National oil companies looking to torpedo oil’s big ‘turning point’?

Newsletter - June 4, 2021

Getting squeezed: International oil companies have been at the receiving end of shareholder opposition and legal pressure to accelerate climate action and decarbonisation efforts | Photo: Raconteur

National oil companies to torpedo oil’s big turning point?

The climate action spotlight that had so far remained focused on coal seems to be dilating to include oil and gas, but a hasty move away from fossil fuels remains far from a foregone conclusion.

May turned out to be one of the worst months for Big Oil. Last week, oil and gas giants Shell, Chevron and Exxon each received monumental setbacks from courts and investors over their “non-concrete” climate policies. A Dutch court ordered Shell to halve emissions, Exxon lost two board seats to activist investors, and shareholders forced Chevron to lower emissions and account for burning their fossil fuel products.

A week earlier, the International Energy Agency (IEA) stated, in the clearest terms so far, that oil and gas investments will have to be stopped if global warming is to be limited to the lower Paris Agreement threshold of 1.5°C. IEA’s net-zero pathway for the energy sector is expected to add to the pressure on the world’s biggest economies to cut funding for oil and gas in the run up to the G7 meeting to be held in a week’s time. But while Big Oil is finally feeling the heat from climate change thanks to courts and investors, gaps left by private firms are likely to be filled by their national counterparts, experts warn. 

Goliaths falling all around

Last December, in a David versus Goliath contest, a small hedge fund named Engine No. 1, with a tiny $40 million stake in ExxonMobil, revolted against the company’s inadequate climate policy. Six months later, two directors backed by Engine No. 1 were elected to the company’s board by shareholders, against the wishes of company management, over concerns that the firm is failing to transition to clean energy and its miserable recent financial performance. 

A study by climate scientist Geoffrey Surpran revealed that ExxonMobil used rhetoric of climate “risk” and consumer energy “demand” to construct a “Fossil Fuel Savior” (FFS) frame that downplayed the reality and seriousness of climate change, normalised fossil fuel lock-in. The study pointed out that a risk is something that may or may not happen, so in talking about the risk of climate change, ExxonMobil implied that it was not a reality — even after scientists had clearly demonstrated that it was underway and doing damage. Experts say even today ExxonMobil, Chevron and ConocoPhillips refer to damage caused climate change as a “risk” rather than reality.

And it isn’t just Exxon that is facing the ire of activist shareholder groups. Last month, BP managed to fend off pressure from Dutch shareholder activist group Follow This, which argued that the oil giant was not doing enough to address its emissions. BP has been among the more ambitious oil and gas majors when it comes to climate change, with a plan to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. Still, this has not saved them from critical scrutiny from large investors and shareholders. Last week, asset management firm BlackRock, which owns 6.8% equity in BP, announced that it was backing the Follow This resolution against the BP board. 

While drama was unfolding in Exxon’s board room, Shell was receiving a body blow of its own in a Dutch courtroom in the Hague. Shell, already facing the ire of shareholders, was ordered by a Dutch court to cut emissions by 45% on 2019 levels by 2030. Campaigners say the court order to Shell to cut emissions in line with the Paris Agreement has significant long-term implications on the oil and gas industry. The verdict questions their entire approach to business and it may force them to spend less money looking for new oil and gas.

Campaigners note that the whole fossil fuel business model is based on an assumption that climate commitments are non-binding, and that’s what the companies communicate to the shareholders, but this ruling will change that. If shareholders and courts make it impossible for oil and gas companies to operate, the so-called non-binding Paris deal will become a binding reality.

Roger Cox, lawyer for the Dutch environmental organisation Milieudefensie, expects the Shell verdict to have a global impact. “People around the world are getting ready to follow our example and take oil companies to court. And that’s not all. Oil companies will become much more reluctant to invest in polluting fossil fuels,” he said. 

The ruling, while significant, has not come out of the blue. The Dutch government has twice lost legal battles in the Dutch courts and was forced to raise emission reduction targets from 17% to 25% to match the UN target (25%-45%) for developed countries. The court had rejected the government’s argument that there was a huge gap between international obligations and what would actually be needed to meet the 2℃ target saying that the country agreed that measures should be taken to limit temperatures and it does not take away the state’s “independent duty of care” to protect and improve living environment.

