Newsletter - February 20, 2020
It isn’t often that Antarctica records temperatures comparable with those seen in the tropics. Yet, this fortnight, that’s exactly what happened — twice, and in quick succession. First, researchers at an Argentinian station in the Antarctic Peninsula, which juts out of north-western Antarctica towards the southern tip of South America, observed a temperature of 18.3°C on February 6. Three days later, Brazilian scientists reported a temperature of 20.75°C from an island off the peninsula. The recent observations displace previous record highs of 17.5°C and 19.8°C set in 2015 and 1982 for the mainland and entire Antarctic region respectively.
The unusually balmy temperatures in the ice-covered continent have been attributed to a mix of local and regional meteorological factors facilitated by oceanic and atmospheric circulations. The root of the warm temperatures can be traced back to a zone of warm high pressure air that moved from the southern tip of South America towards Antarctica in the beginning of February. According to meteorologists studying the event, the weakened state of the Southern Hemisphere Westerlies — winds which usually form a protective band around Antarctica, along with warm “foehn winds”, which flow along the mountain range that forms the spine of the Antarctic Peninsula — have culminated in the record-breaking temperatures in the region.
These yet-to-be-confirmed individual observations by no means paint a uniform picture of the climatic state of the entire continent. They are, however, consistent with the larger pattern of warming that has been observed over the continent, especially as observations have improved in recent years. According to the World Meteorological Organization, average temperatures have risen by about 3°C over the past 50 years with an acceleration in warming observed in the past 30 years. During the same period, ice loss from the continent has increased more than six-fold to reach an average rate of 155 ± 19 Gt per year in the decade between 2006 and 2015.
Conventional beliefs that the Arctic is more prone to the effects of global warming and human activities such as oil-drilling and that Antarctica is relatively insulated from the effects owing to its much larger mass of ice and the protected status it enjoys have all but dissipated in recent years as improved observations and simulations have trickled in. While Antarctica is still off limits for military and industrial use, markers of global warming are now well and truly visible on the continent — especially in the western regions from where accelerated glacial flows and ice loss have increasingly been reported over recent decades.
In addition to increasing atmospheric temperatures and extreme events melting ice from above, improved observational capabilities have revealed a more dangerous and subliminal mode of melting. Over the past few years, it has become clearer that incursions of warmer water from the Southern Ocean have been melting the undersides of ice shelves where they meet the Antarctic land mass and weakening the structures that effectively keep glacial flows on the continent in check. While the process has been most visible in vulnerable glaciers in Western Antarctica, evidence has increasingly pointed to the process being active in the eastern parts as well. The Southern Ocean, which has absorbed more than half the heat trapped by greenhouse gases between 2005 and 2017, is slated to get warmer. Worryingly, the prospect of meltwater from Antarctica enabling a positive feedback loop upon mixing with the ocean and causing further accelerations in melting is a highly likely scenario.
Although Antarctica alone contains enough ice to raise global sea levels by a staggering 60m, projections included in the Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate published by the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change in October 2019 indicate average global sea level rise to be between 0.43m and 0.84m by the end of the century. While the spectre of sea level rise is increasingly being viewed as a concern across coastal regions, how exactly the variability in Antarctic ice cover and the water profile of the Southern Ocean is likely to translate to atmospheric and oceanic currents is still largely unexplored territory with potentially significant impacts.
A study published last year showed that warming had contributed to a change in the direction of wind over West Antarctica, which was bringing in greater quantities of warmer ocean water and accelerating ice loss on the continent. In fact, the recent unusual warmth seen in the Antarctic Peninsula offers a snapshot of the kind of impact sustained ice loss and meltwater mixing is likely to have, especially in the southern hemisphere where several circulations are regulated by pressure differences with Antarctica. According to researchers, warmer waters around the peninsula over recent months facilitated a northward displacement of the Southern Hemisphere Westerlies, which would have normally insulated the peninsula from the incursion of warm winds from South America. Far-reaching climatic implications of Arctic warming and polar sea ice losses have just begun to be uncovered and it would be no surprise if the changes in Antarctica manifest in similar influences of global patterns.
