India’s low cost housing initiatives will have to be both climate resilient and climate responsive if the country hopes to reduce its vulnerability to the climate crises Read more
Can India’s low-cost housing schemes rise to the climate challenge?
Schemes related to affordable homes need to focus more on the climate vulnerabilities of people residing in them and less on chasing elusive targets
The world seems to be at an inflection point. Even as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued its latest set of warnings in its Physical Science of Climate Change, news poured in from around the world of dangerous rains, flooding, drought and wildfires. Over several years of worsening climate around the world and multitudes of scientific literature warning of the same, a clear pattern of cause and effect has emerged–the poor are and will continue to be the worst affected by impacts of climate change, to which they have contributed the least.
For India, which is among the most affected countries by climate and weather extremes and simultaneously suffers from endemic levels of poverty, this pattern of vulnerability reveals frightening prospects when combined with warnings of worsening climate impacts. The writing on the wall is clear. India’s poverty reduction strategy, particularly the low-cost housing initiative–Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY)–will be crucial in determining how well the country can mitigate and adapt to the climate crisis.
Launched in 2015, the same year as the signing of the Paris Agreement, the PMAY sought to construct 50 million affordable homes for those households that did not own any permanent housing. While the flagship housing programme has been seen as a central plank in India’s poverty alleviation strategy, the construction-heavy scheme is far from a guaranteed success when it comes to dealing with climate.
India’s construction sector is estimated to release four million tonnes of carbon dioxide annually, making up about 12% of the country’s total greenhouse emissions in 2011. When included with emissions from operating buildings, the sector constitutes close to 40% of all carbon emissions.
So far, approaches to PMAY make use of energy-intensive materials, particularly kiln-fired bricks, steel and concrete. Greener and cost-effective technologies have been sidestepped in the pursuit of landmark targets by 2022. Its adoption for rural homes would have saved 1.6 billion litres of water annually, reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 27 million tonnes, and expedited the pace of construction by 20% through the same years.
But more importantly, have these houses in fact reduced the vulnerability of those that reside in them, particularly to the vagaries of climate and weather?
Why climate resilience is crucial for India’s affordable houses
In India, climate change effects such as severe droughts, devastating floods and cyclones may force more than 45 million people to migrate from their homes in India by 2020, says a report titled ‘Costs of climate inaction: displacement and distress migration.’
To be clear, successful affordable housing must keep people safe during such disasters. As a matter of fact, climate-proofing of affordable housing has warranted benefits. “The mandatory adoption of cool roofs in Telangana and Hyderabad has ensured comfort against the blistering heat waves, rising year after year–in a tropical country like India”, says Abinash Mohanty, senior researcher and programme lead at the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW), a global non-profit vested in researching the utility of resources.
It’s about time for the government to incorporate climate resilience in its affordable housing and other welfare housing schemes. One of the hiccups to its implementation is the identification of compounding impacts of risks and general assumptions that communities can tackle disasters on their own, especially slow onset climate impacts such as rising sea levels or melting glaciers. “Granular climate risk assessment eludes the housing sector, followed by identification of the critical infrastructure among frontline communities like schools, hospitals and other essential structures,” adds Mohanty.
In Assam, a state rankled by frequent and intensifying floods, houses adopted under PMAY may have been traditional, but not disaster-proof. What’s worse, the housing scheme has failed to reach the state’s climate refugees, who have had to scramble for shelter in the aftermath of floods.
The 2017 Assam flood swept away Umananda Pathori’s house. “The flood swallowed thirty-two stilt-houses”, says Pathori.
He lives in Nikori village of Assam’s Golaghat district, along the banks of the confluence of Dhansiri and Gelabil, tributaries of the mighty Brahmaputra. Given Pathori is yet to receive any housing from the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (Rural), his earlier dwelling was a traditional ‘chang ghor’, or a house on stilts. He belongs to the Mising tribe, which has coexisted with floods since decades, not by fighting them, but through community preparedness.