Experts see the new Shell verdict as a massive win for future generations in the battle against fossil fuels. “The decision marks several legal firsts with global implications. It is the first time that a court has found that a company has a legal duty to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions in line with the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement. It is also the first time that international human rights standards have been used to inform a binding emissions-reduction obligation for a company. Just as importantly, the court set a new precedent by scrutinising and rejecting some of the most common arguments used by the fossil fuel industry to justify its business model,” writes Tessa Khan, human rights and climate crisis lawyer. Khan had argued against the Dutch government in a landmark 2019 case that saw the Supreme Court of Netherlands order the government to cut its greenhouse gas emissions.

The IEA clarion call to end fossil fuels

Last month, IEA released the world’s first comprehensive study on how to transition to a net-zero energy system by 2050. According to the report, no new investments in oil and gas projects should be approved if the world is to reach net-zero emission targets by 2050 and limit warming to 1.5°C. It also predicts that by 2035, there will be no sales of new internal combustion (IC) engine passenger cars, and by 2040, the global electricity sector will have already reached net-zero emissions.

The special report is designed to inform the high-level negotiations that will take place at the 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26) of the United Nations Climate Change Framework Convention in Glasgow in November.

The IEA report goes on to say that commitments made by countries till date are not enough to achieve the global pathway to net-zero by 2050. More countries have joined the race to net-zero emissions, however, most pledges are not underpinned by new-term policies and measures. Even if the countries successfully achieve their pledges, it would leave around 22 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions worldwide by 2050, the IEA report states.

According to the IEA’s pathway, the share of fossil fuels in the global energy supply would need to fall from around four-fifths currently to one-fifth by 2050. Solar and wind energy capacity, on the other hand, would have to be expanded rapidly. The report emphasises that advanced economies need to reach net zero before emerging markets and developing economies and assist others to fulfil their targets.

“The clean energy transition is for and about people,” said Dr Fatih Birol, IEA executive director. “Our roadmap shows that the enormous challenge of rapidly transitioning to a net zero energy system is also a huge opportunity for our economies. The transition must be fair and inclusive, leaving nobody behind. We have to ensure that developing economies receive the financing and technological know-how they need to build out their energy systems to meet the needs of their expanding populations and economies in a sustainable way.”

Still a question of national commitment

Even as the impact of IEA’s report made waves, the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) dropped another bombshell. According to its latest climate update, there is a 40% chance that the 1.5°C threshold is likely to be temporarily breached in at least one of the next five years — a clear sign that a longer term breach is imminent. While recent reports are expected to gain traction as the COP26 climate talks draw closer, an immediate impact was apparent on governments of G7 nations that are due to meet on June 11-12.

Although the G7 has been found to still spend heavily on fossil fuels, an official communique jointly issued by environment ministers of the G7 group, immediately following the IEA report, commits to a phase out of most support for fossil fuel energy. “We will phase out new direct government support for carbon intensive international fossil fuel energy, except in limited circumstances at the discretion of each country, in a manner that is consistent with an ambitious, clearly defined pathway towards climate neutrality in order to keep 1.5°C within reach, in line with the long-term objectives of the Paris Agreement and best available science,” says the communique. 

While the upcoming G7 meeting is now firmly in focus as developed nations feel the heat to end support of the fossil fuel industries, other oil producing nations reportedly sense an opportunity. According to experts, as long as oil demand continues to hold or grow, cut-backs by G7 nations and private industry will likely be compensated by national oil companies (NOCs), operated particularly by OPEC nations, which are not facing the same pressures to deliver on net-zero plans or shareholder dissent. With NOCs currently accounting for about half of the world’s total oil supply, experts warn that big government-run firms such as Rosneft (Russia), Saudi Aramco (Saudi Arabia), Gazprom (Russia), CNPC (China) PDVSA (Venezuela) and Petrobras (Brazil) will likely increase production to fill gaps left by private international oil companies. “Resource-holding governments will want to maximise the value of their oil and gas revenues through the energy transition. If IOCs [International Oil Companies] progressively narrow their geographical focus and keep budgets tight, NOCs will take more of a lead in proving up and commercialising resources,” writes Simon Flowers, chief analyst at Wood Mackenzie.

Another worry is the continued exploration and discovery of new oil fields, particularly around Africa, the North Sea and new areas opening up in the Arctic region. According to a report by the Natural Resource Governance Institute published in February this year, around $400 billion being poured into new exploration, primarily by NOCs, will not break even if the Paris Agreement target of limiting global warming to 2°C is to be met. This could grow to almost $1 trillion if decarbonisation efforts and carbon sequestration fail to pick momentum. Despite the pressure on Big Oil to back global decarbonisation efforts, industrial demand for oil remains an unresolved issue. Aligned sectors such as petrochemicals, plastics and other heavy industries are yet to find viable fuel alternatives even though demand in these industries are projected to continue rising at least over the next decade.