As GHG emissions continue at a staggering pace of over 50 billion tonnes per year, the world is expected to breach 1.5°Celsius warming by mid-century if drastic cut-backs in emissions are not achieved. While governments chart their responses to extreme weather events and slow-onset events such as sea level rise and coastal incursions of sea water, drastic changes in the composition of the polar regions and their immediate surroundings could trigger variabilities in global climate through far-reaching implications on oceanic and atmospheric circulations that end up throwing a spanner in the works of any adaptive action planned by governments.
Britain was battered by rain this past weekend as Storm Dennis flooded many parts of the country and killed at least three people. Hundreds of people have been evacuated and the worst-hit regions are south Wales, Herefordshire, Worcestershire and Shropshire. Yellow weather warnings (flood warnings) are in place in several parts of the UK. Climate scientists have warned the UK to brace for similar storms in the future as rainfall becomes more intense with climate change. There was an urgent need for more natural drainage systems, scientists said, to avoid having to raise the sea level every year to counter the flooding.
India records excessive rain in winter: IMD
When it rains, it pours, especially in India. After battling a ferocious monsoon comes news that winter in the country was also unusually wet and cold. According to the India Meteorological Department (IMD), November rain in northwest India was the highest ever since 1951.
Two depressions and one cyclonic storm named Pawan were also observed over the Arabian Sea – which is a record for the month since 1891, the IMD said. An unusually cold spell was also observed in the second half of December in the north and central regions of India. In the northwest, especially, a maximum temperature of 17.5°C was recorded, which is 3.2°C below normal.
Parts of Amazon emitting more CO2 than they absorb
Months after the Amazon wildfires caught the world’s attention comes new research that suggests that the one-fifth of the rainforest is emitting more CO2 than it absorbs. The main culprit, according to the decade-long study, is deforestation. Dead trees release the carbon dioxide that was absorbed when alive.
The main concern the study raises is that the Amazon, which is a key carbon store, may be turning into a carbon source faster than anticipated, which could have a detrimental impact on the fight against climate change.
Global warming will destroy cloud cover that protects Earth from solar energy: New research
So far, there has been consensus on how much the planet will warm up to in the future if CO2 levels double from pre-industrial levels – this is 3°C with an error bar extending from a low of 1.5°C to a high of 4.5°C. But new research overturns this consensus and paints a picture that is much worse than these estimates.
Recent climate models have changed the way they observe clouds and have made a startling discovery – cloud cover, which keeps the earth cool and protects us from solar radiation, will be drastically reduced as global warming increases. These new climate models are, therefore, pushing the climate’s sensitivity to doubling CO2 levels a degree or more higher, ranging up to 5.6°C. The revised estimates put the Paris Agreement and climate deals in serious jeopardy.
Carbon emissions did not rise in 2019: IEA
In some apparent good news, global carbon emissions stopped growing last year, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). After two years of a consistent increase, emissions ‘flatlined’ at 33 gigatonnes in 2019, the report stated. It cited the expansion of wind and solar energy sources, a switch from coal to natural gas by some countries, and additional nuclear power output for the lull. Atmospheric CO2 concentrations, however, continue to rise, according to the report.Meanwhile, a new study found global biomass fire emissions were roughly 30% more than what was previously published. This is significant because these fires affect greenhouse gas atmospheric balance significantly.
In a major upset to fossil fuel naysayers, the European Union (EU) has backed 32 major gas infrastructure projects worth €29 billion. The move would mean Europe will now burn fossil fuels for generations while adding 338 GW capacity to the region’s natural gas infrastructure system. To make matters worse, under the EU’s funding programme, taxpayers may have to pay up to 50% of the cost of the projects.
The projects, which are based in a long stretch spanning from Ireland to Croatia, have been deemed ‘unnecessary’ by consulting firm Artelys and environmentalists have called out the EU’s ‘hypocrisy’ over the climate crisis and questioned any imagined success of the European green deal.
