India’s new public transport infrastructure is less than watertight

Newsletter - September 3, 2020

Underwater too often: Large infrastructure projects such as metro rail networks run the risk of worsening urban water logging unless they are specifically adapted to climate change impacts | Photo: Rajya Sabha TV

India’s new public transport infrastructure is less than watertight

Extreme rain events interspersed with irregular distribution across the Indian landscape have been the standout features of yet another tumultuous monsoon season. While dangerous levels of flow in rivers across the country after an unusually wet August led to devastating floods in the countryside, urban India has not been able to escape inundation either.

Over the past two months, practically every major city in the country has reported crippling waterlogging issues following spells of moderate to heavy rainfall. Under the current developmental paradigm, urbanisation is an unstoppable process. At the same time though, the effects of climate change have become readily evident in recent years. Predictions of fewer but more intense days of rain have escaped the binds of academic journals and have now very much become a feature of India’s climatic patterns. As India jostles with these realities, a clash between the need for critical public infrastructure and environmental adaptability seems inevitable.

In an effort to gauge how this clash is being navigated within India’s developmental aspirations, CarbonCopy takes a look at Metro rail projects that have sprung up across the country’s biggest cities.

Destruction and disruption

This year, social media was inundated with videos of Mumbai’s Girgaum Chowpatty filled to the brim, with residents unable to distinguish where the road ended and the sea began. A common complaint from residents of South Mumbai, an area of the city that is not usually prone to flooding, was the unbelievable rise of water levels in localities across the region. The reason, they believe, is the ongoing Metro work for the Colaba-Seepz line and the reclamation work for the coastal road, which has been undertaken in full-flow around the time the city went into lockdown. 

Just how much has the Metro work contributed to this development? A lot, according to Stalin Dayanand, director of the Mumbai-based NGO, Vanashakti, who says that Mumbai’s waterlogging woes this year have been deepened by poor construction planning and implementation. “They have excavated close to 3 lakh MT of mud, which was supposed to be sent to quarries outside Mumbai and areas in Raigad where ports are being constructed. They were supposed to be sent by barges to avoid traffic congestion in the city due to dumpers moving in and out. Not a single barge left the city. All of the mud found its way to the wetlands in Mumbai and the Uran area. So a problem was created not only within the city but also outside it,” Dayanand says. 

A more permanent problem, however, is the layout of the project itself, which according to Dayanand obstructs natural drainage to the sea. “The rainwater has no way of reaching the sea because of the work. They are blindly bulldozing for the tunnels without mapping the aquifers and the water is not finding an outlet. Until it finds a new route the water will stagnate. All development agencies have failed to study this aquifer system and continue to resist doing it.”

And it isn’t just Mumbai that seems to have disrupted pre-existing drainage paths, similar allegations have also been launched against the Metro rail project in Jaipur. While the historic city is famous for its underground drainage system that dates back several centuries, decades of neglect, encroachment and haphazard construction has seen this network decimated. The massive excavation and re-concretisation carried out as a part of the Metro rail construction in Jaipur, which started in 2016, exposed and built over the remnants of an extensive network of historic tunnels, drains and canals. Incidentally, the city has since seen at least one flash flood and spells of inundation nearly every year following heavy rain events. Experts opine that the Metro rail project is likely to have to have further exacerbated this drainage network’s demise, which has added to the pink city’s vulnerability to waterlogging. The situation this year was particularly bad as a spell of heavy rain in August was followed by severe waterlogging across the city, which saw a sea of silt bury anything that stood in its way.

Weather made worse by planning

While Metro rail constructions have added to existing drainage issues in cities like Mumbai or Jaipur, the problem is a new one in cities like Bhopal or Indore. While the need for such a system in these cities, which have moderate populations of under 2.5 million is debatable, what is not debatable, according to urban planners, is that the Indore and Bhopal Metro rail projects provide textbook examples of aspirational development taking precedence over sustainable development, which has led to reduced natural resource management capacities.

The state’s Transit Oriented Development (TOD) policy draft from 2018 for the Metro project provides a glimpse of the lopsided objectives driving urban public infrastructure development in the state. While the draft bats for high intensity development along Metro rail corridors, there is no mention of surface water management or waterlogging risks. Prakhar Rathi, the urban town planner, who analysed the Bhopal and Indore Metro rail projects for CarbonCopy, said the projects have allowed a 500 metre (Walking Distance) of influence area along the Metro track for transit-oriented development. That will increase the surface run-off whereas  widening of natural drainage to increase the carrying capacity in the Metro influence areas was not considered.

