How a dubious study is being used to undermine India’s emission norms

Newsletter - January 15, 2021

The Indian power ministry's proposal to selectively implement emission reduction norms rests on contentious assertions | Photo: Powerline Magazine

How a dubious study is being used to undermine India’s emission norms

The Ministry of Power could be setting a dangerous precedent by putting its weight behind a contentious report in order to water down emission norms for thermal power plants

The seemingly never-ending saga of implementing emission norms for India’s thermal power plants got its latest chapter this fortnight. Barely a day into the new year, a memo issued by the Ministry of Power (MoP) and addressed to the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MOEF&CC) proposed major changes in the plan to implement sulphur-reducing equipment in power plants across the country. Prominently citing financial impacts of installing the equipment, known as flue gas desulphuriser or FGD, the MoP advocated for graded implementation in accordance with ambient air quality levels at the power plant sites.

While the current deadline for implementation is set for 2022, the memo provided no new dates for implementation.

A pursuit of uniformly “good” air quality across the country and economic feasibility are the stated rationale. “The target should be to maintain uniform ambient air quality across the country and not the uniform emission norms for thermal power plants. By implementing uniform emission norms of TPS, may in turn result in different air quality at different locations,” says the memo, undersigned by Nishat Kumar, under-secretary at the MoP. The text, explicitly approved by Minister of State (IC) Power RK Singh, though, falls short of explaining why this is an inherently bad thing.

The memo goes on to propose classification of regions into five categories, according to air quality, to guide prioritised roll out of FGD technology in a phased manner. These recommendations, according to the document, rely completely on a singular report submitted by the Central Electricity Authority (CEA) to the MoP.

Shaky Foundations

A Paper on Plant Location Specific Emission Standards, the basis of the power ministry’s memo to the environment ministry, was conceived in January 2020 in a review meeting on the installation of FGDs chaired by Singh. The objective of the review was to suggest “plant location specific emission standards with suitable basis to be taken up with MOEF&CC.”

Accordingly, CEA’s report seems to invert the scope of emission norms with ambient air quality taking precedence over individual contributions of SO2 by thermal power plants. “Power plants located in an area, where quality of air is very good in terms of SO2, can be exempted from installation of additional equipment to control SO2 emission from stack. A large number of thermal power stations are located in remote locations away from towns with little habitations around. Thermal power plants located in remote locations, ambient air quality (AQI) can be made as the guiding factor for formulating emission control,” reads the report.

Armed with ambient air quality data provided by power plant operators covering 36 GW of power, the CEA classified areas according to SO2 levels and proposed priority installation of FGD equipment in areas averaging higher than 40 μg/m3 of SO2 levels over 24-hour periods. As per the CEA classification and the MoP memo, over 75% of the thermal power plants analysed require “no action” at present. Less than 20% have been highlighted for FGD installation in the first phase.

SO2 Levels in the vicinity of Thermal Power Plants used to classify power plants | Source: CEA

“There are currently many supply chain roadblocks when it comes to FGD technology, for which we have to demand on imports. With this in view, it was decided that so as to soften the financial implications of FGD installation, there should be a prioritised roll out according to the air quality in which the thermal plant is functioning,” says CEA chief engineer BC Mallick, who also worked on the paper. “This way we ensure that the burden of unnecessary urgency is not placed on power plant operators who are already functioning in regions with good air. It also gives us time to study the impact of FGD technology in plants where they have already been installed, and to fine tune these considerations for Indian local conditions,” he adds.

While the power ministry has put its weight behind the review mechanism and the recommendations of the CEA, experts have questioned its validity. “The CEA analysis is fundamentally flawed from the outset. Firstly, CEA has prepared these recommendations based on reporting by power plants covering just 36GW, which is just around a fifth of the total 166 GW of thermal power that needs to be compliant. Conclusions drawn from this small sample are bound to be problematic when applied to the rest of the country,” says Karthik Ganesan, who leads the research on the power sector at the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW).