So what does this mean for the global clean energy transition movement? At best, it would mean oil has already peaked. Through sustained pressure and evolving green finance norms, there is a likelihood of greater decarbonisation momentum for oil and gas majors. At worst, the recent setbacks for the global oil and gas sector were merely a flash in the pan, with several national oil producers waiting eagerly to continue oil and gas expansions. How the cookie crumbles will ultimately depend on how successfully non-committal oil producing nations can be persuaded to join the decarbonisation movement. Leaders attending November’s ‘make or break’ COP 26 will be expected to a new chapter in the clean energy transition saga. The hope is oil and gas will be at its centre.

Climate Science

Crisis point: WMO’s latest climate update has flagged the likelihood of global average temperature rise breaching Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C in the next five years | Photo: Business Insider

40% chance of world hitting 1.5°C tipping point in next 5 years: WMO report

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) published a new climate update that predicted a 40% chance of the annual average global temperature temporarily reaching 1.5°C above the pre-industrial levels in at least one of the next five years. These odds will only increase in the years to come, the WMO’s Global Annual to Decadal Climate Update stated. The update, however, stated it was unlikely that the five-year mean annual global temperature for the entire 2021-2025 period will be 1.5°C warmer than pre-industrial levels. 

The report also stated that in the same time period, high-latitude regions and the Sahel in Africa will be wetter and there is a strong likelihood of the Atlantic witnessing more tropical storms compared to the 1981-2010 average.

Cyclone Yaas batters Odisha, West Bengal; experts link intensity to climate change

Cyclone Yaas made landfall in Odisha this past fortnight causing major devastation in its wake. At least 14 people died as the ‘very severe’ cyclone made its way through Odisha, Jharkhand and West Bengal. Experts blamed global warming for the intensity with which the cyclone made landfall. The cyclone recorded wind speeds between 130-140 kmph gusting to 155 kmph while crossing the coast.

Sea surface temperatures reached 30°C-31°C as the cyclone gathered speed in the Bay of Bengal, a trend that was also seen before Cyclone Tauktae in the Arabian Sea hit India’s west coast last month. According to experts, Indian seas have recorded higher than normal temperatures recently, thereby creating conditions that are conducive to frequent and rapidly intensifying cyclones. 

South India’s 2016-2018 drought worst in 150 years

A severe drought that hit Southern India between 2016 and 2018 was the worst the region has seen in the past 150 years, according to researchers in India and the US. The drought was a result of low rainfall during the northeast monsoon, which occurs during winter months, during that time period. The drought was severe enough for India’s six-largest city, Chennai, to declare a ‘Day Zero’ in summer 2019 as reservoirs went dry and groundwater levels dropped drastically. Such droughts have a considerable impact on agricultural production in the region, according to experts. Agriculture is the primary means of livelihood for more than 60% of the region’s rural population, which heavily depends on the winter monsoon. 

Amazon likely to be ravaged by severe fires this year, warn scientists

Persistent dry weather in the Amazon this year increases the risk of intense fires in the rainforest, scientists warned. A drought in the region could lead to destruction of biomes that are key to curbing climate change, according to Brazil’s national space research institute INPE. This trend was seen last year when dry weather led to massive fires in the Pantanal. This year, rainfall was sparse during the monsoon season – between November to April – in parts of the region known as the ‘arc of deforestation’, according to INPE data. The drought in the Pantanal was also more severe than the one in 2020, the data revealed.

Study establishes the vicious cycle of violence, vulnerability and climate change

A new research paper linked conditions that make a region vulnerable to climate change to a rise in the likelihood of “climate-conflict interactions”. The study used Yemen and Afghanistan as examples of “war-torn regions” that have endured severe humanitarian crises that are made worse by climate-related hazards. The study connected three fields of research to create a “unified conceptual model” to establish this link – determinants of social vulnerability to climate change, climatic drivers of armed conflict risk, and societal impacts of armed conflict. The study concluded by establishing a vicious circle of violence, vulnerability, and climate change impacts that these societies are trapped in. 

