Chasing coal when dubious gas appears the safer bet

Newsletter - June 24, 2020

Collision course: India's rapid commercialisation of coal mining pits it against the expanding footprint of gas in the country | Photo:

Chasing coal when dubious gas appears the safer bet

The Jharkhand government moving India’s Supreme Court against the Centre is just the tip of the iceberg. It was ruffled by the Centre’s little to no consultation with state governments on its auction of 41 new coal blocks, even though the decision could dramatically alter India’s coal mining practices. Chhattisgarh, too, has flagged the blocks’ impact on biodiversity reserves within its borders, and the labour unions are bristling with indignation about what it means for job security and wages. 

The underlying issue is India’s re-purposed commitment to coal. For several quarters now, the government has championed the fuel as an indispensable part of the country’s energy security. Its Union Minister for petroleum also declared last December that India was stepping up to be the largest energy consumer by 2030. The element of pride that came with the target was hardly missed, but the approach has exposed faultlines. 

Coal may still be king, but globally its empire is increasingly unstable. Major miners, such as BHP and Rio Tinto, have publicly withdrawn from coal mining, as have staunch Asian financiers from funding coal plants. In India, though, the Centre is redrawing policies in a bid to make it as easy as possible for players to join its commercial coal mining bandwagon. It hopes that 100% FDI for global heavyweights and loosened entry rules for inexperienced firms will make India’s coal reserves and market irresistible, and therefore, profitable for all. The government’s no-holds-barred approach, though, has not yet seen much success in stirring interest among global players.

However, even though captive coal mines are arguably convenient for steel, cement and power, the Centre has fared poorly on capping coal plant emissions. The December 2021 deadline for  existing plants to install pollution control technologies will be overshot. Even more worrying of late is the slow realisation that the EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) process to scout for conflict-free mining and industrial hubs may be simply producing mountains of paper. 

Globally, though, natural gas has become the preferred successor to coal. Branded as “molecules of freedom” by the US Department of Energy, it emits ~50% less CO2 than coal per kWh. But at the same time, it comes with fugitive methane emissions, which is known to be a devastating greenhouse gas, even though this is treated with selective amnesia. As far as India’s pursuit of clean energy goes, both coal and gas fall antithetical to the country’s decarbonisation goals. But in a toss up between the two, there is little doubt that gas is the lesser evil.

While industries have been shifting from coal to gas in recent years, the global economic slowdown which started in 2019 saw gas consumption grow by just 1.8% in 2019 compared to 5.3% seen the year before. The COVID-19 pandemic shock has seen demand suffer further with consumption in 2020 expected to fall by 4%. While supply and trade adjustments resulting from the demand slump and resultant oversupply has pushed spot prices for natural gas to historic lows, the oil and gas industry is cutting spending to make up for lost revenue. The global gas market is expected to begin recovery in 2021 on the back of strong demand growth in China and India. India, in particular, is expected to see demand rise while prices in the global market remain low, especially from the industrial sector which is expected to account for more than a third of the incremental growth in gas demand between 2019 and 2025. Gas prices though are likely to start their rebound during the winter of 2020 with recovery expected to continue through 2021.

Natural gas made up 6.2% of India’s energy mix in 2018, versus the global average of 24%. But it could grow to 15% by 2030. The Vision 2030 paper by the Petroleum and Natural Gas Regulatory Board (PNGRB) estimates that domestic demand for gas will have grown at a CAGR of 6.8% between FY13 and FY30. Data from the Ministry of Petroleum suggests India’s LPG consumption has averaged a CAGR of 8.86% since 2014

More importantly, gas-based power generation is expected to be 36-47% of the growth story. In absolute terms, the sector’s gas consumption will have jumped from 86.5 million standard cubic meters per day (MMSCMD) in 2012-13 to 354 MMSCMD by 2030. 

Three recent developments show how this will happen. 

  1. The Centre is expanding the country-wide city gas distribution (CGD) network of terminals and pipelines for residential customers and combined heating and cooling power plants (CCHP). At 8.25 million tonnes a year, the 2,757 km-long pipeline from Kandla in Gujarat to Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh will alone supply 25% of the country’s LPG demand. 
  2. India is building five new terminals and a breakwater facility at Dabhol, Gujarat, for supplies to 35 million new households and 7,000 CNG stations by 2029.  
  3. It has launched its first real time gas exchange — the Indian Gas Exchange (IGX). The exchange will allow gas customers to book cheaper capacities in as short-term as in within 24 hours. 

