Vol 1, April 2023 | Oceans of trouble

Experts have warned that the gradual advancement of the El Niño weather patterns this year may lead to deficit monsoon rainfall that might have a devastating effect on the ecosystem.

Experts have warned that the gradual advancement of the El Niño weather patterns this year may lead to deficit monsoon rainfall. Read more

Experts have warned that the gradual advancement of the El Niño weather patterns this year may lead to deficit monsoon rainfall, and are worried that it might have a devastating effect on the ecosystem.

What is an El Nino Effect & How Its Bad News for India

Experts have warned that the gradual advancement of the El Niño weather patterns this year may lead to deficit monsoon rainfall

The India Meteorological Department (IMD) this week delivered its first long-range forecast for this year’s monsoon. In terms of total rainfall observed over the season, the IMD expects this year’s monsoon to bring 96% of the Long Period Average (with a modelling error of +/-5%). The forecast, if it materialises, places monsoon performance within the “normal” range, albeit narrowly. 

Despite the normal forecast, mid-way into summer 2023, India is jittery. Big shifts underway in oceanic and atmospheric circulations could carry momentous implications for South Asia. The El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO)—a natural warming and cooling cycle originating in the Pacific Ocean—is increasingly showing signs of a phase shift. After a prolonged La Niña—the cool phase of the ENSO, which lasted three years—the Pacific is showing signs of warming, indicating the return of the El Niño—the warm phase of the cycle. 

With sea surface temperatures gradually rising in the equatorial Pacific, forecasters around the world expect the transition to an ENSO-neutral state across the Northern Hemisphere by May 2023, and then possibly move into an El Niño phase. It has been suggested that there is about a 50% probability of an El Niño developing between July-September 2023. The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) has also stated that the probability of El Niño developing this year gradually increases from 15% in April-June to 35% in May-July, reaching significantly higher chances of around 55% during June-August. The Bureau of Meteorology (Australia) has also predicted a 50% chance of El Niño forming later in the year and has issued an El Niño watch. Meanwhile, the IMD, too, in its latest ENSO bulletin dated January 2023, foresees a sharp rise in the probability of an El Nino developing during the southwest monsoon.

Why is this shift, happening hundreds of thousands of kilometres away, causing trepidation in the sub-continent?

What is El Niño and La Niña?

An El Niño condition occurs when oceanic temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean become warmer than average (0.5°C above the long-term average) and east winds blow weaker than normal. Meanwhile, during La Niña, water temperatures become cooler than normal because of the upwelling of cold water from the bottom of the sea. La Niña has the capacity to alter the direction as well as the velocity of the trade winds, which trigger the winter season in India. El Niño and La Niña are opposite extremes of the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO).

Source: NOAA

At present, negative sea surface temperatures (SST) anomalies have gradually weakened across most of the equatorial Pacific Ocean, and positive SST anomalies have strengthened in the past four weeks in the far western and eastern Pacific, especially near the coast of Ecuador and Peru. While negative SST implies cooler oceanic temperatures than average, positive SST means the ocean is warmer than average. 

El Niño and Its Effect of El Nino in India

The amount of rainfall that India receives during the summer monsoon period—between June to September—varies every year. This year-to-year variation, also known as the interannual variability of monsoon, is dependent on many factors. It is estimated that about 30% of the yearly variability depends on the ENSO effects of El Niño and La Niña, and the rest depends on other factors such as the IOD (Indian Ocean Dipole), Atlantic sea surface temperature (SST) variability, North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO), Pacific Decadal Oscillations (PDO), to more short-term and local factors such as dust clouds and patterns of irrigation. 

Experts have warned that the gradual advancement of the El Niño weather patterns this year may lead to deficit monsoon rainfall, and are worried that it might have a devastating effect on the ecosystem as it is now unfurling in a world destabilised by climate change. There has not been an official announcement by the IMD of the possibility of El Niño playing havoc with the summer monsoon, but based on rainfall trends in India over 132 years, it is clear that severe droughts in India have always been accompanied by El Niño events. About 60% of the time, there is a probability of drought in India during an El Niño year, and while the chances of normal rain are rare at 10%, the prospect of below-normal rain is 30%.

While the top-line from IMD’s first monsoon forecast for 2023 screams “normal” monsoon this year, the devil is in the details. A closer reading shows that the forecast probability actually suggests a more than 50% chance of the monsoon being below normal. Mapped out, a larger extent of the country is likely to receive below normal rain compared to areas that are likely to see above normal rainfall. Further, historically, a transition from a La Niña winter to an El Niño summer tends to produce the largest deficit in the monsoon—around 15%—and signifies the chances of weaker pre-monsoon and monsoon circulations.

