Real-time electricity trading another nail in the coal power coffin?

Newsletter - June 11, 2020

Real-time power: The new real-time market launched for electricity moves India one step closer to market-based dispatch | Photo: Breaking Media

Real-time electricity trading another nail in the coal power coffin?

The beginning of June marked an important juncture in India’s power reforms journey as the Indian Energy Exchange (IEX) launched the country’s first operational real-time trading platform for electricity. The Central Electricity Regulatory Commission (CERC) approved framework for the Real-Time Electricity Market (RTM) in December 2019, but the launch of the platform was delayed by two months due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. Despite the unceremonious delay, the first days of the platform has seen its popularity grow. While the RTM currently functions mainly to stabilise the grid due to unscheduled changes in supply and demand of power by DISCOMs, an increased role of real-time trade in the future could have a hand in determining the direction of India’s energy expansion.

Although only 6% of India’s electricity scheduling is done through trade exchanges and the Deviation Settlement Mechanism (DSM), and long-term transactions including PPAs account for 87% of the total dispatch, power distributors have increasingly grown wary of long-term agreements. The RTM is a significant step in the country’s power reforms which are nudging it closer to a system that is more reliant on the energy market.

The initial runs and the path forward

The RTM is orchestrated by the country’s two energy exchanges- IEX and Power Exchange India (PXIL), through 48 auction sessions during the day, with delivery of power within one hour of closure. The dynamic market with half-hourly auctions is expected to provide greater flexibility and help DISCOMs better plan their power requirements. Currently power planning and scheduling by DISCOMs beyond the power agreed through Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) is predominantly done through the day-ahead market (DAM). In this system, unplanned power requirements are subject to penalties determined by the Deviation Settlement Mechanism (DSM). The RTM offers an alternate process for unplanned schedule management, and initial trade volumes on the platform indicate that DISCOMs are beginning to appreciate the flexibility that the market offers.

After clearing 3.4 million units on the first day of trading on the platform, trade volumes have quickly scaled up to 110 MU between 1 June and 10 June. While still only a fraction of the total energy dispatched in the day, and much below volumes traded on the day-ahead market, a significant 22 MU was traded on 9 June. Prices too have ticked up considerably over the first 10 days of the market. Interestingly, while the first day of trading saw prices on the RTM 42% cheaper than the rates on the DAM, the difference has narrowed over the first 10 days. In fact, RTM prices were even a little higher that their DAM counterparts on 8 and 9 June.

Source: Indian Energy Exchange market data

Still, the broad consensus is that over a sustained time, real-time trading of energy will help optimise planning for DISCOMs and result in substantial savings. According to simulations included in a CERC discussion paper released in December 2018, savings through RTM over 2016-17 would have averaged to 7.37% in five states namely Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Chhattisgarh and Karnataka. A higher efficiency in grid management and optimisation of power planning are strong arguments for an increased role of the RTM in the power scheduling process. “The next phase planned by CERC is broader market-based dispatch which can be expected to be rolled out within the next three or four quarters,” says one industry insider who works closely with the regulatory commission.

However, not everyone is convinced that this movement towards real-time trading will be as smooth as we are led to believe. “The RTM does offer greater flexibility and adaptability to DISCOMs for power planning and scheduling. There is good reason to believe that as we move further towards this model of trading, the DSM process will eventually be merged with the RTM. This might aggravate the forecasting problem for DISCOMs as planning requirements will become more dynamic and granular, at least initially,” said a senior official with one of the country’s most prominent DISCOMs. Experts, though, believe that such issues will be addressed with the higher forecasting ability offered by the RTM. “The dynamism of the market also improves forecasting tools and precision. As data points accumulate and forecasting gets finetuned, it will actually improve power planning processes and accuracy,” says Deepak Krishnan, Associate Director for WRI India’s Energy Program.

Renewables gaining ground

While there might be teething problems on the scheduling side, there is little doubt that on the supply side, an increased role of real-time trading will be a boost to renewable energy producers. On the surface, the advantages of an RTM for RE is clear. In addition to providing an avenue for generators to sell their surplus energy, real-time trading helps tide over the variability and intermittency of renewable sources. This is indeed great news for RE investors, but it could also hold greater implications for India’s energy policies.

