Climate talks and the science of failing

Newsletter - December 11, 2019

Beginning of the end?: Scientists have warned that the world risks breaching dreaded ‘tipping points’ much sooner than expected. Photo: Alberta Farmer Express

Climate talks and the science of failing

Even as the UN climate negotiations (COP 25) began in Madrid on December 2, India is trying to fight its way out of drought, deluge, extreme weather and a crippling drop in its GDP, all delivered at once, just the way climate change impacts are expected to be delivered. But while India is experiencing what it means to be among the countries most vulnerable to climate impacts, scientists have warned that the world risks breaching dreaded ‘tipping points’ in the earth system much sooner than expected. The concept of tipping points was introduced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change about 20 years ago as physical limits across natural systems such as polar ice shelves, rainforest areas and oceans, breaching which could cause irreversible changes in natural cycles and processes. Now, according to a research comment published in the journal Nature, nine such thresholds are already active and in danger of being breached could culminate in an ‘existential threat to civilization’.

The warning was timely as it came in the run up to the COP25 where delegates from governments around the world have gathered to continue negotiations on finalising the rule book to implement the Paris Agreement. The comment adds to the increasing urgency being expressed by scientists following three IPCC report releases over the past year and findings that show CO2 concentrations rising again in 2018-19. Given that the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is rooted in scientific findings and the process was designed to be progressively reactive to the changing state of scientific knowledge, one would imagine worrying scientific observations and warnings resounding through the corridors of the COP. In reality though, there hasn’t been much more than a whimper of acknowledgement on offer.

Sample this: The ice sheets of the Arctic, Antarctica and Greenland, and the Amazon rainforest are undergoing unprecedented changes much earlier than what had been predicted. Scientists have called for an emergency response to reduce emissions in order to prevent a worst-case scenario of earth turning into a ‘hothouse’ and triggering a cascade of changes in atmospheric, oceanic, terrestrial and cryospheric systems that regulate earth’s natural processes that would lead to self-amplification of global warming. Observed trends across systems show that this is happening now, already at 1°C warming. 

Unprecedented changes are now becoming the norm. Nowhere has this become clearer than in India. The country’s financial capital Mumbai received the most rain this year in 65 years. Chennai is inundated the same year when it faced a severe water crisis. The monsoon has destroyed 40% of oilseeds crops in central and western India- regions which have also been declared as being under “extremely high water stress”. A deadly flood arrived on the back of a deadly drought in Bihar. After its fourth ‘hottest summer’ in a row, the country went through the wettest September in the past 100 years. In 2019, 1,600 people died in floods in India, despite being in the midst of long-term declines in annual rainfall. India, this year, was also declared “the country with the biggest increase in population exposure to wildfires.”

In what seems to be a post ‘tipping points’ backdrop for several vulnerable countries, especially small island nations struggling to keep their heads above the rising seas, the UN Climate Action Summit in September represented hope that new alarming scientific findings would translate to higher ambition from big emitters. By the end, it was clear that only disappointment would be on offer as science played merely a cameo in how nations aligned their ambitions to the required scale of action. 

The side-lining of science has been on ongoing pursuit, especially for the US, since the early days of climate negotiations, mainly at the behest of energy and fossil fuel companies which have traditionally seen climate action as a death knell for the industry. Still, even until a decade ago, the undermining of science mostly fell to non-state actors such as the 2009 hacking of a server of at the Climate Research Unit at the East Anglia University. Thousands of documents and confidential correspondence were leaked and cherry picked to “prove” climate scientists were using manipulated data to push the spectre of catastrophic climate change. While the charges were unfounded after multiple independent audits found there to be no evidence of malpractice, the anti-science sentiment in negotiating halls has only become stronger- particularly among big oil producing nations.

The matter came to head in early 2014 when Saudi Arabia- prominent among nations actively blocking the incorporation of scientific findings in the negotiation process, was caught manipulating the text of the then yet-to-be-released Fifth Assessment Report of the IPCC to mask their own contributions to rising GHG levels. While at the time the Saudis attempted to evade accusations of any manipulations, their attempts (along with the US, their partners-in-crime) at suppressing scientific findings have only become more brazen over the past few years.

