Vol 1, May 2023 | AI of the storm

The application of AI in the climate change arena can broadly be traced under three categories—data analysis, process optimisation and scenario modelling.

From predicting extreme events to helping policy makers, AI promises endless spheres of application on paper, but a closer inspection of the technology reveals significant wrinkles. Read more

The application of AI in the climate change arena can broadly be traced under three categories—data analysis, process optimisation and scenario modelling.

AI for climate action: Aye or nay?

From predicting extreme events to helping policy makers, AI promises endless application on paper, but a closer inspection of the technology reveals significant wrinkles

History is occasionally punctuated by intervals of time that accelerate humanity’s march towards the future. If media coverage is to be taken at face value, we are currently in such an exponential phase. Artificial intelligence has well and truly brimmed over the cauldron of public imagination and is uncontrollably spilling over into the realm of reality. 

Naturally, with the unprecedented ability to analyse colossal datasets on offer, scientists studying climate change and feedback in the earth system have eyed the potential of AI for a while now. The incredible computational capacity and automated iterative learning ability brought forth by machine learning are now increasingly finding use among industry, particularly in the energy sector, to optimise operations and reduce wastages. The case for the application of AI to climate action seems to be an intuitive one. The implications, however, could be far wider than the intent would suggest.

Flavour of the season

Recent developments in AI technology have not come out of the blue. Early theorists of AI date back to the middle of the 20th century, but it wasn’t until the proliferation of the internet that the concept became widely accepted. AI essentially refers to a kind of information and communication technology that has the ability to mimic human intelligence by combing datasets for patterns and rules unspecified by the programmer and optimising the output. All in all, such intelligent machine systems display “a combination of classification, prediction, and decision-making.” Machine learning (ML) and deep learning, which are essentially learning methods covered under the broad term AI, leverage computational networks called neural networks and algorithmic models to analyse structured datasets such as rainfall information and unstructured data such as raw images. The idea is to optimise results to an extent that has been thus far impractical under conventional methods of analysis.

The application of AI in the climate change arena can broadly be traced under three categories—data analysis, process optimisation and scenario modelling. The promise of AI and ML in being able to scour inhibitively large datasets, identify previously unknown trends and optimise for efficiency in novel ways naturally finds immense utility in climate change research and climate action, and is unsurprisingly one of the most active areas of AI research and development.

This ability has already been widely used to unwind multi-dimensional climate datasets and for the forecasting of future trends. One such model found wide coverage in the news in the past week after it revealed that earth is on the brink of crossing the 1.5°C threshold of the Paris Agreement and would likely cross it within this decade. Similar models are being used to track and forecast temperature trends, oceanic and atmospheric circulations, complex weather systems and societal responses such as migration. ML models have enabled automated and continuous monitoring of satellite images to pick out and report visible phenomena such as wildfires, landslides and deforestation through pattern and image recognition. Not only can AI tools be used to anticipate extreme weather events that have become more likely due to the effects of climate change, recent developments have shown how AI can be used to anticipate and plan for knock-on effects of such events. 

To cite just one example, researchers have shown how AI tools can be integrated into agricultural weather advisories to optimise water use on farms. Piloting the model on grape farms in Nashik, researchers from IIT-Bombay, Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology and Sensartics Pvt. Ltd have claimed water savings between 17% and 45% depending on the time of the year. 

Similar utility has been demonstrated in the area of climate change mitigation as well. A 2018 paper produced by Microsoft and PwC estimates that the AI application for environmental objectives under a business-as-usual scenario could boost global GDP by up to 4.4% while reducing GHG emissions anywhere between 1.5% and 4% by the end of this decade. And proof of this potential is abundant in the applications that have been developed so far, with AI tools having been developed to maximise generation from renewable energy installations as well as increase energy efficiency in heavy industry, particularly in the petro-chemical sector. Other applications have explored sectoral and industry-level emission optimisation—huge in terms of potential mitigation of GHG emissions. Examples include but are far from being limited to the monitoring and reduction of emission intensity of industrial production processes and construction activity, increasing energy efficiency of transport, public infrastructure and buildings, and the optimisation of electric grid operations. At a larger scale, the technology at present is also being utilised to study carbon removal from the atmosphere and plan for future sequestration needs.

