Newsletter - November 12, 2019
Last week, Tata Power and The Rockefeller Foundation announced the launch of TP Renewable Microgrid Ltd to install 10,000 microgrids in India by 2026 and become the world’s largest microgrid developer and operator. The plan includes reliable access to clean energy for almost 50 lakh homes, which would avoid about 1 million tonnes of CO2 emissions through the deployment of small distributive grids of under-10KW capacities running on renewable sources.
While India has not seen ambition of this scale before, the idea of microgrids is not a new one. Since the 1990s, examples of microgrids have sprouted around energy-scarce regions of the country where centralised grid connections are still a relatively recent phenomenon. The efforts of successive governments over the last three decades has seen near-100% electrification in the country, yet somewhat surprisingly, the launch of TP Renewable Microgrid Ltd is evidence that microgrids are still relevant in the country.
India’s electrification story has been riddled with unreliability in terms of access and quality of power at the consumers’ end, especially in rural India. Microgrids, which can operate both as stand-alone distributive networks for a small area or integrated with a main grid, have long been offered as a silver bullet to solve this “last mile” glitch and in remote areas where achieving and maintaining central grid connectivity can be challenging. Not only would these solve energy scarcity, it would also enable feeding back of surplus energy generated into the main grid. In fact, micro- and mini-grids have proven to be economically beneficial and have received positive reactions across villages in Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Karnataka, which host microgrids through NGOs, private and public interventions. But despite clear positive feedback, little has happened in terms of scaling up coverage. Despite a target of 500 MW renewable microgrid capacity announced in 2016, a minute fraction of that had been achieved by 2018.
“Discoms are not merely inefficient, but they create the biggest hurdle for the creation of microgrids, so our job is to not merely bypass the discoms, but to ensure that these discoms become catalysts for growth for microgrids…Left to discoms, nothing will happen. They need to go bust for microgrids to take off,” exhorted Aimtabh Kant, CEO of NITI Aayog, placing the blame squarely on state discoms. Discoms are undoubtedly a part of the problem. Saddled with heavy losses and high debt burdens, discoms have moved with lead feet when it comes to entering any long-term purchasing commitments with renewable microgrid operators as installation and operating costs of microgrids is significantly higher compared to distribution from a central grid powered by coal.
In Uttar Pradesh – one of the few states to have a policy on RE microgrids – monthly tariff is capped at Rs120, while private projects reflect tariffs of up to Rs200. Additionally, microgrid development has been stunted by uncertainty of long-term operating viability. As grid connectivity expands to previously unreached locations, microgrid operators and discoms find themselves in competition rather than in symbiosis with each other in the absence of any comprehensive facilitative policy. A competition in which the odds are stacked against microgrid operators as main-grid power is typically cheaper than RE microgids.
But the Centre is not blameless in this regard either. With the government claiming that all but 18,000-odd houses have been electrified in the country, it is little surprise that microgrid investments have not taken off, especially in the absence of any facilitative policy, which would clarify tariff structures, guarantee returns on investment and financial support mechanisms for operators. The MNRE draft policy for RE microgrids released in 2016 declared a 500MW target by 2021 through 10,000 microgrids and allowed for 16% return on equity investment for setting the tariff. But with little over a year left for the deadline, the policy is yet to be finalised and uncertainties on tariffs and interoperability with discoms have continued unabated. The 2018 draft amendments in the tariff policy also steers clear of providing any clarity on how tariffs for power generated by microgrids are to be finalised beyond a perfunctory note on the need to incentivise microgrids.
Kant’s words of support and promises of fast-tracking approvals for microgrids at the launch of TP Renewable Microgrids Ltd notwithstanding, the Centre has done precious little to assuage dwindling investor confidence or clear up the uncertainties that have stifled growth in the sector. There is little doubt that decentralised energy systems have significant potential for a country like India, but without established rules of engagement, expecting either investors or discoms to plug the gaps in India’s energy story is nothing short of foolhardy.
Twelve people lost their lives in Odisha and West Bengal after Cyclone Bulbul made landfall in India last weekend. The extreme weather event has rendered lakhs homeless. The event is not out of the ordinary because cyclone season in the Bay of Bengal usually begins in April and ends in December.