Traditional houses are held by bamboo stilts and thatched roofs, platformed up to six feet above the ground. Right below the floor are spaces for rearing livestock. Portability is the defining aspect of Mising architecture, which allows for the quick dismantling and re-assembly during flooding events when elevation of the houses need to be increased.
Today, Pathori stays at a 23 square-metre hybrid ‘chang ghor’, which has survived two-three flooding seasons without any damage. Instead of inserting the bamboo poles into the mud directly, deeper bamboo footings are encased in concrete. “Earlier, raging flood waters would snap these bamboo posts away, but the concrete binding prevents it. There is no standing water with such footings, allowing for improved resilience,” Pathori explains.
Financial support to construct the house was provided by Sustainable Environment and Ecological Development Society (SEEDS) in collaboration with the North-East Affected Area Development Society (NEADS), a local NGO. “Allotments under PMAY are ‘chang ghors’, but they fall apart as floods hit. There has been no initiative from the departments concerned to enlist the community, or fight disasters,” says Tirtha Prasad Saikia, joint director at NEADS.
“Earlier, floods shaped our moving lifestyle. But we are trying to resist it by keeping the future in mind, and thereby choosing durable designs and materials”, says Pathori, who also heads the community-driven building process as a part of the SEEDS-NEADS project.
Over 3,000km away, in Tamil Nadu’s Kuilapalayam, Valarmadhy has been grappling with similar precarity. Fueled by warmer waters in the Indian Ocean, cyclones making landfall in southern India have intensified in recent years. Valarmadhy saw the scale of destruction first-hand during last year’s Cyclone Gaza, which swept away many houses, and inundated several others in her village. “In the past four years, this is the fourth house I have constructed. My house is made of uncooked bricks. It may fall anytime,” she says.
Valarmadhy is now working with GoodLiving.eco, an NGO striving to build climate resilient and green housing for low-income communities in Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry, to secure disaster-resilient sustainable housing for herself. The house GoodLiving.eco has designed for her will be built with compressed earth blocks (CEBs) and will possibly have access to rooftop and community solar.
According to Gauri Shenoy, the chief architect at GoodLiving.eco, practices that combine modern technology with traditional architecture, which increase sustainability and resilience of the structures, are gaining traction in India. “No one is saying not to use cement or steel. If you are using pressed soil blocks to build an eco-sensitive building, you need cement for binding or steel for better tensile strength. The idea is to reduce the embodied carbon, or carbon emissions right from the time the material is transported, used and dispersed finally”, says Shenoy, whose architectural designs are inspired from sustainable building solutions experimented at the Auroville Earth Institute.
Building pillars for a community
The subject of public housing in India is often met with disdain as informal settlements continue to explode across the country in the absence of formal housing provision by the state. A research paper by a ‘Coalition for Urban Transitions’ cites at least 99 million people in India live in informal settlements without risk-reducing infrastructure such as drains and sewers.
However, the story of Kerala’s housing policy is a success, both on socio-economic and environmental aspects.
Aswathy S, who lives in one such house provided under the Basic Services for Urban Poor (BSUP) Mission in a former slum colony, has no complaints. BSUP is an initiative seeking to facilitate the accommodation of urban slum dwellers in 65 Indian cities launched in 2015 under the aegis of the Central government’s Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs and in coordination with relevant departments of state and local governments. Living in a four-storeyed brick building on a scant land in Karimadom Colony at the heart of Thiruvananthapuram, Aswathy occupies a unit in the top floor with two terraces. From one of her rooms, she speaks of its airiness even with sweltering heat outside. “I can feel the cool breeze without any fan,” she says.
The Karimadom colony where the BSUP project has sought to provide permanent housing to residents | Photo: Aswathy.S
The building was constructed using indigenous architectural elements like jallis (carved apertures in brick walls) in place of windows to ensure proper ventilation. Other low-cost architectural innovations utilised include filler slab roofing to reduce the amount of concrete and steel in roofs, curved corners to cut down the number of bricks used in construction, and unplastered walls with a finishing touch of mortar.