Historical data shows that there were 15 moderate and strong El Nino events between 1951 and 2022. Of these years, the Indian monsoon was deficient in 8 years and in another 3 years, the monsoon rainfall was on the lower side of the norm. Therefore, in a moderate to strong El Nino year, there is a 73% chance that monsoon rainfall in India will be below the long-term normal. The last major El Nino event was in 2015 and Indian monsoon rainfall was 13% lower.

El Niño conditions have been known to be unpredictable and it is too early to determine how El Nino would affect the monsoon’s onset in Kerala and the rest of India. But Skymet, a private weather agency, has predicted that the upcoming monsoon will be ‘below normal’ to the tune of 94% ( with an error margin of +/-5%) of the long-period average (LPA) of 868.6mm from June to September. The northern and central parts of India will be at risk of being rain-deficit. While Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra will witness inadequate rains during July and August, Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh will be more likely to observe less than normal rains during the second half of the season.

Will El Niño lead to an unsafe summer?

According to a study by researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Gandhinagar, the frequency of extreme weather events such as floods and heatwaves is projected to rise manifold in India in the future due to climate change, and might pose severe challenges for adaptation in agriculture, infrastructure, and public health. The period from 1951 to 2020 was studied to quantify India’s risk of sequential extremes—heatwaves in the summer and extreme rainfall in the following summer monsoon season over the same regions. It was found that the risk will increase significantly during the El Niño phase and Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, and Karnataka will have a higher projected risk of sequential extremes than the other states.

Climate mitigation and reduction in vulnerability could help in reducing the risk. But most heat action plans (HAPs) are poor at targeting vulnerable groups. A new report by the Centre for Policy Research (CPR) assessed 37 heat action plans across 18 states in India to understand how well prepared the country is to deal with heat waves. Most HAPs are not built for local context and have a simplified view with a general focus on dry extreme heat. 

Only 10 out of 37 HAPs reviewed seem to establish locally defined temperature thresholds, although it is unclear whether they take local risk multipliers, such as humidity, hot nights, and duration of continuous heat among others, into account to declare a heatwave. The plans are also underfunded and poor at identifying vulnerable groups. Only two of 37 HAPs explicitly carry out and present vulnerability assessments and only 11 of 37 HAPs discuss funding sources. HAPs are India’s primary policy response to economically damaging and life-threatening heat waves.

The IOD wildcard

Coming back to the monsoon, the ENSO is hardly the only dynamic influencing the monsoon. In fact, over the past century or so, the influence of the ENSO on India’s summer monsoon has been observed to be weakening

Prime among the determinants of the extent and manner of the ENSO’s influence on the Indian monsoon is unsurprisingly found closer to home. The Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) essentially describes the aperiodic oscillation of heat distribution and the resultant pressure difference between the western and eastern Indian Ocean—effectively on either side of the Indian peninsula. A warmer Arabian Sea relative to the Bay of Bengal denotes a positive IOD while the reverse denotes a negative IOD. 

The IOD’s influence on the monsoon during el Nino years is particularly interesting. When it is in the negative phase, the IOD impedes the formation of the monsoon trough over the subcontinent and suppresses rainfall. Broadly, the opposite has been observed when the IOD is in the positive phase, with stronger monsoon winds increasing the chance of normal rains during the season. 

The catch, however, is in the distribution of rainfall. Positive IODs, while finding correlation with increased rainfall, have also been observed to increase the number of extreme rain events in practically every part of the country. Even in northern India and the lower Himalayan region where frequency of extreme rain events show a negative trend, intensity of extreme rain events have been increasing. As it happens, the IMD while presenting its LRF, noted that although the IOD remains in the neutral phase currently, the chances of a positive phase developing are on the rise. And along with it, so are the chances that we are likely to see a turbulent monsoon, if not deficient.

How will El Niño impact agriculture output in India?

While La Niña is associated with good rainfall in Southeast Asia, the contrary is true with El Niño. During El Niño, trade winds weaken, and warm water is pushed back east, toward the west coast of the Americas. Warm oceans enable evaporation and therefore lower pressure, causing air and moisture to ascend. The moisture condenses in the heights to form clouds, storms, heavy rain and floods. The reverse happens at the other end (Asia) where waters become cooler, and air descends and builds pressure, setting up clear skies and below-normal rainfall.

The beginning of an El Niño phase is always bad news for agriculture as poor southwest monsoon rains across India could affect the production of Kharif (summer and autumn) crops—paddy, groundnut, pulses, sugarcane and cotton. El Niño will not only come in the way of production, but will also affect farm income and rural spending. 

The finance ministry has raised concerns over the possible impact of El Niño conditions on India. In its monthly economic report for January, the ministry said, “Some meteorological agencies predict the return of El Niño conditions in India this year. If these predictions are accurate, then monsoon rains could be deficient, leading to lower agricultural output and higher prices”.

