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China possibly eyeing hydrogen as future of zero-emission transport

Newsletter - June 25, 2019

Hello Hydrogen: If Hydrogen fuel cells secure long term support from China, the global EV industry could be headed for stiff competition | Image credit: ChinaDaily

Big Story: China possibly eyeing hydrogen as future of zero-emissions transport

It seems likely that China will consider state support for hydrogen-fueled vehicles as zero emissions transport. The country’s ‘father of electric vehicles’, Wan Gang, said in a recent interview to Bloomberg that he believed the ease of refuelling hydrogen-powered vehicles would make them a viable option — particularly buses and trucks, which have to travel long distances. 

Since China alone accounts for more than half of all the EVs sold worldwide, its support to hydrogen could decisively alter the global landscape for zero-emissions transport. The country has already slashed its support for EVs, and private investments in its EV startups have dropped to a mere 10% of 2018’s record high of $7.7 billion. Industry watchers have warned that any investments even a year from now would suffer losses. 

China’s vision for hydrogen is already being practised by Japan, which leads the world in the hydrogen economy. However, an explosion at a refueling station in Norway has brought the fuel’s safety into question. It has also been derided by Elon Musk for its high costs of transportation and storage. But it has the support of some of the largest automakers — Toyota, Honda and Hyundai

As the race to battery-powered EVs only just heats up in India and much of the developed world, it’ll be interesting to see if China’s backing for hydrogen rattles the world’s fragile EV ecosystem. 


Climate Science

That’s just in the shade: Kuwait and Saudi Arabia have recorded sizzling hot temperatures of well over 55°C under this year’s heatwave | Image credit: Mashable

Kuwait, Saudi Arabia sizzle at record temperatures, India not far behind

Hot, hotter, hottest – that was the weather forecast in several parts of the world this fortnight. Kuwait and Saudi Arabia recorded the highest temperatures in the world last Saturday. The former recorded 52.2°C in the shadows and 63°C in direct sunlight, while In Saudi Arabia, the mercury rose to 55°C in Al Majmaah at noon. Monsoon took a rain check in India as the country continued to sizzle at record temperatures. Bihar has been reeling under a killer heatwave since June 15, which has led to 142 deaths in just four days, with thousands more in hospital.

What makes this year’s heat waves unprecedented is that they began as early as March. Since then, 22 states have been hit by 73 heatwave spells in 97 days. This trend is likely to continue as a study opined half the world could see record-setting heat every year by 2100.

Frequency of tropical cyclones in Arabian Sea on the rise?

Yes, India’s west coast dodged a bullet after cyclone Vayu turned course in the Arabian Sea. But the question is for how long? This comparatively calm body of water has shown a rising trend of cyclonic activity in the past few years.

The numbers speak for themselves – from five extremely severe cyclones in 15 years (from 1998 to 2013), the frequency has increased to five such cyclones in five years since (2014-2019), indicating an almost doubling of incidence in recent years. Is global warming to blame? Researchers are still debating. But what they do know is that this is just the calm before the storm.     

Will June be declared driest on record?

Official data suggests if the rainfall pattern this monsoon continues, this June could be the driest on record. Traditionally, June accounts for 17% of the monsoon season’s rainfall pattern, which stretches from June to September. But by June 18 of this year, the country reported a 44% rainfall deficit. Scary? Yes. But a look at the rainfall data from previous years reveals India has more than made up for this deficit, especially in the months of July and August.

Scientists amazed as Canadian permafrost thaws 70 years early

In another indication that the global climate crisis is accelerating at an alarming rate, scientists found permafrost (giant subterranean ice blocks), in the Canadian Arctic is melting 70 years earlier than expected. Researchers said successive, unusually hot summers, have been destabilising permafrost that has remained solid for thousands of years.

What is most concerning for scientists, however, is the risk that this rapid thawing could potentially release enormous quantities of heat-trapping gases such as methane, which could push up temperatures even further.  

Bitcoin industry consumes more power than New Zealand, Hungary

The Bitcoin juggernaut is charging ahead, but is also leaving behind quite a large carbon footprint. Estimates from Digiconomist have revealed the industry uses over 42TWh of electricity in a year – that’s equal to CO2 emissions of 1 million transatlantic flights – which is more than New Zealand and Hungary and just behind Peru. Bitcoin mining is to blame, say experts, and it is only going to get worse, especially if bitcoin was to become a global currency.   