“These buildings are load-bearing structures bridging down the cost to a great extent. Beneficiaries contribute towards 10% of the project, let’s say by plastering walls for maintenance once in three years,” said PB Sajan, joint director of COSTFORD, an architectural firm behind the housing project in partnership with the municipal authorities and community-based organisation Kudumbashree. Load-bearing structures refer to designs in which load is carried by the walls of the building. In the case of Aswathy S’s house, least polluting and durable country-burnt bricks were used to achieve this.
Before she was allotted a house under the scheme, Aswathy crammed herself into a makeshift home, which are typically stacked on top of each other in the same area. During monsoons, deadly floods upended her life for months. She moved her belongings to either schools or nurseries, wading through the deluge dredging up waste dumped in a close-by canal. “When the COSTFORD staff showed the videos of the houses they would build for us, I readily approved. Why would I say no to anything that was safer and provided basic amenities?” she said.
Aswathy felt she was involved in exercising her choices over the housing she needed to sustain. Such participation from the community improved the implementation of Kerala’s BSUP mission. This included community consultations to incorporate culturally appropriate houses; executing cost-cutting ideas, decreasing embodied carbon and tackling climate change. Building housing units with the same investment elsewhere would have reduced the nationwide costs of BSUP by ₹118 billion, or built an additional 816,000 homes.
A change in approach on the cards?
Right now, India’s construction market is adjusting its building techniques to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions and make green buildings accessible to those with slender means. The Light House Project under the Global Housing Technology Challenge-India(GHTC-India) floated last year for economically weaker sections in Indore, Rajkolt, Chennai, Ranchi, Agartala and Lucknow is currently in the pipeline.
At each location, 1,000 houses will be installed with alternative technology under guidelines of the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (Urban) for sustainability concerns. These buildings will have to be tested under the “GRIHA for Affordable Housing” rating variant for no-cost sustainability measures. Compliance to criteria such as water savings, waste management, sustainable building materials, energy and social aspects will be validated on-site for these structures by the GRIHA (Green Rating for Integrated Habitat Assessment) council during construction.
Over the past two years, the project has seen delays due to the ongoing pandemic, which otherwise was slated to be completed in 12 months. When asked about the slow uptake on green buildings in the country, Akash Deep, senior programme manager, GRIHA, said, “Until now, people would associate sustainable homes with the wealthy. This stems from mindlessly aping the West when green buildings–the older, decadent structures–had in-built eco-friendly designs. Sustainability has to start at the designing stage itself, which when delayed comes with costlier risks.”
With the majority of India’s future infrastructure yet to be built, how well India balances sustainability with resilience will determine the country’s adaptability to the vagaries of climate. Failure to do so sufficiently will simply amount to trading material poverty for future liability.
India records 33% rain deficiency in August after second monsoon “break”
A “break” in the monsoon season this month resulted in a 33% deficiency in the overall rainfall across the country. According to the India Meteorological Department (IMD), the deficiency is the highest in central India (51%), followed by peninsular India (37.7%), northwest India (22%) and the east and northeast of the country (5%). This is the second “break” recorded this season. The first was between June 29 and July 11. Experts said the monsoon trough hovered mostly over the foothills of the Himalayas during this time and blamed the unfavourable position of the Madden Julian Oscillation for the break in monsoon. There was a brief revival on August 19 but the IMD predicted this was likely to weaken again from August 24 onwards.
Climate change-induced water crisis in Syria, Iraq puts 12 million at risk
A water crisis triggered by climate change in Syria and Iraq is putting 12 million people at risk of losing water, food and electricity, according to aid groups working in these areas. Record high temperatures in the region as a result of less rainfall has led to droughts, while drying dams have led to a decline in power levels. The groups urged authorities to take quick, but sustainable action to minimise the water crisis in the region that has already been battered by conflict and the COVID-19 pandemic.
July floods in Germany, Belgium more intense due to climate change: Study
A new study revealed climate change made the deadly floods that engulfed parts of Germany and Belgium in July up to nine times more likely. Using weather records and computer simulations, the scientists found two flood-hit areas had been particularly hit by unusual precipitation at the peak of the crisis. The study linked these unprecedented downpours to human-induced warming. The researchers said not only had climate change increased the likelihood of such floods occurring, it had also increased their intensity.