Greenland’s melting ice sheets leaking mercury: Study

Greenland’s melting ice sheets are most likely leaking toxic amounts of mercury, a new study revealed. Even though it is one of the most remote regions of the world, the water from the melting glaciers contain as much mercury as some of the most polluted regions of the world, according to the study that analysed meltwater in the southeast corner of the ice sheet. Researchers believe the mercury is being added from natural sources – possibly bedrocks beneath the ice. The levels, however, are concerning because the mercury is entering rivers and fjords, which are a source of fish for local communities.

Climate Policy

Major win: The NGT said encroachments in Gujarat’s Banni grasslands, home to the Maldharis, were because of poor coordination between the forest and revenue departments | Photo: Village Square

All encroachments in Banni grasslands to be removed in six months: India’s green court

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) ordered all encroachments in the Banni grasslands in Gujarat to be removed within six months. The court also directed a joint committee to come up with an action plan for the same in a month. The court was hearing a case filed by the region’s nomadic pastoral community, the Maldharis, who depend on the grasslands for their livelihood. The court also stated the Maldharis will continue to hold rights to conserve community forests in the area as per the provisions in  Section 3 of Forest Rights Act, 2006. The court acknowledged the encroachments were a result of a lack of coordination between the forest and revenue departments.  

Hirakud dam: NHRC seeks report from Odisha, Chhattisgarh on failure to resettle displaced families

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) ordered the chief secretaries of Odisha and Chhattisgarh to submit a comprehensive report on large-scale displacement due to the construction of the Hirakud Dam and the state governments’ failure to rehabilitate and resettle 26,000 families. The commission also asked its special rapporteur BB Misra to submit a probe report on the ground realities within eight weeks. 

The dam, which was built 70 years ago, submerged more than 360 villages covering more than 1.23 lakh acres of land, and displaced more than one lakh people. Supreme Court lawyer and human rights activist, Radhakanta Tripathy, who filed the case, stated in his petition that seven decades later, the third generation of the victims continue to fight for justice as a result of a “corrupt and lethargic bureaucracy”.  

UK banks provided £900 million in finance to deforestation firms

Research conducted by NGO Global Witness found British banks shelled out more than £900 million in finance to companies involved in deforestation for soy, palm oil and other commodities last year. The NGO analysed 2020 data on 300 companies. This information prompted British MP Neil Parish to table an amendment to the country’s Environment Bill, which imposes no restrictions on such finance, as it only covers companies involved in supplying goods. The amendment aims to force banks to conduct due diligence when supplying finance to companies fuelling deforestation.  

China looks to cut cooling costs by building undersea commercial data centre 

China’s southern island province of Hainan has begun constructing the world’s first undersea commercial data centre. The project is expected to be completed in five years. Through this project, China is aiming to cut the cost of cooling its power-hungry data centres and reduce the consumption of its traditional energy sources. According to experts, an undersea data centre would have greater power efficiency because of the consistently cool seawater, but reliability and investment returns remain huge question marks. 

Major countries launch coalition to boost decarbonisation of cement, steel

A coalition of governments, spearheaded by the UK and India, unveiled the Clean Energy Ministerial’s Industrial Deep Decarbonization Initiative (IDDI) this past fortnight. It aims to create demand in the market for low-carbon industrial materials, including more eco-friendly and sustainable cement and steel. IDDI has set a target of getting at least 10 countries to purchase these materials in the next three years. Other members of the coalition include UAE, Germany and Canada.

Air Pollution

Critical mission: A new national mission to use biomass in thermal power plants has been tasked with resolving India’s crop stubble burning problem | Photo: The Weather Channel

Stubble burning: India to set up National Mission for using biomass in coal plants

To fix the issue of air pollution caused by burning of crop stubble India plans to launch a National Mission on use of biomass in coal-based thermal power plants. 

The duration of the proposed National Mission would be a minimum five years. It will address the issue of supply chain of biomass pellets and agro-residue and its transport upto to the power plants. The government plans to increase the level of co-firing from the present 5% to higher levels to have a larger share of carbon neutral power generation from the thermal power plants and to take up take up R&D activity in boiler design to handle the higher amount of silica, alkalis in the biomass pellets. 

The National Mission on biomass will also contribute to the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP).

Study: Pollution from crop burning and forest fires stunts teen height, girls worst hit

A new study revealed that teenage girls exposed to high levels of biomass burning are shorter in height in the following years. Exposure to pollution from crop burning and forest fires during early years has long term consequences, the study has revealed. Girls from North Indian states are most vulnerable, researchers found. 