However, the IGX will only retail imported LNG. So growing reliance on natural gas could actually go against the goal of energy security, unless domestic supplies can meet demand. Yet, Niti Aayog, in its 2019 India’s Energy and Emissions Outlook paper, outlined that India’s electricity demand would triple by 2042 (over 2017). The paper implies that a switch to cleaner power is necessary and talks about super-critical and ultra-super critical coal plants. 

In that light, gas could be the better alternative because:

  1. It releases far less SO2 and NOx emissions than coal power — which is particularly relevant to India’s fatalities over toxic air quality. China has been ramping up its coal to gas switch to tackle its own air pollution. 
  1. Gas power plants are as effective as coal power for baseload electricity supplies. In the absence of appropriate grid-scale energy storage, they could complement India’s renewables capacity addition, even if they themselves are likely to be made redundant by falling prices of renewables
  1. Hydrogen’s high energy density makes it a particularly attractive new technology for heavy transport and industry. Both lack a viable alternative in batteries so far. Natural gas, which is ~94% methane (CH4), would be an inexpensive source.

Despite the government’s stance, the public consensus on coal power has already turned negative over the mess of stranded assets and the 573 GW of planned coal capacity cancelled between 2010 – June 2018. States such as Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Rajasthan may back announcements by Gujarat and Chhattisgarh for “no new coal”. Investor sentiment has also soured for coal, but it remains stronger for gas. So the question is, is there room for both to grow? It seems quite likely that despite its shortcomings, gas could be the sole winner, which would render the Centre’s focus on coal pointless.

Climate Science

Heating up: India's first official climate change assessment warns of dire impacts unless rapid decarbonisation is undertaken | Photo: Scroll

India’s first official climate change assessment doesn’t mince words on impending climate crisis

The Ministry of Earth Sciences released its first ever national climate change report: Assessment Of Climate Change Over The Indian Region that says India’s average temperature has risen by 0.7 degrees Celsius between 1901-2018, solely because of the greenhouse gases (GHG). The purely scientific assessment says that even if India immediately begins to cut emissions, a best-case scenario, its temperature will still rise by 2.7 degrees Celsius by 2099. The worst-case scenario warns a rise of 4.4 degrees Celsius by 2100. Climate experts point out that the best case scenario would require negative emissions: which is that India will have to employ carbon sequestration methods to cut down the warming carbon dioxide (CO2) already present in the atmosphere. 

The report says the sea level near Mumbai is rising at the rate of 3cm per decade, and off the Bengal coast 5cm per decade. Surface temperatures in the Indian Ocean (including the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea) have risen by 1 degree Celsius between 1951-2015, higher than the global average. Monsoon over north India has decreased by 6% (1951-2015) due to the polluting aerosol “brown cloud”, says the report. Overall, the monsoon is expected to become more extreme over the coming decades, with longer dry spells alternating with very heavy rain.

Monsoon in India moves towards north-west

A robust southwest monsoon has made its presence felt in India. After hitting parts of central India, it has now advanced towards the country’s north-west and is expected to reach the north-east this week. The India Meteorological Department (IMD) prediction of a ‘full-fledged’ monsoon came true as Delhi woke up to heavy pre-monsoon showers on Monday morning, bringing down the maximum temperatures. Experts have said monsoon is expected to arrive in Delhi two-three days earlier than its usual June 27 date.

The monsoon season seems to be on track this year compared to the past three-four years. According to statistics, as on June 20, 2020, 28% surplus rain had been recorded. This time last year, rainfall had recorded a 25% deficit, primarily because of the strong Indian Ocean Dipole event, which later helped to not only consolidate the deficit, but also record a surplus of 110% along with an extended season run until October.   

As the monsoon has already cast its spell over half of India, farmers are planning to speed up the planting of summer crops, according to a weather department official.

Baghjan spill: Put new oil wells on hold until OIL put disaster plan in place, says WII

A preliminary assessment of the environmental damage caused due to Oil India Limited’s (OIL) gas well blowout at Baghjan in Upper Assam’s Tinsukia district, revealed the oil had spilt into the adjoining Lohit River and polluted not only the water, but also the nearby Maguri-Motapung wetland. The report by the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) recommended putting on hold the approved new wells and any further oil exploration in the region until OIL comes up with a disaster management plan. The report said the WII team that conducted the assessment found several dead fish and insects that may have perished because of oxygen depletion in the water following the oil spill.