AI approaches are also being designed to aid policy-making for effective climate action with tools offering predictive insights to roll out policy interventions such as carbon tax regimes and carbon trading mechanisms. Beyond statistical assessments, the tools on offer through AI could be deployed for qualitative sentiment analysis for effective granular and localised policy making.

Unsurprisingly, interest in leveraging the technology has not remained limited to academic circles. Recent trends show a clear and definitive growth in the application of AI in commercial enterprises. An assessment of over six million US patents between 1979 and 2019 shows an exponential growth in the patents granted in the intersection of climate and AI, although still forming only a small fraction of the total patents granted individually in the spaces of climate and AI. The analysis found most common areas of application to be transportation, energy and industrial production technologies.

AI and climate patent counts and shares from 1976 and onwards: a, Granted patents per year, with a steeper rise starting around 2010. b, The rise in a can be seen as exponential growth in climate AI patents (linear on a log scale), and this holds for climate patents and AI patents separately. Within climate patents, however, AI patents are not growing exponentially: AI is associated with an approximately linear growth in shares (Supplementary Information). c,d, Transportation, energy and industrial production mitigation technologies have accumulated the most AI patents | Source: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41558-022-01536-w

Given the seemingly endless spheres of application that AI promises on paper, it is easy to construe AI as some sort of a silver bullet. A closer inspection of the technology, however, reveals significant wrinkles.

Uncomfortable truths

AI models, for all their potential, have a pretty significant Achilles heel. Simulating intelligent and self-correcting actions while dealing with superlative, multi-dimensional datasets is not exactly energy efficient. As it happens, training an AI model and operating the infrastructure (read data centres) required to run these models carry significant energy demand and a growing carbon footprint. Despite advances in hardware efficiency providing significant emission reductions, AI models are far from having a clear negative impact on emissions. According to an assessment by the International Energy Agency in 2020, if efficiency improvements in hardware and data centre infrastructure can be sustained at the current rates, energy demand from the ICT sector “can remain nearly flat through 2022, despite a 60% increase in service demand.” A drastic drop in energy and emission intensity of the infrastructure has been shown through a renewable energy integration, improved cooling systems, efficient processors, heat recycling processes, and carbon offsetting. There is, however, little evidence that IEA’s prediction has materialised.

Probing methods to evaluate the net impact of AI models on emissions through applications, researchers studied emissions in three AI models applied on well-differentiated real-world conditions, parameters and requirements. The results, published last month, found that when both positive and negative impacts on emissions are considered, models sometimes added more emissions than they removed. Interestingly, as models were scaled up to include more users, the net effect was once found to be positive in terms of emission reductions.

Environmental costs (in kg of CO2eq) of a single training run of GPT-3 across different compute regions (Regional carbon intensity sourced from https://github.com/mlco2/impact/tree/master/data.)

Emission profiles of AI models are not linear, and neither do they remain uniform across use cases. For data-driven ML-based research applications, like those used by researchers in the above study, the preparatory phase in which the model is trained is often more energy intensive. These models typically become more efficient as they are scaled. This inverse proportionality, however, does not hold true for AI applications in production systems, which become more energy intensive as they are scaled up.

By itself, increased efficiency of production processes does not guarantee net reductions in emissions either. While improved efficiency of production processes leads to lower energy, resource and capital inputs required per unit, such changes in the past have often resulted in increased demand and an overall increase in resource demand from the sector. Literature on the application of AI to climate action is replete with consideration of this “rebound effect,” most of which include warnings to governments looking to leverage the potential of AI for climate action and economic growth.

