India bets on geothermal energy and green hydrogen for a carbon neutral Ladakh

Newsletter - May 21, 2021

Bubbling with potential: The Puga hot springs area in Ladakh has been identified as holding the greatest geothermal energy potential of any site in India, at over 5 GWh

India bets on geothermal energy and green hydrogen for a carbon neutral Ladakh

Boasting of massive energy potential, the newly created Union Territory is quickly becoming important in India’s low-carbon development push

India is on a hunt for viable alternatives to replace its aging coal fleet and reduce its dependence on oil and gas. As the search extends beyond conventional renewables of solar, wind and power, the massive energy potential of the Himalayas has once again come into sharp focus. Following the rapid development of hydropower potential across the Himalayas, efforts are now increasingly directed at tapping the region’s solar, wind and geothermal energy potential.

Ladakh, India’s newest Union Territory, has emerged as perhaps the most important cauldron for India’s new energy aspirations in the Himalayas. With an aim to make the Union Territory carbon neutral, Ladakh’s administration and the central government of India are assessing the potential for geothermal power. Additionally, efforts are also underway to tap into Ladakh’s capacity to produce green hydrogen – which is produced from renewable sources of power like solar and wind.

Eyeing carbon neutrality

Ladakh’s renewables push appears to be in line with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s carbon-neutral vision for the Union Territory, which he has repeatedly stated.

The first signs of actual movement in this direction came at a conference last year in November, when Ladakh’s Lieutenant Governor, RK Mathur, told global investors and energy stakeholders about the region’s capability to become “a hydrogen-driven” Union Territory and alluded to the development of decentralised hydrogen power capacity in Ladakh. “Decentralised availability” refers to a model where power is produced close to where it will be consumed via multiple small-scale power production units. In the context of Ladakh, it means power production units will be located close to hamlets rather than connect all hamlets via one grid. 

Later, Mathur told both the ministries of renewable energy and power that green hydrogen is “the best alternative to make Ladakh carbon neutral” and forwarded the possibility of “replacing diesel with green hydrogen energy for electricity, heating and transportation purposes”. 

Green hydrogen is produced using renewable energy and electrolysis to split water. It is different from grey hydrogen, which is produced from methane and releases greenhouse gas, and brown hydrogen, which uses coal.

“There is a clear inclination towards decarbonising Ladakh,” said Tirtha Biswas, the programme lead at the Council on Energy, Environment and Water. “Ladakh has a good renewable potential of almost 40GW and hydrogen has a role to play,” he added.

The green hydrogen vision

Hydrogen is now well and truly on the radar in India’s energy pursuit. Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman made this much clear as she announced the National Hydrogen Energy Mission during her budget speech in February this year. For the Centre, hydrogen-fuel is crucial for a low-carbon transition in industrial sectors. Specifically, the plan focuses on producing hydrogen from renewable sources like solar and wind power.

For Ladakh, the hydrogen fuel’s growing momentum offers a clear opportunity. At present, Ladakh has a 200 KW green hydrogen pilot project at the Sonam Norboo Memorial Hospital in Leh. According to Mathur, the pilot’s success would count as a “big achievement” in meeting the electricity demand, with potential for the model to be “scaled up for use by the Army and tourists”.

Biswas explains that the hospital project uses fuel cell technology to produce heat and electricity. Fuel cells convert the chemical energy in hydrogen into electricity. Here, the green hydrogen is produced using solar power. Biswas notes that given how Ladakh has good solar and wind energy potential, green hydrogen is a viable option. 

“High altitude valleys have strong solar irradiance and these valleys also have a good wind profile… this combination [of both solar and wind potential] is also very interesting because they complement each other,” Biswas said. In a day, solar power generation potential is about 4-5 hours and it peaks in the afternoon. So, in the off-peak hours, reliance can be placed on wind power. Effectively, this combination provides for a stable source of renewable power.

Although officials are keen, green hydrogen can be invariably land intensive given India’s propensity for large solar and wind farms. 