Montreal Protocol protecting terrestrial carbon sinks: Study
Without the Montreal Protocol, there could have been 325–690 billion tonnes less carbon held in plants and soils by the end of this century, a new study estimated. This could have resulted in the atmosphere carrying an additional 115–235 parts per million of carbon dioxide that could have triggered additional warming of the global mean surface temperature by 0.5°C-1°C, according to the study. The international treaty aimed to protect Earth’s ozone layer by stopping the production of ozone-depleting substances, which are potent greenhouse gases. The ozone layer also protects plants and soils from ultraviolet radiation that has the ability to deplete the capacity of carbon sinks. The study, published in the journal Nature, therefore, concluded that the Montreal Protocol is protecting the earth’s terrestrial carbon sink.
Centre to monetise assets, including in coal, railways, to raise ₹6 lakh crore by 2025
The central government announced plans to monetise assets in a bid to raise ₹6 lakh crore ($81 billion) in a span of four years. The National Monetisation Pipeline (NMP) will focus on railways, coal mining and airports. The scheme will put up 15 railway stadiums and 160 coal mines for monetisation. The plan also includes monetising assets such as roads, gas pipelines and power transmission lines. NITI Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant said the road sector includes 26,700km of assets, which will generate ₹1.60 lakh once monetised, and the Centre is looking to monetise 28,608 ckt km of transmission lines worth ₹45,200 crore to be undertaken by PowerGrid. Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman made it clear that the government was not selling any of the assets. Their ownership will remain solely with the government and they will have to be handed back after a certain time period, the FM added.
Indian cabinet nod to ₹11,040 crore boost to domestic production of palm oil
India’s Union cabinet gave its nod to a ₹11,040 crore mission that aims to increase domestic production of palm oil. India is currently heavily reliant on palm oil imports, especially from Indonesia and Malaysia. The National Mission on Edible Oils-Oil Palm (NMEO-OP) will focus on developing production in the northeast and Andaman and Nicobar Islands. While palm oil has proven to be a viable economic crop, its production comes with environmental challenges primarily deforestation and damage to the ecology when produced unsustainably.
India gives nod to phasing out hydrofluorocarbons as per Kigali Amendment to Montreal protocol
India approved the ratification of the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol for the phase down of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) by India. The amendment dictates industries using and producing hydrofluorocarbons to phase them out and switch to non-HFC and low global warming potential technologies, according to a government press release. A national strategy for the phase down will be developed by 2023. The phase down is expected to prevent 105 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent of greenhouse gases to be emitted into the atmosphere, and prevent global mean temperatures from rising by up to 0.5°C by 2100.
PM Modi’s $1.35 trillion infra plan to focus on clean energy, electric mobility
On the country’s Independence Day, Indian prime minister Narendra Modi announced his government’s plans to unveil a $1.35 trillion infrastructure plan that will aim to create more jobs and expand the market for cleaner fuels. Although the PM did not reveal any details, the plan called “Gati Shakti”, he did set a target for the country to become energy independent by 2047. He spoke of achieving this target by pushing for electric mobility, and switching to a gas-based economy. The PM also launched the National Hydrogen Mission that aims to make the country a hydrogen production hub as part of India’s clean energy plans.
₹6.19 lakh crore bank loans in India at risk from climate change: Report
A new report highlighted the risks that climate change poses to the Indian banking system. Bank loans from India’s leading financial institutions amounting to around ₹6.19 lakh crore were at risk from extreme weather events, according to a report by non-profit organisation CDP. The banks include State Bank of India and HDFC bank. According to CDP, these banks must look to transition to cleaner investments and away from the coal projects that they are currently locked into funding.
India to update air quality standards from next year, to monitor more pollutants
India plans to broaden the number of ambient air pollutants it monitors to include ultrafine particulate matter smaller than PM 2.5 by 2022. Currently, India monitors eight pollutants, which include PM 2.5, PM 10, nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide, ozone, carbon monoxide, benzene and ammonia. The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) has given the task of updating the National Air Quality Standards to a team of scientists from IIT Kanpur, IIT Delhi, National Physical Laboratory (NPL), NEERI and AIIMS.