India’s current installed capacity stands at about 370 GW while the highest peak demand noted over the past couple of years has not surpassed 180 GW, indicating an utilisation of just around 50%. India has a target of 175 GW capacity of renewables by 2023-24 and currently plans to add another 100 GW of capacity over the next few years including over 60 GW of thermal power. The capacity additions far outstrip domestic demand, and with an increased role of real-time trading, economic viability of new additions may be significantly impacted by the relative operating costs of renewables and thermal power.

Like any other market, optimisation through the RTM entails regulation of supply and demand through dynamic fixing of prices. Producers selling on the market look to recoup at least operating costs and conversely, lower the operating costs, greater the chances of profitability in the RTM. Ultimately, on the generators’ side, who adapts better to real-time trading will be heavily influenced by profitability vis-à-vis the market. And the trends to this end are quite clear. Operating costs and tariffs for new solar and wind power projects have continued a downward trend, and over the past couple of years have become increasingly competitive with thermal power. On the other hand, favourability of coal has taken a massive hit in recent times as the country has failed to meet its capacity addition targets for the last three years. Further, according to a recent analysis by Carbon Tracker, around 23% of India’s 66 GW of planned thermal power additions will enter the market with a negative cashflow. As operating costs fall further for renewables, real-time trading ostensibly holds the greatest benefits for RE generators.

The potential of real-time trading for renewables is not lost on generating companies. The launch of the RTM has rekindled demands for a separate real-time trading platform for green energy which is directly linked to the renewable energy certification process as well so that energy traded on the real-time market can be used to fulfil DISCOMs’ renewable purchase obligations. “Once energy enters the grid, it becomes indistinguishable by source. So, there is a possibility that a special green energy trading platform is developed for a smooth integration with the renewable purchase obligations that currently exist,” says Krishnan.

Planning key to true optimisation

Irrespective of whether a separate trading platform is constituted, the fact that renewables hold a considerable edge over thermal power in real-time trading is exceedingly clear, according to experts. “If and when the RTM is expanded beyond its current limited purview, the comparative price advantages of renewables over thermal power are likely to start showing through. Under a free market trade of energy, I foresee great difficulty for profitable operations of thermal power, and under such situations this could add to the financial stress of thermal power sector if an exercise of balancing of projected demand and planned capacity is not done,” adds Krishnan.  

While the RTM is also being viewed as the first step towards the recently announced ambitious “One Sun One World One Grid” (OSOWOG) plan, what it will actually deliver in the larger scheme of things is likely to depend on how the country plans its energy. Although the Indian government has ensured a must-run status for renewables, the government also has expansive plans for coal power. Experiences from other nations that have implemented a RTM for electricity, especially from Europe, indicate that simultaneous progressive policies towards clean energy and abandonment of coal power are crucial to maximise economic and environmental gains of the market. With the current mismatch between capacity additions and projected increase in energy demand in India, it is imperative for the country to rethink current plans and policies to optimise its power supply chain to prioritise renewables, especially as DISCOMs grow increasingly averse of long term PPAs. Markets, after all, decide the winners and losers of an economy. For the Indian energy economy in the real-time era, the odds are already heavily stacked against coal.

Climate Science

Thunder and fury: Cyclone Nisarga hit India’s west coast, including Maharashtra and Gujarat, on June 3, killing four people | Photo: Deccan Herald

Cyclone Nisarga passes through India’s west coast; Assam hit by torrential rain, flooding

Shortly after Cyclone Amphan ripped through West Bengal and Bangladesh, a relatively milder Cyclone Nisarga hit India’s west coast, including Maharashtra and Gujarat, on June 3, killing four people. In Maharashtra, more than five lakh structures were damaged in Raigad district, which was the worst hit region in the state. Mumbai, which was expected to be in the eye of the storm, remained in its periphery as the cyclone moved away rapidly once it made landfall in Alibaug. The cyclone also damaged phone lines and electricity connections in eight of the district’s 15 talukas, including Alibag, Murud, Pen, Tala, Srivardhan, Margaon, Mhasala and Roha.    