By 2017, funding for the IPCC through the UNFCCC core budget was no longer a given and was a matter of intense deliberation before finally being sanctioned. The battle against science resumed last year at the COP 24 in Katowicz, Poland as the Saudis, joined by Russia and the US, cast doubts on the alarming findings presented in the IPCC Special Report on 1.5 °C and blocked its inclusion in the preparation of the Paris Agreement rule book. At the same time, independent reports from prominent think tanks in the US casting doubts on climate modelling and the findings were presented as a counter to IPCC findings in order to further muddy the waters. The fight continued on to the intersessional COP in Bonn, Germany earlier this year where smaller island nations pushed hard to include last year’s IPCC report on how the world could limit temperature rise to 1.5°C this century by making drastic emission cuts. But the US, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait wanted the uncertainties in the report to be highlighted, much like they did in COP 24 in Katowice. The result? After much debate, a compromise text was agreed upon where the report was noted and the IPCC was thanked for providing the “best available science”. This was well short of what many at the talks were expecting.

Two more IPCC reports, along with a host of other scientific studies and observations, published since COP24 have once again brought attention to the unsustainable state of play and the need for urgent carbon cutbacks. But one would be hard-pressed to find any indication of this urgency in climate talks as science has been further relegated to the fringes of the negotiating process-which has centred around issues of wording while demands to increase ambition have largely fallen on deaf ears. This year, the battle for funding will resume and we will find out if science is on its way out of the negotiating process for good as the UNFCCC will decide on its core budget for the year 2020-21. Battling a fund crunch, the UN body has proposed a 26% increase in funding but has also included a ‘net-zero increase’ budget that would see funding for IPCC- the scientific arm of the UNFCCC, cut to zero which would further be death blow to scientists who have gradually been nudged out of the picture. The decision on the budget, to be taken on , December 13, the final day of COP 25, will undoubtedly be crucial for the continuation of the scientific legacy of the process and for the drafting of policies that are in line with observed realities. The consequences of eliminating science could be chilling for a process that was explicitly designed to follow and incorporate scientific findings in a progressive fashion. Even when functioning as intended, climate policy has typically followed behind scientific findings with a lag of 5-10 years when it comes to prescribed actions. At a time when scientists are warning of fast approaching doom, the side-lining of scientific findings once again underlines the transition of climate negotiations from being about environmental sustainability to being about economic protectionism. With the elimination of science from the talks, negotiators are missing the woods for the trees, and the price would be for all to bear.

Climate Science

Piping hot dream: According to the WMO, the world has sweated its way through a decade of exceptional global heat, and we are still nowhere near the path to achieve the Paris goals. Photo: Washington Post

2019 concludes decade of extreme heat, weather events: WMO

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) declared that the year 2019 concludes a decade of significantly extreme weather events – including exceptional global heat, retreating ice and record sea levels. In its report titled State of Global Climate 2019 released at C0P 25 in Madrid on December 3, the WMO blamed greenhouse gases from human activities for the trend. “If we do not take urgent climate action now, then we are heading for a temperature increase of more than 3°C by the end of the century, with ever more harmful impacts on human wellbeing,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas. “We are nowhere near on track to meet the Paris Agreement target.”

It’s not just the environment that is bearing the brunt. The WMO also stated 22 million people will be displaced by December 31, 2019, because of extreme weather events.

Warming climate causing birds to shrink, says study

Global warming is causing birds to shrink and their wingspans to grow, a new study published in the journal Ecology Letters revealed. The extraordinary study examined 70,716 specimens from 52 North American migratory bird species collected over 40 years. All of these birds had died after colliding with buildings in the American city of Chicago, Illinois.

Researchers found that from 1976 to 2016, the birds’ lower leg bone — a common measure of body size — shortened by 2.4% and the wings lengthened by 1.3%. The study suggested that warming was making migration difficult for birds and a smaller-sized body would mean lesser energy for the birds to make the long journey. The longer wingspans were compensating for the smaller bodies, allowing birds to migrate successfully, according to the researchers.

Onion price rise linked to high temperatures in northwest Pakistan which delayed monsoon withdrawal

The steep escalation of onion prices across the country in recent weeks might be a primer to how climate change will affect food security according to research from the Potsdam University in Germany. Prices of onions have breached the Rs100/kg mark across all 8 metros in the city and has sent the administration into a tizzy as the typically inexpensive vegetable whizzed beyond the reach of common folk. The skyrocketing prices are due to extensive damage to the onion crop in September and October as unseasonal rains pounded states across the country, including major producers such as Karnataka and Maharashtra. New research has linked the delayed withdrawal of the monsoon with the high temperatures in northwest Pakistan, which resulted in the stalling of withdrawing monsoon clouds. 

