become both lonely and public.


NEW DELHI — The lifeless are picked up from infected homes by exhausted volunteers, piled into ambulances by hospital workers or carried in the back of auto-rickshaws by grieving relatives.

At the cremation grounds, where the fires only briefly cool off late at night, relatives wait hours for their turn to say goodbye. The scenes are photographed, filmed, broadcast. They are beamed to relatives under lockdown across India. They are shown on news sites and newspapers around the world, putting India’s personal tragedies on display to a global audience.

Local residents record the fires from their roofs to show the world why they must wear masks even inside their homes. The smoke and smell of death is so constant, so thick, that it covers the narrow lanes for much of the day, seeping through shuttered windows.

The flames bear witness to the devastation wrought by India’s Covid-19 crisis. They show the losses in a country where the dead and infected are widely believed to be grossly undercounted. They stand as a rebuke to a government accused of mismanagement by many of its people.

oxygen.

Before the body of Darwan Singh arrived at Seemapuri — the token given to his family indicated that he was No. 41 in line — the family had done all they could to save the 56-year-old guesthouse guard.

His fever had persisted. His oxygen level had dropped to a dangerous 42 percent. For two days, the family could find him neither a hospital bed nor an oxygen cylinder. When they found one, said his nephew, Kuldeep Rawat, he received oxygen for one hour before the hospital ran out.

The family took Mr. Singh home for the night. The next day, they waited for five hours in the parking lot of another hospital. The family paid a bribe of about $70 to get his uncle a bed at a free government hospital, Mr. Rawat said. Mr. Singh died overnight.

With Seemapuri fully booked, the hospital couldn’t immediately hand over the body. On April 25, it was piled onto an ambulance with five others and taken there.

Mr. Rawat said he had to go inside the ambulance to identify his uncle, then move him inside the crematory, where they waited for five hours before his turn at the pyre. The cost: $25 for material needed for the final prayer, $34 for wood, $14 in fees for the pandit and $5 for the P.P.E. kit for family members.

Mr. Rawat said his uncle’s family — mother, wife, daughter, son — was infected. Relatives could not come to the house for mourning and offered their condolences by phone.

“And I am still in isolation,” Mr. Rawat said, fearing that he had been infected during the final rites.

For families living around the crematories, there is no escaping the constant reminder of death as they await what feels like their own inevitable infection.

In Sunlight Colony, a mix of shanty homes and apartments where some of the houses share a wall with Seemapuri, smoke is so constant that many are forced to wear masks inside. Children are given hot water to gargle before bedtime. Laundry is dried indoors.

“Our kitchen is upstairs — it’s unbearable in there,” said Waseem Qureishi, whose mother and six siblings live in a two-bedroom house still under construction next to Seemapuri. “If the wind’s direction is toward our home, it’s worse.”

Anuj Bhansal, an ambulance driver who lives near the Ghazipur crematory, also in eastern New Delhi, said he was worried about his four children, aged 7 to 12.

Mr. Bhansal said that as the cremations reached as many as 100 a day, the neighborhood’s children would run to a nearby garbage hill and watch.

“When they look at flames and smoke coming out of the cremation ground, they ask why it is not ending,” Mr. Bhansal said. “They can hardly understand what is going on.”

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China Is Set to Rule Electric Car Production

ZHAOQING, China — Xpeng Motors, a Chinese electric car start-up, recently opened a large assembly plant in southeastern China and is building a matching factory nearby. It has announced plans for a third.

Another Chinese electric car company, Nio, has opened one large factory in central China and is preparing to build a second a few miles away.

Zhejiang Geely, owner of Volvo, showed off an enormous new electric car factory in eastern China last month rivaling in size some of the world’s largest assembly plants. Evergrande, a troubled Chinese real estate giant, has just built electric car factories in the cities of Shanghai and Guangzhou and hopes to be making almost as many fully electric cars by 2025 as all of North America.

China is erecting factories for electric cars almost as fast as the rest of the world combined. Chinese manufacturers are using the billions they have raised from international investors and sympathetic local leaders to beat established carmakers to the market.

Europe is on track to make 5.7 million fully electric cars by then.

have plans to catch up. In April, President Biden called for the United States to step up its electric vehicle efforts. During a virtual visit to an electric bus factory in South Carolina, he warned, “Right now, we’re running way behind China.”

North American automakers are on track to build only 1.4 million electric cars a year by 2028, according to LMC, compared with 410,000 last year.

eliminate gasoline and diesel engines entirely in the next 15 years.