“Low-lying areas and topography of the area were not considered in the feasibility of the project, which will result in haphazard development and making the area vulnerable to flash floods,” he added. Experts also point out that Bhopal Metro rail has been proposed to be built near the Bhoj Wetland, including at the Ramsar site of Lower Lake, which will impact the ecology of the area.

The impacts of these projects were evident this year as both Bhopal and Indore (which are not prone to flooding) reported severe waterlogging and urban flooding while battling record levels of rain in August. 

The lack of planning for the Metro rail in Pune, a city of 3.1 million residents, is even more egregious on the face of it. Being implemented by the Maharashtra Metro Rail Corporation, the Pune Metro project, has been shrouded in controversy from the get-go. In 2015, the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) cited cost considerations to submit a revised alignment plan for the Metro route that now runs along the Mutha river as opposed to the earlier route, which ran almost parallel to the river. The Metro construction has begun right on the riverbed, which is a prohibitive zone. 

In deep water: A swollen Mutha river afterwater was released from the Khadakwasla dam in September 2019 | Photo: Indian Express

“We filed a case in the National Green Tribunal (NGT) against this change in alignment,” says environmentalist Sarang Yadwadkar. This led to the formation of an expert committee by the NGT, which included one scientist from the Maharashtra State Biodiversity Board (MSBB), who was supposed to investigate any impact to the biodiversity, one from the MPCB, who was to check on pollution levels and one from NEERI, who was to check on the flood levels.

“The report they submitted to the NGT was completely in favour of the Metro project, prompting the NGT to give the green signal to the project. We challenged this in the Supreme Court, which ruled the committee had not heard the petitioners in the case and asked them to hear us out and then file another report to the NGT.”

There are 59 Metro piers built in the riverbed. According to Yadwadkar, the first report by the committee misrepresented the width of the river around every pier, which skewed the estimated flood levels. “We checked this chart with Google images and found that the actual width of the river was much narrower than what had been mentioned in the report. Therefore, the flood level mentioned in the report was much lower than what it would be in reality. We presented this discrepancy to the expert committee. They submitted a report to the NGT stating they arrived at these numbers based on cross-sections from the irrigation department.”

“When we verified the irrigation department cross-sections with the measurements given by the expert committee, we found that the latter had measured the river width to be 25.33% more than the actual width,” he adds. When presented with this data, the committee, Yadwadkar says, then revealed that the river width was actually based on numbers given to them by the Maharashtra Metro Rail Corporation. “They did not verify the numbers when they received them from MahaMetro. The committee then filed a report in the NGT admitting there were discrepancies in the figures mentioned in the report.”

In August of last year, many areas upstream of the 59 Metro piers built on the riverbed were filled with water after 45,474 cusec of water was released from the Khadakwasla dam. The blue line of the Mutha river is 60,000 cusec. The flooding proved the point the environmentalists were trying to make.

“Pune is a flood-prone city by way of its location and therefore it is important that this study is conducted once again. The magnitude of the Metro construction in the river is also much larger than what has been mentioned to the NGT, which has further aggravated the flood levels,” Yadwadkar says.  

The lack of coordination continues

In Kochi, which has already experienced multiple flood-like situations this year, the Kochi Metro Rail Corporation Ltd is more than just the implementing agency for the city’s Metro rail network. Its duties in the coastal city have extended to all kinds of public works, which have little to do with the Metro rail and this has resulted in severe deficit of coordination with other departments and local bodies, according to D Dhanuraj, chairman of Kochi-based Centre for Public Policy Research. “Waterlogging is a legacy issue for Kochi and flood-like situations are not new. However, there has been uptick in this in recent years due to unplanned development and haphazard construction, which has interfered with the city’s open canal drainage system,” says Dhanuraj. The route map of the Kochi Metro rail has substantial overlap with Kochi’s waterlogging prone zones and poorly planned construction has potentially exaggerated the issue, adds Dhanuraj. “There have been allegations that the Metro rails road-widening activities have infringed on the city’s canal system and disrupted the flow in critical places.”