Paris Agreement: Only 3 countries meet deadline to upgrade climate plans
Nine months to Cop 26 in Glasgow and almost all the countries missed the informal February 9 deadline to upgrade their climate goals as per the Paris Agreement. So far, only three countries – Marshall Islands, Suriname and Norway – which account for 0.1% of global emissions, have submitted their plans.
UK appoints Alok Sharma as new COP 26 president
Days after UK’s former energy minister Claire O’Neill was sacked from her role as COP 26 president, the Boris Johnson government appointed former secretary of state for international development Alok Sharma as her replacement. Sharma has now been elevated to the role of secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy. Sharma has worked on climate mitigation and adaptation in developing countries, which will be useful during negotiations at COP 26, but he is still considered to be a sceptical choice because of his poor voting record on green issues in parliament.
EU may levy tax on imported goods with heavy carbon footprint
The EU is mulling a carbon border tax to be imposed on imported goods that have a heavy carbon footprint. This tariff is aimed at countries that have a lower carbon emissions price as compared to the EU. Experts are also viewing the tax as a ‘powerful weapon’ that the EU could use in future climate trade wars, especially against Britain post Brexit.
A recent report produced by Greenpeace Southeast Asia and the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air says air pollution from fossil fuels costs India Rs10.7 lakh crore (US$150 billion) annually or 5.4% of its GDP. Greenpeace said this was the third-highest cost from fossil fuel air pollution worldwide. China tops the highest cost with US$900 billion followed by the United States with US$600 billion. According to the report, the total economic and health costs arising from burning fossil fuels amounted to a whopping US$2.9 trillion in 2018 or US$8 billion per day. The report also estimates a million deaths in India annually because of pollution generated from fossil fuels and 980,000 pre-term births. The study highlighted other sources of India’s economic costs, including around 350,000 new cases of child asthma each year linked to NO2, a by-product of fossil fuel combustion. As a result, around 1,285,000 more children in India live with asthma linked to fossil fuel pollution. Exposure to pollution from fossil fuels also leads to around 49 crore days of work absence due to illness, the study stated.
China shut down over Coronavirus: Automakers may seek extension of BS-IV deadline
Will India miss the BS IV vehicle registration deadline because of the Coronavirus outbreak in China? Mahindra and Mahindra officials said the industry might seek an extension of the deadline to register BS-IV vehicles from the Apex court if critical components from China do not arrive in time amidst the novel coronavirus outbreak. The current deadline is set for March 31, 2020 before which companies have to manufacture and sell their existing BS IV inventory.
Many auto parts come from China, therefore automakers are worried because shortage of a few critical components can stall the entire production line. Companies that were still manufacturing BS-IV emission norms compliant vehicles have found themselves in a fix as these vehicles cannot be registered in India after March 31 when the BS-VI norms come into force and most parts for these vehicles have already been sourced, ET reported.
Country’s largest air quality monitoring network to be set up in Mumbai
Mumbai’s Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) approved an air quality monitoring network of 90 stations in the city, making it the largest such network to come up in India. The proposed network will provide hourly and daily concentration levels for pollutants like particulate matter (PM1, PM2.5, PM10) as well as three-day forecasts. Monitoring of nitrogen dioxide (NO2), ground-level ozone (O3), carbon monoxide (CO) and sulphur dioxide (SO2) will be introduced in subsequent stages.
Mumbai witnessed an 80% spike in particulate matter concentration from 2007 to 2018. PM10 (solid and liquid particles less than 10 microns suspended in the air, predominantly a part of dust, which can cause health ailments) concentration was the highest in 20 years in 2018 at 162 microgrammes per cubic metre (µg/m3), which was almost thrice the national ambient air quality safety standards (60 µg/m3), and eight times the international standards (20 µg/m3) identified by the World Health Organisation (WHO). The 2019 average has not been published by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) yet.
India has shut down 170 coal plants so far: MOEFCC Advisor
India has shut down 170 old and inefficient power units so far, a senior environment ministry advisor told attendees at an industry event in New Delhi. He added that India is committed to 40% non-fossil fuel based energy by 2030. Last month, finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman said in her budget speech that the government will advise utilities to close thermal power plants that are in violation of National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) norms. The budget allocated Rs4,400 crore for NCAP for 2020-21. However, experts say India’s coal consumption will double by 2040.