Understanding impacts

Ulka Kelkar, the climate programme director at the World Resources Institute in India, pointed out that while creating large-scale energy infrastructure, we also need to respect the ecological uniqueness of landscapes like Ladakh. “It would be ideal to come up with hybrid approaches that generate modern electricity services while also protecting local biodiversity and livelihoods that depend on natural resources,” she said. 

Water is another constraint because “you need water to produce hydrogen,” Biswas said. “So we need to understand the hydrological impact of hydrogen production in a high altitude area in the winters,” he added.

What the national mission must do to give green hydrogen the push it needs – both in Ladakh and India as a whole – is financial assistance via means like viability gap funding, Biswas points out. Viability gap funding is usually provided by the government for privately run infrastructure projects to make them economically feasible. 

Geothermal power in Ladakh

Aside from green hydrogen, officials in Ladakh are also looking to develop geothermal power – which is electricity generated from heat sources, including steam, hot water, magma and hot dry rock, within the earth’s crust. 

At the energy conference in November, Mathur put Ladakh’s geothermal energy potential at 300MW.

“Ladakh is probably the best place in India for generating geothermal power because subsurface temperatures are very high,” said Anirbid Sircar, professor and dean of research and development at the Pandit Deendayal Petroleum University in Gujarat.

In February this year, an MoU was signed by the administration of the Union Territory of Ladakh to establish the first ever geothermal field development project in India at Puga in Ladakh – a step hailed by Mathur as “a promising initiative towards innovative and sustainable development” of Ladakh.

In Phase 1 of the project, the power generation aim is 1MW, which will be supplied to the public free of charge, according to the press release announcing the project. In Phase 2, a “deeper and lateral exploration of [the] geothermal reservoir” has been planned via the drilling of wells and the setting up of a higher capacity demo plant in Ladakh. And commercial operations have been planned for phase 3.

“The project [at Puga] is still at a very nascent stage and no systematic exploration and exploitation has been done yet,” said Sircar. Comparatively, Gujarat has “already exploited geothermal power by digging shallow wells that generate about 20KW of electricity [which is used for captive consumption],” he added. 

But, Sircar pointed out, Ladakh is a much better place for geothermal power than Gujarat and places like Puga are “very promising” because of natural geological conditions.

“The Puga hot spring area, located at the junction of the Indian and Tibetan plates along the Indus Suture Zone, has the greatest potential for the near-term development of geothermal energy in the Indian subcontinent,” a November 2013 paper noted. It added that the area “exhibits vigorous geothermal activity in the form of hot springs, mud pools, sulphur and borax deposits… It is estimated that more than 5,000 MWh of geothermal energy is available at Puga, which could be used for heating, for greenhouse cultivation and, eventually, to generate electricity.”

Puga is “unique even when we consider the whole country, not just Ladakh”, said Ghulam Bhat, a professor at the Department of Geology, University of Jammu, and one of the authors of the 2013 paper. He noted that the surface temperature of water in the area is more than 90°C.

The area was also surveyed by the Geological Survey of India (GSI) in the 1970s. “They [GSI] drilled boreholes and the maximum depth they reached was 284 m and the temperature here was 260°C. From what has been studied until now, this is the hottest spot in the whole of India. And this makes it very favourable for the generation of electricity,” Bhat added. 

In fact, a 1991 Geothermal Atlas of India prepared by the then Indian government had identified Puga as having high geothermal potential. 

Assessing environmental impacts of geothermal energy

But before going ahead with such geothermal energy exploration and exploitation projects, environmental impact assessment studies are the need of the hour. 

“There is no environmental impact assessment policy in India as far as geothermal energy is concerned,” Sircar said. Environmental studies similar to the ones currently in place for oil and gas exploration need to be in place for geothermal power because “the stress and strain on the land has to be understood,” he added.