The main problem though, according to Dhanuraj, is the confusion and lack of coordination that has arisen out of the KMRL’s involvement in other public works. “Regarding the Metro rail, the KMRL has gone beyond its original aim of setting up the rail network and has gotten involved in all sorts of public works activities, which are unconnected to them. This has resulted in very poor coordination where different state agencies, departments and local elected bodies are not on the same page. This has not only led to poor planning that adds to the city’s vulnerability to extreme climate and natural events, it also erodes accountability and transparency that one seeks in institutions of governance.”

This lack of coordination and planning is not an exception, but seemingly a feature of Metro projects around the country. “When they widened the highway in Mumbai and concretised roads, authorities didn’t take into account the addition of Metro pillars. There is no coordination between the city’s development agencies in the planning stage. Mumbai needs a single planning authority to get its infrastructure going. Here we create problems and then run around looking for solutions,” Dayanand says.

Failing to keep pace with climate change

Even as the country struggles to contend with the spate of extreme rain and flooding events, there is little evidence to suggest that any lessons are being learnt for future endeavours.

For India’s many Metro rail projects, the lack of adaptability to climate change is borne right at conception with exemptions from environmental impact assessments. The lack of regulatory oversight means there is little incentive to include environmental and climate risks, and strategies for adaptation, in feasibility reports and detailed project reports. Unsurprisingly, vulnerability to waterlogging and flood risks are nowhere to be found in the vast majority. 

India’s response to urban flooding must move beyond constructing roadside drains with obsolete designs to incorporating green infrastructure measures, which has not only been shown to be cheaper, but also offer more than just upgrading, expanding or retrofitting traditional drainage systems.

There is no denying that critical infrastructure projects, particularly those that aid public mobility such as the Metro rail, are potential game-changers when it comes to energy and air pollution concerns. However, at the same time, these gains stand to be greatly compromised if these projects are not aligned with a future that is becoming more probable with each passing year. With the predicted changes in extreme precipitation events already underway, we are way past the point where lawmakers and development agencies must swallow the realities of climate change, and not just keep it at the tip of their tongues.

Climate Science

When it rains, it pours: Overall, India has recorded 8% excess rain this monsoon season | Photo: Accuweather

India, Pakistan and Sudan battle record rain, flood levels

Rain continued to lash several parts of India with the country recording its rainiest August in 44 years. The India Meteorological Department (IMD) recorded 25% excess rain this past month, almost as much as the 28.4% recorded in 1976. Overall, the country recorded 8% excess rain so far. 

In neighbouring Pakistan, Capital Karachi reported widespread flooding because of incessant rain last month (484mm) that shattered an 89-year-old record for August rain. Flooding in Sudan reached its highest levels on record, killing dozens of people and rendering several homeless. While flooding is a common occurrence during summer in this part of the world, this year has seen unprecedented levels that have spilled onto the streets and left large patches of farmland submerged. 

US turns extreme weather central as it battles wildfire and hurricanes

The US witnessed more extreme weather this past fortnight. While wildfires continued to rage in California largely because of a heatwave that recorded a high of 54.4°C – which could possibly be the highest temperature sustained till date on Earth — Hurricane Laura devastated the US Gulf Coast. An inland hurricane wreaked havoc in Iowa and left Chicago without electricity.

Environmentalists said they would send teams to assess the damage caused by Hurricane Laura to the petrochemical and oil production sites along the Gulf Coast to check for oil, gas and chemical releases. 

Fires across globe up by 13% from 2019’s record-breaking numbers: WWF report

As California firefighters work around the clock to douse some of the largest wildfires in the state’s history, a new report by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) revealed the outbreak of fires across the world is up by 13% from 2019’s record-breaking numbers. According to the report, fire seasons are also 20% longer than they were in the 1970s. The report also found 75% of the fires were man-made and have released carbon emissions that are equivalent to that released annually by all the EU countries combined.

Arctic Amplification caused more by atmospheric processes, not be sea ice loss: Study

Arctic Amplification, which is a phenomenon where climate warming is greater in the Arctic than at lower altitudes, occurs when atmospheric C02 is increased and not as much because of sea ice loss as was previously believed, according to a new study. In other words, atmospheric processes can alone cause Arctic Amplification. Although sea ice loss does cause warming, the response is not as rapid as it is when atmospheric CO2 is increased, the study stated. 