The Arabian Sea has already hosted record cyclone activity in 2019. Scientists believe the recent increase of tropical cyclone activity in the north Indian Ocean is part of a global pattern due to warming trends in Earth’s atmosphere and seas.

Assam, meanwhile, battled torrential rain and floods after the weakening of Cyclone Amphan, displacing more than 59,000 people across five districts.

The monsoon season has begun in India, with the IMD officially declaring its arrival in Kerala at the beginning of this month. Weathermen have predicted that rains will be normal this year at 100% of the long period average.  

Despite COVID-19 lockdown, global CO2 emissions at record high in May

Despite the COVID-19 lockdown, the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii reported a record carbon dioxide level of 417 parts per million (ppm) in May, which is much higher than the record of 414.8ppm set last year. While worldwide emissions have dropped, as much as 26% in some countries, because of the lockdown, there are other natural factors, such as how plants and soils react to temperature, humidity, that contribute to overall emissions, scientists said. According to researchers, it would take CO2 reductions of up to 20%-30% for six to 12 months to slow down the rate of increase in the measurements at Mauna Loa.

Receding glacier in Kashmir could be a result of change in local land use, say scientists

According to a new research paper published in the journal Water, the Kolahoi Glacier, the largest one in Kashmir Himalayas, has reduced even further in area over three years as compared to a 2017 study. Experts have blamed climate change as well as local land use changes, such as deforestation and conversion of agricultural land into built-up area, for the receding glacier.   

Ocean carbon sink may shrink as greenhouse gas emissions are cut: Study  

Human activity and volcanic eruptions are affecting the rate at which oceans absorb carbon dioxide, a new study published in the journal AGU Advances has found. The study said the ocean is so sensitive to even the slightest drop in greenhouse gas emissions that it immediately reacts by absorbing less CO2.

This finding may come into play with the fall in fuel consumptions due to COVID-19 restrictions, according to the study. The researchers observed the variability in ocean carbon intake between 1980 and 2017. There was a brief moment in the early 1990s when the ocean absorbed more CO2 and then slowly took up less until 2001. The study explained that the sudden increase in the ocean carbon sink could have been because of the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991.

The subsequent slowdown in ocean carbon intake could have been a result of slow growth rate of atmospheric CO2 in the 1990s, possibly because of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Eastern European countries.

Researchers said knowing that oceans may temporarily limit the effectiveness of climate mitigation – when GHGs fall – by absorbing lesser amounts of atmospheric CO2 should be accounted for in policymaking.  

Siberian heat wave pushes up global May temperatures to record high

Unusually high temperatures in Siberia in May this year propelled global average temperatures to a record high in May, according to the EU’s science division, Copernicus Climate Change Service. Parts of Siberia recorded a monthly average temperature that was 18°C above normal. The scientists also found the January to May period to be the hottest on record since 1979. According to the scientists, globally, May was 1.13° (0.63°C) above average compared with average May temperatures from 1981-2010, beating the previous record set in 2016.

Oil spill in Russian Arctic pollutes freshwater lake

A huge spill of diesel oil in Russia’s Arctic north polluted a freshwater lake, and is now threatening to spread to the Arctic Ocean, Russian officials said. The oil spill, which began on May 29, is the worst accident of its kind in the region, according to the officials. Around 21,000 tonnes of oil has contaminated the Ambarnaya river so far. The leak is believed to have started after a storage tank near Norilsk sank because of melting permafrost after weeks of unusually warm weather in the region, with some pointing to a global warming link.

500 species likely to go extinct in next two decades: Study

A new study has predicted that over 500 species are likely to go extinct over the next two decades. The world is already suffering from mass extinction as a result of human activity and this unnatural loss is already accelerating, the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found. In a less toxic world, losing 500 species would have taken over 16,000 years.

Species that are on the brink of extinction are in Asia and Oceania, with the study pointing out to the Western Ghats and the Himalayas in India especially.