India will inevitably experience a severe pre-and post-monsoon phenomenon, which will affect the agriculture sector. The rising heat has already posed a risk for agricultural crops. Higher temperatures have led to a crash in the prices of onion in some parts of the country, including Maharashtra’s Lasalgaon. The prices of potatoes also reported a sharp drop in Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Bengal, Haryana, Gujarat, and Maharashtra.

The India Meteorological Department (IMD) has declared above-normal maximum temperatures over most parts of northeast India, east and central India and some parts of northwest India. Normal to below-normal maximum temperatures have been predicted for the rest of the country. Heatwaves are predicted over parts of Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Odisha, West Bengal, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Punjab and Haryana.

However, the Ministry of Agriculture is still hopeful and has projected a record wheat production of 112.18 million tonne (MT) in the current crop season (July-June), while ruling out any major reduction in grain output from recent unseasonal rains in key states. Recently, due to unseasonal rains and hailstorms in producing states, about 8-10% of the wheat crop has been estimated to be damaged but better yield prospects in late-sown areas are expected to make up for the production loss.

But is India prepared to face losses? India saw a record sowing of mustard in the 2022-23 Rabi season. But fresh spells of rain recorded in January damaged the crops in several places. The area under mustard was recorded at 9.7 million hectares (ha), according to data uploaded by the agriculture department. This is almost 700,000 ha more than last season. The increase in acreage was also more than other competing crops. But the bumper production was hampered in certain places due to cold waves, leading to ground frost in some areas in the northern belt. Maximum damage was reported from Udaipur, Sirohi, Churu, and Ajmer. 

India is expected to suffer losses in the production of Alphonso mangoes too. Mango yield in the Dharwad district of Karnataka is expected to be low this year, with the delay in flowering. Unseasonal rain and hail storms have damaged mango yield in Uttar Pradesh too. While 35% of the production in the Mal-Malihabad belt, one of the largest producers of mangoes in the state, may have been affected, other districts could witness 20-25% crop damage.

If El Niño predictions are to come true, it will add to the damages already caused to the agricultural sector by unseasonal rain and heatwaves. For the time being, the IMD seems to have calmed nerves through its beige forecast. Beyond seasonal rainfall, it will likely be the distribution of rains that will truly determine the flavour of India’s tryst with the monsoon this year.  

For all-India measurements, there is a 35% probability of normal and a 29% possibility of below-normal monsoon this year, IMD said.

“Normal” vs “Below Normal”: Early forecasts of monsoon vary in state-run and private predictions

State-run India Meteorological Department (IMD) predicted a “normal” monsoon rainfall up to 96% of the long-period average or LPA (error +/-5%) of 86.86 cm for 2023. The IMD expects the adverse impact of El Nino to be neutralised, HT reported, adding that the department follows different categorisations for rainfall in meteorological regions. For all-India measurements, there is a 35% probability of normal and a 29% possibility of below-normal monsoon this year, IMD said, adding that El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) neutral conditions prevailed and El Nino was expected to develop in July.

Private forecaster Skymet Weather predicted “below normal” rainfall between June and September, citing a strengthening El Nino phenomenon. Climate models also warn of development of “super El Nino” by the end of 2023. The annual monsoon forecast is much awaited and both Skymet and IMD issue multiple forecasts. Early forecasts, including those of El Nino, tend to miss the target, as they are more accurate closer to the event.

Most heat action plans in India underfunded, lack local context: Report

A new report by the Centre for Policy Research (CPR) assessed 37 heat action plans (HAPs) across 18 states in India to understand how well prepared the country is to deal with heat waves. Most HAPs are not built for local context and have a simplified view with a general focus on dry extreme heat. Only 10 out of 37 HAPs reviewed seem to establish locally defined temperature thresholds, although it is unclear whether they take local risk multipliers, such as humidity, hot nights, and duration of continuous heat among others, into account to declare a heatwave. The plans are also underfunded and poor at identifying and targeting vulnerable groups. Only two of 37 HAPs explicitly carry out and present vulnerability assessments and only 11 of 37 HAPs discuss funding sources. HAPs are India’s primary policy response to economically damaging and life-threatening heat waves.  

India ranks fifth among top 10 contributors to global warming: Study

A new study published in Scientific Data finds that India is responsible for 0.08°C of warming from the 1850s through 2021. Overall, the country ranks fifth among the top 10 contributors to warming. The United States topped the list with a contribution of 0.28 degrees Celsius of rise in temperature. China stood second with 0.20°C of warming, followed by Russia at 0.10 degrees Celsius, and Brazil at 0.08°C. Indonesia, Germany, the United Kingdom, Japan and Canada each contributed 0.03-0.05°C of warming. Researchers calculated the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) of each country and the analysis shows that CO2 is responsible for 1.11°C of warming compared to methane at 0.41°C and nitrous oxide at 0.08°C. 