Last year, a global study said power plants in India were the unhealthiest in the world. India still has many older power plants that do not cut sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and mercury emissions and they are equipped with insufficient flue gas treatment. These plants also often burn coal of inferior quality, the report had said.
Switchover to emission norms unlikely to create headwind for tractor industry: ICRA
A study by ratings agency ICRA stated the new Bharat Stage (BS IV) emission norms for the tractor industry, which will come into force in October 2020, will not leave much impact on cutting air pollution or create headwinds for the industry. The report said the emission norms are only applicable to tractors with 50HP engines, which account for only 13% of industry sales. The rest of the machines (i.e. tractors below 50HP) will move to the new norms only from October 2023, the agency added. ICRA experts said the passing of the incremental cost to the farmers is likely to prove to be a challenge, given the price sensitive nature of the farming community.
CSE report: Delhi air cleaner, but Centre’s data on clean air not based on real-time monitoring
The latest study by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) said New Delhi had 50% more cleaner air days in 2019, compared to four years ago. In 2019, Delhi had nearly 200 days when PM2.5 (particulate matter of size 2.5 micron) fell in the ‘good’ to ‘moderate’ categories, CSE said. Based on Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) data, the report, Breathing Space: How to track and report air pollution under the National Clean Air Programme, said the PM2.5 levels in Delhi have come down by 25-30% over the past few years. The report pointed out major gaps in air quality monitoring in the country. Consider this: India is expected to cut 30% air pollution in 122 cities highly polluted cities by 2024 compared to 2017 levels, which means reducing pollution by 6% annually in each of the 122 cities, and reporting it. CSE researchers said the authorities do not know the methods and standard operating procedures for such reporting. How will cities know if their pollution levels are rising or declining? The report also pointed out that the government uses data from manual air pollution monitors and not real-time data, which is far more continuous and voluminous than manual data to establish a long-term trend.
Following the budget 2020 announcement that solar PV cells and modules will attract 20% basic Customs duty, the government has clarified that effective basic Customs duty on solar products would be zero. The Centre has asked solar PV manufacturers to submit a list of machines and goods they would like to be off the list of products attracting basic Customs duty. There has been uncertainty in the industry over the effective rate of basic Customs duty on solar imports. The budget had split the tariffs into two categories – unassembled solar cells, or solar cells assembled into modules or panels; both of which would incur a duty of 20%. Earlier, solar products falling under either of these categories were considered the same and did not attract any basic Custom duty, however, imported solar cells and modules had been attracting a progressive safeguard duty over the past two years to promote domestic manufacturing.
Govt to set up special board to minimise risks for RE developers from state policies
Recent disputes regarding renewable energy projects and state government policies, most notably in Andhra Pradesh, has prompted the government to set up a board to address discord between state governments and renewable energy developers and minimise risks to investors. The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) issued an order on 18 February for the establishment of a Renewable Energy Promotion and Facilitation Board, which will work with developers and state governments in order to ensure smooth implementation of projects and financial institutions to ease the availability of finance for renewable projects. The move comes in light of waning investor interest in renewable projects in the country ostensibly due to states that have sought to cancel or review existing contracts. The board, which is due to meet once every 15 days, will include three joint secretaries from MNRE, senior officials from the ministries of finance and power, the Central Electricity Authority, the Central Electricity Regulatory Commission, National Thermal Power Corporation, REC, Power Finance Corp, Indian Renewable Energy Development Agency (Ireda) and Solar Energy Corp of India.
Tariffs for solar plus storage drop to record low of Rs4.04/unit in latest auctions
After the 2017 record low tariff of Rs2.44 per unit, the solar energy sector served yet another body blow to polluting coal power, this time tariffs for assured solar power, with storage, dropped to Rs4.04, lower than Rs4.24 per unit coal power tariff discovered at recent auctions by PFC and NHPC. SECI’s latest 1200MW solar storage auction was bagged by Greenko and RFeNew for the average tariff of both peak and non-peak hours for Rs4.04. In peak hours, discoms dish out up to Rs6.5 to buy power from the open market to meet demand.
