Massive contraction: A 126% drop in India's coal financing in just one year highlights how the fuel seems to have fallen out of favour with most investors and public lenders, while renewable energy attracts steadily more funding | Photo: The Wire

India’s coal financing sees 126% year-on-year drop in 2019

The new coal vs. renewables financial analysis report found that coal financing in India dropped by 126% from 2018 to 2019. The report has been prepared by the Centre for Financial Accountability and studied 43 coal and renewable energy projects that reached financial close between January 1 and December 31, 2019. The report indicates that only ₹1,100 crore ($190 million) was sanctioned for 3.06GW of coal projects during the year, as opposed to ₹6,081 crore ($850 million) in 2018. Of this, ₹700 crore was issued to refinance JSW Energy’s Barmer coal plant in Rajasthan — which was also refinanced in 2018 — while the remaining ₹400 crore was used for NTPC’s upcoming Barh power plant in Bihar. 

On the other hand, 41 renewable energy projects worth 5.15GW in total received financing during the year, which amounted to a cumulative figure of ₹22,971 crore ($3.2 billion). There was a 30% dip in financing for wind power and a 10% uptick in financing for solar (y-o-y), but overall the report indicates a growing shift in India’s investments in clean energy. 

India: Coal plants can now switch quality and source of fuel without environmental clearance

India’s environment ministry amended its rules for thermal power plants and coal mining, and will now allow coal plants to switch their domestic sources of the fuel regardless of the distance from the point of origin or its ash content. The change has apparently been made after requests by coal plants to address their delays in sourcing coal, but under the Environment Impact Assessment Notification 2006, plants were required to seek an amendment to their environmental clearance (EC) before the change to keep their emissions in check. 

The new rule does away with the need for an updated EC and could see the plants sourcing coal from hundreds of kilometres away on trucks that could ply through villages and public roads — all of which was earlier meant to be carried out only through conveyor belts and the railways. However, India’s Association of Power Producers (APP) has justified the request on the grounds that coal plants faced “unnecessary delays” to fuel supplies every time they had to change mines. 

Germany: Automakers’ association insists IC engines will have a place in 2050 climate target

Germany’s national automakers association, VDA, has vehemently argued that the internal combustion engine (ICE), along with hydrogen and synthetic fuels, will play an important part in the country’s 2050 carbon-neutrality target. Germany is planning to slash its transport sector emissions — an industry that is a mainstay of its economy — by 42% below 1990 levels by 2030. The VDA said that even though it will support e-mobility, especially for passenger vehicles and light commercial transport, alternatives like hydrogen and synthetic fuels would help clean up the country’s existing vehicles and therefore “complement electromobility”. 

However, its position is in sharp contrast to one of its largest members, the VW Group, which has been sharply critical of the German auto industry’s continued association with petrol and diesel engines while it reinvents itself to be the world’s largest EV manufacturer by 2028. It is also in a self-proclaimed race with Tesla to build self-driving vehicles. VW has also said that it believes synthetic fuels derived from green hydrogen — hydrogen separated out of natural gas using renewable energy — will be “much too precious for individual mobility” due to the inherent losses in converting the raw material to usable motive power. It has instead recommended that the fuel be used for applications that so far do not have a viable alternative in electric power, such as aviation, shipping and heavy industry. 

South Africa: Eskom plans net zero emissions by 2050, investors request exit from proposed coal plant

South Africa’s giant power developer, Eskom, which has struggled to service its monumental debt and inefficiencies, is reportedly working on a plan to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. The utility relies on coal for almost 90% of its power output and its country’s largest producer of greenhouse gases, but has failed, on several occasions, to maintain a steady supply of power for the country. Its current outstanding payables amount to 484 billion Rand ($31 billion), but its new plan will include a large-scale shift to renewable energy and energy storage, as well the potential to raise around 200 billion Rand in green financing. 

Meanwhile, a group of multinational investors that was backing a new coal plant in Thabametsi has requested the South African Energy Ministry that it be allowed to pull out. The group included prominent coal financiers like Japan’s Marubeni Corp. and South Korea’s KEPCO, but the 630MW plant in question was heavily criticised by local environmentalists as they claimed that it would have been one of the the world’s “most carbon-intensive coal power stations”. The plant would also have come up in Limpopo province (NE South Africa), which has battled severe water shortage.

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