For the new Chinese cars, name recognition will be a major challenge. The brands are mostly unfamiliar even to Chinese drivers. On roads filled with Buicks, Volkswagens and Mercedes-Benzes, they could struggle to stand out.

Alibaba, the e-commerce company, and two state-backed firms have set up an electric car joint venture under the name IM Motors, which plans to begin delivering cars early next year.

Evergrande named its brand Hengchi, pronounced “Hung-cheh.” A stock market mania for electric cars has propelled the Hong Kong-traded shares of the company’s electric car unit, Evergrande New Energy Vehicle, to almost the same market capitalization as G.M.

Evergrande plans to make and sell a million fully electric cars a year by 2025. So far, it has sold none.

Geely, an industry veteran with recognized brands in China, has named its electric brand Zeekr, which rhymes with “seeker.” It plans to begin delivering cars in October.

The Zeekr is being made in a new electric car factory near Ningbo, on China’s eastern coast. The factory is a cavernous space with miles of white conveyor belts and rows of 15-foot cream-colored robots made by ABB of Sweden. It has an initial capacity of 300,000 cars a year, larger than most car factories in Detroit, and floor space for expansion.

“What is the most important thing is, China has the market,” said Zhao Chunlin, the factory’s general manager.

Mr. He named Xpeng, pronounced “X-pung,” after himself. Xpeng’s niche feature is a cooing, Siri-like voice assistant that guides the car’s internet services, like directions and music, and its computer-assisted highway driving. Xpeng plans to have the capacity to make 300,000 cars a year by 2024; last year it sold fewer than one-tenth that many.

Mr. He made his first fortune developing a mobile phone browser company, UCWeb. He sold it to Alibaba in 2014 and became president of Alibaba’s mobile business services unit. The same year he helped bankroll two former executives from state-owned Guangzhou Auto to start Xpeng.

Three years later, Mr. He took direct control of Xpeng and left Alibaba, which also acquired a small stake in the automaker. Mr. He said that his second child had been born, and that he wanted to be able to tell his son that he led a car company. Mr. He holds 23 percent of Xpeng’s shares, while Alibaba holds 12 percent.

Chinese government officials have helped along the way. A state-owned enterprise in Zhaoqing, a 1,000-year-old jade-carving town near Guangzhou, lent $233 million to Xpeng in 2017 for the construction of its initial factory with annual capacity of about 100,000 cars. The city has been subsidizing the company’s interest payments since then, according to Xpeng’s regulatory filings.

The city of Wuhan helped Xpeng buy land and borrow money at low interest rates for a new plant there. The Guangzhou government also helped Xpeng start building its factory in that city, said Brian Gu, vice chairman and president of Xpeng.

Last year, after weathering the pandemic, Xpeng cashed in on Wall Street, where Tesla’s rise whetted investor appetite for the industry. The Chinese company raised $5 billion in an initial public offering and subsequent share sales. It is spending part of the money on new factories and part of it on research and development, particularly in autonomous driving.

Xpeng’s deep pockets are visible in costly automation at its Zhaoqing factory. Robots lift 44-pound car roofs of dark tinted glass, apply aerospace-strength glue and press them into place. Waist-high robots glide across the gray concrete floor, carrying instrument panels while playing an instrumental version of Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On.” (The robots came programmed that way, company officials explained.)

The factory took only 15 months to build, considerably faster than assembly plants in the West. Yan Hui, the general manager of the factory’s final assembly area, said decisions were made more quickly than at the German auto parts manufacturer where he used to work.

“Any design change took a long time — sign, sign, even sign in German,” he said. “But at Xpeng, we can just make the change.”

Even though many of the electric car brands are new to China, their owners already have ambitions abroad. Xpeng is starting to export cars to Europe, beginning with Norway. Chery, a big state-owned automaker in central China, announced last week that it would start exporting gasoline-powered cars to the United States next year and follow with electric cars.

The United States will be a difficult market. The Trump administration imposed 25 percent taxes in 2018 on cars imported from China, which has slowed exports. Many electric car parts are covered by the same tariffs. That makes it harder, but not impossible, for Chinese companies to start shipping electric cars in kits to the United States for assembly.

For now, Chinese companies see huge potential to build their brands.

Michael Dunne, the chief executive of ZoZo Go, a consulting firm specializing in the electric car industry in Asia, said the industry’s outlook was becoming clear: “China is going to be the global dominator when it comes to making electric cars.”

Liu Yi and Coral Yang contributed research.

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‘It’s highway robbery’: Tesla’s price increases on solar shingles irk customers.