Another study warned that human activity is threatening the evolutionary history of the world’s terrestrial vertebrates. According to the study’s calculations, the Caribbean, India’s Western Ghats, and large parts of Southeast Asia — regions that are home to the most unique evolutionary history — are facing unprecedented levels of human-related devastation. The terrestrial vertebrates in these regions require urgent conservation, according to the study.

Climate Policy

Unprotected: According to official data, a total 11,467.83 hectares of forest land was diverted in 22 states between January 1 and November 6, 2019, for 932 non-forestry projects under the Forest (Conservation) Act (FCA), 1980 | Photo: ThoughtCo

Activists allege several trees were felled in forest area in MP during lockdown; govt to probe

An investigation has been initiated by the forest and revenue authorities of the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh after hundreds of trees had been allegedly felled in a forest area in the middle of the COVID-19 lockdown.    

It all began after the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) submitted a report in 2019 that claimed the deemed forest area between Kerwa and Kaliasot was being used for non-forestry activities without taking the necessary permissions. The National Green Tribunal (NGT) had then stepped in asking the state forest department to map the area by April 30 of this year, and take over the deemed forest areas.

But this was still to be done when the COVID-19 lockdown was imposed on March 24. But the petitioner in the NGT case, activist Rashid Khan, alleged that several trees were felled during the lockdown ‘to reduce tree density, to ensure the area is not classified as a deemed forest as and when the mapping begins’.

India’s forest land continues to be diverted for non-forestry projects, govt admits

The Indian government has admitted that diversion of forest land for other purposes still continues in India. According to official data, a total 11,467.83 hectares (114.68 sqkm) of forest land was diverted in 22 states between January 1 and November 6, 2019. This diversion was for 932 non-forestry projects under the Forest (Conservation) Act (FCA), 1980, as per data published by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change Annual Report 2019-20. More than one-third of the diversion was for 14 projects in Odisha, followed by Telangana and Jharkhand, according to the report.

UN climate summit delay puts question mark on future of carbon markets

The postponement of the next UN climate summit because of the COVID-19 pandemic has left plans to design a new carbon market in limbo. The deadlock over the new rules for an international carbon trading system has continued for several years, and will now be further pushed ahead with the pandemic. This lack of clarity has made investors increasingly unwilling to invest in projects with a lifespan of 5-10 years.    

As EU ditches coal, its greenhouse gas emissions continue to fall: Report

Europe’s environment watchdog has released a new report that states the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions continued to fall in 2018, which is the last year for which comprehensive data is available. According to the report, emissions fell 2.1% compared to 2017 to levels that were 23% lower than in 1990, which is the baseline for the EU’s emission cuts as per the UN’s climate agreements. The report attributed the fall to EU-wide and country-specific policies. The biggest decline was reported in energy generation as the EUI continued to phase out coal and embrace renewable power.

Senior European Commission officials, meanwhile, have pledged that Europe’s €750-billion COVID-19 recovery plan will ‘do no harm’ to the bloc’s climate goals. The commission announced plans to raise €150 billion in public and private money to help fund greener transport, cleaner industry and home renovations. The EU has also proposed to quadruple to more than €40 billion its ‘just transition fund’, which aims to move coal-dependent regions away from fossil fuels.   

India’s power producers ask for more time to cap emissions

In a move that is sure to anger environmentalists, India’s power producers have sought another extension for capping the toxic emissions from their plants. They have blamed lack of bank funding and the COVID-19 lockdown as reasons for the request.

The Association of Power Producers has written to India’s power minister seeking a two-year extension for installing equipment that will control emissions. This will be the second waiver sought by the producers who have to bring down emissions in phases by 2022.  

As EU ditches coal, its greenhouse gas emissions continue to fall: Report

Europe’s environment watchdog has released a new report that states the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions continued to fall in 2018, which is the last year for which comprehensive data is available. According to the report, emissions fell 2.1% compared to 2017 to levels that were 23% lower than in 1990, which is the baseline for the EU’s emission cuts as per the UN’s climate agreements. The report attributed the fall to EU-wide and country-specific policies. The biggest decline was reported in energy generation as the EUI continued to phase out coal and embrace renewable power.Senior European Commission officials, meanwhile, have pledged that Europe’s €750-billion COVID-19 recovery plan will ‘do no harm’ to the bloc’s climate goals. The commission announced plans to raise €150 billion in public and private money to help fund greener transport, cleaner industry and home renovations. The EU has also proposed to quadruple to more than €40 billion its ‘just transition fund’, which aims to move coal-dependent regions away from fossil fuels.