The study revealed that exposure during prenatal and postnatal periods is associated with lower height (by 0.7% or 1.07 cm) later in life. The study combined remote sensing data on biomass burning events with a pan-India survey on teenage girls (TAG survey). The scientists analysed regional and temporal variation in data to establish the link between occurrence of extremely high levels of biomass burning during early life and adolescent height for girls in India. 

Rampant coal fly ash pollution in 2020, power firms used lockdown to dump toxic waste? 

While social media users posted pictures of blue skies and view of Himalayas during the first COVID 19 lockdown in 2020 a new study by Healthy Energy Initiative India and Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment (LIFE) revealed heavy coal fly ash pollution based on their analyses of media reports of coal fly ash accidents from 7 states including Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, West Bengal and Maharashtra. 

The study highlighted a hazardous mismanagement of coal ash including routine incidents of coal ash pond collapse, air pollution and discharge of coal fly ash into rivers and other water bodies. Korba in Chhattisgarh, Ennore and Seppakkam in North Chennai reported multiple incidents and accidents related to fly ash mismanagement. Residents from coal hotspots complained that power companies used the COVID-19 lockdown to dump waste indiscriminately in the water bodies, villages and around the highways.

Subsidise conversion kits, convert 300 mn on-road vehicles to LPG to clean air: LPG lobby to govt

In order to tackle air pollution from vehicles sooner, the top LPG lobby in India said the government should adopt a near-term strategy to convert polluting diesel and petrol vehicles on the road by reducing the massive 28% GST being levied on conversion kits and offering subsidies to shift to cleaner LPG and CNG. The kits cost up to Rs25,000. The cost of LPG is 48% lower than petrol, they argued. Auto LPG was found to emit almost 52% less carbon monoxides (CO), 47% less total hydrocarbons (THC) and 50% less non-methane hydrocarbons (NmHC) as compared to petrol, the statement said.

Compared to BS VI fuel norms, the LPG emits 82% lower CO, 70% lower THC, 62% lower NmHC and 81% lower nitrogen oxide (NOx), the statement added. 

The Indian Auto LPG Coalition (IAC) said the government should convert an estimated 300 million vehicles currently running on the roads in India to LPG in order to improve India’s air quality in the near-term rather than wait for a decade for the mass adoption of electric vehicles

EU top court raps Germany over failure to clean up toxic air in cities

EU’s top court, the Court of Justice, pulled up the German government for consistently failing to clean up its dirty air in its cities, thereby endangering the lives of citizens. The court pointed out between 2010 and 2016, the country consistently exceeded the limits set for nitrogen dioxide levels. This is just one more example of how courts are increasingly becoming an important arena for campaigners and environmentalists to keep governments accountable. In April this year, Germany’s top court had pointed out how Chancellor Angela Merkel’s efforts to protect the climate were inadequate.

Biden proposes historic funding boosts to reduce air pollution in the worst hit states, tribes

The Biden administration massively raised the next year’s budget to curb air pollution, after years of stagnation. The 2022 budget request for Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) spending on state, local and tribal air regulators includes $153 million for EPA air and climate programmes, and $100 million to improve air quality monitoring and provide real time data on air pollution to disadvantaged communities. Science funding on air quality has been raised by $82 million,  $60 million for research into climate change and its impacts. 

Additional $100 million has been provided to fund grants to help states and tribes address greenhouse gas emissions. An amount of $59 million has been allocated  in targeted airshed grants to reduce pollution in communities with the Nation’s most polluted air. The budget also provides $150 million to reduce diesel emissions that can impose crippling pollution burdens on disadvantaged communities near transport corridors and facilities.

Study links asthma in infants to in-utero exposure to air pollution

According to a new American study, babies whose mothers were exposed to ultra-fine particles (UFPs) in the air during pregnancy are more likely to develop asthma. The UFPs are not regulated by the government, and they are more toxic than the larger particles that are routinely monitored and have also been linked to asthma, the Guardian reported.

The sources of UFPs include vehicles and wood burners and scientists said tens of thousands of particles can be found in each sugar-cube-sized volume of city air. The study assessed impacts on almost 400 mothers and their children through pregnancy and afterwards in Boston, US. The level of UFPs, smaller than 0.1 micrometre, ranged from about 10,000 to 40,000 per cubic centimetre of air, the study revealed. Scientists found that infants whose mothers had been exposed to levels of 30,000/cm3 during pregnancy were approximately four times more likely to develop asthma than those whose mothers had been exposed to levels of 15,000/cm3.