Study examines increased risk of armed conflict due to climate change

If climate change continues to intensify in the coming years, it will increase the risk of future armed conflict between countries, a study published in the journal Nature warned. According to the study, if the world continues to walk on the 4°C warming path that it is currently on, the climate impact on conflicts would increase more than five times – which translates to a 26% chance of a substantial increase in conflict risk. This is because extreme weather due to climate change could lead to more inequality among social groups and damage economies, the study says. These, combined with other conflict triggers, may increase the risk of violence, it said. The rising number of conflicts and displaced people has already alarmed observers as it has reached levels not seen since the Second World War. 

Himalayan glaciers melting far faster this century: Study

The loss of ice in the Himalayan glaciers has doubled over the past 40 years, cold-war images from US spy satellites have revealed. Comparison with present-day satellite data showed glaciers have been losing the equivalent of over a vertical foot-and-a-half of ice annually since 2000. A separate study shows significant warming of up to 3°C in the Himalayas and likelihood of 50% increase in rainfall in the region by 2100.


Climate Policy

Newer India: India’s worsening water crisis could soon see scores dying of water shortage as it rivers run dry and its groundwater disappears | Image credit: Wikimedia

Facing its worst water crisis, India aims to provide potable water to all by 2024

India plans to provide piped water to all rural houses by 2024 – which is a highly ambitious aim considering the country is grappling with its worst water crises in history, experts say. State data says water levels in 54% of groundwater wells have dipped and 21 major cities will run out of groundwater by 2020 (there’s zero water in Chennai reservoirs). Official data says 200,000 people die annually because of the lack of safe drinking water in India and by 2030 the demand for water will double. Down to Earth said, finally, the government acknowledged there was a water and agrarian crisis in the country. 

EU fails to agree on carbon neutrality by 2050 

Ahead of the UN climate talks in September, EU leaders failed to agree on going carbon neutral by 2050. Countries that are heavily dependent on coal energy, namely Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary and Poland, blocked the deal. Earlier, the UN chief had called on EU to raise the 2030 climate goal to 55%. The world’s third-largest greenhouse gas emitter may miss its 2030 goal because of its rising emissions in transport, farming and construction sectors.

Impasse over carbon credits continues: “Make or break” issue for Paris accord  

The deadlock over future UN carbon markets continued as climate talks opened in Bonn. The “make or break” issue of carbon trading can damage the Paris accord, experts warn. Brazil and other emerging economies want the offset scheme of the 1997 Kyoto protocol to continue, but the EU says transferring the old carbon credits would flood the market with credits of little environmental value and are calling for the creation of a new scheme from scratch. 

IEA to develop pathway to tougher 1.5°C climate goal

Pressure works. Months after businesses and campaigners attacked the International Energy Agency (IEA) for “normalising” a dangerous climate future, by ignoring tougher temperature targets of the Paris accord in its annual energy outlook, the influential agency has decided to develop a 1.5°C scenario from this year.  Businesses and governments use the IEA report as a benchmark for modelling the energy industry.

A report by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) has revealed that subsidies to coal-fired power plants given by G20 countries almost tripled between 2014 and 2017 despite growing calls to move away from coal. The report, released just days before the G20 Summit kicks off in Osaka, Japan A draft communiqué put out by Japan mere days before the commencement of the G20 Summit in Osaka later this week omits the phrases “global warming” and “decarbonisation” and downplays the Paris climate accord compared with previous communiqués. Analysts say Japan’s watering down of climate commitments in the G20 document has been under pressure from the US, which has made clear its intention to withdraw from the Paris Agreement.

Want investments? Disclose climate impact information, 22 Indian firms told

Stick to global norms of disclosing climate impact information to attract investments, that’s the message 22 Indian firms received recently on behalf of nearly 100 investors. CDP, a global body of investors with combined assets of over $10 trillion, has urged over 700 multinationals, including 22 Indian firms, to disclose environmental impact information. Indian firms, including Bharti Airtel, ITC and Coal India, have been asked to reveal the full extent of their impact on climate crisis, water shortages and deforestation, by July 31 by filling up an open questionnaire developed by CDP, but there has been no response yet.

Global plastics boom fueled 2018 CO2 emissions rise

The booming global market for plastic products was partly the reason behind 2018’s massive spike in CO2 emissions, the highest since 2011, says BP’s latest energy review. Aside from coal running China’s steel industry, the huge demand for petrochemicals used to make plastic products led to the massive spike in CO2. China, India and the US were responsible for the largest increases in emissions in 2018, the BP review said.  