Meanwhile, scientists have zeroed in on the temperature of the last ice age — 7.8°C. The study, published in the journal Nature, found that the average global temperature of the ice age was 6 degrees Celsius (11 F) cooler than it is today.

Climate Policy

Walking the talk: UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres is pushing for environmental sustainability to be at the core of the COVID-19 economic recovery plan | Photo: Deccan Herald

Phase out coal, end fossil fuels, UN secy general tells India

United Nations General Secretary Antonio Guterres told India this past fortnight that the country must be ‘at the helm’ of leading efforts to combat climate change. Guterres, who was delivering the 19th Darbari Seth Memorial Lecture organised by The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), pushed for environmental sustainability to be at the core of economic recovery from the current global recession triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic. Guterres urged the Indian government to move away from coal and other fossil fuels, and further accelerate the clean energy transition in the country. 

500 scientists, academics urge govt to withdraw draft EIA 2020  

Scientists and researchers from leading institutions such the Indian Institute of Technology (the IITs) have urged the Union environment ministry to withdraw the draft Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification, 2020, saying it is likely to “seriously threaten our country’s ecological and environmental security.”

The open letter by five hundred scientists and academics says the Draft Notification neither adheres to the fundamental objectives of its parent legislation, the Environment (Protection) Act, 1983, nor does it align with India’s commitments under various international agreements and conventions.  The government has received around 1.7 million letters and emails with objections to the draft. 

The draft, released on March 23, has become contentious as it seeks to rewrite environmental regulations for infrastructure projects. The clauses include the regularisation of projects by allowing constructions or expansions before environmental clearance. Other concerns include proposals to shorten the time for public hearings to get consent of people affected by projects.

Union ministry exempts firms from making upfront NPV payments

In yet another example of how the COVID-19 pandemic is being used as an excuse to shirk off responsibility, the Union Ministry exempted firms from upfront payment of net present value (NPV) of the forests diverted for mining until March 31 next year, or up to two months after the Covid-19 pandemic ends, whichever is earlier. The mining firms had initially asked for the annualisation of NPV payments citing the economic downturn because of the pandemic. The ministry found this to be unfeasible, but instead allowed the firms some more time to make the payments. The exemption was given on the condition that an interest of 12% p.a. would be paid till then and thereafter. 

Uttarakhand draft ecotourism policy a threat to biodiversity?

The Uttarakhand government has come up with a draft policy that envisages using vast stretches of forests (which make up 65% of the state) for ecotourism activities. On paper, the draft policy is pushing for this to ensure livelihood for the locals, but environmentalists are concerned that the move could disrupt wildlife in the area, especially endangered species. 

‘70% data on afforestation incorrect or incomplete’

In a country where forests are already rapidly declining, does compensatory afforestation really add any value? Seems not according to a letter by Inspector General of Forest, AK Mohanty, which states that about 70% data on compensatory afforestation was “incorrect or incomplete”. The letter was sent to principal secretaries for forests of all states and Union territories. The letter highlighted discrepancies such as ‘improper digitisation of polygons resulting into mismatch with topographic features’, ‘uploading of polygons with digitisation errors’ and ‘incomplete quantitative and qualitative detail of plantations furnished in the attribute table’.

UN considers hosting extra meeting in 2021 ahead of COP26

In a bid to make up for lost time because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the UN is considering hosting an extra meeting in 2021 to help countries prepare ahead of the crucial COP26 summit, which will be held in November next year. The summit was to be held this year and had to be pushed along with a preparatory meeting to be held in Bonn, Germany. 

Forest clearances spiked in Indonesia during COVID-19 lockdown

Forest clearances spiked in Indonesia while the country was in lockdown this year mainly because travel restrictions crippled environmental law enforcement. According to data from the Global Land Analysis and Discovery (GLAD) laboratory at the University of Maryland, forest loss in Indonesia rose 50% in the first 20 weeks of 2020 compared to the same period in 2019.

UK won’t accept sponsorship from fossil fuel firms to host COP26

In a bold move, the UK government said it would not accept sponsorship from fossil fuel companies to host the UN climate summit in Glasgow next year. The country has been looking for sponsors to fund the event that will cost an estimated £250 million. This is a huge change from previous years where polluting behemoths sponsored the event in order to appear ‘green-friendly’. For COP26, however, the UN expects sponsors to have a detailed plan on cutting emissions to net zero by 2050.