One of the big issues in the CEA analysis that air quality researchers have flagged is the usage of ambient air quality data from power plant sites that give a heavily distorted picture of emissions from the power plants. According to Ganesan, this faulty premise smacks of a lack of understanding of atmospheric transport of pollutants. “More importantly, thermal power plants are required to have tall chimneys to aid dispersion of emissions from the power plant and which are then diluted by atmospheric mixing. So, ground level ambient air quality monitoring in the vicinity of power plant sites cannot be used as the basis for determining if the power plant needs to control emissions or not. Using this as the main metric to classify regions shows very poor application of the science of atmospheric transport of pollutants from thermal power plants,” he explains.

As it happens, sulphur-rich emissions also contribute heavily to the formation of sulphates in the atmosphere, which add to particulate pollution. In June last year, researchers from IIT-Kanpur published results of real-time source apportionment analyses of Delhi’s ambient air during the two consecutive winters of 2018 and 2019. Researchers found that sulphur pollution in Delhi to be originating all the way in eastern Uttar Pradesh. Other source apportionment studies, too, have pointed to long-range transport potential of thermal power pollutants and atmospheric conversion of SOx and NOx into particulate matter such as sulphates and nitrates.

Interestingly, while the CEA mentions worrying particulate pollution levels and the rapid depletion of SO2 in the atmosphere in the same breath, it does not in any way probe the connection between particulate matter and SO2 emissions. “There is a deep correlation between SOx emissions from thermal power generation and the particulate matter pollution, which has been completely ignored in the analyses. Several studies have established how SO2 emissions in the atmosphere get converted to particulate sulphates within a timeframe of about four days. High volumes of such PM can be seen over peninsular India. Even as far north as Delhi, 40% of the PM in summer months can be attributed to SO2 emissions. This should be less than 1% in clean air scenarios,” explains Soundaram Ramanathan, a senior researcher studying industrial pollution at the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) in New Delhi.

Mallick, though, says that examples of such transport are often overblown. “Source apportionment studies have shown how far specific pollutants can travel, but there is still a missing aspect in that these particles have not yet been tied back to thermal power in any meaningful way. We are currently working with research institutes such as IIT-Delhi to develop a better understanding of the specific contributions of thermal power emissions towards particulate pollution and the transport potential of these emissions.”

India’s SO2 headache

Over the past few years, India has earned the distinction of being the largest emitter of SO2 in the world, contributing around a fifth of the total global SO2 emissions in 2019. With practically no natural source in the country, India’s SO2 emissions are estimated to be completely anthropogenic. Studies have indicated that around 50% of this burden comes from thermal power.  

India is now the largest SO2 emitting nation in the world | Source: Greenpeace

Experts pointed out that the SO2 is a criteria pollutant – meaning that it is one of six pollutant categories for which ambient air limits are set and which are known to have adverse impacts on public health. For SO2, norms for which the MoP and CEA have sought to weaken, presence over 20μg/m3 (24-hour mean) or 500μg/m3 (10-minute mean) holds severe health risk potential, particularly to the respiratory system. Background levels of SO2 in the ambient air of healthy environments are typically as low as 2μg/m3.

There is little doubt regarding the need for SO2 emission norms for thermal power plants, considering India’s planned use of coal well into the future. Still, implementing new norms, that were set more than five years ago now, has been an uphill battle.

While the implementation of FGD in thermal power stations around the country has been postponed to 2022 from the original compliance date of 2017, efforts to push this further down the road or to do away with the requirement all together have been evident. Last year, a legal appeal from power producers to delay the deadlines was dismissed by the Supreme Court. About a month later, Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FICCI) wrote to the PMO requesting intervention in the matter citing escalation of costs and potential for increase in power prices. A comparative analysis by CEEW weighing financial and social costs though shows that these arguments hold little weight. The analysis revealed that the capital cost of FGD installation translates to 30-72 paise/ KWh, depending on the capacity at which the plant is operating, plant load factor and life of the plant. The health and social costs drop from ₹8.58/KWh to 0.73 paise/KWh if the coal plants meet the standards.

While industry has dragged its feet over the installation of FGD, the MoP and CEA seem to have now taken on the mantle of weakening the norms. “On the surface, it seems like a transparent attempt by the power ministry to buy more time for the implementation and delay the process further, just like with the rules regulating fly ash utilisation, which is still far from being fully implemented even after 20 years of being encoded,”says Ramanathan. “With this report, the CEA and MoP have sought to turn the entire logic of pollution control on its head. Instead of looking at individual sources, they have considered ambient quality. Will the next suggestion be to keep adding power plants in areas with good air quality until it hits the limit where action is needed? This just doesn’t make any sense,” she adds.