“I am not in favour of directly drilling holes and going ahead with [Geothermal] projects, ” Professor Bhat said. “This is an exotic area with a lot of rare and endangered wildlife. Drilling and exploration [without thorough assessments] can cause habitat destruction and a lot of disturbance to wildlife. Also, the region is virtually free of devastation.”

The high levels of seismicity of the region adds to the need for detailed studies of the associated risks. The seismic risks of geothermal exploration have been known for some time now and several earthquakes around the world in recent years have been linked to geothermal energy projects. One such earthquake, measuring 5.4 on the Richter scale, hit South Korea’s Pohang city, which is home to an experimental geothermal plant, in November 2017 and caused widespread destruction. More recently, a geothermal project in northeastern France was halted late last year following concerns surrounding earthquake risks.

According to Bhat, there is little evidence of such seismic risks in Ladakh. “Ladakh is not very seismically active. The region does not have a history of major earthquakes in the past 100 years or so. Earthquakes here are usually between magnitudes of 3-5 (on the Ritcher scale),” Bhat explains. He, however, adds that given how geothermal power in Ladakh is still at a very nascent stage, more research is needed to understand potential risks, including seismic ones. 

The Indonesia example

“Indonesia started working on geothermal power in 1980. Today, we have 2,200 MW of [installed geothermal] capacity,” said Riki Ibrahim, president director, Geo Dipa Energi, an Indonesian geothermal energy company. This makes Indonesia the second largest in the world in terms of geothermal capacity after the United States.

Indonesia is located in the Ring of Fire, a volcanic belt. And it is owing to such volcanic geology that it is routinely said that the country has 40% of world geothermal capacity.

Ibrahim explained that Indonesia uses geothermal power for heating, drying and electricity production. “I hope India also invests in producing geothermal power,” he added, noting that the power is “environmentally friendly” compared to thermal power, which entails significantly higher greenhouse gas emissions.  

He also added that the power production process is not land intensive. “For 1 MW, you need 0.2 hectares. But if you see solar photovoltaic, it needs 1 hectare for 1 MW,” he pointed out.

As for what specific measures Indonesia has taken to ensure there are no adverse impacts from drilling and explorations activities, Ibrahim pointed out that the geothermal sector has regulations similar to the oil and gas sector when it comes to drilling activities. “But geothermal is less risky because there are no flammable elements… it’s only hot water and steam,” he added. 

CarbonCopy sent emails to the MNRE and the Ladakh administration officials requesting for an interview about India’s plans for geothermal power, how they’re taking shape in Ladakh and ensuing ecological impacts. This copy will be updated if and when responses are received.

While Ladakh’s prospects to become carbon neutral are bright, it’s imperative the government errs on the side of caution. There are many lessons to be learnt from the mistakes made with hydropower – inadequate risk assessments being at the top of that list. A rushed, target-based top-down approach would only magnify these risks. The energy generation potential of the Himalayas will be critical in ramping up energy access, especially in underserved mountainous regions of the country. For this however, India’s government must keep an ear to the ground.     

Climate Science

Cyclones Tauktae leaves a trail of destruction on India’s west coast, scientists flag clear links to climate change

Cyclones Tauktae leaves a trail of destruction on India’s west coast, scientists flag clear links to climate change

Cyclone Tauktae hit the states of Gujarat and Maharashtra on Monday with wind speeds up to 185km/h. The cyclone caused widespread heavy rainfall and is estimated to have killed at least 57 people across states on the west coast. Rescue and recovery operations conducted by the Indian navy are currently ongoing for 49 missing workers of an ONGC-operated barge off the Mumbai coast.

Scientists have linked the growing number of cyclones around the Indian peninsula, including Tauktae, to climate change. The intensity with which the cyclones are making landfall is an indication of this link, according to the paper.

Cyclones are usually fueled by the heat in oceans and seas and when temperatures are 28°C and above. Rapidly rising sea surface temperature in the Arabian Sea in the past century has seen strong correlations with frequent and intense cyclones. Apart from Tauktae, the other recent cyclones such as Ockhi, Fani and Amphan rapidly changed from weak cyclonic storms to extremely severe cyclones within a span of 24 hours, the paper stated. 