Slowdown in Antarctic deep ocean currents could have disastrous effects on climate

New research by a team of Australian scientists found that the deep-water flows which drive ocean currents could decline by 40% by 2050, resulting in the reduction of the ocean’s ability to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as well impacting wildlife. The currents carry vital heat, oxygen, carbon and nutrients around the globe. The report outlines how ocean currents are partly driven by the downward movement of cold, dense saltwater towards the sea bed near Antarctica. But as fresh water from the ice cap melts, seawater becomes less salty and dense, and the downward movement slows. These deep ocean currents in the northern and southern hemispheres have been relatively stable for thousands of years, but they are now being disrupted by the warming climate.

Compound drought heat wave events pose a huge risk to future socio-ecosystem productivity: Study

Climate change is one of the most serious threats to society and is expected to generate more extreme weather events. A recent study has found that the risk of compound drought heat wave events (CDHEs) and their intensity has intensified in recent decades and is expected to increase in the future. There is no distribution of extreme CDHEs in high-altitude areas such as North America, northern Eurasia, and the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. However, northern Africa, Southern China, and tropical areas are more prone to extreme heat and drought events. Population exposure to severe CDHEs under 2.0 °C and 3.0 °C global warming is expected to increase by 108 and 266 million, respectively, compared with the 1.5 °C global warming. The impact will also be felt on crop growth and food security, resulting in serious economic losses. While drought reduces the yield by slowing down photosynthesis and shortening the growth season, heatwaves directly affect crop growth by reducing pollen viability and damaging tissues, and indirectly reducing the yield by decreasing soil moisture.

The number of clearances jumped 21 times compared to 2018, when 577 nods were given.

More than 12,000 projects for green nods last year, reveals India’s environment ministry

The environment ministry told the Lok Sabha 12,496 environment, forest, wildlife and coastal zone regulation clearances were granted in 2022. The number of clearances jumped 21 times compared to 2018, when 577 nods were given. These clearances were granted through the government’s Parivesh portal. The ministry also informed the Lok Sabha the average time to give clearances has dropped from 150 days in 2019 to 70 days in 2022. 

National Coastal Mission in limbo due to lack of funds, finds report

While India’s coasts get battered by the effects of climate change, the government has slashed the money allocated to the National Coastal Mission. The mission aims to conserve the coastal environment. The Standing Committee submitted a report to the Parliament, which revealed how the Rs723.6 crore proposed for the mission was allocated just Rs12.50 crore in the 2022-23 budget. 

The report stated that the Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change (MoEF&CC) primarily depended on the World Bank to fund the mission. But the WB later pulled out of the project for administrative reasons. This has left the mission in a limbo, the report found. 

Major institutional investors to stop funding new oil and gas projects to accelerate energy transition

The Net Zero Asset Owner Alliance (NZAOA), a grouping of 85 international institutional investors, announced it will require its members to stop direct investment in new upstream oil and gas projects. The NZAOA, brought together under the UN Environment Programme Finance Initiative (UNEPI), controls a total of $11 trillion in assets under management. Its members include major investors Aviva, Unipol, Allianz and others. The group stated that the shift away from fossil fuels must accelerate to speed up progress towards the energy transition and align the global economy to 1.5 degrees Celsius global warming by 2050 targets. Credible net-zero scenarios “cannot be achieved if there are new upstream infrastructure investments in new oil and gas fields”.

EU set tougher national emission targets, agree to expand forest carbon sinks

Members of the European Union approved laws adhering to tougher national targets for emission cuts in certain sectors and expansion of natural carbon sinks such as forests. The sectors include road transport, heating of buildings, agriculture and waste management. Both laws are part of the EU’s policy making plan to cut emissions by 55% by 2030. 

Richer countries will face tougher targets, This means Denmark, Finland, Germany, Luxembourg and Sweden will face 50% emission cuts, while Bulgaria will have to meet a 10% goal.

World’s top court can weigh in on climate change

A resolution calling for an International Court of Justice (ICJ) Advisory opinion on climate change was successfully adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on March 29. The resolution, put forward by the government of Vanuatu and co-sponsored by more than 120 countries was adopted by consensus. The campaign was launched just a few years ago by law students in the Pacific Islands. 

Vanuatu is a low-lying Pacific island nation which is extremely vulnerable to climate change. The said court will now hold hearings and hear evidence on the obligations of states in respect to climate change, with a view to handing down an advisory opinion in 2024.  

Data revealed that Bihar has hired for only 58 of the total 264 provisioned posts, Jharkhand has filled up only 34 posts out of the total 271 in the state.

Around 50% jobs vacant in state pollution control boards: Centre to Parliament

The government has informed Parliament that pollution control boards of various states and UTs have nearly 50% of the posts lying vacant (of the total 11,103 posts 5,454 vacant), reported News18 adding that the state pollution control Boards (SPCBs) have a very important role in enforcement of provisions of Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974, Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981 and the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.