The report identified at least five endangered Gangetic dolphins in the vicinity of the Lohit River, which is a Brahmaputra river tributary, and warned that the species was at ‘great risk’. A carcass of the dolphin species was found in a nearby lake called Maguri Beel, which has been sent for further analysis.

Meanwhile, the Pollution Control Board of Assam (PCBA) conditionally withdrew the closure notice it had issued to OIL following the blowout after the latter filed an affidavit that said it will submit a detailed time-bound environmental management plan within 15 days.

Serious concern about climate change across the globe, survey finds

A new survey gauged how much people from 40 countries cared about climate change and the verdict was unanimous – it is an issue that mattered to them the most. The research, which was carried out by The Conversation as part of the University of Oxford’s Reuters Institute annual Digital News Reports, found that in a majority of the countries surveyed, fewer than 3% of people believed climate change was not a serious issue. Almost seven out of 10 people thought it is ‘a very serious, or extremely serious, problem’.

Chile, Kenya, South Africa and the Philippines showed the highest levels of concern (85-90%), according to the research, whereas the lowest levels of concern (around half or less) were recorded in Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, Norway and the Netherlands – all in Western Europe. 

Emissions from dairy sector going unaddressed: IATP report

A recent analysis put the spotlight on the dairy industry, which has so far flown under the radar with regards to its greenhouse gas emissions. It found that the world’s 13 biggest dairy companies had the same combined greenhouse gas emissions as the United Kingdom. With an 11% increase in GHG emissions in just two years (between 2015-2017), mainly due to consolidation in the sector, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) study urged for an immediate decrease in the consumption of dairy and meat in rich nations in order to make any significant dent in the climate crisis.    

Shift to service-based economy won’t reduce global environment impacts: Study

A new study published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, argues that shifting completely to a service-based economy will not reduce negative impacts on the environment. Debunking the belief that the service sector has high productivity, but at a low environmental cost, the study found that all sectors are ‘roughly equivalent in terms of climate, land and water impacts per unit production’. The study argues that the environmental burden of high-wage, labour-intensive (tertiary) industries is highly under-reported. The opposite is true for ‘dirty’ or primary and secondary industries, according to the study.

Italian firm covering Presena glacier with tarpaulin sheets to protect it from global warming

Since 2008, an Italian company has been working to protect the Presena glacier from global warming by covering it up with tarpaulin sheets. Since 1993, the glacier has lost more than one-third of its volume. The Carosello-Tonale company places more than 100,000 sqm under wraps. The geotextile tarpaulins, measuring 70m by 5m, reflect sunlight and maintain a low temperature, thereby protecting the ice from melting.

Climate Policy

Unsafe bet: India’s auction of 41 coals mines has worried experts because several are located in forest areas | Photo: Business Insider

PM launches auction of 41 coal mines for commercial mining

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the auction of 41 coal mines for commercial mining this past fortnight. The PM said the sales from the auction would help turn the COVID-19 crisis into an opportunity. The government hopes this move will help create jobs, reduce India’s dependence on energy imports and help develop parts of central and eastern India, which remain largely undeveloped.  

What has worried experts, however, is the location of these coal mines. Several of them are located in biodiversity-rich areas in central India. What’s worse is that many of them don’t have the required forest clearance, as per information available on the website of the state-run MSTC Limited. The well-being of indigenous tribes living in these forests are also a concern, as mentioned in a letter written by Jharkhand chief minister Hemant Soren to the PM on June 10.

Another concern with regards to the auction is who will place their bids as the coal mining industry seemed less than excited over the move. With global coal demand falling rapidly, the industry doesn’t believe foreign mining companies would be interested. A former head of the Indian operations of a global coal mining company said he did not expect many Indian companies to participate either. “These will go to an Adani or Thriveni (Earthmovers). The market is basically a duopoly now.”

Andhra Pradesh allocates 57% of energy sector budget to provide free power for agriculture

The Andhra Pradesh government has allocated a much lower sum of Rs6,984.73 crore to its energy sector this year compared to last year’s Rs11,639 crore. What’s more significant, however, is that the government has allocated ₹4,000 crore (57%) of this sum to ensure ‘nine-hour free power supply for agriculture’.

