Tesla sparks India’s interest in EVs

Newsletter - January 29, 2021

Leading the shift? Successful transition of India's transport sector will likely depend on sustained growth of electric two-wheelers | Photo: Wheel BHP

Tesla sparks India’s interest in EVs

While big ticket announcements have brought the national spotlight on EVs, India’s e-mobility shift is likely to depend on the humble two-wheeler

Tesla’s registration in India has spurred new interest in electric vehicles across the country. The national news cycle is carrying daily updates on EV policies — which in the not too distant past was a fringe topic — and the impressive Tesla Model S was also spotted being tested in Tamil Nadu a few weeks ago. Mercedes-Benz, too, has taken the plunge with its fully-electric EQC now available for bookings, while Tata’s Nexon EV sold over 2,600 units in 2020 to capture 63% of India’s electric car market

Despite their optical appeal, however, upmarket electric cars are unlikely to lead India’s e-mobility transition. The humble two-wheeler, at an average price of ₹65,000, is by far the largest selling vehicle in the country and generally accounts for 80% of total sales every year. Its affordability is even more apparent when compared to electric cars. For example, Mahindra’s e-Verito is priced at ₹9.12 lakh (ex-showroom Delhi) and the Tata Nexon EV retails between ₹13.99 lakh – ₹16.25 lakh (ex-showroom Delhi). Both are priced well beyond the ₹4.1 lakh benchmark set by the country’s largest selling car, the Maruti Suzuki Alto — and are far removed from the two-wheelers. That Ola Mobility will be setting up the world’s largest electric two-wheeler factory in Tamil Nadu to take e-mobility outside urban India only reaffirms the point. 

Lacklustre sales, but a glimpse of change 

India’s EV sales have so far been disappointing since they account for not much more than 1% of its annual auto sales. Yet, the trend seems to be changing. Having grown by 20% year-on-year between FY19 and FY20, sales were gaining momentum until disrupted by the lockdown, but recent reports suggest that the two-wheeler category, especially, is experiencing exponential growth. CEEW reported that India’s EV market will grow by 200 times this decade to reach 100 million units on the road by 2030, and Gurgaon-based Okinawa Motors — a long-standing electric two-wheeler manufacturer — is expecting 200% growth in the short term. Also, Navin Munjal, CEO of Hero Electric, says that Hero’s sales this year are already 10 times that of 2020, and its online orders are strengthening the fastest. The surge in demand has converted to a ramping up of manufacturing in the country with major producers Hero Electric, Ather Energy, Ampere and Okinawa all announcing plans to expand manufacturing capacity.

Aided by falling battery costs and emergence of technologies such as battery swapping, we may be witnessing a sudden jump in EVs’ popularity. 

A number of state governments are taking more action as well, with Gujarat, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh each having approached Tesla to set up shop in their jurisdictions. Cheap power, guaranteed water supplies and road connectivity at the doorstep are thrown in as part of the deals, and this is outside of the work they’re doing on attracting other manufacturers through tax holidays and highly subsidised land. 

What to prioritise, what to let follow 

Despite the welcome uptick in interest, however, conventional vehicles will rule the roost for the foreseeable future because consumer choices when it comes to buying vehicles have been shown to depend primarily on three factors – upfront costs, ease of ownership and resale value. 

At the moment, under these factors petrol internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles are the better option. For instance, electric two-wheelers currently cost about 30-40% more than conventional two-wheelers. Even though these can save a user up to ₹20,000 over a year’s worth of commuting versus a petrol two-wheeler, the latter’s sales topped 21 million units in 2019. By comparison, just 200,000 electric two-wheelers were sold in the same year. 

The reason is fairly simple. A mass-market petrol two-wheeler is a tried and tested technology that returns excellent fuel economy of around ~75 kml, can be re-fuelled practically anywhere and can be serviced even at roadside garages. Even the erratic and steadily increasing prices of fuel have failed to pull customers away. In contrast, the lack of charging infrastructure remains a primary deterrent for electric two-wheelers. Servicing them is also not yet a skill that has percolated out beyond the dealerships, even though the electric powertrain inherently requires much less maintenance.