Minister of State in the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) Ashwini Kumar Choubey told Parliament that the responsibility to fill up jobs lies with the concerned State Govt./UT Administration. Data revealed that Bihar has hired for only 58 of the total 264 provisioned posts, Jharkhand has filled up only 34 posts out of the total 271 in the state. The vacancy is as high as 64% in Madhya Pradesh, and over 40% in big states like Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and West Bengal.

Govt to Parliament: CPCB identifies 2,859 Grossly polluting industries 

Central Pollution Control Board has identified 2,859 grossly polluting industries (GPI) in the country, Bishweswar Tudu, minister of state for Union Ministry of Jal Shakti told the Rajya Sabha. Out of these, 2,197 industries are operational and 662 industries have closed down on their own.

Of the operational 2,197 industries, 2,059 industries are complying with the prescribed environmental standards, whereas 138 are non-complying, the minister said. 

Accordingly, show-cause notices have been issued to the 53 non-complying industries, closure directions have been issued to 66 industries and legal cases have been filed against 3 industries, Tudu added.

CPCB to Karnataka: Revise action plan for air pollution, set specific targets for industry

The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) has asked the Karnataka government to revise Karnataka’s Action Plan for Air Pollution, as it lacks specific targets and actionable plans, reported the Deccan Herald. The CPCB said Karnataka’s policy for permitting new industries doesn’t mention any pre-requisite to be met with regard to air pollution for getting clearances and the ambitious goal of ‘shifting to gaseous fuels’ doesn’t have a timeline. 

The news portal quoted CPCB stating that Karnataka’s plan has no clarity on the scrapping of old vehicles, fund allocation and fund utilisation plans. The action plan doesn’t provide details of financial implications for plans to manage the construction and demolition waste. The state schemes to stop the burning of stubble and other agricultural residues lack crucial details, the CPCB said. 

Most polluted winter in 3 years in Bihar and Bengal: CSE report

In a “stark reminder” of the rapid spread of pollution to cities and smaller towns winter pollution in eastern states was the highest compared to the last three winters according to analysis by Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment (CSE). The average PM2.5 level from October 1, 2022 to February 28, 2023 across nine cities of east India with functional monitoring stations was 97 micrograms per cubic metre (µg/m³), according to CSE report, which was 6% higher than the average of the previous three winters. The daily peak of the season was recorded on January 1, 2023 and the daily regional average was 173 µg/m³, the data showed. 

The peak was 24% higher compared to the peak of the 2021-22 winter and 8% higher than the mean peak of the previous three winters, according to the analysis.

Bihar’s daily peak PM2.5 level this winter was 287 µg/m³ was the highest among the three states. West Bengal’s peak was 152 µg/m³ and Odisha’s 112 µg/m³. Bihar’s  Begusarai, Bettiah and Siwan recorded the worst winter air in the region, with their seasonal average exceeding 200 µg/m³, the report said adding that Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) pollution is also high in the cities and towns of the region, with Arrah in Bihar recording a staggering 113 µg/m³ monthly average for November. 

U.S. to announce stringent mercury, air toxics standards for coal plants

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is planning tighter standards for mercury and other toxic emissions from coal plants for the first time in a decade, in a bid to clean up country’s dirtiest power plants, Reuters reported. 

The proposal would lower the emissions limit for filterable particulate matter, which includes mercury and other toxic metals, by 67%, the newswire reports adding that pants that burn lower-grade lignite coal, which had previously been subject to less stringent standards, would need to cut mercury emissions by 70%. The proposal followed a more than year-long review of the existing standard and the latest pollution reduction technologies. The agency is also expected to issue CO2 standards in the coming weeks. The agency estimates the new proposals will cost companies up to $330 million, but yield up to $1.9 billion in health benefits over a decade.

Flight once in every 6 minutes: UK is Europe’s worst private jet polluter, study finds

In a new study the UK has emerged as the most polluting private jet capital of Europe, with private planes taking off from the country once in every six minutes. The analysis by the Dutch environmental consultancy CE Delft has found that the number of private jets taking off from the UK increased by 75% between 2021 and 2022 to 90,256 flights, emitting 500,000 tonnes of CO2 – more than in any other European country. Private jets are five to 14 times more polluting than commercial planes per passenger, and 50 times more polluting than trains. 

The government expects to support 3.6 million tonnes of hydrogen production capacity in the next three years under the scheme.

India to offer subsidy of ₹30 per kg of green hydrogen production, bidding to begin mid-2023

Centre will give green hydrogen fuel producers incentives worth at least 10% of their costs under a $2 billion scheme set to begin before the end of June, Reuters reported, quoting official sources.  Incentives worth at least ₹30 Indian rupees per kg for production of green hydrogen fuel will be offered, the report said, adding that the cost of manufacturing green hydrogen, which is made using renewable energy rather than power derived from fossil fuels, in India is currently at about ₹300 per kg. Incentives will be offered on the basis of competitive bidding and the amount will be reduced annually. Of the total incentive amount of 174.9 billion rupees, India will award about 130 billion rupees for producing green hydrogen and rest will be for manufacturing electrolysers, which are used to split hydrogen and oxygen molecules using electricity. The bidding for incentives will start June end. The government expects to support 3.6 million tonnes of hydrogen production capacity in the next three years under the scheme.