The cyclone moved on into Bangladesh, where twelve more people were killed before it eventually weakened into a depression. Bulbul is not the worst cyclone to hit the region. In 1999, a super-cyclone battered Odisha for more than a day and killed 10,000 people.
South Asia to get increasingly dry as the world gets warmer, says study
A new study projected a significant increase in the area and population in South Asia that will be affected by dryness in worlds that are warmer by 1.5°C, 2°C and 2.5°C. It stated that ‘a rise in global mean temperature of 1.5 °C from the pre-industrial level will result in an increased dryness over half of South Asia affecting more than 790 million people’. The study stated increased dryness would affect 890 million and 1,960 million people under 2.0° and 2.5° warming worlds, respectively.
The numbers, even though alarming, may not be far off the mark if current climate conditions in the region are analysed. A study by Climate Impact Lab in collaboration with the Tata Centre for Development at UChicago claimed that if greenhouse gases continue being emitted in India, around 1.5 million citizens could be killed every year because of climate change after the year 2100 (60 deaths by 1,00,000 people). Not just that, according to the study, the average number of extremely hot days over 35°C in the country are likely to increase by more than eight times per year from 5.1 (in 2010) to 42.8 per year in 2100.
Early snow, rain delay harvest in US
Farmers in the US grain belt’s northern tier are in a tight spot after an October snowstorm and excessive rain stalled harvest. Corn and soybean harvests in North Dakota and Minnesota were especially delayed.
If that isn’t enough, farmers will also have to pay extra for diesel fuel and propane to dry stored grain, which will not dry adequately in the field. Add that to the stress of tight profit margins and the US-China trade war, pushing farmers further out of business.
Wildfire blazes through Brazil’s Pantanal wetlands
A 50-km-long wildfire was reported across Brazil’s Pantanal wetlands at the beginning of this month. A popular tourist destination, Pantanal is also considered to be one of the most biodiverse regions in the world. The governor issued a 30-day moratorium on using fire for land clearance following the event.
Brazil’s indigenous population, however, are fighting for their lives and livelihood. In the Amazon, which caught the world’s attention with news of massive wildfires earlier this year, a young indigenous Guajajara leader, Paulo Paulino Guajajara, was murdered reportedly by loggers. He was a member of “Guardians of the Forest,” a group of 120 indigenous Guajajara that risk their lives fighting illegal logging in the Araribóia reserve, one of the country’s most threatened indigenous territories.
To make matters worse, the country recently cancelled a 10-year-old ban on sugarcane cultivation in the Amazon rainforest and central wetlands, irking environmentalists who called the move another assault on Brazil’s ecosystems.
NASA observes “unprecedented” bushfires on Australian east coast
The Australian east coast has been enveloped by a haze this past week as an unprecedented number of bushfires were reported from across the states of New South Wales and Queensland. NASA’s Terra Satellite observed more than 100 blazes in what they describe as “uncharted territory” in terms of size and numbers. The bushfires have been aggravated by long droughts in the region and fanned by dry, windy conditions on the coast. Fires have also been reported from Sydney in what is quickly becoming one of Australia’s worst fire seasons on record.
11,000 scientists unite to declare ‘climate emergency’
In a first, more than 11,000 scientists, including 69 from India, co-signed a letter in the journal Bioscience, declaring a climate emergency and urging governments to take immediate climate action. The declaration is based on scientific analysis of more than 40 years of publicly available data covering a broad range of measures, including energy use, surface temperature, population growth, land clearing, deforestation, polar ice mass, fertility rates, gross domestic product and carbon emissions. The letter pointed to six areas in which humanity needs to take urgent steps – energy, short-lived pollutants, nature, food, economy and population.
Melting Arctic sea ice linked to the spread of deadly virus
A 15-year study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, links declining Arctic sea ice to the spread of a deadly virus from the north Atlantic Ocean waters to the waters of northern Pacific Ocean. The phocine distemper virus (PDV), a deadly virus that affects marine mammals and responsible for killing thousands of European harbor seals in the North Atlantic in 2002, was identified in northern sea otters in Alaska in 2004 raising concerns of how the virus had reached there. Researchers sampled marine mammals for phocine distemper virus exposure and infection from 2001-2016, and correlated incidence peaks with sea ice extent. The findings of the study indicate that reductions in arctic sea ice were opening up new paths between the north Atlantic Ocean and the north Pacific Ocean that allowed mammals to carry the virus to the new territory.