India may miss carbon sink commitment 

India is not planting ‘open forests’ and ‘shrubs’ fast enough to meet its 2030 target, the government said. India pledged to create an additional carbon sink of 2.5-3 billion tonnes of CO2 through additional forest and tree cover by 2030, but its afforestation schemes are under-funded. India will host a UN convention to fight desertification in early September.

Want to register your house? First plant two trees, please

The small town of Kodungallur in the southern India state of Kerala has made it mandatory for owners to plant a mango and a jackfruit tree to get their houses registered. The municipality of Kodungallur has made it mandatory that once construction is completed, they will keep a check on the planted trees. 

Indonesia to make tree-cutting ban permanent

Across the ocean, Indonesia has made the ban on cutting forests for the sake of palm oil plantations permanent. The nation of islands is prone to outbreaks of forest fires during dry seasons, often blamed on the draining of peatland forests and land clearance for agriculture.

Pentagon emits more than many smaller industrialised countries

The US military headquarters emits more than an industrialised country. The Pentagon emits more than Sweden and Portugal, latest study has found. The Pentagon calls climate change a national security issue, but consider this: it released about 59 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in 2017, more than many smaller countries’ emissions. It is the 55th largest contributor of CO2 in the world. 


Air Pollution

Bad news: Not only has Mumbai’s air quality worsened, but pollutants stay suspended for longer in the city as compared to air pollution-hotspot Delhi | Image credit: DNA India

Toxic particles last longer in Mumbai’s air; pollution in 2018 was at 20-year high

Is Mumbai’s air deadlier than Delhi’s? Latest data released by System of Air Quality Weather Forecasting and Research (SAFAR) has revealed that meteorological factors in Mumbai allowed the tinier, deadlier pollutants to last longer in the air – the percentage share of PM2.5 in PM10 in Mumbai was higher compared to Delhi, researchers said. Mumbai’s air had more fine pollutant particles that easily enter the human body than Delhi did. Also, the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) told Parliament that Mumbai’s level of PM10 in 2018 was the highest in over 20 years and pollution in the city has been steadily increasing.

Gujarat launches world’s first trading scheme to fight particulate pollution

The Indian state of Gujarat launched the “world’s first” market-based trading programme to combat particulate air pollution. Cap-and-trade systems have been used to reduce sulphur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) in the United States, but not particulate air pollution. The government sets a cap on emissions and allows industries to buy and sell permits to stay below the cap. Permits are certificates earned by companies that have achieved emissions reductions to meet their targets, which they can sell to companies that have failed to meet theirs. Experts say the system could work better than the command-and-control approach to pollution regulation, which has resulted in non-compliance

Cutting down household fuels can save 2.7 lakh lives in India every year, says study

India can save the lives of 2,70,000 people if it curbs emissions from household fuels such as wood, dung, coal and kerosene, researchers from IIT Delhi and the University of Berkeley said. Cutting down on indoor pollution can reduce air pollution-related deaths by 13% in India, scientists said. 

Scientists claim cement plants pollute more than all the trucks in the world

Cement manufacturing emits more CO2 than all the trucks in the world, and is responsible for 7% of global carbon dioxide emissions, scientists say. Consider this: Kilns are heated to over 1,400°C. Inside the kiln, a tonne of cement yields at least half a tonne of CO2. That’s more than the average car would produce on a drive from New York to Miami.


Renewables

No takers: TANGEDCO’s financial woes and inability to commit to power purchase has turned away developers from a state rich in RE resources | Image credit: ChidambaramVillas

Tamil Nadu’s power board stops floating tenders for solar, wind farms

After failing to get any response from investors over two financial years, Tamil Nadu’s electricity board, TANGEDCO, has stopped floating bids for solar and wind power farms. Primary reasons for the lacklustre investor response have been TANGEDCO’s inability to give a commitment on power evacuation and timely payment for evacuated power due to financial difficulties. Bids will now only be floated by the Solar Energy Corporation of India (SECI).

The Centre is taking steps to settle the payment issue, however, with Union power minister RK Singh announcing that a payment security mechanism for renewable developers was in the works along with policy changes to ensure timely payment.  