At the CEA, there is little room for such fears.”The worry of pollution increasing is always there but this report is not for general application to industrial or environmental norms. They are specifically for thermal power plants within the current context and timeline, so I don’t see it as setting a precedent,” says Mallick, seeming somewhat less sure than before, when asked about whether this would set a dangerous precedent that would allow higher industrial effluent emissions in areas with low pollution levels.

The ball is now in the environment ministry’s court. With NOx emission norms already diluted and interventions to control particulate matter mainly lying in the public arena, SO2 emissions represent one of the last pillars of accountability for thermal power generators and their contribution to India’s toxic air. While no immediate response has been forthcoming from the MOEF&CC, folding in the face of dubious research will reveal the hierarchies and priorities that dictate India’s environmental regulation.

Climate Science

Frozen solid: An intense cold wave has hit parts of north India, especially Jammu & Kashmir, which is facing a severe water crisis as a result | Photo: The New Indian Express

New year brings with it severe cold wave across the world

The year began with reports of extreme cold weather in many parts of the world. A new study revealed that this could be a result of a meteorological event unfolding high above the North Pole. The sudden stratospheric warming (SSW) event took place on January 5, 2021. Such events are often followed by extreme cold weather and severe cold storms, according to scientists. 

In central Spain, Storm Filomena brought the heaviest snowfall the country has seen in decades, resulting in the death of four people. Temperatures are expected to fall to below -10°C as several areas remain cut-off as a result of the storm. 

A cold wave was also reported in North India, with the India Meteorological Department (IMD) issuing an orange alert for the next four days. Jammu & Kashmir is battling its harshest winter in decades. Frozen water pipelines have led to a severe water crisis in villages in the region, forcing residents to travel miles in sub-zero temperatures in search of drinkable water. 

Baked-in global warming enough to surpass set climate goals: Study

The amount of global warming that has already been baked into the air is enough to surpass the agreed-upon climate goals, a new study warned. But even though the inevitable cannot be stopped, it can be delayed, for centuries, if countries act fast enough and stop emitting greenhouse gases, the study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, further stated.

Whether that will happen is still debatable. The Arctic wildfires and Atlantic tropical storms made 2020 the joint-hottest year on record despite a cooling La Niña at the beginning of the year. It shares this dubious distinction with the year 2016. The average surface temperature was 1.25°C higher than pre-industrial conditions – not far from the 1.5°C temperature limit set under the Paris agreement.  

As we enter the Paris Agreement era, things don’t seem to be looking any better. The UK’s Met office predicted that in 2021, human activity will push the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere to 50% higher than the pre-industrial era. The emissions will largely be a result of fossil fuel use and deforestation.  

Satellite data alerts put brakes on Africa’s forest cover loss: Study 

In some good news, there has been some arrest in Africa’s rapidly receding forest cover, thanks mainly to satellite data alerts, a new study stated. These free alerts, issued by the Global Land Analysis and Discovery alert system since 2016, warn when trees are being destroyed. As a result, the study found the risk of deforestation was 18% lower in 2016-2018 compared to previous years in nine African countries. 

Study proposes cost-effective layout of carbon capture, storage in line with 2°C warming target 

A new study put forward a possible global layout of carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS), which could help limit global warming to under 2°C. The study identified 3,093 carbon clusters and 432 sinks in 85 countries and regions, which can be used to achieve 92 GtCO2 mitigation with CCUS. According to the layout, 64% of this mitigation will be sequestered into sedimentary basins for aquifer storage, while 36% will be used for CO2 EOR (enhanced oil recovery). The total cost would be 0.12% of global cumulative gross domestic product. While the study found this layout will be economically feasible, it would require global collaboration on all aspects – including financial and technological.