Air Pollution

Third time's the charm: Despite twice denying to grant terms of reference following failure to install pollution curbing technology in existing units, MOEFCC begins clearing way for two new units in Koradi, Maharashtra | Photo: L&T Power

Flip-flop: After a Cabinet stay, environment ministry permits new coal units at Koradi

In a policy flip-flop, the environment ministry initiated a process to allow two new 660MW units at the already polluting coal plant at Koradi Thermal Power Station in Maharashtra after the Cabinet put a stay on it. In 2019, the ministry panel had refused to grant terms of reference (TOR) for the second time over failure to control pollution from the plant and threatened against Mahagenco for not installing flue gas desulphuriser (FGD) to curb sulphur dioxide (SO2) emissions. The unit’s Ash Water Recycling System was not working, it dumped effluents into open drains, and had not established piezometric wells around the ash pond.

Environmentalists are shocked that the government gave permission for fresh units even after the existing one did not install technology to cut SO2 emissions. Experts said with India already having surplus generation capacity it makes no climate or economic sense to go for new investments in polluting coal.

COVID-19 lockdown: Delhi recorded steepest drop and sharpest rise in air pollution

As the lockdown opens up partially, air pollution in Delhi has shot up much faster than other major Indian cities, a Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) report said. In Delhi, air pollution had dropped massively to around 80% in the early phases of the lockdown that was imposed on March 24. During this period, the CSE studied PM 2.5 levels in six mega cities of Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Hyderabad and Bengaluru. 

According to the study, Delhi pollution has bounced back four to eight times, as compared to two to six times in other cities, during both the initial and last phases of the lockdown, the report said. In the early phase of the lockdown, the PM 2.5 levels in other cities dropped by 45-88% and witnessed a pollution spike of 2-6 times on opening up, but the fall and spike in pollution was the greatest in Delhi, researchers said. 

CSE reported 12.1 million registered vehicles in Delhi (4.6 million owned privately), of which very few took to the road during the lockdown. Commute to work fell by 60%, while retail and recreation activities fell 84%, CSE said. Cycling and walking increased from 14% to 43%, the report said.

South Korean firm liable for deaths due to gas leak in Vizag

In the styrene gas leak case that killed 12 people in Visakhapatnam, India’s green court held the South Korean firm LG Polymers “absolutely” liable for the deaths. The court cited a report by its panel that said the company did not take proper care of the storage tank that resulted in heating and auto-polymerization of styrene, which leaked in the form of vapour. The court said the ₹50 crore in compensation deposited by the company would be spent on restoration. It also constituted a committee to prepare a restoration plan.

Meanwhile, the Union ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) said the company was operating without environmental clearances and the state government has still not forwarded their application for clearance to the Centre. The company had accepted that it operated its petrochemical plant from 1997 to 2019, mostly without state clearance. The green court ordered the government to use the Rs50-crore penalty to compensate victims.

Failure to mention dirty air in UK COVID-19 report ‘astonishing’

Experts and campaigners have slammed a recent report in the UK for failing to consider air pollution as a factor in assessing higher rates of COVID-19 deaths among ethnic minorities. They said the Public Health England review (PHE) released recently confirmed that the impact of COVID-19 was “disproportionate” among ethnic minorities but it failed to mention air pollution as one of the causes. 

Experts said the PHE omission is “astonishing” and “wholly irresponsible” in the light of the fact that globally most of the ethnic minorities are forced to live amid hazardous air pollution, and the link of increased risk of COVID-19 with dirty air has already been established. The PHE report also came under attack for failing to suggest ways to mitigate the disproportionate impact of covid among ethnic minorities and removing responses from third parties who had pointed out structural injustice.