Restoring oceans’ eco-systems could help tackle climate crisis: Greenpeace report

A Greenpeace report has suggested a couple of ways in which the climate emergency can be mitigated – halting overfishing and cleaning up plastic from oceans. The report stated that this would help restore the underwater eco-systems – which is also the world’s largest carbon sink. Governments can set up a target of restoring 30% of the oceans by 2030, which could go a long way in boosting the health of the oceans and combating global warming, the report stated.   

Expanding Indo-Pacific warm pool changing global rainfall patterns: Study

A report has shed some light on the reason why global rainfall patterns are changing. According to a study published in the journal Nature, the Indo-Pacific warm pool, which is a stretch of ocean where the temperature remains above 28°C in the winter months, has doubled in size between 1981 and 2018. This has affected the Madden-Julian Oscillation (MJO), which is a band of rain clouds that moves eastwards over the tropics and is responsible for most weather variations in the region.

The MJO is now bringing in increased rainfall during the months between November and April to northern Australia, west Pacific, Amazon basin, southwest Africa and southeast Asia, while declining rainfall trends have been observed over rainfall over central Pacific, along the west and east coast of the United States (eg, California), north India, east Africa, and the Yangtze basin in China. This has caused droughts in some regions and extreme flooding in others, according to the report.  

CO2 emissions to hit all-time high in 2019, but they have slowed down: Report

According to a Global Carbon Project report released at COP 25 in Madrid, Spain, global carbon emissions will hit an all-time high in 2019, surpassing the previous record set in 2018. Global carbon dioxide emissions are projected to rise by 0.6% in 2019. This increase, though, is substantially lower compared with the previous two years — 1.5% in 2017 and 2.1% in 2018. The report estimated that emissions from industrial activities and fossil fuel burning will pump 36.8 billion metric tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Total carbon emissions from all human activities, including agriculture, will reach 43.1 million tonnes.

The report, however, did expect a substantial slowdown in fossil fuel emissions for this year. The study stated weaker economic growth, especially in China and India, and a drop in coal use in the US and EU, has brought about the slowdown. 

Climate Policy

Roll, camera, climate action!: India’s Union environment minister Prakash Javadekar (seen here at the India Pavilion at COP 25) pushed for fulfilment of pre-2020 climate commitments. Photo: Twitter

COP25: Week 1 ends with little progress, on us now on ministers to deliver on sticking issues

The COP 25 in Madrid opened on December 2 with a clear mandate of resolving the few thorny issues that have held up the finalising of the Paris Agreement rule book, which was due to be completed by last year. After the first week of negotiations, the state of play has remained largely unchanged with major differences on Article 6 regarding market- and non-market mechanisms of dealing with carbon emissions and the issues of loss and damage, including the availability of long-term finance persisting.

While the two issues have exposed the chasm between negotiating positions of developed and developing countries, countries have also failed to agree on common timeframes for the implementation and review of Nationally Determined Contributions put in the Paris Agreement and on matters pertaining to climate impacts on agriculture. As a final roll of the dice before the Paris Agreement is due to be implemented next year onwards, the matters have now been punted forward to the ministerial high-level segment of the COP, being held on December 10 and 11, with hope that political engagement will lead to resolution of the sticking points.

Rich countries must fulfil pre-2020 commitments to combat climate change: India

The first day of the ministerial high-level segment saw India stick to its guns on pre-2020 action and call out developed countries to fail to stand by its commitments made for the Kyoto Protocol period. India urged richer countries to lead the world in combating climate change by fulfilling their pre-2020 commitments – to cut down on emissions and provide funding to developing nations to tackle the issue.

“It is time for reflection and assessment as we near the end of pre-2020 period. It is time to look in the mirror. Has the developed world delivered on its promises? Unfortunately, annexed countries have not met their Kyoto Protocol targets. Neither have their NDCs reflected ambitions nor have they shown willingness to enhance their commitments. I propose that we have three more years to fulfill pre-2020 commitments till the global stocktake takes places for bridging emission gaps,” India’s environment minister Prakash Javadekar said on Tuesday, during his address at the high-level segment of the COP. The Indian environment minister also called out the abject inadequacy of climate finance relative to what had been promised to developing countries and questioned the profit motive in developing new technologies while calling for increased collaboration.