India to add 50GW RE annually till 2028: Govt

India plans to add 250 GW of renewable energy capacity in the next five years to achieve its target of 500 GW of clean energy by 2030. To meet this target the government will invite bids for 50 GW of renewable energy capacity annually for the next five years (till 2027-28) the ministry of New and Renewable Energy said.  The bids will also include wind power capacity of at least 10 GW per annum, it stated.

The ministry has also declared a quarterly plan of the bids for FY 2023-24, which comprises bids for at least 15 GW of renewable energy capacity in each of the first and second quarters of the financial year (April-June 2023 and July-September 2023 respectively), and at least 10 GW in each of the third and fourth quarters of the financial year (Oct-December 2023 and January-March 2024 respectively).

This will enable the DISCOMS, to manage their RE procurement plans effectively and boost demand of equipment for the RE manufacturing industry.

SECI invites bids for 2GW of new solar projects

Solar Energy Corporation of India (SECI) has invited developers to bid for a total of 2GW of solar projects. A developer is required to submit a bid with a minimum capacity of 50MW by 10 May, while it can also bid for up to 2GW, PV Magazine reported. 

Developers are not allowed to add extra capacity to already commissioned projects, irrespective of their capacities, under this scheme, but they can choose project locationat their own discretion  of cost, risk and responsibility. Under the 25-year power purchase agreement (PPA), SECI will sell the procured power to different entities in India. Projects under construction or those which are not yet commissioned will be considered only if they have not been accepted under any other central or state schemes.

Solar-wind hybrid projects and corporate power purchase agreements are among key trends, the magazine reported adding that driven by low battery costs and solar power, hybrid projects are cost-competitive, and with the optimal combination of solar, wind and storage, they can deliver stable round-the-clock (RTC) power at comparable costs to standalone solar and wind tariffs.

India needs estimated $900 billion for coal and RE over the next 30 years: iFOREST

According to International Forum for Environment, Sustainability & Technology (iFOREST) India needs around $900 billion for a just energy transition vis-a-vis coal mines and thermal power plants over the next 30 years, reported the HT. India’s energy independence target is 2047 and net-zero by 2070. 

iFOREST report stated $600 billion of the estimated cost will have to come as investments in new industries and infrastructure and $300 billion for grants/subsidies to support the transition of the coal industry, workers, and communities, the HT reported. The cost was estimated based on the cost of transition in coal/lignite regions in Germany and Poland as well as the main coal-producing region of South Africa. It also factors in a study of four coal districts of India in Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, and Odisha. The study assumes all existing mines and coal-based power plants will be phased down by 2050, reported the HT.

US electricity from renewables surpasses coal for first time in 2022, gas remains top source

According to data from the Energy Information Administration, the US generated more electricity from renewables than from coal in 2022, for the first time on record, though natural gas remained the top energy source, increasing from 37 percent in 2021 to 39 percent in 2022, reported the HILL.  Coal power, meanwhile, fell from 23 percent in 2021 to 20 percent in 2022, which the EIA attributed to a combination of retired plants and lower use for the remaining plants.

The outlet said economic factors have led to the surge in RE, with wind energy and solar energy costs falling by 70 percent and 90 percent, respectively, in the last decade. Growth in renewables was “largely driven by increased proliferation of wind and solar energy, which collectively made up 14% of US electricity in 2022, up from 12% in 2021”, the report stated, adding that gas power remained the largest source, at 39% of generation last year. 

Zomato, Kotak Mahindra and Gogoro tie up to pace up EV adoption for delivery

Gogoro Inc., a battery-swapping company headquartered in Taiwan, has teamed up with Zomato and Kotak Mahindra Prime to encourage swift adoption of electric mobility in the last-mile transportation sector. Gogoro will offer reasonably priced battery swapping services and financing conditions to the last-mile delivery partners connected to Zomato, which has over 3,00,000 delivery partners in India. The collaboration seeks to reduce air pollution by providing delivery partners with accessible routes to take advantage of the advantages of smart electric two-wheelers and battery swapping. As part of the partnership, accessible loan conditions will be offered by Kotak Mahindra Prime, the car leasing division of Kotak Mahindra Bank.

Parliamentary panel recommends extension of FAME subsidy for two years

According to the parliamentary committee on EVs, the government should extend benefits for EVs under the FAME scheme by two more years after the incentive expires in March of next year, or else the pace of EV adoption would slow down due to expensive vehicles, and start-ups in the category might wrap up. The Committee on Estimates (2022-23) on ‘Evaluation of Electric Vehicle Policy’ said in its report that although some states have developed their own EV policies and transportation is a state concern, it was stated that a “strong National Policy framework on EVs” needs to be developed.