Renewables to be the primary energy source by 2040, surpassing coal, India vital to transition: BP Energy Outlook

A recent study by BP Energy Outlook made a bullish prediction about the future of renewable energy, claiming eco-friendly alternatives will surpass coal usage by 2040. India will be at the forefront of this transition, the study says, further predicting that the country will overtake China as the world’s largest growth market by 2020. Although ground realities in India, namely cancellation of tenders and uncertainties around the safeguard duty and GST, could make this scenario a bit of a stretch.  

Renewable energy provided jobs to 11 mn people in 2018: IRENA report

The growing popularity of renewable technology provided jobs to nearly 11 million people across the world last year. India accounted for 719,000 jobs. A report titled Renewable Energy and Jobs – Annual Review 2019 pointed to a significant jump in the number of jobs in recent years – 7.28 million in 2012 to 10.98 million in 2018. The biggest employer was the solar photovoltaics industry, which employed up to 3.6 million jobs. 

The report pointed to a significant shift in the geographical footprint of renewable energy since 2012. While the US, China and EU has so far been the job hubs for the industry, east and southeast Asia, which are key exporters of solar PV panels, have now joined the club.

India’s sale of solar off-grid products falls in second half of 2018; still world’s largest cash market

A GOGLA report revealed an 11% drop in sales figures of off-grid solar products in the second half of 2018 – nearly 1.18 million units sold compared to 1.33 million units in the first half of the year. But here’s the good news. The report declared India was the world’s largest cash market for distributed solar products.

The decline in sales may not have as much of an impact as a previous report by GOGLA predicted that the country’s private player-driven market for solar lanterns and solar home systems is expected to reach ₹26,178 million ($327 million) by 2023.      

Oberoi Group to become first hospitality major in Delhi NCR to go 100% solar

A preference for environment friendly accommodations among guests is driving a move towards sustainability in India’s hospitality industry, including some prominent luxury chains. The Oberoi Group said it has become the first in the Delhi-NCR region to enable both its Gurgaon properties to be powered by solar energy. A captive power plant in Balasar, Haryana, will generate 7.5 MW of electricity to meet the energy demands of the two hotels. “With 27,000 solar panels installed, the plant’s performance ratio is determined to be 76.50%. The Oberoi and the Trident in Gurgaon aim at reducing CO2 emissions by 12,344 tonnes per year,” the group said in a statement.

Bifacial panels excluded from US solar tariffs

The US has announced new exemptions to tariffs on solar panels it constituted in early 2018. The 25% tariff has been lifted for bifacial solar panels – a new technology through which power is produced on both sides of a cell. It would be excluded from the Trump administration’s tariffs on overseas-made solar products.

Facebook enters RE market with massive $416 million solar project in Texas

Social media giant Facebook is venturing into renewable energy investments with a $416-million solar farm planned in Texas. Boston-based renewable energy developer Longroad Energy recently announced it was partnering with Facebook for a project, which will have a capacity of 379 megawatts – enough to power around 72,000 homes based on the national average, the Solar Energy Industries Association said.

China’s cumulative installed solar capacity reaches nearly 180 GW: NEA

Figures issued by China’s National Energy Association (NEA) suggests that during March 2019, China’s solar power generation reached 179.7 GW, an increase of 28% year-on-year, with the addition of 5.2 GW in Q1 of 2019. The installed capacity of grid-connected solar power reached 122.6 GW, an increase of 23%, adding 2.4 GW during Q1 2019; while distributed solar PV capacity reached 53.41 GW, an increase of 43% after 2.8 GW was added in Q1.

Norway opening up new sea areas for offshore wind energy

The Norwegian oil and gas ministry has announced in an official statement that Norway will look to open up two new areas for the construction of floating offshore wind parks, which combined could hold a turbine capacity of up to 3.5 gigawatts (GW).The first area, which the ministry will propose before July, is called Utsira North and is situated in the North Sea, while the second is close to the offshore border with Denmark, called Southern North Sea II. The Scandinavian country has sought to move away from petroleum and towards renewables, notably wind energy, in recent years.


Electric Vehicles

Without the pollution by 2030: India is targeting 100% EV sales by 2030 again, much to the dismay of its automakers | Image credit: Energy Digital

NITI proposes zero EV registration fees, 100% sales from 2030, again

India’s NITI Aayog has issued draft rules exempting all categories of EVs from registration fees to boost their lacklustre sales. The planning body has also proposed – again – that only EVs will be sold in India from 2030.

The move was first proposed in 2017 and revised down to 30% by 2030 in March 2018 after strong criticism from the auto industry. Maruti Suzuki — India’s largest automaker — has also voiced its reservations and has pushed for hybrid vehicles till the country is self sufficient in manufacturing EV components. 