In a report launched ahead of COP 25, India stood fifth in a list of 181 countries most vulnerable to climate change. Japan was at the top of the list, followed by the Philippines, Germany and Madagascar. According to the recently released Global Climate Risk Index 2020 by think-tank Germanwatch, India had the most deaths (2,081) in 2018 due to extreme weather events – floods, cyclones, heavy rainfall and landslides – as a result of climate change. The report also stated that India suffered the second-highest economic loss due to climate change – Rs2.7 lakh crore ($37 billion, which is almost as much as its defence budget.

Cannot divert water bodies for industries: Supreme Court

In a landmark judgement, India’s Supreme Court asked the Greater Noida Industrial Development Authority to stop diverting water bodies for industrial activities. This could pave the way to reclaim and revive water bodies that have been lost to reckless development projects. Dying water bodies have wreaked havoc across the country, most notably during the flash floods in Mumbai (2005) and Uttarakhand (2013).

This Apex Court judgement overturned an order by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) on November 25 this year, which had dismissed the same petition that asked for water bodies to not be diverted for industries after the Greater Noida Industrial Development Authority assured the court it would create alternative water bodies that would be larger in size.

Evolve ‘robust mechanism’ to monitor green clearance: NGT

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has spoken up about something various studies and environmentalists over the years have been saying – India needs effective monitoring of compliance of conditions imposed on green clearances granted for projects. The court asked the Union Environment Ministry and the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) to come up with a ‘robust mechanism’ to monitor the projects, while noting that ‘no satisfactory mechanism exists at present’.

NGT sets final March 2020 deadline for MoEF to mark Ecosensitive Zones in Western Ghats

After repeated delays in making a final list of Ecosensitive Zones (ESZ) in the Western Ghats, an angry NGT has set a final deadline of March 2020 for the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change. If the deadline is missed again, the court warned that the advisor concerned would not be paid a salary until a final notification was issued.

The Union government had in 2010, after acknowledging that the Western Ghats are a global biodiversity hotspot, set up the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel headed by Dr Madhav Gadgil. A year later, the panel had recommended large parts of the region be declared ecologically sensitive areas and excluded from any development activities.

Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan, Karnataka can shut its doors on coal completely: Study

Is it the beginning of the end for coal in India? After Gujarat and Chhattisgarh announced their ‘no coal’ policies this year, new analyses from New Delhi-based communications group Climate Trends claimed that Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka are also well positioned to ditch coal completely in favour of renewables. The three states have three of the highest RE potentials in the country and all have installed RE capacities either already exceed capacities of coal, or are on the path to do so.

The report concluded that it would be economically viable for states to move away from coal completely considering current economic indicators, the states’ installed power capacities, electricity generation and renewable energy (RE) potential, as well as the impacts of air pollution and water stress, that is aggravated by coal power.

Air Pollution

Photo credit: NYT

Ministers deny link between air pollution and deaths, discredit own govt’s study

In what is seen as a sustained attempt to deny prevalence of air pollution deaths, India’s environment minister Prakash Javadekar, last week, told the Parliament there was no Indian study that linked air pollution with shortening of lifespan, contradicting his own government’s 2018 study. Earlier in the week, minister of state for environment Babul Supriyo also had told the Upper House that there was no “conclusive data” to link air pollution with deaths. Researchers from over 50 well-respected institutes from India and abroad had conducted the study. It was released by ICMR in the presence of senior officials of the health ministry on December 6, 2018. Experts point out that the study not just talked about life expectancy, but also provided death rates attributable to air pollution. Odisha, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Haryana recorded the highest number of deaths attributable to air pollution, according to the study. Earlier, Javedekar’s predecessor Harsh Vardhan, who is now the country’s health minister, had also issued the same denial. In 2018, a WHO study said more than 60,000 children under five and over 4,000 children between 5-14 years died due to air pollution in 2016. Another research carried out by experts from the US and Canada had revealed that air pollution in Delhi was responsible for approximately 10,000 to 30,000 deaths annually.