There is also the psychological factor of being unfamiliar with the technology. Customers of all ages have grown up around ICE vehicles, but the electric powertrain is still very new. The overblown negative press around the few mishaps the vehicles have suffered, such as the li-ion battery packs catching fire, and the everyday reinforcement of “range anxiety” have not helped matters either. Thus, while there has been considerable progress on both the issues, and the percentage of mishaps with EVs has been much less when compared to ICE units, it has been difficult for the manufacturers and dealerships to erase the uneasiness from customers’ minds. 

Finding the right balance

For policymakers and auto manufacturers, therefore, the dilemma is about deciding which half to promote. To prioritise ICE vehicle sales would slow the progress on EVs, while to push for more EVs would mean automakers would have to let go of sales revenue from established products. Most of the best-selling ICE vehicles on the market today are borne out of enormous investments in research and testing, and the process takes up to a decade to conceptualise, design and be set into production.

Thus, unless there is adequate demand for EVs, automakers would be unwilling to invest more funds into developing electric models. The process takes significant commitment of time and resources, but in the absence of a nationally-binding EV policy and with lacklustre sales, automakers are bound to wait for the market to decide when and if to invest. The situation may be on the turn, but it is easy to mistake a sharp jump in EV sales for a noticeable dent in the country’s larger automotive mindset. 

This “chicken and egg” situation of which needs to happen first — the demand or the supply — has therefore hampered what could have been a much faster uptake of EVs.  

What the governments could do

To ensure that the apparent turnaround is sustained through to 2030, there are four probable solutions: 

A. Adopting mandatory sales targets: Each state, along with the central government, would need to declare that every automaker must sell EVs to meet a certain, progressively growing percentage of its total sales every year. A similar approach is in force in California and Colorado, where automakers must meet a fuel efficiency target for its entire fleet (or the sum total of all the vehicles it sells every year), and are awarded tax credits for every zero-emission unit. That the VW Group has managed to lower its average carbon emissions from its new cars by a whopping 20% in just a year — albeit in the EU — is testament to the fact that this approach works and is profitable at the same time. 

B. Leading by example: Quite like the new US President’s announcement of replacing all federal vehicles with American-made zero emission vehicles, India’s central and state governments should commit to going 100% electric as soon as possible. This would not only offer an enormous opportunity for new EVs to enter service, but also greatly boost their public visibility. A number of public transport authorities are investing heavily in electrifying their fleets, but several government officials are still ferried in ICE vehicles. 

C. Subsidising EVs even more: While the Delhi government has introduced a pollution tax on ICE vehicle sales to (partially) subsidise the upfront costs of EVs, other states that are equally affected by air pollution, such as Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, West Bengal and Chhattisgarh could consider doing the same. It may be an unpopular opinion, but a nominal surcharge on new vehicles and petrol and diesel prices could raise several thousand crores each year, in addition to the largely unspent Rs10,000 crore available under FAME-II. 

D. Investing in expanding inter-city charging infrastructure: While every state EV policy accounts for sufficient charging points across the cities, there needs to be strong emphasis on covering inter-city routes. The recent MoU between the NHAI and EESL is a step in the right direction, since one prevalent consideration in new vehicle buyers’ minds — even if it is not entirely rational — is that they want the option of being able to drive across the country at any given point. India’s sparse charging network along the highways and its practically non-existent charging points on smaller roads has been a persistent deterrent for buyers. 

Tesla’s come at the right time

Tesla’s exceptional cars may not register more than 500 sales in a year for the next couple of years. Yet, its arrival has spurred renewed interest in a sector that has long battled customer skepticism, and electric two-wheelers are likely to be the biggest beneficiaries. But this is an opportunity for India to re-evaluate its high import duties on completely-built units (CBUs), and where its EV charging network stands at the moment. 

Having a reliable pan-India charging network will be key to taking EVs mainstream. For instance, Tesla is known for its Superchargers — its impressive but proprietary technology — and its cars offer excellent driving range per charge. But only because the US is dotted with Superchargers can the cars be driven from coast to coast on practically every “interstate”. Of course, driving in India would be a different challenge, but the assurance of being able to plug in to (fast) chargers on major highways will go a long way in alleviating range anxiety. 