Cut CO2 emissions to meet norms or face penalties, EU warns carmakers

Latest report by European Union climate agency says CO2 emissions from new cars in Europe spiked for the second consecutive year in 2018 and rising sales of SUVs added to the emissions spike that year.  Even as the car industry is hit by a drop in sales because of disruptions caused by COVID-19, the EU’s executive commission has asked car makers to cut their fleet’s CO2 footprint to meet the norms that would apply from this year in Europe. The auto industry will have to slash CO2 emissions by 27% compared to 2018 levels to meet the more stringent EU targets. As per the 2020 target, the CO2 emissions cap from new cars is at 95g CO2/km.

Germany proposes to double climate surcharge on fuel guzzlers from 2021

From 2021 onwards, Germany will impose more tax on the buyers of big cars as part of the proposed climate protection policy. The draft allows Germany to hike the existing climate protection surcharge on new cars from 2021, particularly on large SUVs. The proposed norms have doubled the surcharge on SUVs with carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions of over 195g per km, the draft of the finance ministry showed.

Buyers of smaller cars with carbon dioxide emissions below 95g will not have to bear the hike in surcharge, while electric cars are totally exempt from any motor vehicle tax until the end of 2030.


Unbroken fall: A collapse in market interest rates due to the COVID-19 pandemic has helped solar tariffs fall further, according to IEEFA | Photo: Construction Review Online

COVID-19 could not stop the decline of solar cost: IEEFA, IRENA

COVID-19 has failed to stop the cost of renewables from falling, according to agencies IRENA and IEEFA. Infact, according to IEEFA, COVID-19 added to the decline in the capital cost of solar and the cost of funding. The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) said the pandemic caused a collapse in market interest rates, which helped solar tariffs to fall further. Solar tariff is directly proportional to the cost of modules, the capital cost of installation and rate of return, said Tim Buckley of IEEFA. 

The capital costs fell following a 20% drop in costs of solar modules over the past one year and the decline in the cost of funding, which made renewables set new records amid the rising spread of COVID-19 in April and May. 

According to data released by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), solar costs have fallen 82% over the past 10 years. The fall in onshore and offshore wind projects during the same time has been nearly 40% and 30% respectively. IRENA said the levelized cost of power from large-scale solar plants is around $0.068/kWh, compared to $0.378 in 2010 and the cost declined 13.1% between 2018 and 2019. In the past decade, the global solar capacity rose from 40 GW to 580GW, the report said, adding that during the same period, costs of solar modules fell 90%.

Adani Green to build 8 GW solar projects in India at cost of $6 billion

India’s Adani Green has won a massive 8GW government contract to build solar plants for $6 billion by 2025. The company will ready 2 GW of solar capacity by 2022, and the rest by 2025, in three increments of 2GW annually in various parts of the country. Following the announcement company’s shares jumped 5% to a record high of $4.14.

The contract from the state-run Solar Energy Corp of India (SECI) requires Adani to set up a solar manufacturing capacity of 2GW by 2022 in Gujarat. The project is likely to generate 400,000 direct and indirect jobs and displace 900 million tonnes of CO2 over its lifetime, Mercom reported.

Railways to set up 3GW solar projects on vacant land by 2023

Indian Railways will set up  3GW solar power plants on vacant land owned by Railways. The three-phased project of 1GW each will be set up by Railway Energy Management Company, a joint venture between Indian Railways and state-owned engineering consultancy Rites Ltd. The first and the third phase will be on a public-private partnership basis. The second phase of 1GW will be completely owned by REMC, eligible for the Centre’s subsidy. The 3GW projects are expected to be completed by 2023. 

Study: India’s renewable energy market to contract in next five years

A recent study by renewable energy consultancy firm Bridge to India has warned that the Indian renewable energy market is set to shrink in the next five years (2020-2024) due to a fall in power demand growth, worsening Discom debts and constraints in debt financing. The consultancy has marked ‘at risk’ the recently completed auctions such as the 4,000MW manufacturing-linked tender, 1,200MW peak power tender and 400MW round-the-clock power tender.