Health vs emissions? Centre’s pollution control devices for coal plants will add to CO2 emissions 

Could retrofitting polluting coal plants in India with clean technology increase CO2 emissions instead? That’s the conclusion of the latest analyses by the US Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA study said that government mandated devices to reduce deadly sulphur-dioxide (SO2) pollution, could also increase CO2 emissions. Experts say it could turn into a “trade-off” between health impacts versus global warming. Experts also point out that it would also impede India’s target of reducing emissions by a third by 2030. However, scientists say it is important to curb SO2 emissions as it damages crops and human health, but the scale of resultant CO2 emissions from the pollution devices may be too little to cause worry.

NASA data says crop burning in Haryana, Punjab, UP fallen by 50% since 2016

The government may be blaming paddy farmers burning crop residue for air pollution in north India, but NASA satellite data revealed that over the past four years, stubble burning incidents have fallen by a huge 50%. NASA fire maps between 2016 and 2019 show that in the three states of Punjab, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh, the incidents have come down by half. In Haryana, there was a drop of around 55% and in UP the fall has been 53% since 2016. The states have banned stubble burning, but have not been able to stop the practice completely. Opposition MLAs from the Aam Aadmi Party in Punjab demanded withdrawal of cases registered against farmers for crop burning saying that the cases were dictatorial and one-sided and the state and central governments were equally responsible for the sorry state of affairs.

Top court relaxes ban on construction in Delhi, pollution three times more in Kanpur, Lucknow

The longest construction ban to curb air pollution during winter has been partially lifted in Delhi by the Supreme Court. The ban was imposed under the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP). Even though the air quality index remains ‘very poor’, the court has allowed construction during the day time between 6am to 6pm. The top court had banned all construction activities on November 4, after the air quality reached emergency levels on November 3. 

Meanwhile, the wealthier South Delhi Municipal Corporation deployed more resources to fight air pollution – 55 vehicles to fight dirty air, including 6 mechanical road sweepers, 17 water-sprinkling tankers, 2 super sucker machines and 26 CNG trucks.

But away from the media glare, other big cities such as Lucknow and Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh have been silently battling air pollution far greater than Delhi. The air quality in Lucknow was three times worse than Delhi, according to Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) data. The Air Quality Index (AQI) of Lucknow on Tuesday was 374 and that of Kanpur was 379, while the AQI in Delhi was 106, the data showed.

Bushfire: Sydney air quality 12 times over ‘hazardous’ limit

The Sydney Opera House was unrecognisable under a thick blanket of poisonous bush-fire smoke that breached the ‘hazardous’ air quality threshold of 200,  twelve times higher with some parts of the city touching as high as 2,552. The smoke was bad enough to set off fire alarms inside office buildings and delay flights by 30 minutes because of poor visibility. The city known for clear horizons and blue skies is lately witnessing people wearing masks, and officially declared off limits for people with respiratory problems. 


No deal: Andhra Pradesh’s decision to relook at renewable energy contracts has sent the wrong signal to global investors. Photo: Mint

Andhra Pradesh vs Centre: No deal yet on the issue of cancelled PPAs

Andhra Pradesh’s latest stance on the issue of high-cost renewable PPAs has disturbed the fragile peace between the Centre and the state government. The Jagan Mohan Reddy government has said that the panel, headed by the Union power secretary, to work on a compromise between the Centre and the state “doesn’t have the mandate to discuss” the subject of long-term solution of the problem of high-cost PPAs. Andhra Pradesh said the Centre needs to create confidence in the states which handle central projects, in case anything goes financially wrong with the projects. Andhra Pradesh’s move to renegotiate PPAs has sent the wrong signal to global investors. This has also thrown out of gear the “compromise formula” that was struck between Centre and state representatives on November 7, that included non-revision of those power purchase agreements (PPAs) whose tariffs have been fixed by the state electricity regulator.

Maharashtra’s massive miss of solar pump target

Displaying a dismal performance, the state discom MSEDCL (Maharashtra State Electricity Distribution Company Limited) has installed only 12,500 solar pumps, far fewer than what is required to meet the target of one lakh solar farm pumps by March 2020 under the Mukhyamantri Saur Krishi Yojana (MSKY). The MSEDCL should have by now installed over 66,000 pumps. At this rate, it will require five more years to meet the target, experts point out.

Reviewing energy projects: Maharashtra going the rebellious Andhra way?  

Centre’s estranged ally Shiv Sena, now ruling Maharashtra in alliance with the NCP and Congress, has decided to review several big infrastructure projects worth around Rs7 trillion, signed under the previous BJP government, reported the Mint.  