Thus, India would do its mass e-mobility market a favour by paving the way for upmarket electric car manufacturers. The cars themselves will be bought only by the very rich, but the surrounding ecosystem will help push the country’s overall EV sales that much further.

Climate Science

Despair and disparity: A new study has highlighted India’s glaring gap between the carbon footprint of its rich and poor citizens | Photo: Johnny Miller/ Unequal Spaces

India’s rich emit 7 times more than country’s poor: Study

A recent study linking India’s economic disparity with climate impact found that the country’s rich emit seven times more than its poorer citizens. The study by Japan-based Research Institute for Humanity and Nature estimated the mean carbon footprint of poorer citizens (who spend less than Rs140 a day) to be 0.56 tonne per year–0.19 tonne per capita and 1.32 tonne among the top 20% of high-expenditure households. 

Across socio-economic groups, the study found food and electricity were the two spending areas that accounted for the most emissions. The study concluded by stating that pro-poor development would cause little environment damage. But because current policies in India help the rich and the upper middle-class, and if all Indians started consuming as much as the rich do, it will lead to a nearly 50% rise in carbon emissions.  

India ranks 7th in list of countries most affected by climate change in 2019

India featured in the top 10 list of countries most affected by climate change in 2019. The Global Climate Index Risk 2021, which was published by environmental think-tank Germanwatch, analysed the countries based on the impact they suffered as a result of climate change-related extreme weather events. India ranked seventh on the list, behind Mozambique, Zimbabwe, the Bahamas, Japan, Malawi and Afghanistan. South Sudan, Niger and Bolivia completed the top 10 list. The list shows that eight out of the 10 countries most affected by climate change were developing countries. 

The report stated India also faced the second-highest monetary loss as a result of these extreme weather events. Along with a prolonged monsoon season that displaced more than a million people in 2019, India was hit by eight tropical cyclones, with six of them being categorised as very severe’. Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi were included in the list primarily because of Cyclone Idai, which affected 3 million people and claimed at least 1,000 lives.

IMD to use multi-model forecast for more accurate monsoon rain prediction this year 

For the first time, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) will use a multi-model ensemble forecast for a more accurate prediction of monsoon rains this year. The IMD will also issue a special forecast for rain-fed areas that don’t have irrigation to support agriculture. The decision to attempt a multi-model forecast was taken after the department found that its 2020 monsoon rainfall prediction was not up to the mark. 

It had forecasted a normal monsoon season last year at 102% of long period average (LPA) with an error margin of +/-4%. But large month-on-month variations and unusual rainfall patterns resulted in above normal rainfall at 108.7% LPA.

Tropical rain belt likely to shift in response to climate change, major monsoon changes could be in store

A new study threw up significant and worrying future scenarios for one of the most important influencers of global climate. According to the extensive study, published in Nature Climate Change, the tropical monsoon belt, known as the Inter-tropical Convection Zone (ITCZ), is likely to move northwards in the eastern hemisphere and southwards in the western hemisphere in response to increasing global temperatures. 

The ITCZ is basically a narrow belt of low pressure zones around the equator that regulates wind flows and monsoon activity in the global tropics. The belt is particularly important for the monsoon season over the Indian subcontinent, south-east Asia and eastern Africa. According to the new study, which relies on aggregates of 27 climate models, the movement of the ITCZ will likely result in increased flooding in southern India and worsening droughts in southern and eastern Africa.

6% of protected land across globe used to grow crops: Study

Around 6% of the world’s protected lands have been cleared and converted into crop fields, a new study found. The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found cropland covered 13.6% of the planet’s ice-free surface, and overlaps with 6% of protected area. What’s more worrying, the study stated, was that 22% of cropland in protected regions was found in areas with strict protection, such as nature reserves, national parks and wilderness areas. 

While the percentage of cropland in protected areas was more in the northern latitudes, the study found that these lands had been converted from forests before the regions were demarcated as protected. In tropical and subtropical regions, however, surges in conversion were found to be more recent.