The scientists will consider the norms followed by different countries and the World Health Organisation (WHO) before recommending new norms. They will also consider geographical location and meteorological conditions and impact of pollutants on health and vegetation before updating the norms.
90 units found breaking pollution norms in Delhi, to shut down
The Delhi pollution control board (DPCC) is set to issue closure notices to 90 industrial units and show-cause notices to nearly 70 other units over violating the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act and Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act in the city’s Patparganj area. The board found 819 industrial units in the area of which 404 units were operating as godowns, offices and construction units legally. The DPCC said under the green category, where pollution was “mild”, 19 units were found to be operating without valid approvals, four had permission, but were found to be flouting pollution control norms and two did not allow inspections in their premises.
Out of a total of 73 units , officials suggested issuing show cause-notices to 18 units that were flouting air and water pollution norms, and closure notices to five industries found operating without valid permissions.
Delhi gets another smog tower to help tackle poor air quality
Ahead of the winter season, notorious for its association with toxic air around the national capital, the Delhi government inaugurated the city’s second smog tower at the Shivaji Stadium Metro Station, near Connaught Place. The tower is equipped with 40 fans which can reportedly absorb air from up to 1 km away and spit out 1000 cu.m of clean air per second. Experts have long contended that technological stop gaps such as smog towers are not only unproven but also incredibly costly to install and operate. While Delhi’s AAP government has claimed the smog tower to be the first such project in the country, similar smaller projects have been previously installed in Delhi and Bengaluru.
Study finds most state pollution control boards’ websites silent on development projects
A new study by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) found that most of the Indian states do not share information with the public about development projects. Of the 34 state pollution control boards (SPCB) and pollution control committees (PCC) in the country that make pollution information public on websites, nine states, including Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Nagaland, Andaman & Nicobar, Puducherry, Chandigarh, Daman & Diu and Uttar Pradesh, did not share any details of public hearings.
Websites of 16 SPCBs and PCCs contained incomplete information. Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, Odisha, Tamil Nadu and Uttarakhand provided only summaries of meetings, but hid the draft Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) reports, the paper mentioned. Himachal Pradesh shared minutes of meetings and draft EIA report, but didn’t specify the date of the next public hearing.
New norms allow purchase of green hydrogen power as renewables power
India proposed new renewable energy rules to boost the RE sector, including allowing purchase of hydrogen to meet the Renewable Purchase Obligation (RPO). The Centre also categorised waste-to-energy plants as renewable power, although some experts said waste-to-energy is not a clean source of energy.
The new norms proposes to make consumers with 100 kW load, covering MSMEs and commercial complexes, eligible to take power through open access, which was so far open to large consumers purchasing over one megawatt of power.
Experts welcomed the proposed rules and said, if implemented properly, the rules will go a long way in supporting the growth of the renewable energy sector.
Indian renewable energy sector gets $6.6 billion in first quarter of this fiscal
According to research by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA), the renewable energy sector’s first quarter of FY22 is back on track with funding of $6.6 billion. The study said investment has already surpassed $6.4 billion. The ongoing fiscal year will “easily” exceed the $8.4 billion investment figure of FY20.
According to JMK research, new renewable energy capacity additions slowed a bit as India added 1.5 GW of utility scale solar power in the second quarter of 2021, which is 30% less than the previous quarter. In the wind energy sector, new capacity added was 475 MW, which is 56% less than the first quarter. Rooftop solar’s new capacity was at 417 MW in the second quarter, 55% less than the first quarter.
Andhra Pradesh plans to set up 33.24 GW of pumped hydro storage capacity
Andhra Pradesh is planning to set up a massive 33.24 GW of pumped hydro storage power to enable the consumers to get quality power. The state has already established 109 charging stations. It will set up another 400 chargers across the state and along national highways every 25km, ET reported.