Climate Policy

No mercy: The central government is not backing down on its plans to turn an elephant-dense forest area into a coal mine in Korba district, Chhattisgarh | Photo:

Govt seeks to acquire forest land for coal mining in Korba

India’s central government is looking to acquire forest land for mining coal in the Korba district of Chhattisgarh. It issued a notification announcing its intention of acquiring 712.072 hectares (ha) in Madanpur South coal block. The move is controversial because the Chhattisgarh government is mulling declaring the area an elephant reserve.    

Proposed rail tracks through Western Ghats gets nod from wildlife board 

The National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) gave its nod to the Tinaighat-Castlerock-Caranzol railway doubling project, which will run through dense forest land in the protected Western Ghats. The project will involve the diversion of 10.45 ha of forest land, most of which is in Dandeli wildlife sanctuary in Karnataka. Existing railway lines in the region have led to many wildlife casualties in the past. Authorities wish to double the railway line mainly for the transport of coal, according to a site inspection report by the forest department. 

Meanwhile, Rajasthan’s proposed draft forest policy vows to control mining. It proposes the creation of a ‘secret fund’ to award whistleblowers who report illegal mining activities. Even though Rajasthan is India’s largest state, only 4.86% of it is under forest cover. The recommended minimum is 6%. With this proposed policy, the state government is aiming to increase this percentage in the next 10 years. 

Most countries miss UN deadline to submit updated climate plans 

Despite pressure from the UN, most countries missed the deadline to submit stronger 2030 climate targets — not a great start to the Paris Agreement era. Among the major emitters, only the UK, EU and Argentina submitted tougher climate targets to the UN, while China and the US failed to do so. India, Canada, Indonesia, Iran and Saudi Arabia were other major countries that didn’t submit an updated plan. 

Norway announces plans to more than triple its carbon tax

In a bid to meet its climate goals, Norway is planning to more than triple its national tax on CO2 emissions by 2030. The emissions cost will increase from 590 Norwegian krone per tonne to 2,000 Norwegian krone ($237) per tonne by 2030. The country’s oil lobby has expressed their displeasure over the move, arguing that it could weaken the country’s competitiveness in the market. 

China likely to launch its emission trade scheme mid-2021

China is set to launch its national emission trade scheme (ETS) by the middle of this year, according to an executive from the Shanghai Environment and Energy Exchange. The trading and registry platform for ETS will be set up in Wuhan. The first compliance cycle will be for January 1 to December 31, 2021 and will cover the emissions of 2019 and 2020 for 2,225 firms in the country’s power sector. 

US EPA to finalise proposed rules for airplane emissions

In some encouraging news, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced it was in the process of finalising its first-ever proposed standards to regulate airplanes’ greenhouse gas emissions. These new rules are likely to be applicable for new-type designs as of January 2020 and to in-production airplanes or those with amended type certificates starting 2028.

Air Pollution

Selective application: The power ministry, under R.K Singh, has advocated for a further watering down of emission norms for thermal power plants | Photo: Saur Energy

Power ministry proposes weakening emission norms for thermal power plants

India’s power ministry has issued a memo to the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Chnage (MOEF&CC) proposing a review of the new emission norms for coal-fired power plants. The memo cites “an unworkable time schedule” that would burden utilities and lead to an increase in power tariffs.

India’s original 2017 deadline for compliance with the new emissions standards and the installation of Flue Gas Desulphurization (FGD) units was pushed to 2022. Under the latest proposal, no new dates have been set. However, a final decision will have to be approved by the Supreme Court, which is hearing the issue.

Bengal purchases dirtiest coal-based power generated in India: CSE study

According to the assessment done by a Delhi-based NGO, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), only 42% of the coal being bought by states for power generation is through “cleaner” power plants that comply with the new sulphur dioxide emission norms. It found that West Bengal topped the list of states that buy the dirtiest coal-based power generated in the country. Most of the stations supplying electricity to the state have not taken adequate measures to comply with the December 2015 SO2 emission norms notified by the government. Besides West Bengal, Telangana and Gujarat led the list of nine states that procure their coal-based electricity from unclean sources.

Air pollution increases risk of pregnancy loss in India, south Asia: Lancet study

Pregnant women in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, who are exposed to poor air quality, may be at higher risk of stillbirths and miscarriages, according to a modelling study published in The Lancet Planetary Health journal. The study was conducted for the period 1998–2016 for women who reported at least one pregnancy loss and one or more live births.