Boost to wind energy: India to drop ceiling tariffs from wind energy auctions
In what could be a massive boost to the wind energy sector, the Centre plans to drop tariff ceiling on wind tenders. The industry has been demanding the government stop imposing tariff ceilings. Recently all solar and wind tenders by the Solar Energy Corporation of India (SECI) have imposed tariff ceilings above which bids were not accepted. Renewable energy developers complain that tariff ceilings are too low to be economically viable and stops industry from taking part in auctions. SECI’s most recent wind tender has been postponed five times because of tepid participation. The ceiling tariff for it was Rs2.93 per unit, ET reported.
Meanwhile, Gujarat recently proposed to stop the practice of setting generic tariff for wind projects. The state government has sought public opinion on its discussion paper on tariff determination.
Govt to sell 100% stake of state-run solar manufacturing firm CEL
India has decided to sell 100% stake and privatise Central Electronics Limited. State-owned CEL is a pioneer in India in the field of Solar Photovoltaic (SPV). It developed India’s first solar cell in 1977 and first solar panel in 1978 as well as commissioning India’s first solar plant in 1992. CEL developed and manufactured the first crystalline flexible solar panel, especially for use on passenger train roofs in 2015. CEL’s creations have been qualified to International Standards IEC 61215/61730. CEL is further working on developing a range of new and upgraded products for signaling and telecommunication in the railway sector, ET reported.
Parliamentary panel slams Centre for missing renewable energy targets
A Parliamentary panel on energy slammed the Centre for failing to meet annual capacity addition targets. The House panel warned India won’t be able to meet 175GW by 2022 target at this rate. Consider this: The government could achieve only 11,319 MW of grid-connected RE capacity addition against a target of 16,560 MW in 2016-17. It managed to achieve only 11,876 MW of the targeted 14,445 MW in 2017-18. Similarly, during 2018-19, only 8,519 MW could be installed against the target of 15,355 MW, a shortfall of 44.50%, ET reported. Data from the renewable energy ministry’s own website shows for the current financial (2019-20), the ministry had managed to achieve 4,272 MW of the targeted 11,852 MW grid-connected capacity by the end of September. Data shows 7,592 MW of renewable energy capacity has been added in the current fiscal year as of December 2019. Performance in the solar rooftop segment was dismal. The ministry had achieved 537 MW by December 2019 against the annual target of 1,000 MW.
India’s renewables sector attracted Rs132,626 crore investment since 2017
Power minister RK Singh told Parliament that India witnessed a huge Rs1,32,626 crore investment in the country’s renewable energy sector in the past three years since April 2017. In the solar power segment alone, a total investment of Rs37,451 crore and Rs26,116.8 crore were made in 2017-18 and 2018-19, respectively. This includes Rs55,436 crore investment made in 2017-18, Rs40,459 crore invested in 2018-19 and Rs36,729 crore investment done in the first nine months of the current financial year (2019-20). In the solar power segment alone, a total investment of Rs37,451 crore and Rs26,116.8 crore were made in 2017-18 and 2018-19, respectively. Solar power projects worth Rs22,199 crore were set up in the current fiscal till December. The minister said as on January 1, 2020, the country has installed 85.90 GW of renewable energy capacity, which constitutes 23% of total installed power generation capacity in the country.
Chennai Metro to be powered by renewable energy
Chennai Metro has decided to run on renewable energy such as wind, solar, and wind-solar hybrid. It will draw 90 million units (MUs)/year of solar energy, 72 MUs/year wind, and 90 MUs/year wind-solar hybrid projects. Metros in various states have adopted renewable power to fuel their energy requirements recently. Uttar Pradesh Electricity Regulatory Commission (UPERC) allowed the Noida Metro Rail Corporation Limited (NMRC) to install 10 MW of rooftop solar power projects with a net metering facility. In 2019, the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation began using power from waste to energy projects set up by the East Delhi Waste Processing Company Limited in Gazipur, Uttar Pradesh, Mercom reported.