As part of the YSR 9-hour free power supply scheme, the government will establish the AP Green Energy Corporation that will aim to install 8GW to 10GW of solar power capacity.

New electricity law should have clear policy framework on energy storage: IESA

The India Energy Storage Alliance (IESA) suggested a clear policy framework regarding energy storage was required as part of the proposed amendments to the Electricity Act, 2003, in order to adopt storage technologies in suitable areas. Such technologies could be a ‘key enabler’ in renewable energy integration and grid stability, the industry body said. The IESA also suggested the inclusion of definition of energy storage as this would aid ancillary services and frequency regulation through energy storage as a flexible asset.  

Germany to do away with green power hurdles

In yet another example of Germany pushing for renewable energy to become a pillar of its post COVID-19 recovery plan, the country is set to remove obstacles that are keeping Berlin from reaching its green energy goal of 65% production by 2030. A draft of an addendum to a law on energy in buildings shows that the solar capacity cap of 52 GW has been removed and a rule to build wind turbines 1,000m away from homes has been set.   

The Eastern European Union countries, meanwhile, have rejected the use of carbon emissions trading to boost the bloc’s COVID-19 recovery budget. The EU’s 27 national leaders are currently in discussions over how to raise 750 billion euros, over and above the next EU budget of 1.1 trillion euros, for a recovery fund.  

Stop investing in arms, fossil fuels: Vatican to Catholics

In a rare move, the Vatican urged Catholics to disinvest from armament and fossil fuel companies and to keep a check on mining companies to see if they are damaging the environment. The appeal was part of a 225-page manual for church workers and leaders to commemorate the fifth anniversary of Pope Francis’ encyclical “Laudato Si” (Praised Be), which focused on protecting nature, life and defenseless people.  The encyclical had strongly supported global warming agreements and had also warned against the effects of climate change.

While equating abortion to fossil fuels and arms, the manual asked Catholics to ‘shun companies that are harmful to human or social ecology, such as abortion and armaments, and to the environment, such as fossil fuels’.

Air Pollution

Dead set: The Indian Supreme Court rejected a petition by power companies to extend the December 2021 deadline for the installation of emission-cutting technology | Photo: Business Standard

Big win for clean air: Top court rejects power firms’ plea to extend emission deadline to 2024

The Supreme Court has rejected power plants’ request to further extend the deadline to install technology to cut emissions by two years to 2024. According to emission norms, coal power plants are supposed to install Flue Gas Desulphurization (FGD) units that reduce sulphur dioxide (SO2) emissions. Over half of the country’s coal power plants are likely to miss the 2022 deadline, which the owners have blamed on high costs and “technical difficulties”. 

The original deadline of 2017 to retrofit polluting power plants with technology to cut emissions has already been extended twice, by five years. The lobby group, The Association of Power Producers (APP), said the top court denied blanket extension and now each project would be decided individually.

In what was criticised as a “systematic attempt” to dilute pollution norms, the Indian government last month removed rules that required power firms to wash coal saying the process caused more pollution. State-run NTPC Ltd even wants the law that requires trucks and wagons transporting coal to be covered with tarpaulin sheets, to be made non-mandatory. Experts said the top court should shut down the power plants if they fail to meet the norms. 

102 cities’ clean air plan has no regional coordination mechanism, plans replicated: Study  

India’s National Clean Air Plan (NCAP) may remain a non-starter since a new study revealed that none of the 102-city-specific clean air plans have proposed a coordination mechanism across state boundaries to curb air pollution. Further, states have replicated plans across many cities without addressing specific emission sources. The plans have no guidelines for coordination between state governments, said the  Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) study titled How Robust are Urban India’s Clean Air Plans? An Assessment of 102 cities.

According to experts, pollution from outside the cities’ borders account for at least 30% of its pollution. Researchers point out that outside border sources can contribute up to 50% of pollutants to a city. Delhi, for example, bears the brunt of crop burning in neighbouring states of Punjab, Haryana and UP. Delhi’s action plan lists three action points for curbing pollution from regional sources, but there’s no clear delineation of responsibilities between the state governments, the study revealed. 