NOx pollution: Global nitrogen meet for the first time focuses on sustainable development goals

For the first time, the main focus of the International Nitrogen Initiative (INI) was the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The triennial global conference was hosted virtually by Germany’s Federal Environment Agency (UBA) from May 31 to June 3, 2021. 

Experts said reactive nitrogen compounds like NOx, ammonia and the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide impact air, water and soil quality, biodiversity and climate change. The sources of pollution are fertilisers, manures and sewage as well as vehicular pollution. To manage them sustainably is key to achieve the UN SDGs targeted for 2030. The conference will release the Berlin Declaration. 

Experts pointed out that nitrous oxide has upto 300 times higher global warming potential than carbon dioxide and the UK government is highlighting it in the run up to the UNFCC COP26 to be held at Glasgow in November this year, DTE reported.


Getting costlier? Costs of large scale solar projects have risen 5% in the first quarter of 2021 as solar modules became more expensive for the fourth quarter in a row | Photo: Mercom India

COVID19 impact: Cost of solar projects rose 5% in Q1 this year compared to 2020

The average cost of large-scale solar projects increased by 5% at nearly 3.7 crore per megawatt (MW) in first quarter of 2021, compared to the 3.5 crore per megawatt same time last year because of the rising costs of solar modules and hike in prices of raw material during pandemic, Mercom reported. The study added that large-scale solar project costs rose by 4% quarter-over-quarter (QoQ). The average cost per MW for rooftop solar installations was around ₹38 million (~$524.445)/MW, up 3% from the same period last year when costs stood at ₹36.9 million (~$509,242)/MW.

According to the report, solar module prices have risen for four quarters in a row for the first time in five years because of the impact of COVID-19. Module prices are expected to remain high this year because of supply shortages. 

Solar investments dip 30% in Q1, 2021 compared to last quarter of 2020: Study

The second wave of COVID 19 hit solar sector investments, which declined by 30% and stood at $1.04 billion in the first quarter (Q1) of 2021, compared to $1.49 billion in Q4 2020, Mercom reported. 

The RE consultancy Bridge to India cut the projections of India’s new solar power capacity addition to half for the second quarter of 2021 from 2.3 GW to 1.3 GW. However, India added 2.1 GW of grid-connected solar power generation capacity in the first quarter (Q1) of 2021. This rapid increase happened when the restrictions were lifted following the drop in the first wave of the pandemic. 

The total installed capacity reached 44.2 GW by March 31, 2021, the report stated. Tenders rose 40% during the same quarter compared to the last quarter of 2020. Auctions rose by 163% at 8.5 GW in Q1, 2021. Bridge to India reported that the reluctance of discoms to sign power-purchase agreements with developers was a major concern.

Solar glass maker Borosil’s revenue rise over 85% despite COVID19, domestic manufacturers say monopoly is killing their business

India’s sole solar glass manufacturer Borosil Renewables’ annual revenue in 2020-21 fiscal grew over 85% to Rs502.3 crore. Of this, nearly 22% was earned from exports. Despite COVID-19, Borosil’s profits were mainly driven by sales during the last quarter Q4 of FY 2021. Experts attributed this growth to a global crunch in glass supply caused by a spike in demand for solar glass in the local Chinese market. Around 95% of global solar glass is supplied by China. Borosil realised high prices for their glass at export rates both for domestic as well as exports markets. 

This has left the small domestic module manufacturers and buyers at the mercy of the company’s monopoly, which they said has been strengthened by the imposition of anti-dumping duty and countervailing duty on glass imports from Malaysia at the request of Borosil. Small manufacturers alleged this created an imbalance in the Indian solar market. 

Uttar Pradesh cancels 184 MW of solar projects bids, developers seek centre’s help

Solar companies have sought centre’s intervention to secure their contracts after Uttar Pradesh canceled them last week becoming the latest state government to cancel winning bids for 184-Mw discovered through auctions in February 2020. Uttar Pradesh New and Renewable Energy Development Agency (UPNEDA) alleged that the bids became time barred and infructuous because companies didn’t take any action after their bids were extended till March 2021. The companies said after the auction the UPNEDA did not release letters of Intent (LOIs) despite regular reminders, instead the agency extended the timeline of Bid Period Validity on various occasions. 

India set to generate 2.95 billion tonnes of solar waste by 2047: Study 

Scientists from the Indian Institute of Technology-Delhi estimated that if India deploys 347.5 GW of solar panels by 2030, around 2.95 billion tonnes of solar equipment could enter India’s electronic-waste stream by 2047. The scientists said the solar equipment waste would include critical metals worth around $645 trillion, 70% of which could be recovered. 