The panel suggested the continuation of the FAME II scheme beyond March 2024 and also said that four wheelers should be included under the scheme to boost demand. The committee recommended that in addition to EVs and hybrid cars, the government should support other technologies like flex fuel cars, hydrogen internal combustion engines, and hydrogen fuel cell cars. The policy should focus on charging infrastructure, battery swapping, recycling battery waste, and public awareness, said the committee report. 

US and Japan strike deal for electric vehicles minerals

A trade pact concerning the minerals used in batteries for electric vehicle batteries has been struck between the US and Japan. The agreement prohibits the nations from placing export tariffs on one another. The agreement follows the Inflation Reduction Act, which restricted consumer tax credits for electric automobiles to those whose batteries were mined or processed in nations with which the United States has free trade agreements.

Concerns about the clause have been expressed by a number of nations, including Japan, who claim that it may discourage domestic manufacturers from investing in the production of electric vehicles. The agreement now forbids Japan and the US from implementing bilateral export limitations on the minerals most essential for EV batteries like lithium, nickel, cobalt, graphite, and manganese among others.

By requiring cooperation to fight “non-market policies and practices” of other nations in the sector and on conducting investment reviews of foreign investments in their vital mineral supply chains, the agreement also aims to lessen the U.S.-Japanese reliance on China for such materials.

Oil companies to get ₹800 crore subsidy to set up 7000 charging stations under FAME II

The Ministry of Heavy Industries will be giving out a 800 crore subsidy to the country’s public sector undertaking oil companies to set up 7,432 EV charging stations, reported the Economic Times. According to officials in the know, the subsidy will be offered for setting up of Combined Charging System (CCS) – II EV fast charger and not for CHArge de MOve (CHAdeMO). The preference for CCS by India is in line with a similar move by the US administration. According to Mahendra Nath Pandey, Minister for Heavy Industries,  the cost of installing the new charging points will be around Rs 1000 crore, of which 80% will be covered by the Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of (Hybrid &) Electric Vehicles in India (FAME India) Phase II. 

This sum will be given to Indian Oil Corporation Limited (IOCL), Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited (BPCL), and Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited (HPCL), who have agreed to install the charging stations by the end of the fiscal year 2023–24.

No progress on EV battery swap policy draft after a year

After nearly one year since the battery swapping policy was announced by the finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman in the budget 2022-23, the EV industry is waiting for it to be finalised. The policy is anticipated to provide answers for the space shortage in cities and to shorten the amount of time it takes to charge a vehicle, particularly commercial two- and three-wheel EVs. However, The policy’s release has been delayed by the widespread opposition from industry participants to the interoperability standards, which require swappable batteries to have a specified set of outer dimensions in order to qualify for incentives. 

The industry believes that the specifications are biased in favour of one specific original equipment manufacturer (OEM). Therefore, standardising the battery dimensions would require significant changes to the platforms that operators and OEMs have built and would not be practical in the current business case. Experts said that investors who are looking at India as a favourable destination are asking swapping operators for policy clarity. 

From a net importer of coal, India will move towards becoming a net exporter of non-coking coal.

India to start coal export by 2025-26, 106 mines auctioned for commercial sale

Union coal minister Pralhad Joshi recently announced that India will start exporting coal by 2025-26. From a net importer of coal, India will move towards becoming a net exporter of non-coking coal. The country’s imports of substitutable coal were 90 MT, which will be stopped by 2025-26 when the country will start exporting the dry fuel. The government also assured an uninterrupted supply of coal during the summer season—when the peak is expected to be 229 GW during April. Domestic demand for coal is estimated to reach 1,087 million tonnes in FY23 and record coal production has happened at nearly 900 MT already with a coal stock of 116-117 MT at present. The government also put 106 mines under auction for commercial mining of coal blocks. Of the total mines offered 61 blocks are partially explored and 45 mines are fully explored. As many as 95 non-coking coal mines, 10 lignite mines and one coking coal mine are being offered in the latest round of auction. 

Amended regulation by PNGRB to allow unified tariffs for natural gas pipelines 

The Petroleum and Natural Gas Regulatory Board (PNGRB) amended the PNGRB (Determination of Natural Gas Pipeline Tariff) regulations to incorporate provisions for Unified Tariffs for natural gas pipelines. Based on the new regulations, a levelised Unified Tariff of Rs73.93/MMBTU has been notified. Three tariff zones for Unified Tariff have been created, where the first zone is up to a distance of 300km from gas source, the second zone is 300–1200km and the third zone is beyond 1,200km. The zonal unified tariffs will be effective from April 1, 2023.