Activists link recent Indonesian floods to deforestation for palm oil plantations, coal mines

According to activists in Indonesia, the recent floods in the country’s southern Borneo region were a result of large-scale deforestation to make way for palm oil plantations and coal mines. The floods, caused by heavy rain in the first week of January, displaced over one lakh and killed at least 21 people. According to data from the Indonesian space agency, LAPAN, an area twice the size of London has been deforested in the Barito River’s watershed in the past decade. Another analysis by Greenpeace highlighted massive deforestation in another watershed of Maluka River, which is also in the province. This has led to a large drop in the carrying capacity of the region’s forests, activists said.

Study generates global maps that track changes in forest carbon

A study that introduced a ‘geospatial monitoring network’ to map fluxes in forest carbon found global forests were a net carbon sink of 7.6Gt of CO2 equivalent per year. The research, published in the journal Nature, stated that this calculation pointed to a balance in between gross carbon removals (15.6GtCO2e) and gross emissions from deforestation and other disturbances (8.1GtCO2e). This new mapping approach, using the geospatial monitoring network, will promote alignment and increase transparency when it comes to forest-specific climate mitigation goals, the study stated.    

Climate Policy

Walking the talk: Newly elected US President Joe Biden is letting the world know he means business when it comes to combating climate change | Photo: AP

Biden puts climate back on top of US agenda

Newly elected US President Joe Biden didn’t waste any time to put climate back on top of the country’s priority list. Biden yesterday delivered remarks on his plan to accelerate climate action “with a greater sense of urgency.”

Executive actions announced yesterday will elevate climate change as a national security priority, extend protections to about 30% of all federal land and water, and suspend all new natural gas and oil leases given on federal resources.

A week earlier, on the first day of his presidency, Biden rolled back more than 100 environment regulations formulated by the Trump administration. He also began the process to get the US back into the Paris agreement. It will take 30 days to formalise the re-entry. 

Among the key decisions that Biden revoked was Trump’s approval for the Keystone XL pipeline, which aimed to transport crude oil from Canada. Biden also ordered a review of the previous administration’s decision to downsize national monuments – Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears – which are considered sacred to Native Americans. The downsizing was to tap the lands’ potential for coal mining and oil drilling. More executive orders to combat climate change are in the offing. Meanwhile, the country’s new secretary of state, Anthony Blinken, said there was ‘very strong potential’ for India and the US to work together against climate change.     

Bank of France vows to cut coal from its portfolio

France’s central bank is looking to cut coal from its portfolio. The Bank of France stated its intentions to withdraw from investments in companies in which coal accounts for more than 2% of the total turnover this year. It aims to phase out the greenhouse gas by 2040. These rules, however, will only apply to the bank’s portfolio of around $30 billion and not to its monetary policy operations. The bank also stated its intentions to move away from its investments in non-conventional hydrocarbon activities such as shale gas, oil sands and Arctic and deepwater explorations. 

EU demands global phase out of coal, fossil fuel subsidies

The EU, under its European Green Deal policy, called for a global phase out of coal and fossil fuel subsidies this past fortnight. Europe’s foreign ministers also called for an end to all financing of new coal infrastructure in third-world countries. The deal also focused on scaling up climate finance, especially in regions such as Africa. While Europe is still largely dependent on coal, the deal vows to reach net zero emissions by 2050. 

US court strikes down Trump decision to ease restrictions on coal plants

In a win for environmentalists, a federal court in the US voided a plan put forth by the Trump administration to ease restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions from coal plants. This will give the current Biden administration a clear hand to impose further restrictions on the power plants. Called the Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule, the order would have pushed for greater efficiency in coal plants and therefore have them run for longer under the Clean Air Act, which would in turn prop up demand for coal. The rule was passed by Donald Trump’s EPA, under what the court concluded was a “tortured” interpretation of the Clean Air Act, with emphasis on “words that are not there”. 