While the US has officially begun the process of pulling out of the Paris Agreement by notifying the UN of its intention to leave, the country will continue to retain its seat at UN climate talks. According to present and former diplomats, the US will be officially designated as ‘observers’ at Paris accord discussions, and will always make their presence felt unless the country itself stops sending delegations to climate change talks.
The Trump administration’s apathy to climate change continued to be on display with the government announcing its decision to auction of nearly 4 million acres of land in Arctic Alaska for oil development next month.
G20 countries way off mark on climate action; NDCs too weak: Climate Analytics Report
The Climate Analytics report titled ‘Brown to Green’, released earlier this week, revealed that CO2 emissions by G20 nations rose by 1.8% in 2018 rather than decline. The findings are worrisome as the increase is higher than the 1.4% average registered between 2005 and 2016, and reflect a second consecutive year of CO2 emission growth. Analysis of the planned actions by G20 nations in the report shows that none of the world’s 20 largest economies, responsible for 75% of global GHG emissions, are on an emissions pathway compatible with the 1.5-degree Celsius objective of the Paris Agreement. According to the report, staying below 1.5-degree Celsius would require G20 countries to cut emissions by at least 45% – from 2010 levels – by 2030.
While half of the countries were on their way to meeting their NDC’s, the report underlines that this is insufficient since NDCs are too weak. India, whose emissions grew by 28% in 2018 on the back of higher energy demand and growth in transport emissions, is one of the countries making good progress on its NDCs. India still has per capita emissions that are a fourth of the G20 average however the report points out that continued reliance on coal for power is a matter of concern. South Korea, Canada and Australia were found to be furthest off track to implement their NDCs while Argentina, Brazil, Japan, Mexico, South Africa, and the US may also miss their NDC targets without additional action.
Last chance to notify ban on RO, NGT warns India’s environment ministry
India’s environment ministry was given the ‘last opportunity’ by the country’s National Green Tribunal (NGT) to issue a notification that banned Reverse Osmosis (RO) systems, which lead to wastage of at least 80% of water. The court said a delay in issuing the notification, as per the NGT’s previous order, was causing harm to public health and environment. The court has given the ministry until December 31, 2019, to comply with its directions. If it fails to do so, the concerned official would not be entitled to draw a salary, the court ruled.
The NGT has passed its previous order after an expert committee report said that if Total Dissolved Solids is less than 500 milligrams per litre in the water, an RO system will not be useful but will result in removing important minerals as well as cause undue wastage of water.
After Chile backs out, UN confirms Spain will host COP25
After Chile backed out of hosting this year’s COP25 a little more than a month before the scheduled event because of riots in the country, Spain has stepped in and will host the talks, the UN confirmed. COP25 will now be held in Madrid on the same dates as planned (December 2-13).
UN’s biodiversity chief quits amidst allegations of misconduct
The UN’s biodiversity chief resigned this past fortnight. Cristiana Pașca Palmer, a former Romanian environment minister, was facing allegations of discrimination against African staff and intervention in the renewal of her contract before she quit. The move is significant as the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), where she has been executive secretary since March 2017, is in the midst of planning its 15th major conference in October 2020 where countries are expected to set new targets to preserve biodiversity over the next 10 years.
New Zealand passes law for zero carbon emissions by 2050
This fortnight, New Zealand passed a law that aims for net zero carbon emissions by 2050. The bill, however, is a bit lax on methane emitted from animals as it aims to cut 10% of biological methane by 2030 and up to 47% by 2050. This is because agriculture is key to the country’s economy. The New Zealand government has also promised to plant a billion trees over 10 years and ensure the electricity grid runs entirely from renewable energy by 2035. A Climate Change Commission will guide the government on how to reach the targets.
On November 3, Delhi’s air quality index burst off the charts to 999 (micrograms per cubic metre), and beyond at multiple places. A public health emergency was declared. Flights were diverted. The Prime Minister’s Office and officials of Punjab, Haryana, and Delhi went into a huddle through video conferencing to monitor the situation on a daily basis. There has been not much let up since. About 300 teams are in the field in Delhi to reduce air pollution. The main focus is on the seven industrial clusters and major traffic corridors in the NCR, officials said.