Indian EV makers call for extended localisation timelines, more subsidies per family 

India’s EV manufacturers have asked the Centre to extend component localisation requirements for EVs by at least 6-9 months beyond April 2020, and up to April 2023 for domestically manufactured li-ion batteries (instead of April 2021). India is currently far short of any capacity to supply indigenous components in numbers that can see all two- and three-wheelers go electric by 2025. 

The Centre has also been requested to extend the subsidy benefit under FAME-II to each two-wheeler bought by a family/individual, instead of restricting it to just one vehicle, to drive faster sales.


Fossil Fuels

Whose side is it on? The US EPA has relaxed emission reduction targets for coal plants to shore them up, conveniently ignoring calls to slash fossil fuel use | Image credit: SouthEastCoalAsh

Trump rolls back Clean Power Plan, allows states to set own emission targets for coal plants

US President Donald Trump has rolled back his predecessor’s Clean Power Plan, under which coal plants were mandated to cut emissions by 32% by 2030 over 2005 levels. The new plan is called “Affordable Clean Energy” and instead allows US states three years to set their own emission reduction targets for their coal plants — which may or may not be approved by the EPA.  

The plan supposedly aims to end the “war on coal” that the administration alleges was unleashed by Barack Obama, and again dismisses scientific warnings on cutting fossil fuel emissions. It could also be another lifeline to the US’ fast declining coal-power capacity. Incidentally, the administration has been dragged to court over rolling back spill-prevention regulations on offshore drilling sites to save drillers up to $1 billion over 10 years. 

Fossil fuel subsidies rose to $400 billion in 2018, US spent 10X less on education 

A new IEA report says global fossil fuel subsidies rose to $400 billion in 2018 (from $300 billion in 2017) over higher oil prices and several national currencies losing value against the US dollar. Oil-related subsidies alone accounted for $183 billion, and the report says the wealthy are disproportionately benefited by the subsidies. 

Meanwhile, Forbes has reported that the US spent 10X more on subsidising fossil fuels in 2015 ($615 billion) than on funding education. Despite the mismatch between figures reported by the IMF and the IEA on the quantum of (global) subsidies ($5.2 trillion vs. $300 billion, respectively), the US is one of the world’s largest spenders on the subsidies — even with analyses suggesting that up to 80% of its energy supplies could come from renewables. 

G20 nations undermine climate action; coal subsidies tripled in recent years

A report by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) has revealed that subsidies to coal-fired power plants given by G20 countries almost tripled between 2014 and 2017 despite growing calls to move away from coal. The report, released just days before the G20 Summit kicks off on June 28 in Osaka, Japan, says that China and India give the biggest subsidies to coal, with Japan third, followed by South Africa, South Korea, Indonesia and the US. 

The researchers totalled the financial and tax subsidies given for mining coal and building and maintaining coal-fired power plants, including investments by state-owned companies. They found the average annual amount increased from $17bn in 2014 to $47bn in 2017. In contrast, the subsidies for coal mining halved, from $22bn to $10bn.

UK: Power from fossil fuels falls below 50% for the first half of 2019

The share of power from fossil fuels in the UK has fallen to 47% for the first half of 2019, while power from renewables accounted for 48% of the total output. The feat comes soon after the country ran entirely on wind, solar and hydro power for two weeks straight. The National Grid — UK’s central power grid — is also predicting that renewables will dominate UK’s power share for the rest of 2019. 

However, the news also follows a UK Export Finance (UKEF) report that shows the country handed out 96% of its energy sector finances ($3.2 billion) to support fossil fuel projects in developing nations since 2013. 

Major banks to throttle funding to polluting ships, EU leaders call for taxing aviation fuel

Eleven major banks have come together under the Poseidon Principles to assess whether their loans to shipping firms and vessels fall in line with — or fall short of — the principle of reducing the sector’s CO2 emissions. The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) had agreed to cut the sector’s annual CO2 emissions by 50% (over 2008 levels) to reduce its carbon footprint, and the banks could make it difficult for the most polluting vessels to secure loans. 

Meanwhile, ministers from the Netherlands and Sweden have called upon EU nations to increase taxes on emissions-heavy aviation fuels to provide a level playing field to cross-border transport within Europe. Low-cost airlines have proliferated air travel and its emissions, but a European Commission study found that the sector remains hugely undertaxed in the continent.