Researchers found that the $645 trillion figure would include 44% gold, 26% aluminum, 16% copper, and 10% silver. Metals including gallium, magnesium, indium, and tellurium would also contribute to the estimated value of the anticipated solar waste mountain, PV Magazine reported. 

Safeguard duty to end in July, developers keep fingers crossed for duty-free window

The solar safeguard duty imposed on imports to protect domestic manufacturers will end in July. Project developers are waiting to make the most of the rare duty-free period that will last from August 2021 to March 2022 to ramp up their module procurement. From April 2022, Casic Customs Duty (BCD) will be implemented. But there’s uncertainty in the sector over whether the safeguard duty will be extended until the BCD starts, or there will be a duty-free window after July.

Meanwhile, the Appellate Tribunal for Electricity  (APTEL) ordered the Karnataka Electricity Regulatory Commission (KERC) to compensate Fortum Solar for the additional expenses the developer incurred due to the imposition of safeguard duty which was a ‘Change in Law’ event. The DISCOM will have to decide within two months if it would pay the company by allowing a proportionate hike in the tariffs. 

BP invests $220m in US solar projects across 12 states

In one of the most ambitious plans to expand its renewables portfolio, oil major BP is investing $220 million in US solar projects across 12 states. The projects will amount to 9 GW worth of energy, which the oil company says will be enough to power about 1.7 million homes. Earlier, BP had announced it will increase its renewables capacity to 20 GW by 2025 and 50 GW by 2030. 

The Hill reported that BP bought the new projects that it plans to build from company 7X Energy. The Guardian reported that the projects will be developed in the US, which is one of the world’s fastest growing solar energy markets and is expected to double by 2025 and quadruple by 2030.

Biden administration unveils California offshore wind plan

The US government unveiled plans to open more than 250,000 acres off the California coast to wind power development. The plan included floating 380 windmills across a nearly 400 sq-mile (1,035 sq km). The state announced an agreement with the US government that would open federal waters off California’s central and northern coasts to new wind energy farms. It will be America’s west coast first commercial offshore wind farm, which is expected to power 1.6m homes, the Guardian reported.

Electric Vehicles

Friendlier skies: Canada, Australia and Brazil will soon become the preferred suppliers of essential EV raw materials for the US as it peels itself away from Chinese supplies | Photo: US Mineral Exchange

US to source EV raw materials from allies, ups federal tax credit to $12,500

The Joe Biden administration announced that it would rely on the likes of Canada, Brazil and Australia to source raw materials for EVs, and its domestic workforce would focus on processing the materials into semiconductor chips and battery components. The move is aimed to reduce the US’ dependence on Chinese imports and shield itself against supply bottlenecks from one source. While the move could limit mining jobs in the US, the government said it would generate valuable high skills jobs instead. 

However, the new announcement goes against Biden’s campaign promise of sourcing most raw materials for the country’s energy transition from within its borders to minimise carbon emissions. On the other hand, the government approved a more generous, $12,500 federal tax credit for EVs with a retail price of under $80,000, which is a significant jump from the previous amount of $7,500. 

India: Delhi high court orders government to consider H2 fuel cell vehicles under FAME-II

Responding to a writ petition, the Delhi high court ordered the government of India to consider using hydrogen fuel cell vehicles under its FAME-II scheme to promote electric mobility. While the details on the motivation behind the petition are not clear, the order also specifies the installation of hydrogen refueling stations to promote extended infrastructure for the technology — which is especially suitable for heavy duty vehicles because of hydrogen’s high energy density of 120MJ/kg

The Indian Railways Organization for Alternate Fuels (IROAF), in the meantime, invited proposals to retrofit the 700 HP diesel locomotives that operate on Kalka-Shimla narrow gauge in Himachal Pradesh, possibly due to air pollution concerns. 

Toyota’s first hydrogen race car fails to finish laps, refuels 35 times 

Toyota Motor Corporation finished its first-ever track race run by a hydrogen fuel cell car to prove that it was a viable and necessary alternative to battery electric vehicles (BEVs), but the car had to pit stop 35 times to refuel, and it failed to complete its laps due to technical issues. The event was organised to raise awareness about hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and what Toyota claims to be a much smaller carbon footprint (when compared to BEVs). The automaker’s CEO also believes that selling more hybrid (fuel cell) vehicles would be the answer to ensuring job security for a million Japanese workers.