Top court raps Centre, states for blaming farmers for air pollution; Chennai most polluted in South India
Since north India’s PM2.5 levels went off the charts, the deadly winter smog is not letting up. Centre and state governments were at the receiving end of the Supreme Court’s ire for blaming farmers for burning crop stubble. Slamming the government, the court said the state machinery could have provided small farmers with equipment for clean disposal of stubble, as “… it’s bounden duty of the state to look after the interest of farmers.” The court also ordered to unleash “entire police machinery” to stop crop burning.
The country’s green court (National Green Tribunal) was equally harsh on the Centre and state governments and said toxic air is the result of the Centre their continuous apathy, not a situation “of one day”. The NGT summoned officials of the Delhi government, the Central Pollution Control Board, the Delhi Pollution Control Committee and the Union ministry of environment and forests over suffocating air quality index (AQI) of Delhi deteriorating since October 28, a day after Diwali.
Down south, PM2.5 levels were the worst in Chennai, where “very poor” levels were recorded on November 9 – the most toxic air was in the city’s Manali area (358 micrograms per cubic metre), according to Central Pollution Control Board monitors, on Saturday.
16 months on, Maha gets real-time AQI for the state, Solapur most polluted on Diwali
For the first time, the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) published its real-time and manual air quality monitoring data from across the state this Diwali. Maharashtra had inaugurated its air quality stations 15 months ago. Experts say, from next year onwards, the state will be able to produce the trend and areas where air pollution mitigation measures need to be implemented. The air quality index (AQI) for Mumbai and nine other cities during Diwali and the following days was shared on the MPCB website. Mumbai recorded a ‘satisfactory’ AQI of 92 on October 27 (Diwali), which was much lower than last year’s 127 (moderate). Solapur was the most polluted location in Maharashtra on Diwali (October 28) with an AQI of 115 (moderate).
China fights economic slowdown, lowers PM2.5 targets; air pollution set to increase?
As China changes gear to speed up its slowing economic growth, the country has lowered its pollution targets. China is experiencing the slowest growth in decades. Therefore, the country is seeking a 4% drop in concentrations of deadly PM 2.5 particles in the October-to-March period from a year earlier, lower than the 5.5% decline it sought in an earlier draft of pollution-control goals. Experts say citizens may feel this in their lungs in the upcoming winter. The lower targets allow China to pollute for a longer period of time, but authorities deny it impacts their green targets. China’s environment ministry says the new targets are scientifically calculated “on the basis of extensive consultation with relevant departments, local governments and experts.”
The Centre has revised its National Wind-Solar Hybrid Policy for discoms to meet renewable purchase obligation (RPO). Discoms can now choose the proportion of wind or solar in hybrid source power plants based on actual ratios of capacities installed by each source, in case there is a variation in the capacity mentioned in the PPA and the actual capacity, the Centre has clarified. Experts say this will achieve efficient utilization of transmission infrastructure, reduce variability in renewable power generation and achieve better grid stability. Under hybrid power plants, wind and solar systems are configured to operate at the same point of grid connection. A wind-solar plant is recognized as a hybrid plant if the rated power capacity of one resource is at least 25% of the rated power capacity of the other.
Centre asks Guj govt to fast-track land allocation for solar-wind project on Pak border
Worried over the slow pace, the Centre has directed the Gujarat government to hasten the allocation of 60,000 hectares of land for the solar and wind park project in Kutch district, on the India-Pakistan border. According to the government, land acquisition along the border is not an issue at all for the 30,000 MW of solar and wind power project. This will be in addition to Gujarat’s renewables target of 30GW by 2022. Today, Gujarat has nearly 10GW production of renewable energy, which includes around 7GW wind and around 3GW solar energy.
Maha solar makers angry over “one-sided” tariff policy
Maharashtra’s power regulator’s draft renewables tariff policy has angered residents who have installed rooftop solar panels. They say the policy is one-sided and does not account for excess units their renewable energy systems generate.