Another cloud-burst event reported in Uttarakhand; climate change to blame?

A cloud-burst like event occurred in the upper reaches of Devprayag last week, a town in Uttarakhand, according to the India Meteorological Department (IMD). The event led to a sudden rise in the water flow of a rivulet called Gadera, which damaged surrounding infrastructure. Environmentalists protesting against the region’s proposed Char Dham project are worried such cloudbursts, which are occurring at regular intervals in the region recently, could lead to major damage, both to the environment and the workers. The project aims to widen the Char Dham highway in order to connect the four holy shrines in Uttarakhand that are part of the Char Dham yatra.   

Raghu Murtugudde, a climate scientist at the University of Maryland, told Down To Earth that these cloudburst events in Uttarakhand, which began on May 3, could be a result of warming in the region

World’s largest iceberg breaks off in Antarctica coast

The world’s largest iceberg – the size of the Spanish island of Majorca – broke off the coast of Antarctica. Iceberg A-76 measures around 170 kilometers (105 miles) long and 25 kilometers (15 miles) wide. It is currently floating on the Weddell Sea, according to the European Space Agency.  

GHGs shrinking Earth’s stratosphere, say scientists

Greenhouse emissions because of human activities are thinning the stratosphere, a new study revealed. The study, published in Environmental Research Letters, found the thickness of the stratosphere had reduced by 800m since the 1980s and could shrink by upto a kilometre by 2080 in a business-as-usual scenario. The study used satellite observations since the 1980s along with multiple climate models to arrive at its conclusion. The thinning may affect satellites, GPS and other space-based navigational systems, according to the researchers.   

Climate crisis could put 1/3rd of global food production at risk: Study

If greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise unabated, a third of the global food production will be at risk, according to a recent study. According to researchers at Aalto University in Finland, around 95% of the current crop-producing regions fall in a “safe climatic space”, which are areas that have weather conditions conducive to growing food crops. 

If the projected 3.7°C rise in temperature was to occur by the end of the century, however, these areas would shrink considerably, stated the paper published in the journal One Earth. The regions most affected would be south and south-eastern Asia and the Sudano-Sahelian zone in Africa. If the world was successful in limiting the temperature rise to 1.5-2°C, however, only 5% to 8% of global food production would be at rise, it stated.

Climate Policy

Sharp appraisal: The environment impact assessment done in connection to a proposed aerodrome project in the Andaman Islands has been flagged as inadequate by an expert appraisal committee | Photo: Roundglass Sustain

Green ministry panel flags concerns with Andaman water aerodrome project

The Union environment ministry’s expert appraisal committee (EAC) highlighted concerns it had with a proposed water aerodrome project at Swaraj Island in the Andamans this past fortnight. The project aims to connect Andaman’s remote islands with Port Blair as part of a tourism boost. The panel found the environmental impact assessment (EIA) report to be inadequate. Missing from the report was the impact the project would have on the mangrove patch that part of the project is to be built on, the panel stated. The project will also lead to a loss of 3,500 sqm of forest land.

The panel stated the EIA report included “mostly secondary data” and lacked “actual site-specific biodiversity studies with respect to aquatic and natural environment in effect of tourism”. The panel asked the developers to submit a revised EIA report that also included data on the risks of sea-plane crashes, the status of coastal clearance from the state and the Centre and a reassessment of the impact the noise levels at the aerodrome will have on the surrounding fauna.       

Township in Great Nicobar Island likely to impact turtle nesting sites

Project documents revealed a proposed township at Great Nicobar Island is likely to affect turtle and megapode nesting sites. The region is home to endangered species such as the Leatherback Turtle. Despite this, the Union environment ministry’s expert appraisal committee (EAC), has already recommended the project for grant of terms of reference (TOR), which is the first step towards getting a green clearance. The EAC, in a meeting last month, however, did state the developers selected the site for the port component of the project keeping in mind the technical and financial viability, and did not give any importance to the environmental impact. The panel suggested an independent assessment be carried out by institutes such as the Zoological Survey of India or the Wildlife Institute of India to assess the technical aspects of the project.    