Air Pollution

Little progress: Indian green court has ordered pollution control board to set up 175 AQI monitoring stations across the country | Photo: Sentinel Assam

Green court: Set up 175 air pollution monitoring stations, conduct Carrying Capacity study

India’s green court, the National Green Tribunal (NGT), has ordered the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) to set up 175 air quality monitoring stations across the country within six months using the environmental compensation fund (EC). The CPCB was told to hold online meetings with the heads of state pollution control boards to monitor the work. The court ordered more stations to be set up after CPCB said 173 stations have already been established.

The court also ordered that state pollution control boards should conduct Source Apportionment and Carrying Capacity studies using the environmental compensation money. Carrying Capacity marks the limit of the number of people at a location without the risk of degrading its environment. Earlier, the NGT had criticised the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) 2024 deadline for reducing air pollution by 30% saying that clean air was people’s fundamental right and it should be provided immediately. The NGT has asked the Centre to modify the NCAP.

Delhi records cleanest air day since records began

Delhi recorded its cleanest air quality day since monitoring began in 2015 on August 31 with an AQI of 41. It is the result of incessant rain for over the past two weeks, less air pollution because of COVID-19-related lockdown and good winds, experts said. Delhi received 364.8 mm rainfall in August, 30% above normal for the city in the wettest August in 12 years.

According to the Central Pollution Control Board’s (CPCB), it was also the fourth ‘good’ air day recorded over a month since 2015. A total of five ‘good’ days have been recorded this year so far, the first one being on March 28, five days after the lockdown began. According to the CPCB data. 2015 and 2016 did not record any ‘good’ days. The year 2017 recorded two good days on July 30 and 31, with AQI readings of 43 and 47, respectively.

Power minister: Extend coal plants’ emissions deadline by 2 more years  

The power ministry is recommending extending the 2022 deadline to install emission-reducing technology by two more years for 322 units. The coal plants have already got such extensions twice. They were supposed to install the technology in 2017. Power minister RK Singh said the extension is necessary. 

A total of 448 units are supposed to be retrofitted with the anti-emission flue-gas desulfurization (FGD) systems — which remove SO2 from exhaust flue gases. So far, bids have been awarded for 130 units and FGD has been commissioned for four of these units. The industry is not interested in costly FDG because it will increase the tariffs, making it tough to get bank finance.

India’s ageing coal plants are highly polluting. Even new ones are struggling to get customers. The old ones continue to sell costly power because of long-term power purchase agreements (PPAs) with discoms. Experts say they are indispensable for integrating large-scale RE to back the variable nature of RE generation. According to the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) study only 1% of the total coal-fired power plant capacity have installed the mandatory FGD systems. 

Telangana launches live app to report air pollution complaints 

Telangana launched the TSAIR app to receive real-time complaints on air pollution by users, including citizens’ reports about biomass burning, construction sites and pollution from cars and bikes. The app launched by Telangana Pollution Control Board also shares noise pollution data. The app provides data from monitoring stations run by the board and 40 CAAQMS air quality stations run by private enterprises. Additionally, the app will have real-time data from 10 noise metres installed at different locations in the city. 

Exposure to air pollution in infancy damages lung power in adolescents 

A new study revealed that if babies are exposed to air pollution even lower than the EU standards until they are a year old, they suffer from reduced lung function as adolescents. The EU annual average for PM2.5 is 25 µg/m3, compared to the WHO limit of 10 µg/m3. Both the WHO and EU limits for nitrogen dioxide are 40 µg/m3.

Researchers conducted the study on 915 children living in the Munich and Wesel regions of Germany. The children had tests to measure their breathing at the ages of 6, 10 and 15. The study compared the results with estimated levels of pollution in the areas the children had lived until they were a year old, including factors such as  parental smoking.

Another study found that adults who were exposed to even low levels of air pollution were more likely to develop asthma. Conducted on a sample of 23,000 Danish nurses, the researchers found a 29% rise in asthma risk for each increase of 6.3 micrograms per cubic metre (µg/m3) in small particulate matter known as PM2.5. They also found a 16% rise in asthma risk for each 8.2 µg/m3 increase of nitrogen dioxide.