Environmentalists lose legal bid to stop UK from building Europe’s biggest gas power plant

In the UK, environmentalists lost their legal appeal challenging the UK government’s approval for a new gas-fired power plant. The project was approved despite climate change objections raised by the planning authority, which led to the appeal filed by environmental charity ClientEarth. The plant will be the biggest gas power station in Europe and is expected to account for 75% of the country’s power sector emissions. Two years ago, the Planning Inspectorate had recommended that ministers don’t approve the project because it would “undermine” the government’s commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Air Pollution

Simple economics: Delhi-NCR's air quality commission has recommended bringing natural gas under the GST regime in order to drive prices down | Photo: DNA India

Air quality panel to seek 5% GST for natural gas

The Commission for Air Quality Management (CAQM) in the National Capital Region (NCR) and adjoining areas, is going to propose to the finance ministry to bring natural gas in the 5% slab under the GST framework, in order to bring down its price. Petroleum products are currently kept outside the GST regime, and natural gas attracts 14% central excise duty in addition to value added taxes levied by states.

The commission said it would make the cost of this cleaner fuel more competitive and therefore economically viable for industries to shift to gas over coal and other solid or liquid fuel. According to CAQM’s own findings, industrial units were a major contributor to the overall air pollution scenario in Delhi and the rest of the NCR. If the industry switches to cleaner gas-based operations, it will significantly cut down the air pollution.

Chimneys of gold processing units at Mumbai’s Kalbadevi razed to curb pollution

Forty of the more than 2,500 chimneys of gold processing units in Mumbai’s Kalbadevi area were demolished by authorities recently. The units operating in small establishments have been rented or sub-let, without any clearance. They process and clean gold with acids, releasing poisonous smoke and fumes from PVC pipes. 

The demolition drive is part of ongoing efforts to curb emissions from chimneys. Last year, the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) acknowledged the pollution caused by gold processing units and made it mandatory for all BIS-certified assaying and hall-marking units to seek clearance under the Air and Water Pollution Act. The CPCB said that gold processing units release lead oxides and nitrous fumes.

Clean cooking gas scheme: Govt’s own data contradicts claim of 98% success

A recent survey put a question mark over the government’s claim of 98% success of the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY) scheme to boost the use of clean cooking gas in rural households. A National Family Health Survey, revealed that the usage of LPG cylinders remains low. The report said that the data of refilling of cylinders released by the central government to defend the success of the scheme actually comes from the supplier side, not the consumer side. It does not reflect the complete picture.

The government’s own survey of 22 states revealed that five years after the launch of the PMUY scheme, the overall usage of clean cooking fuel increased only by 20%. Houses that have LPG cylinders, may not necessarily be using them, reported Mongabay. Around half a million people die annually because of indoor air pollution in India. 

Will Biden be able to toughen vehicle emission standards?

The US President Joe Biden directed agencies to examine dozens of Trump-era rules, including carbon emissions, clean air rollbacks, and Clean Air Act rules on science and costs. Experts say any high standards Biden has in mind to stem emissions from industry through the Clean Air Act will face challenges in court.

The Biden administration has a long list of polluting sources to bring under greenhouse gas standards, including tailpipe emissions from vehicles. Trump softened rules on tailpipe greenhouse gas emissions. The two-part Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles Rule scrapped California’s historic waiver to set its own vehicle emission standards, and pared back fuel efficiency standards for car manufacturers from 5% to 1.5%. Biden ordered agencies to consider the views of representatives from labor unions, states, and industry when evaluating the rule.

Biden asked the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to reexamine Trump rules on scientific considerations and cost-benefit analyses under the Clean Air Act. Both rules put limits on how scientific research and cost and benefits are weighed under the statute, which critics worry could further impair Biden’s ability to craft new air regulations. 

US: Toyota to pay $180 million fine for a decade of clean air law violation

Toyota Motors will pay a $180 million fine for longstanding violations of America’s Clean Air Act. Toyota is not contesting the fine, which is the largest civil penalty ever levied for a breach of federal emissions-reporting requirements.

From about 2005 to 2015, Toyota failed to report defects that interfered with how its cars controlled tailpipe emissions, violating standards designed to protect public health and the environment from harmful air pollutants, according to a complaint filed in Manhattan.

Toyota managers and staff in Japan knew about the practice, but failed to stop it, and the automaker quite likely sold millions of vehicles with the defects, reported the NYT.