Tesla’s solar ambitions date to 2015 when it announced that it would sell panels and home batteries alongside its electric cars. A year later, Elon Musk, the company’s chief executive, promised that Tesla’s new shingles would turbocharge installations by attracting homeowners who found solar panels ugly.

After delays, Tesla began rolling out the shingles in a big way this year, but it is already encountering a major problem, Ivan Penn reports for The New York Times.

The company is hitting some customers with price increases before installation that are tens of thousands of dollars higher than earlier quotes, angering early adopters and raising big questions about how Tesla, which is better known for its electric cars, is running its once dominant rooftop solar business.

The shingles remain such a tiny segment of the solar market that few industry groups and analysts bother to track installations.

Tesla’s electric cars and SpaceX’s rockets, Tesla’s glass shingles attracted outsize attention. He promised that they would be much better than anything anybody else had come up with and come in a variety of styles so they could resemble asphalt, slate and Spanish barrel tiles to fit the aesthetic of each home.

During a quarterly earnings call on Monday, Mr. Musk insisted that demand for Tesla’s solar roofs “remains strong” even though the company had raised prices substantially. He described the last-minute increases as a teething problem.

Customers are unhappy with the growing pains. Dr. Peter Quint was eager to install Tesla’s solar shingles on his 4,000-square-foot home in Portland, Ore., until the company raised the price to $112,000, from $75,000, in a terse email. When he called Tesla for an explanation, he was put on hold for more than three hours.

“I said, ‘This isn’t real, right?’” said Dr. Quint, whose specialty is pediatric critical care. “The price started inching up. We could deal with that. Then this. At that price, in our opinion, it’s highway robbery.”

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Tesla’s Latest Solar Stumble: Big Price Increases

On an October evening five years ago, Elon Musk used a former set for “Desperate Housewives” to show off Tesla’s latest innovation: roof shingles that can generate electricity from the sun without unsightly solar panels.

After delays, Tesla began rolling out the shingles in a big way this year, but it is already encountering a major problem. The company is hitting some customers with price increases before installation that are tens of thousands of dollars higher than earlier quotes, angering early adopters and raising big questions about how Tesla, which is better known for its electric cars, is running its once dominant rooftop solar business.

Dr. Peter Quint was eager to install Tesla’s solar shingles on his 4,000-square-foot home in Portland, Ore., until the company raised the price to $112,000, from $75,000, in a terse email. When he called Tesla for an explanation, he was put on hold for more than three hours.

“I said, ‘This isn’t real, right?’” said Dr. Quint, whose specialty is pediatric critical care. “The price started inching up. We could deal with that. Then this. At that price, in our opinion, it’s highway robbery.”

slashing the price of panels in 2019 has done little to stem the slide.

At the “Housewives” set at Universal Studios in 2016, Mr. Musk, the company’s chief executive, promised that Tesla’s new shingles would turbocharge installations by attracting homeowners who found solar panels ugly. But shingles remain such a tiny segment of the solar market that few industry groups and analysts bother to track installations.

Tesla is not the only company to pursue the idea of embedding solar cells, which covert sunlight into electricity, in shingles. Dow Chemical, CertainTeed, Suntegra and Luma, among others, have offered similar products with limited success.

Tesla’s electric cars and SpaceX’s rockets, Tesla’s glass shingles attracted outsize attention. He promised that they would be much better than anything anybody else had come up with and come in a variety of styles so they could resemble asphalt, slate and Spanish barrel tiles to fit the aesthetic of each home.

solar ambitions date to 2015 when it announced that it would sell panels and home batteries alongside its electric cars. A year later, the company acquired SolarCity, a company run by Mr. Musk’s cousin Lyndon Rive. SolarCity was the leading rooftop solar installer in the United States, but in the last five years Tesla has fallen far behind Sunrun, which became even bigger last year after buying another installer, Vivint.

Tesla has been losing market share even as demand for rooftop solar has increased sharply as panels have become more affordable. In terms of energy-generating capacity, annual installations are about 13 times as great as they were a decade ago, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

battery system would cost $63,000. But two weeks before installers were scheduled to show up, an email from the company raised the price to $85,000.

She wanted the system to protect her family from losing electricity when her utility, Pacific Gas & Electric, shuts off power to prevent its equipment from setting off wildfires. She also hoped to lower her electricity bills, which have jumped from about $200 a month to as much as $400 in the four years since her family moved to California from New York.

She sought out Tesla’s shingles because contractors had told her that they could not attach conventional solar panels to her composite roof.

Tesla never offered an adequate explanation for the price change, Ms. Bianchi said, so she canceled the job: “It’s just outrageous.”

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