India’s EESL has issued a fresh tender for 1,000 new electric sedans to electrify its entire fleet by 2030. The tender has been split into two categories: 750 new e-cars with a three-year maintenance and warranty contract, and 250 new units with a six-year contract. Tata Motors and the Mahindra Group are expected to meet the bulk of the order, but the entry criterion of three years’ experience in manufacturing cars means several smaller players may also get the opportunity to bid for the contract.
The new tender comes despite the previous call for 10,000 cars (in 2017) having elicited a poor response towards the units that were supplied by Tata and Mahindra. Their electric sedans were criticised for poor driving range and operational efficiency.
14,000 tonnes of lithium reserves found outside Bangalore
14,100 tonnes of lithium have been discovered in Mandya, 100km outside of Bangalore, as reported by the Atomic Minerals Directorate. However, the find is part of a reserve of 30,000 tonnes of lithium dioxide (LiO2) and is quite small when compared to deposits in Lithium exporting nations, such as Chile (8.6 million tonnes), Australia (2.6 million tonnes) and Argentina (1.7 million tonnes), and may not make much of a difference to India’s dependence on imports of the metal. Yet, more such deposits would help India develop some level of self-sufficiency in manufacturing EV batteries.
As more confirmation of the same, India’s imports of li-ion batteries jumped by 4X in 2016-18, and its import bills swelled from $323 million in 2016 to $1,255 million in 2018, before falling to $929 million in 2019. Most of the batteries went to mobile phones and electric vehicles, although the percentage split between the two isn’t yet known.
Tesla exploring cobalt-free batteries with CATL
Tesla is reportedly in talks with its Chinese partner CATL (Contemporary Amperex Technology Co Ltd.) to develop zero-cobalt batteries for the cars that come out of its Shanghai gigafactory. The strategy is to insulate itself from the steadily climbing prices of the mineral as more and more EV batteries are produced, and CATL will instead build lithium iron-phosphate (LFP) batteries. However, LFP batteries have lower energy density, but CATL may compensate with 15-20% higher volumetric efficiency.
Financing for new coal plants is reportedly slowing down, or being suspended, in Poland, as the brakes have been pulled on the proposed 1GW Ostroleka C coal plant. The plant has failed to generate adequate investor interest despite 5% of it having been constructed. Poland remains one of the EU’s largest coal consumers and still generates two-thirds of its power from the fuel.
The plant may eventually be re-drafted as a gas-fired plant, though, because under current EU regulations, any new coal-fired plant would have to pay hefty penalties on each tonne of carbon emitted to the atmosphere. Ostroleka has also been turned down by the state-run PGE in favour of solar and wind capacity.
Warming winters hurting demand for indoor heating and fossil fuels
An unusually warm winter for the northern nations this year has stymied demand for oil and natural gas by as much as 800,000 barrels per day. The excessively warm temperatures — as much as 6°C above normal — have meant that demand for indoor heating plummeted in Norway, Russia and Japan as its residents didn’t have to rely as much on indoor heating.
While this year’s unusually mild winter was caused by a weather phenomenon that kept the frigid Arctic winds locked to within the region, the irony is that a warming planet means that fossil fuel firms are inadvertently undoing one of their biggest sources of revenue and justification for their operations — space heating. The trend is likely to intensify, because the polar and sub polar regions are reportedly heating up at rates almost twice that of the rest of the world.
India to stop importing thermal coal by 2024, CIL moving towards solar power
The Indian minister for coal has indicated that the country will aim to stop importing thermal coal by 2024. The move is aimed to drive self-sufficiency for the country in its coal consumption, which has been on the upswing lately.
The minister identified energy efficiency and the opening of up to 100 new coal blocks to meet the shortfall, as well as new pit-head coal plants and greater coordination between the railways, shipping lines and Coal India Ltd. to steer it towards its target of one billion tonnes of coal output by 2024.