UK study links air pollution with irreversible sight loss

A new extensive study published in the British Journal of Ophthalmology, involving 115,954 subjects in the UK, revealed an increased risk of progressive and irreversible sight loss arising from air pollution exposure. The study, conducted on people between 40 and 69 years of age, showed that even small increases in pollutants, particularly small particulate matter, have a strong correlation with age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Interestingly, researchers found PM2.5, PM10, NO2 and NOx exposure to all be associated with differences in retinal layer thickness.


Eyeing a piece: Under pressure to increase clean energy investments, French oil major Total is eyeing India's 1.3 billion users through stake in Adani Green | Photo: Reuters

RE push: French energy giant Total buys $2.5 billion stake in Adani Green, eyeing Indian users

In a drive to cut dependence on oil, French energy company Total is paying $2.5 billion for a share in Indian renewable energy firm Adani Green Energy Limited (AGEL) and a portfolio of solar power assets. Total will get a 20% stake in AGEL and a seat on its board, as well as a 50% share in the Indian firm’s portfolio of solar power assets, the French firm said.

Global companies under pressure to invest in environmental assets are eyeing India’s 1.3 billion energy users, reported Bloomberg, citing an instance of French oil major Total SA’s $2.5 billion investment in Adani Green Energy last week.

The report said India’s goal of doubling renewable power by 2022 is getting a boost from international investors who see the massive market’s potential outweighing significant risks, including a mounting debt at generation companies and attempts by some provinces to renege on power purchase contracts. India is expecting to nearly double renewable energy capacity by 2022 and raise it five-fold to 450 gigawatts over the next decade. India is offering investment opportunities of $20 billion a year through 2030.

Power min mulls extension of ISTS charges waiver for solar, wind projects beyond deadline 

The ministry of power said it is considering extending the inter-state transmission system (ISTS) charges waiver beyond June 30, 2023. The ministry said it won’t deprive renewable power projects of a waiver on inter-state transmission system (ISTS) charges and losses if they are commissioned after June 20, 2023, due to delays caused by the transmission provider or the government agency or due to force majeure. Last August, the deadline for waivers was 2023.

The government wants to waive off the charges and losses to encourage wind and solar energy capacity addition in the country. This move will reduce the cost of generation to achieve the country’s target of achieving 175 GW of renewable energy capacity by December 31, 2022.

Punjab to amend net metering rules to restrict rooftop solar installations

The Punjab State Electricity Regulatory Commission (PSERC) may soon amend the net metering rules, 2015, over the issue of losses faced by the state discom Punjab State Power Corporation Limited (PSPCL) from rooftop solar power consumers.  PSPCL said the cost of producing solar power had come down significantly, and solar power was available at about ₹2.60 (~$0.035)/kWh plus the trading margin. Thus, procuring cheap solar power from the market and distributing it to the consumers would be more beneficial than rooftop solar projects under the present net metering regulations.

Meanwhile, to popularise solar power, the West Bengal government allowed net metering for individual household rooftop solar panels starting from 1 KW, ET reported. Earlier, institutional, commercial, industrial and cooperative housing were only allowed the benefit of net metering and that too for 5 KW capacity onwards.

Global green bond issuance touched record high in 2020

According to the latest research, global green bond issuance reached a record high of $269.5 billion by the end of last year and could reach $400-$450 billion this year. Green bonds are fixed-income securities that raise capital for projects with environmental benefits, such as renewable energy or low-carbon transport. The issuance of green bonds slowed in the second quarter of 2020 because of the effects of the COVID-19 crisis before rebounding in the third quarter, according to a report by the Climate Bonds Initiative (CBI).

Supporting factors for green bond issuance this year include the return of the US to the Paris Agreement to fight climate change and investors’ and policymakers’ growing focus on decarbonising industrial sectors, Reuters reported.

China doubles new renewable capacity in 2020, builds new thermal plants

According to state data, China more than doubled its new wind and solar power plants in 2020 from a year earlier. The world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitter added 71.67 gigawatts (GW) of wind power capacity last year, the most ever and nearly triple 2019’s levels. Beijing will end subsidies for new onshore wind power projects starting 2021. New solar power capacity also rebounded in 2020 to 48.2 GW after falling for two straight years, the data showed, beating an earlier industry estimate of 40 GW.