The review shows that nine states with multiple non-attainment cities have used the same set of action points and timelines across all cities. For example, in Uttar Pradesh 14 of 15 non-attainment cities have identical plans.

China’s new rules reclassify petrol-electric hybrid cars as “low fuel” to help manufacturers

China has reclassified petrol-electric vehicles as “low fuel consumption passenger vehicles”, all to encourage carmakers to make hybrid cars, making it easier for automakers to meet environment quotas. China has one of the toughest norms for the production of fossil-fuel vehicles. Because of the older norms, big car manufacturers, including Tesla and Volkswagen, invested billions of dollars to produce all-electric and plug-in hybrid and hydrogen fuel cell cars. 

The older system drew flak for not offering incentives to carmakers to improve their petrol and diesel cars. The new rules now allow them to make petrol-electric hybrid vehicles (and not just plug-in EVs) to win ‘points’ and balance out the negative points they incur when they produce internal combustion engine vehicles.

Experts say the policy allows automakers to gradually make more petrol-electric hybrids and less of the more costly all-electric vehicles from 2021 through 2023. The petrol-electric cars would still be considered fossil-fuelled, but will be re-classified as ‘low fuel consumption passenger vehicles’. Significantly, the number of negative points incurred for making petrol-electric hybrids will be less than for petrol-only vehicles.

Top court raps Delhi car dealers for flouting orders, selling polluting BS-IV vehicles 

Have Delhi dealers sold double the number of polluting BS-IV vehicles? India’s Supreme Court has pulled up automobile dealers over flouting its March 27 order that allowed them 10 more days to sell and register BS-IV vehicles in Delhi. The dealers were allowed to sell and register 1.05 lakh BS-IV vehicles, but 2.55 lakh vehicles have been sold since then, the court was told. 

The Supreme Court has ordered the Federation of Automobile Dealers Associations to submit details of the sale and registrations of vehicles. The top court also asked Centre to submit the details of BS-IV vehicles sold and registered after the court’s March 27 order. India has transitioned to the world’s cleanest emissions standard from April 1. It has gone straight to Euro-VI emission standards from Euro-IV.


Upward bound? The Indian Ministry of New and Renewable Energy is mulling hiking the basic Customs duty on Chinese solar imports to 20% | Photo: Alibaba

India to impose higher 20% duty on Chinese solar equipment from Aug 1?

India may impose a higher 20% basic Customs duty on Chinese solar imports as soon as the tenure of the current 15% safeguard duty lapses on July 29. The move to impose 20% duty will make solar cells, modules and inverters imported from China expensive. The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy is planning to make the proposal to the ministry of commerce and industry.

The government has assured that the fresh tariffs are not applicable to the already bid-out projects and quoted electricity tariffs. The government is collating details along with the tentative equipment import date. The safeguard duty on solar equipment from China and Malaysia was imposed on July 30, 2018. 

India imported $2.16 billion worth of solar photovoltaic (PV) cells, panels, and modules in 2018-19. The massive import bill had led the NDA government in its previous term to impose a safeguard duty. Modules account for nearly 60% of a solar power project’s total cost.

Renewable energy projects currently account for over a fifth of India’s installed power generation capacity.

SECI clears $12.5 million in dues to solar and wind energy companies 

Addressing the issue of payment delays, state-run Solar Energy Corporation of India last month settled ₹94 crore ($12.5 million) worth of bills for solar and wind power it purchased from the developers. The central agency also paid ₹10.42 crore in GST claims to companies. 

In March 2020, MNRE had warned SECI and National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) that GST and Safeguard Duty compensation to solar project developers should be paid within two months, else they will have to pay a surcharge. They also have the option of paying  on an annual basis spread throughout the power-purchase agreement (PPA) tenure.

SECI’s 2 GW solar PV project oversubscribed by 2.35 GW

Soon after lifting of three-month-long COVID-19 restrictions and the government’s decision to remove ceiling tariffs for solar and wind projects, the 2 GW tender by state-backed Solar Energy Corporation of India has been oversubscribed by 2.35 GW. The interstate transmission system (ISTS) connected solar PV project received overwhelming bids totalling 4,350 MW solar capacity from 12 project developers. The bidders included ReNew Power, Tata Power, Azure Power, NTPC, NLC, SolarPack, and ENEL.

The minimum capacity utilisation factor (CUF) condition for the tender was 17% with a commissioning timeline of 18 months. Government may hold the reverse auction for this tender next week.  