According to the new policy, all the investments for solar installations will be done by the consumer, but still, they will have to purchase electricity from MSEDCL at thrice the price at which they will be supplying power back to MSEDCL. The proposed regulations will discourage solar installations, experts say. Maharashtra has a solar target of 4GW, but currently, it is generating only 266MW.
Renewable generation falls in Sep, ‘India’s renewables sector needs $30 billion yearly investment’
India’s renewable sector needs $30 billion investment annually to meet its targets, but today it is averaging about $11 billion a year in renewable investments, said Arunabha Ghosh, chief executive officer of the Council on Energy, Environment and Water. Ghosh stressed on the need to make the bidding process transparent at the tendering stage and preserving the sanctity of the contract. Experts say leading international investors such as pension funds are allowed to commit to projects with high credit ratings. Studies have shown that 60-75% of the cost of tariff of electricity is the cost of finance, not the cost of solar panels or turbines, Ghosh said. In September, power generation from renewable sources fell by over 7% due to decline in demand.
Meanwhile, the US government’s development finance institution, Overseas Private Investment Corporation, has invested $350 million in six new solar and wind-power generation facilities in India, the US Department of State said.
Southeast Asia going strong on solar power, capacity to triple by 2024
Southeast Asia’s cumulative solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity is estimated to triple to 35.8 gigawatt (GW) in 2024 from an estimated 12.6GW this year, consultancy group Wood Mackenzie says. The region is expected to increase solar power capacity in the coming years as the cost of generating electricity from some solar power projects has become more affordable than gas-fired plants, report said. Analysts said Vietnam is the lead investor with a cumulative solar PV installation of 5.5GW (44% of region total capacity) by this year compared to 134MW last year. Reuters reported that recently at a solar project auction in Malaysia, 365MW was bid at a price lower than the country’s average gas-powered electricity.
Centre offers 75% subsidy on solar pumps to phase out diesel
Centre plans to offer 75% subsidy on solar pumps to encourage farmers to shift from polluting diesel irrigation pumps. Operational cost of solar pumps is cheaper than diesel ones , which will help farmers save on earning. The department of new and renewable energy has decided to grant 75% subsidy on 3hp, 5hp, 7.5hp and 10hp solar-powered pumps. It is mandatory to have ponds in the fields along with micro irrigation techniques to avail of this subsidy, the government said.
Fukushima to be redeveloped as solar, wind power hub
Japan’s north-eastern district of Fukushima, practically destroyed in the 2011 earthquake and subsequent nuclear disaster, may get a second lease of life – this time as a renewable energy hub. A plan to develop 11 solar power plants and 10 wind power plants in the prefecture costing $2.75 billion by March 2024 is currently in the works. The power generation potential is estimated to be 600MW – about two-thirds that of a nuclear power plant. Electricity from the solar and wind energy park in Fukushima is planned to be sent to the Tokyo metropolitan area.
China and India to dominate wind power by 2050: IRENA
China and India would continue to lead global onshore wind power installations, with the region accounting for more than half (2,656 GW) of the total global capacity by 2050, stated a new report by The International Renewable Energy Agency. China is expected to achieve renewable capacity of over 2,000GW, and India of more than 300GW by mid century. The report says a large number of onshore wind power deployments would occur in North America (mainly the US, at more than 850 GW), where the installed capacity would grow more than ten-fold from 2018 levels, reaching around 1150 GW by 2050.
Australia renewables first time deliver over 50% of the country’s power demand
Australia for the first time managed to deliver over 50% of the country’s electricity demand through solar, wind and hydro combined. Achieved for a week, 50% renewable energy mark is seen as a new milestone that experts say will become increasingly normal. Highest achiever was the rooftop solar providing 23.7% of all the power demand, followed by wind at 15.7%, large-scale solar with 8.8% and hydro at 1.9%. The data showed that coal was still the largest provider of electricity on the grid, with power stations fed with black coal generating 35.7% and brown coal plants at 13.5%.
Germany has offered €1 billion in aid towards supporting India’s efforts towards urban e-mobility, as part of a number of bi-lateral agreements signed towards positive climate action. The country will also extend €35 million to help India expand its grid and scale up its energy storage capacity, and is reportedly keen to join the International Solar Alliance (ISA).