The state figures also revealed that China continued to build new thermal power capacity in 2020, according to the data, with 56.37 GW – the highest level since 2015.

IEA and India ink strategic partnership agreement

India and the International Energy Agency (IEA) signed a strategic partnership agreement to strengthen cooperation in global energy security and stability. The power ministry’s statement said this partnership will lead to an extensive exchange of knowledge and would be a stepping stone towards India becoming a full member of the IEA.

IEA and India will jointly decide the contents of partnership, including a phased increase in benefits and responsibilities for India as an IEA strategic partner, and building on existing areas of work within the association and the Clean Energy Transitions Programme, such as energy security, clean and sustainable energy, expansion of gas-based economy in India, etc.

Electric Vehicles

In a flash: StoreDot's new batteries can be recharged in just 5 minutes, but their real-world performance may be limited by the capacity of the chargers they are plugged into | Photo: nocamels.com

Israeli firm launches superfast, 5-minute recharge technology

Israel’s StoreDot Technologies released its first production batch of li-ion EV batteries that it says can be recharged to full capacity in a mere five minutes. The technical breakthrough is part of the firm’s extreme fast charging (XFC) technology and was achieved by replacing the batteries’ traditional graphite-based anodes with semiconductor nano-particles. StoreDot announced that its batteries will heavily feature silicon going forward — which is a much cheaper alternative to graphite — and it demonstrated the technology’s capabilities in 2019 when it recharged an electric two-wheeler to full capacity in under five minutes. 

However, even though the firm claimed it would get rid of customers’ range anxiety, the actual rate of recharging EVs would be limited by the amount of power charging points can pump in at any given point. Also, StoreDot CEO Doron Myersdorf pointed out that with the batteries retaining only 80% of their charge after 1,000 cycles, their durability is a concern at the moment. 

India: E-bike operator launches two-wheeler exchange programme as EV sales post rapid growth

BLive, India’s electric bike tourism platform, partnered up with CredR (a used two-wheeler brand) to launch an exchange programme for petrol two-wheelers across Delhi NCR, Pune, Jaipur and Bangalore. The programme will offer instant quotes for used petrol two-wheelers based on an evaluation system developed by CredR, and users will receive an electric two-wheeler in return. Both firms are reportedly keen on the partnership as they expect India’s EV sales to do well after the economy recovers from 2020. 

The news comes amidst reports that India’s electric two-wheeler manufacturers are actually experiencing rapid growth in sales. Gurugram-based Okinawa Motors, for instance, is expecting a 200% growth in the short term, Bangalore-based Ultraviolette Automotive is expecting to sell 10,000 units in the next 12 months, and Hero Electric says its sales are 10 times the numbers last year. Interestingly, Hero’s online sales have strengthened “exponentially”, said its director, and an independent study by CEEW has pegged the country’s EV market to grow 200 times by 2030.

E-buses in Andaman and Nicobar, e-taxis in Chile 

The Indian island territory of Andaman and Nicobar added 14 electric buses to its fleet, and they will be powered by electricity from charging stations that are set up by NTPC (under its commercial arm NVVN). The buses are part of the territory’s plan to induct 40 such units into its fleet and are expected to help lower the region’s transport emissions. 

Also, the Chilean government has launched the ‘My Electric Taxi Programme’ to encourage owners of IC engined-taxis to switch to electric taxis — that are built by China’s BYD — in a bid to address the sustainability targets of its transport fleet. The programme will offer up to $11,000 to each owner in co-benefits to make the switch, and the BYD E5, the taxi in question, can reportedly drive for 400km on a single charge. Chile already has a fleet of 455 electric buses and the 50 news taxis to be added would make it the largest e-taxi fleet in Chile.

VW Group lowers new car emissions intensity by 20%

The VW Group reported it has lowered the average CO2 emissions of its new car fleet in the EU by around 20% for 2020 over 2019, and it now stands at 99.8g/km. The reduction is due to the group posting a 400% jump in its EV sales over the past year — led by the ID.3 and Audi e-tron models — and its CEO said the group is on track to becoming a carbon-neutral company by 2050. VW has a target to sell 26 million EVs by 2030 and it will invest around €35 billion in expanding its EV line-up.