Mollem campaign impact: SC-appointed panel raises red flags over three infra projects in Goa

After a year-long campaign by citizen activists against three infrastructure projects to be built through Goa’s protected areas, a committee appointed by the Supreme Court expressed its concerns with the proposed plans. The Central Empowered Committee (CEC) report stated the three projects would threaten the ecology of Mollem National Park and Bhagwan Mahaveer Wildlife Sanctuary. It recommended cancelling the double-tracking of a railway line from Castle Rock, Karnataka, to Kulem, Goa and a new transmission line for the Goa-Tamnar Transmission Project. The panel also asked for green clearances for the NH-4 widening project on the Karnataka-Goa border.

1 in 4 cities lack finances to protect against climate crisis: Survey

New research revealed the dire financial situation of major global cities when it comes to tackling the climate crisis. A survey of 800 cities by the Carbon Disclosure Project revealed one in four cities (43% of the total cities) lacked a plan to tackle the impact of extreme weather as a result of climate change. These cities had a combined population of 400 million people. Among the key reasons cited by 25% of these cities, some of which include Rio De Janeiro in Brazil and Southend in England, were budgetary constraints. 

Spain passes climate law; aims to end fossil fuel production by 2042

After a decade-long wait, Spain finally passed its new climate law, which aims to end fossil fuel production by 2042. The law also commits Spain to cut emissions by 23% by 2030. It bans new oil, coal and gas exploration along with sale of fossil fuel vehicles by 2040. The law set the country a goal of generating 74% of electricity using renewable sources by 2030. It is also the first law in the world to make it mandatory for companies to set climate action plans and emission reduction targets to be achieved within five years.

COP26 to be held in person in Glasgow this year

After months of speculation, the COP26 will finally go ahead in person in Glasgow in November this year. However, the UK government is looking into how vaccines and testing can curtail the spread of the COVID-19 virus during the conference.

Air Pollution

Heavy toll: New research from the UK has revealed an alarming increase in asthmatic episodes corresponding to diesel-linked air pollution | Photo: The Weather Channel

Diesel-linked air pollution causing spike in child asthma cases, visits to doctor: Study

A new UK study revealed just a week of raised diesel-related air pollution leads to a huge increase in the number of visits to doctors by children suffering from asthma. The number of inhaler prescriptions also increases significantly, researchers said based on clinical data.

The research was conducted in south London over five years and more than 750,000 respiratory consultations at GPs and inhaler prescriptions were analysed for the study. The worst hit are children, but there were increases in GP consultations and inhaler prescriptions for people of all ages. The researchers called for action to cut air pollution and said pollution warnings could be used to help those at risk to prepare for episodes of increased dirty air. 

The authors, however, said the figures were a substantial underestimate of the actual numbers. This is because GP data was only available from Monday to Friday and during surgery hours, so consultations at weekends or in the evenings were not included in the data.

Air pollution from farms leads to 17,900 US deaths per year: Study 

A first-of-its-kind study revealed that air pollution from agricultural activities, including animal farming, cause more than 17,000 annual deaths across the United States. According to research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, animal agriculture was responsible for 80% of deaths from pollution related to food production. Researchers said gases associated with manure and animal feed produce small, lung-irritating particles. 

Scientists said primary particulate matter PM2.5 produced when farmers till fields or burn crops before harvest cause around 4,800 premature deaths a year, but “secondary” particulate matter, especially ammonia released by manure and fertiliser, contribute to about 12,400 deaths a year. Scientists said many beef, pork and dairy facilities store animal waste in massive “lagoons” that release huge amounts of ammonia. 