Unmatched! India will struggle to match low solar tariffs in Gulf, but Indian tariffs will continue to fall 5-10% annually in next 10 years | Photo: Arab News

UAE, Saudi Arabia solar tariffs less than half of India’s

According to IEEFA and JMK research, the solar tariffs in UAE and Saudi Arabia work out less than a rupee per unit, which is far cheaper than India’s lowest tariffs of Rs2.36 per unit. 

According to the researchers, the tax and financial policy of each country determines the tariffs. IEEFA says UAE and Saudi Arabia have long-term loans at low-interest rates, they don’t have corporate taxes, their duties on equipment are negligible, and land costs are low. The countries also have lower return on equity (ROE). India cannot compete with these factors, which is why the gulf tariffs are at a record low.

Experts also pointed out that the tariff gap will only widen if Indian government continues to impose permanent basic Customs duty on solar imports from China.

Oxford study: Most power companies investing less in RE, more in fossil fuels

In a worrying trend, an Oxford University research found that only one in 10 global electric utilities companies they studied are prioritising investments in renewable energy over investments in their fossil fuel plants. The study researching over 3,000 power plants found they continue to invest heavily in fossil fuels and some are aggressively promoting their polluting power plants. Only 10% of the companies in the sample were investing in renewable energy capacity at a rate faster than their expansions in coal or gas-fired capacity. 

Solar PV most popular power technology globally: BNEF

According to  BloombergNEF research, among all energy generation technologies, Solar PV ranked the most popular globally. Its built capacity reached 118 GW last year, exceeding all others in new-build terms and was the most sought-after in one-third of the nations in 2019. As a new technology added to the grid, Solar PV dominated in dozens of countries, including India, Italy, Australia, Namibia, Uruguay and the US in 2019.

SECI’s July payment to solar, wind energy firms at $70.2 million, $7.7 million in subsidies

Indian government agency Solar Energy Corporation of India (SECI) paid $70.2 million to solar and wind energy developers in  July 2020. This is 75% of its total payments of $92.9 million in July 2020. SECI also paid ~$1.5 million in reimbursements to solar companies, which included ₹83.5 million (~$1.1 million) in Goods and Services Tax (GST) reimbursements and ₹27.8 million (~$375,045) towards Safeguard Duty (SGD). 

SECI also released about ₹570 million (~$7.7 million) in subsidies. It paid ₹10.5 million (~$141,654) towards subsidies under the Central Public Sector Undertaking (CPSU) Programme, ₹54.6 million (~$736,599) under the Rooftop Programme, and ₹504.9 million (~$6.8 million) in subsidies under the Viability Gap Funding (VGF) programme, Mercom reported based on SECI statement.

The arrest refund of GST and safeguard duty payments claims went to Wardha Solar (Maharashtra), Azure Power India, Clean Sustainable Energy Private Limited, Parampujya Solar Energy. 

India may be hit by rise in solar module prices in China

As a bulk importer of solar equipment from China, India may be hit by the rise of solar prices in China for the first time since 2017, reported ET. Among the reasons for the price hike is the explosion at the factory of GCL Poly in China that controls 30% of global solar module supplies. Secondly, floods in China’s southeast forced another big poly-silicon producer Tongwei to shut operations.  

According to Bridge to India data, the cost of a single multi-crystalline solar module rose up to over $17 from $16-16.5. The price of a mono-crystalline module has risen to $18-19 from about $17.5, which will translate to an estimated Rs0.07/kWH in impact, BTI said. India imports 85% of solar equipment from China.  Industry experts said this will cause a significant drop in the earning of solar developers. Because of the impact on the supply chain, Chinese module suppliers are not sticking to agreed rates in signed contracts unless higher prices are paid, the report said.

Tamil Nadu regulator asks discom to clear dues of 3 wind energy firms with 10% interest 

The Tamil Nadu State Electricity Regulatory Commission (TNERC) ordered the state distribution company, Tamil Nadu Generation and Distribution Company (TANGENCE), to clear ₹24.1 million (~$321,701) in dues to wind generators KBD Sugars and Distilleries Limited, DA Srinivas, and DA SathyaPrabha along with interest at 10% towards delayed payments.

As per the power purchase agreement, the discom has to pay interest if the dues are not cleared in the stipulated period of one week. The petitioners also claimed ₹148,062 (~$1,978) in court fees. the regulator said the rate at which the interest is payable by the discom for the late payment remains to be settled.