Russia’s largest oil producer Rosneft signs deal with Indian Oil Corp to boost oil supplies in India

In order to substantially increase oil supplies, Russia’s largest oil producer Rosneft signed a term agreement with Indian Oil Corp. “The parties also discussed ways of expanding cooperation between Rosneft Oil Company and Indian companies in the entire value chain of the energy sector, including possibilities of making payments in national currencies,” Rosneft stated. Russia has been rerouting its energy supplies from traditional European markets since the Ukraine war, and India has been the biggest buyer of Russia’s benchmark Urals grade crude in March. Deliveries to India are set to account for more than 50% of all seaborne Urals exports this month, with China in second place. For the first time, Russia has become one of the five largest trading partners of India as the volume of trade between the countries reached $38.4 billion in 2022.

Offshore oil and gas set for highest growth in a decade, $214 billion new projects lined up: Report

New research by energy analysts Rystad Energy showed offshore oil and gas is set for its highest growth in a decade in the next two years, with $214 billion worth of new projects lined up. Global fossil fuel demand will remain strong, despite more than 100 countries having proposed or committed to a net-zero target by 2050. And offshore activity will account for 68% of all sanctioned conventional hydrocarbons in 2023/2024—a 40% increase from 2015-2018, prior to the Covid-19 pandemic. Offshore expansion in the Middle East will drive this increase, with the region surpassing all others in offshore upstream spending. According to the report, the offshore spending growth in the region will go from $33 billion in 2023 to $41 billion in 2025. Southeast Asia will also be a hotbed for upstream mergers and acquisitions (M&A) in the next two years, with more than $5 billion of assets up for grabs. The bulk of these opportunities is in Indonesia (upwards of $2 billion of assets), followed by Malaysia ($1.4 billion) and Vietnam ($1 billion) for sale respectively. About $700 million of deals have already been completed so far in 2023, the strongest start to Southeast Asia’s upstream M&A activity since 2019.

Saudi Aramco to invest in $10 billion refinery and petrochemical complex in China

In order to help China in meeting its growing fuel and chemical demand, and secure long-term demand for its oil, Saudi Aramco, one of the world’s largest oil companies, announced plans to build a $10-billion refining and petrochemical complex in China. The complex that is scheduled for completion in 2026 is set to have a capacity of 300,000 barrels of crude per day, with Saudi Aramco supplying 201,000 barrels per day. The project will be carried out in partnership between Aramco and two Chinese companies. As per reports, last year, Aramco struck a deal with China’s Sinopec to build a 320,000-bpd refinery and petrochemical cracker in China.

Mexico’s energy reform roll back aimed at the country’s power and oil markets might risk trade war with US

Mexican president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s decision to roll back reforms aimed at opening Mexico’s power and oil markets to outside competition has angered the US, Canada and Europe and triggered bipartisan calls for the US to get tougher on its neighbouring country. The US is Mexico’s largest oil export market, selling American refineries 710,000 barrels per day in 2021 while also importing 1.16 million b/d. In recent years, big oil companies, such as Chevron Corp, and Marathon Petroleum Corp, alongside a host of solar and wind energy companies, have struggled to obtain permits to operate in Mexico. The Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) will make a final offer to the Latin American nation to open up its markets and agree to increased oversight. If they fail to accept the final offer, the US will request an independent dispute settlement panel under the USMCA trade agreement. 

Coal phaseout too slow to avoid climate chaos: GEM report

Under construction or planned coal capacity around the world rose to 537 GW in 2022, from 479 GW in 2021, with China accounting for 68% of the total, according to the US-based Global Energy Monitor (GEM), reported Reuters. India accounted for 60.5 GW of the planned capacity, while Indonesia accounted for 26 GW. The US closed 13.5 GW of coal capacity, while the EU closures slowed from 14.6 GW of capacity in 2021 to 2.2 GW in 2022 (Ukraine war made gas-fired power expensive). 

Developed economies are expected to shut their plants in 2030. This will require countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development to close 60 GW of coal-power capacity annually until 2030 and non-OECD countries will need to close 91 GW of coal power capacity every year until 2040, reported the Guardian. “At this rate, the transition away from existing and new coal isn’t happening fast enough to avoid climate chaos,” Flora Champenois, GEM’s lead author of the report, said. 

TOI also reported that India commissioned 3.5 GW of new coal power capacity last year (the lowest annual addition since a 2014 high). From 2015 to 2022, India’s pre-construction coal power capacity also decreased by nearly 88%, the report said. According to the GEM research, India’s plans are unclear: “While new plant commissioning slowed to their lowest in years, plans for new projects persist and no clear retirement plans are in place,” the GEM report said.

Meanwhile, citing government data, Reuters reported that India’s power output grew at its fastest pace in 33 years, “fuelled by coal”, adding that there was a sharp surge in emissions as “output from both coal-fired and renewable plants hit records”. Intense summer heatwaves, a colder-than-usual winter in northern India and an economic recovery led to a spike in demand, the report said.