Wood burnt in fireplaces and stoves cause of bigger air pollution than traffic: UK study 

Fireplaces and stoves are the largest single source of primary particle pollution (PM2.5)  in the UK, even greater than traffic and industry, a recent study found. According to government estimates, wood burning in the UK has increased since 2005, which has offset gains from other sectors, including cleaning up vehicular pollution.

Scientists said about 40% of the UK’s primary particle pollution comes from just 7% of homes that burn solid fuel. In Dublin, where burning of coal is banned, the marketing of wood and peat as green biofuels has contributed to solid-fuel heating remaining the biggest source of particle pollution in the city. Several local councils in London have asked people not to heat their homes with solid fuels. 

Trump era rule that weakened air pollution regulations scrapped

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) scrapped the Trump-era Benefit-Cost rule because it was harming public health and hindering clean air rules. Trump had imposed the rule mainly in reaction to the EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) rule that had been adopted during President Obama’s administration. MATS accounted for indirect benefits of installing mercury pollution-control equipment at coal plants that reduced deadly emissions of particulate matter, Reuters reported. The Benefit-Cost Rule had argued that the cost of compliance with MATS far outweighed the direct public health benefits of slashing mercury emissions alone.

Children’s learning ability improves by 6% if air pollution is reduced around schools?

Research by the University of Manchester found that a 20% reduction in air pollution levels in and around school grounds can improve a child’s learning ability by 6.1%. This is equivalent to four extra weeks of learning time per year, scientists said.

The author of the study Professor Martie van Tongeren, said the evidence indicates that the outdoor and indoor pollution impacts children’s cognitive development, which may affect educational attainment. Researchers point out that up to 2,000 schools and nurseries are close to roads with levels of air pollution above the baseline level used in the model, which includes at least 500,000 children exposed to damaging levels of pollution.


Any takers? India has now approved a ₹18,100 crore production linked incentive for battery storage in an attempt to attract new investments in the space | Photo:

India offers ₹18,100 cr production-linked incentive for battery storage

India approved ₹18,100 crore production-linked incentive for battery storage to reduce import dependency and boost electric mobility. India imports battery storage equipment worth ₹20,000 crore annually. 

The incentive is offered to build a cumulative 50 GWh of advanced chemistry cell (ACC) and 5 GWh of ‘niche’ ACC production facilities in India. The government said an additional investment of ₹45,000 crore is expected from the National Programme on Advanced Chemical Cell Battery Storage. 

The incentives will be given to bidders who commit to set up a manufacturing unit of a minimum 5 GWh to maximum 20 GWh and ensure a minimum of 60% domestic value addition at the project level within five years. The cash subsidy shall be offered on the output, PV magazine reported. 

Pandemic & discom debt: India’s RE capacity addition fell by 50% in 2020, says IEA

COVID-19 restrictions caused the 50% decline in India’s renewable capacity additions in 2020, compared to 2019, according to the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) Renewable Energy Market Update. 

According to IEA, India’s Photovoltaic (PV) capacity addition is expected to be three times in 2021 compared with 2020, as delayed large-scale utility projects become operational. India awarded 27 GW of photovoltaics in central and state auctions in 2020. The IEA report said residential installations remained sluggish because of administrative and regulatory challenges in multiple states. 

The IEA report said the financial health of discoms was the primary challenge to renewable energy deployment in India. India has proposed reforms worth $41 billion (around ₹3 lakh crore) to improve discom operations. 

India launches anti-dumping probe against solar imports from China, Vietnam, Thailand 

India accepted a plea by the Indian Solar Manufacturers’ Association (ISMA) to initiate an anti-dumping investigation against the import of solar cells from China, Thailand and Vietnam. Solar cells are the basic ingredient used in making solar modules and Chinese products are 15-20% cheaper. 

The Directorate General of Trade Remedies (DGTR) found prima facie evidence of dumping against the accused countries that harmed the domestic industry. A similar anti-dumping investigation initiated in July 2017 was called off in March 2018 on ISMA’s request.