State-owned power firm NTPC forms renewable subsidiary to meet 2032 targets

The National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) received approval from NITI Aayog and the Department of Investment and Public Asset Management (DIPAM) to set up a wholly owned company for its renewable energy business. The subsidiary, NTPC Renewable Energy Business, will be incorporated under the provisions of the Companies Act, 2013. 

The move to form a renewable subsidiary is significant because the state-owned power company, which is already generating 1.1 GW of renewable energy, plans to generate nearly 30% or 39 GW of its overall power capacity from renewable energy sources by 2032. The state firm last year also ventured into the electric mobility sector and invited vendors to enlist for the infrastructure development of electric vehicle charging stations.

India launches Green Term-Ahead Market to buy and sell RE, help firms meet RPOs

India launched the Green Renewable Energy Term Ahead Market (G-TAM) that will help states with surplus renewables to sell while the buyers will be able to procure energy as well as meet the renewable purchase obligations (RPOs). 

GTAM contracts will have different categories of contracts including Intraday, Day Ahead Contingency, Daily and Weekly Contracts. For the Intraday & Day Ahead Contingency Contract bids will take place on a 15-minute time-block wise MW basis. For Daily & Weekly Contracts bids will take place on an MWh basis. Both buyers and sellers can submit the bids.

Electric Vehicles

Now with an e-bus connect: The tourist hotspot of Udaipur will soon be connected to Jaipur and Jodhpur via electric buses that will run for 600km every day, courtesy the state transport dept. | Photo: EnchantingTravels

600km electric buses approved for Rajasthan

The Rajasthan State Road Transport Commission (RSRTC) has approved plans to induct electric buses that will run for 600km every day—the highest in India so far—between the tourist hubs of Jaipur, Udaipur and Jodhpur, and between Delhi, Agra and Jaipur. The buses will be equipped with li-ion batteries and 245kW motors, and will be manufactured in Jaipur by GreenCell Mobility and Mozev (Mytrah Mobility). This is also the first electric bus contract issued by the RSRTC as part of establishing a “green corridor” between its tourist destinations. 

India to start manufacturing supercapacitors at Kannur, Kerala

State-owned electronics firm Keltron (Kerala) has signed an MoU with Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre at Indian Space Research Organisation (VSSC/ISRO) to manufacture supercapacitors using the most advanced technology currently available. Supercapacitors have evinced a lot of interest from EV manufacturers and energy storage firms for their ability to be used in parallel with batteries and fuel cells to repeatedly discharge heavy doses of energy. This makes them useful for applications that need frequent bursts of peak power. 

They can also be re-charged within seconds. In fact, a new report suggests electric buses and light trains running on supercapacitors could be recharged in an eye-watering 20 seconds

California’s low-income families in wildfire-prone regions to get free battery backup systems

USA’s solar energy provider Sunrun has tied up with non-profit organisation GRID Alternatives to distribute free battery backup systems to low-income homes that fall within California’s wildfire-prone regions. While the systems may not include solar panels, the systems will be distributed at a time when California is battling its worst wildfires in decades and rolling blackouts due to the high temperatures fanning demand for air conditioners. 

The gesture is particularly timely as low-income families in areas prone to fires and power shut-offs reportedly spend up to three times as much on power bills as their wealthier counterparts. The initiative is funded by the state’s Self-Generation Incentive Programme (SGIP) Equity Resiliency Budget and comes with 10 years of free maintenance and monitoring. 

Europe expects a ‘V’ shaped recovery in BEV sales, California approves 40k EV chargers

Automakers in Europe are expecting a V-shaped recovery in car sales (a sharp rebound) owing to the rapid rise in popularity of battery electric vehicles. Hybrids, plug-in hybrids and EVs together accounted for 18% of auto sales in August, up from 7.5% last September. Registrations for EVs, in particular, have doubled in the past 10 months, while registrations for plug-in hybrids are up 4X—both in large part due to EU governments offering heavy subsidies on ‘alternative’ vehicles. 
California has approved funding worth $437 million to install nearly 40,000 EV chargers across the state to help achieve its target of putting five million zero emission vehicles on its roads by 2030. The plan is to install 50% of the chargers in low-income communities, and 30% in multi-family residences.