Meanwhile, Maharashtra’s power regulator has ordered state discom MSEDCL to pay all dues to three wind power generators towards the outstanding delayed payment charges to the tune of nearly $98,631. A penalty of 1.25% per month will be charged upon further delay. 

Minister: India will achieve 100 GW solar target by 2022

India will achieve a target of 100 GW solar energy by 2022 by adding 66 GW of solar in the next three years. Environment minister Prakash Javdekar made the ambitious claim on the sidelines of the climate conference at Madrid, adding that five years ago, India had just 3 GW of solar energy, but today it has 33 GW. “The prices of solar energy used to be Rs20 per unit. Now, it is just 10% of it,” he said. 

India’s renewable energy capacity is 37%. The minister said the government wants to increase it to 40% of energy capacity through renewable energy. Globally, India is the third-biggest solar installer after China and the US. India has touched 20 GW cumulative solar capacity four years ahead of the 2022 target. According to IEEFA’s Tim Buckley, India requires $500-700 billion in renewable energy and supporting grid investment over the coming decade in order to meet its renewable energy targets.

Centre to bail out discoms through easy loans

The Centre plans to bail out state discoms as they fail to pay dues to energy generating companies (gencos).  With solar and wind power tariffs at a record low, banks are wary of lending to renewable energy developers, and the state power distribution companies (discoms) are incurring huge debts and payment dues to power developers, The Centre is considering concessional loans from public sector lenders Power Finance Corp. (PFC), Rural Electrification Corp. Ltd (REC) and Indian Renewable Energy Development Agency (IREDA) to help discoms clear green energy dues. India plans to achieve an ambitious 175GW of renewable energy capacity by 2022. Discoms owe over Rs67,000 crore in dues.

HC issues notices to Gujarat on variation charges

The Gujarat high court issued a notice to the state government over its policy of “variation charges” on a plea filed by solar lobby, the National Solar Energy Federation of India. The lobby wants the state authorities to allow more production variation margin than the present 7%. The solar and wind energy producers said they have to give an estimate of electricity production a day ahead to the State Load Dispatch Centre (SLDC), but since they cannot control variations because of weather conditions their estimates inevitably vary. The federation said some states allow 15% variation, before they impose penalties.

In a separate case, Gujarat government’s land offer to wind energy developers have come too late, and have few takers. Because of fast approaching commissioning deadlines, winners of the SECI auctions ended up buying expensive private land in the state and elsewhere.

Minister says India achieved over 31GW grid connected solar capacity

India’s minister of state for power RK Singh told Parliament that a total 31,696 Mega Watt (MW) of grid connected solar power generation capacity has been set up in the country till October 2019. The aim is to install 1,00,000 MW grid connected solar power capacity by December 2022.

Meanwhile, the National Thermal Power Corporation invited solar bids for projects totalling 923 MW, between the range of 50MW to 300 MW. under the domestic content requirement (DCR) category, which mandates the use of domestic solar manufactures. In another project announcement, the Solar Electricity Corporation of India (SECI) has changed and extended the bid submission deadline for its tender for 1.2 GW of the interstate transmission system (ISTS)-connected renewable energy projects to December 16, 2019, from the previous date of November 29. 

India working with German financial institution KfW to cut rooftop solar cost to Rs2.50 per unit

India is working with German financing institution KfW on a rooftop solar scheme that will reduce the cost of power to Rs2.5 per unit. Union minister Nitin Gadkari said the industry must help India reduce the cost of power and suggest what tax relief government can offer to increase exports. 

China solar exports rise to 58 GW in first three quarters of 2019, despite slowdown at home

Despite a slowdown at home, China managed to push its solar modules overseas. Exports rose to around 58 GW of capacity in the first three quarters of the year, compared to 41.6 GW for all of 2018, Reuters reported. According to reports, Chinese solar firms’ foreign earnings will rise 25% in 2019, while module output has already jumped 32% in the first nine months of export demand. However, new capacity is expected to fall to 25-30 GW, down from 44 GW in 2018. The report said subsidy cuts hurt, but new projects would restore renewable growth in 2020.