The BTI study lowered India’s base-case capacity addition significantly, from 43GW solar and 15GW wind to 35GW of solar and 12GW of wind power capacity over 2020-24. With COVID-19 cases rising, business activity has come to a halt, leading to a power demand drop of 30%. If power demand continues to fall, the discoms won’t sign fresh PPAs, the BTI report said. 

Japan’s TEPCO Renewables plans to build green power projects worth $18 billion by 2035

Japanese firm TEPCO Renewables plans to develop 6-7 GW of offshore wind and hydroelectric power projects in the next 15 years (by 2035) at an estimated cost of $9-18 billion. In 2018, the company’s parent firm TEPCO announced it would develop 2-3 GW off-shore wind projects in Japan and overseas and 2-3 hydroelectric projects abroad. The company plans to set up off-shore wind projects in Southeast Asia and North America and hydroelectric projects in Southeast Asia. TEPCO is also trying to relaunch their nuclear power facilities after the 2011 Fukushima disaster.

China’s draft solar PV efficiency norms to bring current production lines to abrupt halt?

China is planning to raise its solar panel quality standards, which experts say will bring the recent expansions in production capacities by solar companies to a grinding halt, overnight. China’s new draft policy proposes to increase the 2018 quality standards, which required solar mono cells to have 21% efficiency and modules to be 17.8% efficient, to 23% and 20% respectively.

The draft policy will not apply retrospectively, but if implemented, it would impact up to around 100GW of new production lines this year alone. The proposals, if turned into law, would mostly impact over $14.1 billion mono PERC production explosion, which is currently set to 2018 quality standards.

Following the pandemic outbreak, there’s a fall in PV demand, which has caused a glut in the Chinese solar market. Experts say the superior next-generation technology of solar cells and modules would exceed the draft quality arms, but they would be costlier, and therefore few players would be interested in making them, unlike companies that massively expanded production of cheaper mono PERC.

The new quality standards will help China restrict solar equipment production and tackle the glut.  The surge in production had helped China achieve grid parity, where power from solar and coal could be priced the same, but it also encouraged producers to dump cheap products abroad. China produced nearly 94% of the world’s silicon wafer production (173.7 GW).

Electric Vehicles

Got to boost numbers: Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis presented the government's plan for promoting electromobility in Athens on 5 June, World Environment Day | Photo: Xinhua News

Greece earmarks EUR 100 million package to promote EVs

The government of Greece has earmarked EUR 100 million to promote e-mobility in the country as part of its 10-year climate plan, and the package is expected to subsidise 15% of the cost of up to 14,000 private electric cars. Greece has only about 1,000 electric cars — 0.3% of its car fleet — as compared to 10% in Germany, but the city of Athens will aim for every third car sold by 2030 to be electric. Familiar incentives, such as free parking for EV drivers, will be rolled out as well, apart from the state subsidising up to 25% of the cost of electric taxis.

All German petrol stations to get EV chargers, MG & Tata to launch superfast chargers in India

A new directive by the German government has mandated that each of the country’s 14,118 petrol stations be fitted with EV charging points to alleviate range anxiety concerns. Germany currently has 27,730 charging stations, but the government wants the number to go up to at least 70,000, of which 7,000 would have to be fast chargers to attract EV customers. Owners of large IC-engined SUVs will also have to pay staggered taxes, and will be offered subsidies to switch to EVs.

In India, Tata Motors and MG Motors will offer 50kW DC superfast chargers at select MG dealerships as part of their joint effort to spur EV adoption. The chargers will be accessible to CCS/CHAdeMO vehicles. 

Best-ever results for sodium-ion batteries offer hope of moving away from lithium

Researchers from the Washington State University have reported the ‘best-ever’ results for sodium-ion batteries, which they say offer charge capacity and recharge potential similar to some commercial-grade lithium-ion chemistries. The batteries reportedly hold up to 80% of their charge potential after 1,000 cycles, and further progress into moving away from using cobalt in batteries’ cathodes could break the dependence entirely.

Lithium and cobalt are rare earth metals and are often mined in African nations in conditions that have drawn criticism around the world. Sodium, on the other hand, is one of the components of common salt. Also, alternatives to lithium-ion batteries are being explored as they may not be entirely suitable to utility-scale applications.