Fossil Fuels

Puncturing the pristine? The Norwegian government is considering allowing oil and gas drilling on the edge of the Arctic ice sheet despite environmental and economic concerns | Photo:

Norway likely to approve plans to drill for oil at the very edge of Arctic ice sheet

The Norwegian government has closed a round of public consultations on whether to start drilling for oil and gas at the very edge of the Arctic ice sheet in summer (June), and rumors are that Oslo may approve the plans, even though any oil spill in the region may be disastrous for the yet pristine ecosystem. The nine new oilfields in question are risky in terms of profitability as well, and the region itself is currently regulated under the Svalbard treaty. There are also fears that Norway’s venture could spark a military standoff with neighbouring Russia, which governs the adjoining Franz Josef Land archipelago. 

The Norwegian government has been sent an open letter by Greenpeace, Nature & Youth, WWF and Friends of the Earth Norway, urging that the decision be reconsidered as there is no technology yet to clean up oil spills in the frigid waters of the Arctic. 

CSE finds serious faults with India’s decision to auction new coal blocks

A new study released by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) has raised serious questions over the Indian government’s decision to auction 41 new coal blocks, saying that developing the blocks would come at the expense of dense forest cover and indigenous inhabitants. The study points to the fact that since 2015, making way for new coal mines has led to the destruction of 19,000 hectares of forest cover (that was home to one million trees) and the displacement of more than 10,000 families. 

The CSE also says that the process of evaluating land as “Go” or “No-Go”, by which it is declared as “inviolate” to any development activity, is itself a farce as the parameters and the final decision can be tweaked—as has been revealed in the minutes of meetings. According to CSE Director Sunita Narain, “In 2020, of the 41 blocks put up for auction, 21 feature in the original No-Go list”. 

The report further points out that the thermal power sector — the major consumer of coal — is not expected to recover from its problems, and that out of all the mines auctioned since 2015, 67% were still not operational, which highlights the poor response to coal as a fuel for India’s target of energy security. 

Bangladesh considers moving to LNG instead of coal over fuel’s poor prospects

Bangladesh, one of the largest Asian customers of new coal capacity, is considering switching its 13GW worth of new coal projects to LNG as its Ministry of Power, Energy and Mineral Resources says the projects have made poor progress and secured little to no financing. The ministry is considering natural gas because of its lower emissions and costs, and the country may double its currency daily gas imports to 2,000 million cubic feet (mmcf) by 2030. It will, however, continue developing 5,371 MW of coal projects that are already underway, while it also has 8,750 MW of LNG projects in the pipeline. 

Bangladesh has been a key beneficiary of coal power financing, including from several Chinese banks. 

Australia may use green energy money to finance gas projects, NSW eyeing 21 new coal mines 

New legislation introduced to the Australian parliament could allow for the taxpayer-funded Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) to finance natural gas projects, which has been justified under the pretext of building capacity that can be easily ramped up to balance the grid. The funding may be channelled under the “Grid Reliability Fund”, which is designed to help it bypass the CEFC’s requirement that at least 50% of the fund be invested in renewable energy. For its part, however, the legislation does propose pumped hydro storage as well. 

On the other hand, the state of New South Wales (NSW) could push through its mining council’s proposal to develop 21 new coal projects, bizarrely to pull the country out of the economic shocks of the Covid-19 pandemic, blazing forest fires and persistent drought. The proposal is part of a report titled “Mining for the Recovery” and argues that it is necessary to develop new coal mines to generate around 10,000 new jobs, even though the report also concedes that domestic demand for coal is low. If approved, the University of NSW estimates that the mines could together release 3,7171 million tons of CO2 emissions over their lifetimes—equivalent to seven years of Australia’s annual greenhouse gas emissions. 

ExxonMobil shunted out of Dow Jones, Norway’s Storebrand ASA jettisons ExxonMobil stock

US oil and gas giant ExxonMobil has fallen off the Dow Jones Industrial Average listing of stocks after it first joined the rankings back in 1928, as its value has shrunk to $175 billion from $400 billion in the 2000s. Much of the decline has been due to the falling value of oil and gas stocks, and ExxonMobil will be replaced by—which is a software firm that “better reflects the American economy”, according to the index. 
Shares of ExxonMobil (and Chevron, another American oil and gas giant) have also been dropped by Norway’s Storebrand ASA, which is a life insurance firm that manages around $91 billion worth of assets. It has also jettisoned its oil stocks from its Swedish unit and has been on the forefront of bringing together international pressure on Brazil over its clearing of the Amazon rainforest.