Renewable Energy Certificate sales drop by 55% since 2019  

According to official data, Renewables Energy Certificate (REC) sales dropped 55% in May 2020 to 3.33 lakh units, compared to May 2019, when the sales touched 7.5 lakh units.

REC is a market-based instrument, one REC is created when one megawatt hour of electricity is generated from a renewable energy source. In May 2020, a total of 2.78 lakh RECs were traded on the India Energy Exchange (IEX), compared to 5.5 lakh in May 2019.

Power Exchange of India (PXIL) recorded sales of 0.55 lakh RECs in 2020 as against around 2 lakh last year. 

French firm EDF to set up 2 GW of solar, wind capacity by 2022 in India 

French energy company EDF (Electricite de France), headquartered in London, is planning to invest in 2 GW of solar and wind power capacity by 2022 in India. The company is also looking to make acquisitions in the country’s hydropower. EDF has set up an ambitious target to double its installed capacity of renewables to 50 GW by 2030, globally . 

The company is also setting up one of India’s largest smart metering infrastructures, which involves installing 5 million smart meters across the country. 

EDF is also currently negotiating the contract of building India’s largest nuclear power project of six atomic power reactors totalling 10 GW, which they took over after previous contractor Avera declared bankruptcy.

EU to exceed target of achieving third of energy from RE sources by 2030  

COVID-19 crisis will not be able to dent the European Union’s target of achieving a third of its energy from renewables by 2030. In fact, as per EU countries’ latest energy policies, the region will beat its target by one percentage point achieving 33% share of RE by 2030. The region has witnessed a fall in RE investments because of COVID-19 lockdown.

Overall, renewable energy sources including wind, solar, hydropower and bioenergy made up just under 19% of final EU energy consumption in 2018, Reuters reported. But the commission plans to inject billions of euros in clean energy projects from its recovery fund of 750 billion euros. 

The International Energy Agency has also predicted a fall in RE investments for the first time in 20 years because of coronavirus lockdowns. IEA says the sector will bounce back if countries offer support.

Around 9 GW solar capacity added in Q1 between China, US and India

According to a Wood Mackenzie report, China, US and India were the top solar power installers in the first quarter (Q1) of 2020. China installed a massive 4 GW of solar capacity in the first quarter this year followed by the US where 3.6 GW of new solar capacity was installed during the same period. India ranked third with 1.1 GW of new solar capacity in Q1 2020.  The report said for the US, it was the largest ever Q1 solar power installation, marking 42% rise year-over-year.  

For India, the installation of 1.1 GW marked a huge 43% decline from 1.89 GW of solar power the country added during the first quarter of 2019. In fact, the Q1 2020 figure is the lowest since Q4 2016. China also recorded a fall from 5.2 GW in Q1 2019 to 4 GW in Q1 2020.

Air pollution, aerosols can lower solar power generation by over 50% : Study 

A new study shows that solar panels power generation can fall by 50% in parts of the world with substantial air pollution and low rainfall, particularly if the panels are not cleaned. 

The researchers combine solar photovoltaic (PV) performance modelling with long-term data on surface irradiance, aerosol deposition and rainfall rates to provide a global picture of how air pollution and dust affect PV generation. 

The study said without cleaning PV generation in heavily polluted and desert regions is reduced by over 50% by PM, with soiling accounting for more than two-thirds of the total reduction.

Electric Vehicles

Intelligent: China's car owners will get paid to drive EVs as the country rolls out its innovative credit scheme to curb CO2 emissions | Photo: CNBC

China to pay people to use EVs or not drive at all

The Chinese govt. has introduced a new credit scheme that will pay car owners to drive an EV or not drive at all. The scheme will initially target one million car owners in Beijing to reduce automotive emissions. By opting to not drive their IC engine cars for 200 days, the scheme will help prevent a million tonnes of CO2 emissions. Doing so will earn them credits that will then be sold to corporates that buy environmental credits to avoid paying fines on their emissions.

While variations of the scheme are already in force in the US and within China, the new “one ton” scheme will also reduce car owners’ insurance bills.