Fossil Fuels

Buried away: Saudi Aramco chose not to report 50% of its carbon emissions under the garb of joint ownership with its partners to attract climate-conscious investors | Photo: Katusa Research

Bloomberg Green: Saudi Aramco underreported emissions by up to 50% to lure investors

Bloomberg Green reported that Saudi Aramco purposely under-reported its carbon emissions by as much as 50% to make itself look like a more attractive option to investors. Leading up to its much-anticipated IPO in 2019, the state-owned firm — also one of the world’s largest oil refiners — chose not to report figures from its refineries outside Saudi Arabia, such as in Malaysia, China, South Korea and Japan, under the argument that they were operated under joint ventures with local partners. 

Instead, it repeatedly cited a study published in the journal Science, which ranks its oil operations as the second-cleanest in the world, behind only Denmark, even though reporting the true extent of its carbon footprint would have added around 55 million tonnes of CO2 to its tally and nearly doubled its emissions count. The firm is also planning to expand its refining capacity to about 10 million barrels a day by 2030, and Bloomberg said it would not have reported the emissions from the expansion under its previous reporting guidelines. 

In response to the news, however, Saudi Aramco released a statement saying its “current disclosure reflects emissions from those assets where Aramco has the accountability and ability to manage and control emissions”, and that “it will begin disclosing direct emissions from its full global operations this year.” 

Joe Biden cancels Keystone XL permit, shelves Alaskan drilling leases 

New US President Joe Biden cancelled the cross-border permit needed for the controversial Keystone XL pipeline on his very first day in office, and the step could effectively kill the project that would have transported crude oil from Canada’s oil sands far up north to the Gulf Coast of the US. The $8 billion pipeline started construction in 2020 after being revived by the Trump Administration, but was vehemently opposed by environmentalists for the emissions intensity of the crude oil that it would transport.

In response to the cancellation, the Canadian province of Alberta — whose economy depends heavily on oil and gas jobs — said that it will pursue legal remedies and it may also sue the Biden administration for damages. Neighbouring province Saskatchewan even suggested sanctions against the US, while Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressed his disappointment over the cancellation. 

The Biden Administration also put a temporary moratorium on the sale of drilling leases in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), which the previous government had hastily pushed through in a last-ditch effort to open the pristine land to oil and gas drilling. Drilling in the ANWR was okayed despite persistent environmental opposition and lack of support from US banks. 

Total exits American Petroleum Institute over differences in climate positions 

French oil and gas giant Total quit the American Petroleum Institute (API), and, effectively, the US oil lobby, over its differences on the API’s positions on tackling climate change, carbon pricing, regulations on methane emissions and subsidies for electric vehicles. Its exit makes Total the first of the largest international oil drillers to opt out, and it may influence other drillers, such as BP, Royal Dutch Shell and Equinor to follow suit. 

Yet, ExxonMobil and Chevron — two of the US’s largest drillers — are likely to continue their API membership. The API, while commenting on subsidies for electric vehicles, said it “does not support subsidies for energy”. However, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) had reported in 2017 that the US spent $5.2 trillion in subsidising fossil fuels — which was the equivalent of 6.5% of the global GDP that year. 

Japanese bank uses green bonds to finance new coal plant in Vietnam 

Japan-based JBIC (Japan Bank for International Cooperation) came under heavy criticism for financing the 1,200 MW Vung Ang 2 coal plant in Vietnam using money it raised through green bonds. The bank bizarrely classified it under its “development of quality infrastructure for environmental preservation and sustainable growth (QI-ESG)” fund and will invest $636 million in the project, even though the plant would emit several times more particulate matter, NOx and SO2 than is allowed under emission standards within Japan. 

The fund, interestingly, has so far funded five natural gas power plants, compared to two wind power projects and one in solar panel manufacturing. Ulf Erlandsson, formerly with the Anthropocene Fixed Income Institute — that works as a climate watchdog for the international bond market — said the JBIC should be excluded from international bond portfolios for its misuse of Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) principles, and that it was in the “frontrunner position for the most egregious greenwashing of the decade award.”