However, the refueling stations had to be set up well away from the race track for safety reasons — hydrogen is extremely flammable — and the CEO has been criticised of late by shareholders for his opposition to the ban on petrol and diesel cars. 

Interestingly, though, the Japan Climate Leaders’ Partnership (JCLP) has called for a faster adoption of ZEVs (zero emission vehicles) into the country’s road freight segment. The group argued that road freight vehicles (such as large trucks) contribute nearly the same amount of CO2 emissions despite their fewer numbers, because of their high utilisation rate, and adopting battery as well as hydrogen EVs would be essential to reducing their carbon footprint. The message also specifically makes room for hydrogen fuel cells since it calls for several charging points and re-fueling stations across Japan. 

Maharashtra announces aggressive EV targets in new draft policy 

Maharashtra announced several new targets under its new draft EV policy, among which are its target to turn four expressways between Mumbai, Pune, Nashik and Nagpur fully electric by 2025. It also aims to make EVs account for 10% of all new vehicle sales in the state by 2025, and the state government will produce only EBs for its fleets in major cities by 2022. Other updates include 1,500 charging stations for Mumbai and accelerated registration of EVs for all operators — including last-mile connectivity services and delivery vehicle operators. 

Fossil Fuels

‘Do it!' was the resounding message from shareholders for ExxonMobil on climate action, who replaced three of its board members with climate-friendly nominees to speed up progress | Photo: Bloomberg

Rebellious shareholders place new members on Exxon’s board to speed up climate action

A major revolt against ExxonMobil by its shareholders managed to place the third new member onto its board of directors, who not only have extensive industry experience but will also work to accelerate ExxonMobil’s progress on climate action. The rebellion highlights increasing dissatisfaction by the shareholders against the driller dragging its feet on reducing emissions, and the new members were nominated by a small hedge fund named Engine No. 1. 

The ousting of the former board members by climate-conscious investors could be a “watershed event” — as described by the director of the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University — and came in the same week where 99% of HSBC’s shareholders voted for the bank to phase out any financing for coal projects by 2040. 

Dutch court hands out landmark ruling, orders Shell to target absolute emissions reduction 

A court in The Netherlands ordered that the country’s largest oil and gas driller, Royal Dutch Shell, deliver absolute reductions in its emissions, and not just target a drop in the carbon intensity of its products. The ruling may be a landmark in litigation against energy companies, and it also ordered Shell to lower its emissions by 46% below 1990 levels by 2030. Shell, however, had recently rejected any absolute reduction in emissions, as that would come only by reducing the scale of its operations. 

The ruling was celebrated by climate campaigners, but the driller plans to appeal the ruling, even though the court concluded that its net-zero target by 2050 was full of conditions and the company was not doing enough to curb greenhouse gas emissions. 

BlackRock votes against BP’s opposition to better climate action 

One of the world’s largest asset management firms, BlackRock, voted to mount pressure on BP’s board to do more on climate action, even though the board opposed investor and shareholder pressure on the matter. BlackRock holds 6.8% equity in BP and has itself been criticised for not taking a tougher stance with its investment holdings on accelerated climate action, but its latest vote comes as a stiffening of its opposition to energy boards that are perceived to be lagging behind on slashing emissions. 

Curiously, despite its board’s objection to faster climate action, BP’s new CEO, Bernard Looney, is known to be a proactive supporter of climate action, who last year proposed to reduce the driller’s emissions by 40% by 2030 with the larger goal of making the world’s largest oil and gas extractor go net-zero by 2050. 

Untaxed private jet flights in Europe 50X more polluting than trains 

A new report by a research team in Europe found that private jet flights within the EU are the most polluting form of travel as they are “10 times more carbon intensive than airliners (commercial aircraft)” and emit 50 times more CO2 than trains over the same distance. Yet, private flights saw a quick rebound in the region last August, even as commercial air traffic remained 60% below pre-pandemic levels. Most private jets are owned by multi-billionaires and are curiously not taxed by the EU, even though seven of the 10 most polluting routes they fly lie within the UK-France-Switzerland-Italy corridor. 

In fact, the report found that 20% of all flights in France come from private jets, and it recommends three steps to address their carbon footprint: switching to hydrogen or electric propulsion by 2030, taxing the flights to raise research funds for cleaner alternatives and to account for their disproportionate share of transport emissions, and prohibiting flights between destinations that can be covered by alternatives in under 2.5 hours.