Maharashtra shelves three Chinese auto manufacturing units in ongoing standoff between India and China 

The Indian state of Maharashtra has decided to put on hold three auto manufacturing units owned by Chinese firms as the countries face off over border skirmishes. The three units were signed off in an online investment summit called Magnetic Maharashtra 2.0, and were to be held by Great Wall Motors (worth an MoW of Rs, 3,770 crores/USD 538 million in Pune), a Rs. 1,000 crore (USD 143 million) facility by Foton (China) and PMI Electro Mobility and a Rs. 250 crore (USD 36 million) unit by Henglu Engineering. 

The state has also been advised by the Centre to not sign any more agreements with Chinese firms.

World’s largest liquid air battery starts construction in the UK

Construction has begun on the world’s largest liquid air battery – built by Highview Power – and the 250MWh “battery” will go online in 2022. The project will use excess renewable power to compress air down to a liquid, which will be stored in tanks and released into gaseous form to run a turbine and generate power. Its output will reportedly be sufficient to power 200,000 homes for five hours.

The liquid air energy storage plant will also have nearly double the storage capacity of Tesla’s Hornsdale Power Reserve in South Australia but will cost £85m. However, it will be able to store energy for weeks, which is much longer than currently possible through li-ion batteries.

EVs to get “battery passport” to prove compliance with Paris Agreement 

The Global Battery Alliance (GBA) has launched the “Battery Passport”, which is a digital quality seal and verification tool that will be used to authenticate that the EV batteries that receive the seal were manufactured sustainably. The seal’s importance is due to the fact that li-ion batteries rely heavily on several rare earth metals, most of which are mined in the developing world (such as African and South American nations) under conditions that have sparked debate on the ethics of the operations. 

The Battery Passport will make use of blockchain technology and has been endorsed by over 42 organisations, including Microsoft, Volkswagen, UNICEF and the World Bank.

Fossil Fuels

Not amused: Trade unions across India are up in arms against the new coal auctions as workers fear they could lose their jobs to commercial mining firms | Photo: Star of Mysore

India: Centre auctioning 41 new coal blocks amidst mounting protests by trade unions

India is auctioning 41 new coal blocks under its campaign for “Atmanirbharta” (self-reliance) for the mining sector, and with peak output of 225 million tons (MT), the mines are expected to make up 15% of the country’s coal output for FY26. The auction is a major step towards opening up Indian coal mines for commercial mining and the process could fetch up to Rs. 30,000 crores (~USD 4.2 billion) over the next 5-7 years. Key industries such as steel, cement and power are targeted as the move’s beneficiaries — which will also reportedly generate 280,000 jobs. 

However, four of India’s most prominent trade unions have already started protesting and have demanded that the Centre roll back its plans to commercialise coal mines. The unions, INTUC, CITU, AITUC and BMS, also want that workers’ rights and their 200 days’ worth of guaranteed employment under MNREGA be protected, as these may also be trimmed by the Centre. The state of Jharkhand too has moved the Supreme Court as it protests the non-inclusion of states in the auction’s decision making process, while Chhattisgarh has red-flagged the blocks’ mining rights in its elephant-rich biodiversity hotspots. 

Australia fast-tracks $1 billion coalmine, coal’s global share drops to 16-year low

Australia has fast-tracked approval for the Glencore-backed, USD 1 billion Valeria mine in Queensland, which would be double the size of the Adani Carmichael mine. The Queensland govt. has backed the decision — despite heavy criticism over coal’s emissions and climate change’s impacts on the country — by saying that it was an “important and positive step” that would help Australia out of the economic shock of Covid-19. 

However, coal’s share in the global energy mix has fallen to 27% for the first time in 16 years over consumption dropping across Germany and the US. The numbers are from BP’s Statistical Review of World Energy 2020 report and suggest that even in India, consumption grew by a mere 0.3%. However, China and Indonesia continue to be growth markets, even though the former could cap its coal capacity to 1,100 GW by 2020 and replace its existing units with newer, more efficient plants. 

Abandoned US wells leaking tons of methane, India to spearhead global gas demand

A new US EPA report to the UNFCCC suggests that abandoned 3.2 million abandoned oil and gas wells in the US leaked up to 28 kilotons of methane in 2018 — which is the equivalent of emissions from 16 million barrels of crude oil. In a number of cases the wells are also responsible for groundwater contamination, but globally the impact is reportedly much worse because of the estimated 29 million abandoned wells around the world, several of which are in China, Russia and Saudi Arabia.