Meanwhile, the Centre increased benchmark costs for grid-connected rooftop solar photovoltaic (PV) systems for the financial year (FY) 2021-22. Benchmark costs for rooftop solar projects in states other than special category states for system capacities of 10 kW-100 kW is ₹41.64 (~$0.56)/W. This is an increase of 9.6% compared to the benchmark costs of FY 2020-21. In FY 2020-21, for systems between 10-100 kW, the benchmark costs had been reduced to ₹38 (~$0.51)/W from the ₹48 (~$0.70)/W in the previous year. The cost for system capacities of 100-500 kW was lowered by 20% when compared to the preceding year’s cost of ₹45 (~$0.66)/W, Mercom reported.
Tech breakthroughs push the envelope on solar cell efficiency
Researchers from the Australian National University have used a breakthrough process called ‘laser doping’ to create the most efficient type of bifacial solar cells yet. Using lasers to boost electrical conductivity locally in cells, researchers have developed a dual-sided silicon solar cell conversion efficiency of 24.3% on each side, yielding a bifacial factor of 96.3 percent. The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) has independently verified the claims that this equates to a 29% effective power production, well beyond the average for single-sided silicon solar cells.
Meanwhile, US-based Oxford PV claims to have created solar cells with an efficiency of 29.52% using ‘perovskite-on-silicon tandem technology’. The technology is a clear upgrade to the 26% efficiency threshold that silicon cells function under, and the company has stated that it is very close to starting commercial application of the tandem technology.
GM to recall 73,000 EVs over fire risk, Tesla says its cars are 11X safer than ICEs on fire accidents
General Motors (GM) will recall 73,000 Bolt EVs as a faulty battery back has caused 10 of them to catch on fire since 2019. The battery packs are developed by LG, and are said to have a torn anode tab and a folded separator. The recall is expected to cost GM $1 billion and may dent the Bolt’s reputation amongst customers, just as the firm gears up to spend up to $35 billion in switching over to a fully electric lineup by 2035.
On the other hand, a new report by Tesla claimed its cars are 11 times less likely to catch fire than petrol or diesel cars. The report cited data that showed a Tesla car only caught fire once every 205 million miles versus an ICE car catching fire once every 19 million miles. The figures come soon after Tesla’s brand new offering, the Model S Plaid, caught on fire in Pennsylvania last month while the driver was still in the car.
BlackRock to invest $100 million in Australia to set up 5,000 chargers
BlackRock, one of the world’s largest investment and asset management firms, will invest $100 million into Jolt — an Australian start-up that plans to install 5,000 EV charging points across the country. The target, if achieved, would put Jolt on a par with Chargefox, which also plans to install the same number of points by 2025. The investment is being seen as a major move forward for BlackRock, which so far has invested in solar and wind power, and could boost the Australian EV market as access to charging points remains a primary concern for potential customers. The concern is reflected in the share of EVs in the market only standing at 1.57% in 2021, versus the global average of 4.2%.
Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles could account for 33% of Chinese heavy vehicles market by 2050
A new study by JPMorgan said heavy vehicles in China that are powered by hydrogen fuel cells could account for 33% of the market by 2050, up from a mere 5% now. The uptick may be possible on the back of falling solar and wind power prices — solar has dropped 80% and wind by 40% in the last decade — which would make the production of “green” hydrogen particularly economical. China is already the world’s largest producer of the fuel and the prospect of greater sales has attracted several large automakers, such as Honda, BMW and Toyota.
Tata Power wins contract to build, operate 50MWh storage plant in Ladakh
Tata Power Solar, the solar energy subsidiary of Tata Power, was notified of its selection to build and operate a 50MWh battery storage plant in the village of Phyang, Ladakh, and the storage capacity will complement a 50MWp solar plant for the location. This will be India’s first, large-scale co-located battery energy storage system and it is set to go operational in 2023. The village itself lies at an elevation of 3,600m above sea level and the project brings Tata Power Solar’s project portfolio up to 4GWp.