Researchers found that an estimated 349,681 pregnancy losses per year in south Asia were associated with exposure to PM2.5 concentrations that exceeded India’s air quality standard of 40 microgrammes per cubic metre (μg/m3) of small particulate matter (PM2.5). These account for 7% of annual pregnancy loss in the region from 2000-2016, they said.

Wildfire smoke contributes up to half of overall PM2.5 exposure in western US: Study

A recent study found that the contribution of wildfire smoke to PM2.5 concentrations in the US has grown substantially since the mid 2000s, and in recent years has accounted for up to half of the overall PM2.5 exposure in western regions as compared to a decade ago. It claimed that nearly 50 million homes are currently in the wildland-urban interface in the United States, a number that is increasing by 1 million houses every three year.

The researchers developed a statistical model that relates satellite-based fire and smoke data to information from pollution-monitoring stations. The model is combined with stylised scenarios to show that fuel management interventions could have large health benefits and that future health impacts from climate-change-induced wildfire smoke could approach projected overall increases in temperature-related mortality from climate change.

UNECE convention adopts guidance on nitrogen pollution

Parties to the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution adopted a guidance document on integrated sustainable nitrogen management, aiming to address the pollution problems that nitrogen causes in the global biosphere. Nitrogen management is based on the premise that decreasing the nitrogen surplus and increasing N use efficiency contribute to abatement of NH3 emissions. The guidance aims to help governments and farmers reduce nitrogen waste into air and water and keep more nitrogen on farms in order to benefit food production, the economy, the environment, and human health.


Legal troubles: The Andhra Pradesh Green Energy Corporation has been ordered to stop its tendering process for an agricultural power supply programme after Tata Power raised objections over the validity of the terms in the tenders | Photo: Andhra Wishesh

Andhra HC stays awarding of 6.4 GW of recently tendered solar projects

The Andhra Pradesh high court has directed the Andhra Pradesh Green Energy Corporation (APGECL) to cease tendering for solar power projects connected to the state’s 6.4GW agricultural power supply program.  APGECL had floated the tender in early December to set up 6.4 GW of solar projects at ten locations in the state to supply power to agricultural consumers in the state..

APGECL’s December tender for the projects was contended by Tata Power Renewable Energy which subsequently filed an appeal citing issues with the request for selection (RfS) and draft power purchase agreements (PPAs) in the tenders. According to Tata Power, these requirements go against the provisions of the Electricity Act, the Ministry of Power, and the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy guidelines.

The next hearing in the matter will be held on February 15.

SECI may reduce solar tender size to 1,800 MW due to high tariff concerns

After six extensions in bid submission timelines, the Solar Energy Corporation of India (SECI) is considering reducing the size of its latest solar tender in Karnataka as well as change location specifications. 

The size of the solar projects is likely to be reduced from 2,500MW to 1,800MW owing to fears of hike in tariffs. SECI is also considering moving the projects from the solar park in Koppal to three new spots, also in Karnataka.

The 2,500MW tender was first issued on April 10, 2020, but has failed to generate interest among developers despite successive deadline extensions.

NHPC, IREDA sign pact for green energy projects

NHPC has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with IREDA to expand NHPC”s renewable energy projects footprint in the country. NHPC said the company has undertaken an ambitious plan to make a significant imprint on the RE landscape of the country through development of 7.5 GW of renewable energy (solar – terrestrial and floating, and wind) projects in the next three years.

The MoU with NHPC is the second one signed by IREDA within the last one month. In December SJVN and IREDA had entered an MoU for collaboration on green energy projects. Under this MoU, IREDA is providing its services to SJVN for its green energy projects. 

Recently, Energy Efficiency Services Limited (EESL), a joint venture under Ministry of Power, has also signed an MoU with National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) to establish clean energy and energy efficiency projects at NHAI structures including buildings.

The pact is signed for the development, maintenance, and management of national highways. for the implementation of e-mobility services, energy efficiency and renewable energy projects, the company said in a statement.

Gujarat unveils new solar policy, aims to reduce the share of coal-based power in state

Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani announced the state’s new solar power policy for the next five years. The policy removes any ceiling on installed capacity, allowing consumers to give their roof or premises on lease to a third party for generation and consumption of power on the same premises. 