UP set to be the first to use blockchain for solar power trading 

The Uttar Pradesh government introduced blockchain technology for its rooftop solar power segment, becoming the first state that has amended its regulatory framework to enable P2P energy trading in India. The project is being implemented by Australian company PowerLedger in partnership with the power ministry’s India Smart Grid Forum (ISGF). The pilot project will test energy trading through blockchain from rooftops with solar power to neighbouring households and buildings. Smart meter systems will enable households to set prices, track energy trading in real time and enable the settlement of surplus solar transactions, ISGF said. India has set a target of installing 40 GW of rooftop solar by 2022.

Electric Vehicles

Power play: The prices of global battery energy storage have fallen because of an expansion of battery usage worldwide, primarily in EVs. Photo: Bloomberg

Storage prices down to $156/kWh, 87% fall since 2010

BNEF’s new report has reported that global battery energy storage prices have fallen to $156/kWh in 2019 — down 87% from $1,100 from 2010. The drop comes from an expansion of battery usage worldwide, primarily in EVs. Costs are likely to fall below to $100/kWh by 2024 as battery manufacturing becomes even more cost-efficient and cells achieve higher energy density. 

Incidentally, Tennessee-based Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) has devised a novel new control system to use li-ion battery packs previously used in EVs for grid balancing and renewable energy storage. 18.7 million EVs are expected to be on the US’ roads by 2030 and ORNL hopes to capitalise on the growing used batteries market. 

EESL to float luxury EV tender, bags order for 2,500 charging stations 

India’s EESL will reportedly launch a tender for up to 200 luxury electric cars in January 2020, and it’s in talks with ride-hailing services Ola and Uber to lease them out. The cars may cost up to Rs. 25 lakh each and while 50 apiece would likely go to the aggregators, the rest may also be put into service with ministries and public sector undertakings. 

EESL has also bagged an order for installing 2,500 EV charging stations across 90 Indian cities. The order was jointly won with REIL (Rajasthan Electronics and Instruments Ltd.) and falls under the FAME-II scheme for promoting e-mobility. 

SUVs outselling EVs 37-1 in the UK

New research by the UKERC (UK Energy Research Centre) has revealed that gas-guzzling SUVs have outsold EVs 37-1 in the UK in the last four years. This could effectively neutralise all efforts to lower the automotive sector’s carbon emissions, as SUVs emit up to four times the CO2 emitted by regular passenger cars. Their impact is also likely to last for at least another 10 years, which is the time they’re expected to spend on the country’s roads — and therefore challenge its transition to net-zero carbon emissions target by 2050. 

Fossil Fuels

Off the grid: Falling coal power output in the US, Germany, South Korea and the UK has led to the 3% fall in global output. Photo: Carbon Tracker

Sharp 3% drop in global coal-fired power output likely for 2019, diesel sale dips in India

New analysis by IEEFA suggests global power generation from coal plants could see a sharp 3% drop in 2019. The drop is influenced by falling coal power output in Germany, South Korea and the UK. The sharpest fall in absolute terms, however, comes from the US, where numerous coal plants are shutting down over high tariffs.

In India as well, coal power output has dropped by 19% for October 2019 when compared to 2014. Its economic slowdown has meanwhile lowered overall power demand by 13.2% over last year and the national average PLF now stands at a paltry 58%. Interestingly, sales of diesel have also dipped across the nation as the economy slows down, with figures reporting a 7.4% fall for October, and with recovery only expected by mid-2020. 

Stressed assets to get coal supplies without PPAs, GENCOs’ debt up to Rs. 84,000 crores

The Indian power ministry has approved coal supplies to its stressed power plants without any PPAs. The move is aimed at reviving their operations, many of whom struggle to source coal as they have little or no funds to pay for sizable fuel stocks, while also struggling to retail power at competitive tariffs. The new rules will be enacted within 45 days and the plants will be supplied by Coal India Ltd. and SSCL (Singareni Collieries Company Ltd). 

Meanwhile, the aggregate outstanding dues of India’s power generators has risen to Rs84,000 crore, while their overdues (outstanding beyond 60 days after retailing power) has gone up to Rs65,000 crore. The whopping bills are an indication of poor repayment by DISCOMS, many of which are themselves burdened with heavy losses. 

Saudi Aramco raises $25.6 billion with only 1.5% of shares

Saudi Aramco, the state-owned petroleum giant of Saudi Arabia, has generated $25.6 billion in investments after offloading a mere 1.5% of its shares to investors. The company could become the world’s most valuable — at an estimated $1.7 trillion after its IPO — and the initial offload of shares was a step towards the country raising funds for a slew of new projects.