CATL announces two-million km battery with a 16-year lifespan

Chinese company Contemporary Amperex Technology Co. Ltd., better known as CATL, has announced that it is ready to start manufacturing batteries for EVs that last 16 years and run 2 million kilometers (1.24 million miles). The announcement, made by CATL chairman Zeng Yuqun during an interview, comes on the heels of similar announcements made by Tesla and General Motors, both of which expect to breach the million-mile milestone soon. CATL’s announcement lends further credence to the belief that EVs are set to outdo their gas-based counterparts in weathering the current economic slowdown. According to BNEF, battery-powered cars will swell to 8.1% of all sales next year in China.

Fossil Fuels

Major Blowout! A massive fire broke out at a leaking oil well operated by Oil India Limited in the Baghjan oilfield in Assam on 9 June | Photo: PTI

Blown out OIL well in Assam catches fire

The Oil India Limited (OIL) operated oil well which suffered a blowout in the end of May took a turn for the worse on 9 June as a major fire broke out at the well. Locals had been reporting impacts from the uncontrolled leakage of gas from the well for the past two weeks while OIL released a statement saying that the well caught fire during a clearing operation at the site. The deaths of two OIL employed firefighters has been reported so far. The fire is likely to have adverse environmental impacts on the region as the site is located less than a kilometre from the Dibru Saikhowa National Park (DSNP) and only 500 metres from the wetland Maguri-Motapung Beel, an Important Bird Area (IBA). OIL has contacted Singapore-based Alert Disaster Control to help contain the blowout. Members from the Alert team have expressed confidence in being able to cap the well and restore safety.

China excludes ‘clean coal’ from green bonds list

The People’s Bank of China has removed ‘clean coal’ from its list of technologies that would be eligible for financing under green bonds, potentially signalling its future trajectory with the fuel. More green finance will now go towards its renewable energy projects, and into steel mills looking to upgrade their emissions control equipment. Clean coal was placed on the country’s green bonds list in 2015, but had invoked controversy because of the fuel’s environmental impact.

However, this may not affect the country’s pipeline of 6GW of ultra-low emission coal projects sanctioned last year.

Germany unveils new coal plant despite 2038 deadline, IRENA cites falling solar costs

The north-western town of Datteln in Germany has opened the country’s latest coal plant, the 1.1GW Datteln 4 monoblock unit with net efficiency of more than 45%, despite local protests and the country’s looming coal phaseout deadline of 2038. The Datteln 4 plant is expected to heat 100,000 homes with such advanced pollution control technology that it will reportedly have zero NOx, sulphur and dust in its flue gases.

Interestingly, the plant will be owned by Uniper, which is three-fourth owned by Finland’s energy conglomerate Fortum. According to Finnish laws, state-owned enterprises must abide by the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C target, which may put investment into the Datteln plant under scrutiny.

Also, IRENA’s latest analysis has found that the cost of running new solar plants would be cheaper than the cost for 1,200 GW of new coal plants. It estimates that if developers were to replace the top 500GW of their most inefficient plants with utility-scale solar or onshore wind farms, that alone would save them $23 billion a year and shave off 5% of 2019’s carbon emissions. The claim is supported by the fact that building large-scale solar is now 80% cheaper than in 2010.

IATA latches on to COVID-19 to shirk carbon offset responsibility

The international consortium for commercial aviation, IATA, is using the abnormally low air travel figures for the first half of 2020 to plead for a relaxation to its carbon offset obligations. The mechanism for the offset, known as CORSIA (Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation), would have required airlines to factor in the average emissions for 2019 and 2020 to determine their budgets for funding green projects outside of the sector.

However, ICAO is now calling upon aviation’s governing body, ICAO, to factor in the emissions reduction in 2020 and revise the baseline to pre-COVID-19 levels.

This is because if air travel were to rebound quickly, airlines would have to offset much greater emissions under the current rule than the higher baseline of 2019 alone. Estimates suggest that going back to 2019 levels could shave off between 25-75% of their obligation by 2035. A final decision will be taken in Montreal by June 26.