The state government will now purchase surplus energy from residential and MSME consumers after setting off against their consumption. This means that they would be allowed to sell their surplus power at a tariff of ₹2.25 per unit. The new policy is being seen as a massive boost to rooftop solar installation, in which Gujarat is already a leading state.

MP govt plans to construct world’s largest floating solar power plant on Omkareshwar dam by 2023

The Madhya Pradesh state government claimed that power generation of the world’s largest floating 600 MW solar energy project, which is to be constructed at the Omkareshwar dam on Narmada river in Khandwa district of Madhya Pradesh, is set to begin by 2022-23. 

The World Bank, International Finance Corporation, and Power Grid Corporation of India have granted mutual consent to aid the development of the project. Electricity will be produced in about a 2,000-hectare water area by installing solar panels in the dam. These panels will float on the surface of the water in the reservoir.

Scientists creates a fully transparent solar panel

A new study led by scientists from Incheon National University in Korea successfully demonstrated how to make a fully transparent solar cell. Researchers at Incheon University used titanium dioxide and nickel oxide, both with high optical transparency, to create the cell.

Solar panels are currently opaque, which means they can only be used on solar farms and on roofs, which prevents their wider use and integration into everyday materials. The semiconductor layers, which catch the light and turn it into electricity, are the reason for their opaque colour.

Electric Vehicles

Self-driving revolution: Baidu's expertise with AI and machine learning will be honed even further in its new car with Geely to usher in the next iteration of autonomous e-mobility | Photo: Business Journal Daily

Baidu ties up with Geely, Apple with Hyundai for autonomous electric cars

China’s internet giant Baidu tied up with Geely Auto Group — one of the country’s fastest growing automakers — to develop a smart EV that will come equipped with self-driving capabilities. Not much other detail is available on the car or when it will be launched, but Geely, which owns the Volvo and Lotus brands, will build the body of the vehicle. Baidu, on the other hand, will develop the car’s software and autonomous driving feature through its expertise in artificial intelligence. Its autonomous car software, Apollo, is already being tested in public robotaxis in Beijing. 

Apple, too, is reportedly stepping up its commitment to launching its own electric car — possibly with its own line of batteries. It is in talks with South Korea’s Hyundai Motors and the two may launch a ‘beta’ version of the car by as early as 2024 (for extensive testing) and a production version by 2027. 

Scientists microwave coal powder into highly-useful polycrystalline graphite 

A team of scientists reported that it was able to convert raw coal powder into polycrystalline graphite simply by microwaving it on copper foil and a glass jar filled with argon and hydrogen. The inexpensive process did not require any chemical pre-treatment of the coal — taken from Wyoming’s Powder River Basin — and took only 15 minutes to convert it to high-value nano-graphite, which is used in a wide variety of applications, including for anodes in li-ion EV battery packs. 

IIT team develops AI-driven battery repair hardware, VoltUp offers 2-minute battery swaps

PURE EV, an e-mobility startup at India’s IIT Hyderabad, developed an AI-driven hardware that is capable of automatically identifying and repairing defects in li-ion battery packs. Called the BaTRIcs Faraday, the system runs on an Artificial Neural Network (ANN) algorithm and works to repair the cells to the best of their electro-chemical potential without any manual intervention. If proven reliable, the startup claims the innovation will significantly lower the turnaround time (TAT) in servicing EV batteries when compared to existing repair facilities. 

PURE EV also aims to launch the service commercially in the first quarter of 2021 through its “Better Diagnostics and Repair” workshops across India.

Also, Mumbai-based startup VoltUp is partnering with Hindustan Petroleum (HP) to launch two battery swapping stations for two- and three-wheelers in Jaipur, that will enable EV users to swap their depleted battery packs for a fully charged pack within two minutes. VoltUp claims that this will help drive EV adoption in the country as EVs currently have to be plugged in for several hours for a full recharge. Fifty such stations will be opened across India in the next six months. 