According to Financial Express, after the safeguard duty imposition on China and Malaysia, solar imports surged from Vietnam and Thailand. Between FY18 and FY20, imports of solar cells and modules from Vietnam and Thailand recorded a growth rate of 800% and 5,750%, to $136 million and $117 million, respectively. Import of Chinese products fell 60% to $1.3 billion in the same period.

India amends 12 GW CPSU programme, caps VGF at 55 lakh per MW

India amended the guidelines for implementation of Central Public Sector Undertaking (CPSU) scheme phase-II for setting up 12,000 MW grid-connected solar projects with viability gap funding (VGF). According to the changed rules, the mutually agreed usage charge of the government produced power will not exceed ₹2.45 per unit, as compared to previous limit of ₹2.80 per unit.

The new guidelines fixed the maximum permissible VGF at ₹0.55 crore per MW, which was kept at ₹0.70 crore per MW earlier. The VGF is provided under the scheme with the objective of covering the cost difference between the domestically produced solar cells and modules and imported solar cells and modules. Now solar power projects will have to be commissioned within 30 months from the date of letter of award and not 24 months. 

Biden approves America’s first major offshore wind farm

The Biden administration approved America’s first commercial-scale offshore wind farm. The Vineyard Wind project will include around 84 turbines in the Atlantic Ocean about 12 nautical miles off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard, Mass. The project is expected to generate about 800 MW of electricity, enough to power about 400,000 homes, NYT reported. The US is estimated to install some 2,000 turbines along the east coast.

The Trump administration had moved to cancel the project’s permitting process, which Biden revived as part of his target of building 30,000 megawatts of offshore wind in the United States by 2030. It’s a target the White House said would spark $12 billion in capital investments annually, supporting 77,000 direct and indirect jobs by the end of the decade.

Electric Vehicles

Packed with progress: Harvard's new technology for solid state batteries means that EVs could be charged in a mere 10-20 minutes, with batteries that last for 10,000 cycles | Photo:

Harvard achieves major breakthrough in long range, solid-state li-ion batteries

Researchers at Harvard University reported a major breakthrough in solid-state li-ion batteries, which would enable them to be recharged for up to 10,000 cycles at high current density. The breakthrough very nearly contains the inherent issue of dendrite formation in commercial, liquid electrolyte li-ion batteries by using a series of solid state layers with varying stabilities between the two electrodes. The layers stop the dendrites from piercing the barrier between the two electrodes — which can cause the batteries to short and catch fire. 

If and when the new technology reaches commercial production, it could also boost the life of electric cars to 10 – 15 years (the same as a typical gasoline car) and the high current density would enable the batteries to be recharged in as little as 10 – 20 minutes. 

Ex-NASA scientist developing wireless EV charging built into the road 

An ex-NASA scientist and his team from Cornell University are developing a wireless EV charging system that can charge vehicles that simply drive along a stretch of road, unlike contemporary charging where a vehicle must be plugged into a charge point. The technology uses an active variable reactance (AVR) filter, which couples with a reactive metal under an EVs’ body to create an oscillating energy field and a high-frequency current. The energy for the section on or above the road will come from conventional (fossil and/or renewable) power sources. 

However, so far the technology is aimed to be deployed only along high-density vehicle lanes (such as carpool lanes), and it may not generate a current strong enough for a car to be recharged to appropriate levels quickly — unless the car drove along such a stretch all day. 

India developing ultra low-cost charging points for electric scooters and rickshaws 

The government of India is reportedly working to develop ultra low-cost charging points for electric two- and three-wheelers, and the units — at ₹3,500 each — will be capable of being set up anywhere that has access to a standard, 220V 15A single phase line. Termed the Low-Cost AC Chargepoint (LAC), the chargers will allow the vehicles to plug in and draw up to 3kW of power and the users will be able to pay via their smartphones’ bluetooth connection. The standards for the LAC will eventually be ratified by the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS), but the project is the joint effort between several auto manufacturers, the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and the NITI Aayog. 