Blue hydrogen at best a “distraction”, emits 20% more GHGs than burning natural gas
Researchers at Cornell and Stanford universities said in a new study that burning blue hydrogen — one that is made from steam reforming of natural gas with carbon capture and storage (CCS) — should be viewed “at best as a distraction” since it produces 20% more greenhouse gas emissions than regular natural gas or diesel. The figure is for the full life cycle of the artificial gas, but blue hydrogen also results in higher fugitive methane emissions as the CCS part of the operations are powered by natural gas itself.
The study clearly suggests that the blue hydrogen has no place in a carbon-free future as its carbon emissions itself were only 12% lower than grey hydrogen’s. The findings are also contrary to the growing interest in the fuel — particularly in the developed world — as it is cheaper than “green hydrogen”, which is produced by electrolysis of water through clean energy. Most recently, the UK government is reported to be extending equal support to both, although it may have been misled into the decision by oil and gas firms that used falsified data to make blue hydrogen seem cleaner than it is.
HYBRIT delivers first-ever, fossil fuel-free steel
Sweden’s HYBRIT delivered the first consignment of fossil fuel-free steel to automaker Volvo last week, making it the first time ever that steel has been produced without the use of (coking) coal. The steel was instead produced using clean energy and green hydrogen, and the delivery process was a trial that is likely to be cemented into commercial production by 2026. Volvo, for its part, will use the steel in its vehicles from this year onward, while another Swedish start-up, H2 Green Steel, aims to produce fossil fuel-free steel in the north of Sweden by 2024.
Maersk orders 8 carbon-neutral ships, to run then only on green methanol
Global shipping giant Maersk ordered eight carbon-neutral ships (worth $1.4 billion) from Hyundai Heavy Industries in the biggest ever move to lower the sector’s carbon emissions. The ships will have the capacity to be run exclusively on green methanol, but Maersk has admitted that getting adequate quantities of “proper carbon neutral methanol” will pose a bit of a challenge — at least at present. Nevertheless, operating them will save a million tonnes of CO2 every year and the order was placed despite each unit costing 10-15% more than ships that use traditional fuels. The ships will join Maersk’s fleet after 2024.
US releases guidelines to stop banks from funding fossil fuels
The Biden administration released guidelines that would prevent multilateral development banks (MDBs) from funding any coal and oil power projects, as well as any upstream natural gas projects. Instead, it wants them to refocus the financing on renewable energy, but it allows for rare exceptions when fossil fuels would be needed for humanitarian efforts or when a renewable energy project would be infeasible. The guidelines would affect most MDBs around the world as the US has sizeable holdings in each of them — it is the largest collective shareholder — and proposed projects in Thailand (the 1,400MW Hin Kong gas plant) and South Africa (a 4GW proposed glas plant by Eskom) would likely be affected.
The guidance does leave room for natural gas to be used in indoor heating, which environmental activists have criticised as natural gas extraction leads to significant fugitive methane emissions.
Chhattisgarh to lose ₹900 crore a year over Centre’s rock-bottom coal auction prices
A new analysis by The Reporters’ Collective revealed that the state of Chhattisgarh in India will lose ₹900 crore (~USD 120 million) in revenue from its coal blocks every year due to the rock-bottom prices agreed upon by the Central government in the latest round of coal blocks within its territory. The average price at which the Gare Palma IV/1 block was auctioned in this round was around ₹342/tonne, which is only a fifth of the ₹1,585/tonne that it fetched in 2015. The bids received in the latest round have been very low since the DISCOMs’ debts have only grown since 2015 and due to non-payment of dues, coal power producers are unable to offer anything higher. Among other factors, the country’s coal power demand has also been shrinking, which has led bidders — most of them private — to spend much less in procuring the fuel.
US judge rules against Biden-backed Willow drilling project
A federal judge in the US ruled against the Willow drilling project in Alaska, which was hurriedly okayed by the Trump administration and was then curiously backed by the Biden government. The judge ruled that the project’s environmental impact assessment plan was not satisfactory in terms of its impact on polar bears, that it did not account for the greenhouse gas emissions from foreign oil consumption, and that it did not adequately take into account reasonable alternatives. While Alaska’s governor called it “a horrible decision” as the project could have resulted in 180,000 barrels of oil per day, environmental activists have praised the ruling.