Electric cars accounted for more than 50% of Norway’s new car sales in 2020

The sale of electric cars in Norway peaked to such high levels that they accounted for 53.4% of new car sales in the country in 2020, up from 42.4% in 2019. Four models made up the majority of the sales — the Audi e-tron, the Nissan Leaf, the Tesla Model 3 and the VW ID.3 — and the high sales figures are attributed to Norway’s heavy subsidies and numerous incentives for customers to buy electric. Sales in neighbouring Sweden also jumped by an incredible 310% year-on-year for battery EVs in 2020, which has taken its share of plug-in cars in new car sales to 49%. 

Tesla registers entity in India, starts with R&D centre in Bengaluru

Tesla Motors officially registered itself in India under the name of Tesla Motors India and Energy Private Limited after its incorporation was approved on January 8. It also set up an R&D unit in Bengaluru for its India operations and is reportedly in talks with four other states — Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra — to establish its manufacturing units and stores. This is despite the price of Tesla cars, around ₹55 lakh for the Model 3, being prohibitively high for most customers, since they would have to be imported and would face high tariffs under current Indian regulations.

However, Tesla fansite Tesmanian explained that the cars are primarily targeted at a small sliver of around 85 million wealthy Indians, and that they may become affordable for the middle class once Tesla starts manufacturing them at its Indian factory.

Fossil Fuels

In total agreement: India's home and coal ministries are both strongly backing a revival for coal despite the market and investors steadily moving towards renewables | Photo: Indian Express

India: Home minister bats for coal to play majority role in $5 trillion economy

India’s home minister Amit Shah stated that coal would play a majority role in India’s target of a $5 trillion economy, and that ₹4 trillion would be spent by the country’s private and public lenders to boost domestic coal consumption by as much as possible within this decade. Around ₹2.5 trillion of the investment will go into boosting India’s output of coal bed methane, surface coal gasification and even “clean coal”. 

The statement comes despite the Centre aggressively pursuing more renewable energy capacity. The home minister also launched a “single window clearance portal” for new coal mines to obtain all necessary clearances at one go — including sensitive ones on wildlife and the rehabilitation of project-affected families. The coal ministry additionally clarified that a new tranche of coal mines will be put up for auction in January 2021, despite the previous round attracting but meagre interest

Alaska drilling lease sale a flop as oil companies show little interest

The sale of oil and gas drilling leases in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) has been termed a flop as oil and gas drillers stayed away, despite over one million acres of pristine wild land being hastily thrown open by the Trump Administration. Only around 550,000 acres received any interest, and out of the 22 tracts opened up for bidding, only 11 attracted bids. Worse, the top bidder for 9 of the 11 tracts was the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA) — which is a state-owned firm, unlike the several well-established oil and gas drillers that the White House had hoped to attract. 

Most drillers rejected the offering over the battering the oil and gas industry received in 2020, and because of its less-than promising future prospects. A long-time industry analyst from Alaska, Larry Persily, even remarked that “no one’s going to see any oil coming out of ANWR”. 

Exxon finally discloses full Scope 3 emissions after shareholder pressure 

ExxonMobil finally released the full figures on its Scope 3 emissions after mounting pressure from its shareholders, and they reportedly amount to 730 million metric tonnes of CO2 released in 2019. The figure is equivalent to nearly the annual emissions for all of Canada, and is more than twice that of BP. However, Exxon downplayed the shareholder pressure and is yet to declare a concrete plan to reduce its absolute emissions going forward. Most of its future profits are also supposed to come from its “substantial majority” of reserves that will be developed over the next 20 years. 

HSBC pressured by shareholders to slash exposure to fossil fuels 

Europe’s largest bank and the second-largest financier of fossil fuel projects, HSBC, is being pressured by its shareholders to slash its funding for the sector as part of its commitment to go net zero by 2050. The bank has financed around $86.5 billion worth of fossil fuel projects around the world since the signing of the Paris Agreement, and its shareholders have filed for a climate resolution to be brought to vote at HSBC’s next annual general meeting (AGM) in April 2021 over the lack of concrete policy initiative from HSBC. 

HSBC’s shareholders include some of the largest institutional investors and together they manage around $2.4 trillion worth of assets worldwide. The climate resolution action is being coordinated by London-based ShareAction, which campaigns for environmentally responsible investments.