At home, the German government has upped the subsidies on EVs by 50% from this month, through to 2025. The new rules come under its Climate Protection Program 2030 and could usher in as many as 650,000-700,000 new EVs. However, one of its leading EV manufacturers, VW Group, has decided to only develop and sell SUVs in India, seemingly to counteract the country’s slowdown in passenger cars.
New battery charging method adds 200km range in 10 minutes
Researchers at the Pennsylvania State University have developed a new method to charge lithium-ion batteries — called Asymmetric Temperature Modulation (ATM) — that can add around 200km of driving range in a mere 10 minutes.
ATM circumvents the long-standing issue of accelerated degradation of battery materials under heavy charging rates, and successfully reduces the cooling requirement for batteries. The project was a response to the US Department of Energy’s goal to produce Extreme Fast Charging (XFC) technology.
China to possibly cut EV subsidies again
The Chinese finance ministry may cut EV subsidies even further next year as it decides to let the sector come up to speed with market-driven competition. However, as the world’s largest EV market, it could cause a massive slump in sales and send profits tumbling for some of the biggest players, including Warren Buffet-backed BYD. EV subsidies were first halved in June 2019 and caused a prolonged downturn in EV sales.
New electric motor plant planned for Bangalore
Bangalore could get a new $14million electric motor manufacturing facility that is jointly owned by Japan’s Mitsui and Company and Taiwan’s TECO Electric & Machinery Co. The plant could be an example of foreign firms establishing operations under the “Make in India” drive, and is expected to commence operations by the end of 2020.
The United Kingdom has banned fracking with immediate effect on the basis of numerous scientific findings that warned of “unacceptable” consequences for those living nearby. The government has also said no to allowing any future permissions for the practice, as it was difficult for regulators to predict the magnitude of earthquakes that the practice could trigger as it fractures bedrock.
The decision scores a massive victory for environmentalists, but Cuadrilla — UK’s largest proponent of fracking — is hopeful that the ban will be lifted, as has happened previously.
MoPNG slapped with notice over hydrocarbon exploration in TN
The Madras high court has issued a notice to the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas (MoPNG) over its proposed plan to explore hydrocarbons and produce methane at the Cauvery river delta in Tamil Nadu. The notice is in response to a PIL that says that the project could shrink agricultural land in the “rice bowl” of the state and endanger the livelihoods of local farmers. MoPNG has been directed to reply by January 7, 2020.
Global energy efficiency growth fell to 1.2% over the last decade
IEA estimates that worsening extreme weather events and adverse social and economic factors have slowed the growth in global energy efficiency down to a decadal-low of 1.2% for 2018. Out of touch policy measures, and investments have also dragged the metric down, although IEA has stated that increasing digital interconnectedness between buildings, appliances and transport systems presents a major opportunity to boost energy efficiency.
EU finance ministers urge EIB to end fossil fuel lending
Finance ministers from EU member states last Friday issued a joint statement urging on the European Investment Bank (EIB) and other multilateral development banks (MDBs) to end fossil fuel lending. The document is the first such declaration from the EU calling for an end to the multi-billion Euro funding of fossil fuels by EIB, and other MDBs. The EIB, which is owned jointly by the EU and also the bloc’s top lender, has funded fossil fuel projects worth almost $15 billion since 2003. The bank had earlier sought approval to end lending to fossil fuel projects from 2021, but has thus far not reached consensus among its 28-member board. Now, with European finance ministers backing the proposal, a decision is expected this week when the EIB board meets to discuss the issue.
Australia: Top coal miners account for as much as 75% of annual aviation emissions
A new report has found that 10 of Australia’s top coal mining firms together pump 670 million tons (MT) of CO2 in the atmosphere each year — equivalent to 75% of the annual emissions released by global air traffic. Worse, six of these miners were together responsible for more emissions (554 MT) than all annual emissions from the entire Australian economy. The report follows findings that Australian fossil fuel firms are planning even more extraction in the country’s north, to sell the products in Asia.
However, the country is also testing its first-ever offshore wind farm, off the coast of Victoria (South Australia). The 2GW farm is expected to come online fully by 2027. Australia’s flag carrier, Qantas, too, has announced it will cap its emissions to 2020 levels and slash them to net zero by 2050.