Michelin to launch tires specially developed for EVs

Global tire manufacturer Michelin is slated to release two newly developed tires in China, which it says have been specially formulated for use with EVs. Called e.PRIMACY and Pilot Sport EV, the tires are designed to resist the generally heavier weight of electric vehicles (because of their battery packs) and wear out slower than regular tires. They will also feature lower rolling resistance and an enhanced ability to handle heavy torque (which is characteristic of most high-performance EVs), and could thus add up to 7% in extra driving range for the vehicles. 

Fossil Fuels

With love from HSBC: A curious loophole may allow HSBC to remain invested in the construction of 73 proposed coal plants, despite the bank's public support for the Paris Agreement | Photo:

HSBC’s asset management arm may finance 73 new coal plants despite Paris pledge

New research by Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) suggested that the asset management arm of HSBC Bank was free to hold equity in firms that plan to build 73 new coal plants across Asia and Africa. This is despite the bank’s pledge to phase out coal power globally by 2040, and the equity is held as part of a loophole that bizarrely exempts its asset management arm from its larger climate commitments. However, while the air pollution from the planned coal capacity could cause up to 18,700 deaths a year, HSBC has countered criticism by saying that it partly invests in index funds that “include fossil fuel firms”, even though it has pulled out of direct exposure to the coal industry. 

IEA calls for “radical” shift in global energy systems in major new report 

A new report by the International Energy Agency (IEA) called for a “radical” shift in global energy systems to reach the collective target of net-zero emissions by 2050. Titled “Net-zero by 2050: A roadmap for the global energy sector”, the report envisions renewable energy outpacing coal power within the next five years and oil and gas by 2030 by using this year as the starting ground to end any further investments into new fossil fuels projects. The report also sets out 400 milestones for the world to be powered “predominantly by solar and wind”, and says that the net-zero emissions (NZE) by 2050 scenario would give the world a 50% chance of containing global warming to below 1.5 deg C. 

Curiously, however, while the new report urges a move away from fossil fuels and emphasises “stringent cuts to non-CO2 greenhouse gases”, the executive director of the IEA recently also endorsed India’s plans to use natural gas under a Strategic Partnership Framework between the IEA and the government of India. 

ADB to stop financing fossil fuels where cost-effective alternatives exist  

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) announced in a draft policy update that it would stop financing new coal power and oil and gas exploration and production, in a move that could significantly reshape much of Asia’s financial support for fossil fuels. The bank financed $42.5 billion in fossil fuel projects across much of South Asia between 2009-19, but the new announcement does not specify a firm timeline for the pullout. Instead, the bank said that it would choose to support cleaner, cost-effective alternatives, unless there was none available for a particular geography. 

JP Morgan to reduce operational carbon intensity of oil & gas investments by 35% 

JP Morgan Chase bank — the world’s largest financier of fossil fuels — vowed to reduce the operational carbon intensity from its oil and gas investments by 35% by 2030, and doing so would include capping methane emissions and cutting down on flaring. The bank also promised to switch its fleet of vehicles to EVs by 2025, and source 70% of its power from renewables by the same year. However, the emphasis on operational intensity of emissions means that the bank could still invest in projects that increase the overall emissions of greenhouse gases, even though it may provide up to USD 2.5 trillion for enhanced climate action. 

Indonesia’s largest utility to stop building new coal capacity — after 35GW of proposed plants

Indonesia’s largest utility, Perusahaan Listrik Negara (PLN), pledged to stop building any new coal capacity and pivot to renewables instead, even though it would still go ahead with the 35GW of proposed capacity. The capacity was green-lighted in the country’s 2015 national energy plan, where coal is by far the dominant source of power, and critics have said that it would lock Indonesia into coal dependence for an additional 40 years. PLN had previously stated that up to 16GW of new coal capacity would come online by 2030, but it now plans to invest in co-firing, where biomass would be burned along with coal to reduce the latter’s usage by 20-50%. However, IRENA has cautioned that its climate effectiveness would depend upon “where the biomass came from”.