As AI gets integrated into the modelling of shared socioeconomic pathways (SSPs) for emission reductions, governments will also have to contend with its political implications. Calls have been growing for greater reflection of equity in mitigation pathways endorsed by the IPCC. Meanwhile, recent editions of the UNFCCC COP have been charged with fraught deliberations over the validity and scope of guiding principles of the UN climate convention. With AI thrown into the mix, these battles look set to intensify over the remainder of this decade. While the technology offers tools for more accurate representation of equity, doing so agnostically is likely to produce pathways that demand drastic and rapid reductions of emissions from developed countries—an untenable proposition politically for governments in these countries. 

On the other hand, early developments are likely to be concentrated in developed economies, which can meet the requirements of the capital and resource intensive technology. Under the present dominant narratives that suggest the infallibility of AI, governments investing early in the intersection of AI and climate and energy modelling hold the intangible advantage of setting the baselines. Experience with energy and climate modelling in general certainly add weight to this possibility. The mere connection with AI carries an aura of credibility—and the risk of false credibility, which could very well be exploited to downplay inconvenient parameters (like those describing equity) and highlight favourable pathways.

Flashpoints ahead

These risks have not gone unnoticed. Neither has the immense potential the technology brings. Over the past year or so, attempts have been made to frame some guidelines and recommendations for governments to evaluate and assess the impact of AI in terms of energy demand and net effect on emissions. The guidelines, however, still remain broadly amorphous in their advocacy for effective governance structures and mechanisms for checks and balances.

Despite the ability to self-correct and evolve, AI still remains fundamentally agnostic. A realistic assessment of the potential of AI in tackling climate change is incomplete without recognising this fact. As any tool, the technology is ultimately only as useful as the brains that mould it design it to be. While AI applications undoubtedly hold the potential to revolutionise research, production processes and social interactions, unlocking this potential will finally depend on how the algorithm directing a model’s learning processes is composed. 

It might take some time for the hype around AI to die down and for expectations to be tempered to be in more line with reality. It would be hardly a surprise if AI is ultimately leveraged for a net positive impact in the response to climate change when that happens. The journey to that point though will likely pass through multiple economic, political and ethical flashpoints. 

The cyclonic circulation is expected to bring heavy rains in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands before moving northwards towards the eastern coast of mainland India.

All eyes on cyclone Mocha after western disturbances give break from heat

India got a welcome break from peaking summer heat over the past fortnight as most parts of the country saw spells of rainfall and cool weather. The unusual spell of cool weather and rainfall weather came after the development of three consecutive western disturbances (WD) flowing eastwards from Iran towards eastern India. As temperatures show signs of picking back up over north and central India, attention has shifted to cyclone Mocha developing in eastern Bay of Bengal. The cyclonic circulation is expected to bring heavy rains in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands before moving northwards towards the eastern coast of mainland India.

Severe heat waves pose risk to economy, SDG goals

A new study led by a team of scholars at the University of Cambridge has found that severe heat waves across India are putting “unprecedented burdens” on India’s agriculture, economy and public health and may hinder or reverse the country’s progress in fulfilling the sustainable development goals (SDGs). More than 90% of India’s total area now lies in extreme heat danger zones and is not fully prepared to adapt to changing conditions. 

According to an HT analysis of unit-level data from the Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS), the official source of employment statistics in India, 49.4% of India’s workforce are exposed to the sun and work under harsh conditions. It includes the workers employed in agriculture as well as the non-farm workforce. Extreme heat could ultimately lead to a 15% decline in outdoor working capacity, reduce the quality of life of up to 480 million people and cost 2.8% of GDP by 2050.

Severe droughts, heatwaves, and devastating floods have affected communities on every continent: WMO report

According to the annual report from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), released on Earth Day 2023, droughts, floods and heat waves have affected communities on every continent and have cost many billions of dollars. Antarctic sea ice has fallen to its lowest extent on record and the melting of some European glaciers has been off the charts.

The State of the Global Climate 2022 shows that the global temperature, in the years 2015-2022 was the eighth warmest on record despite the cooling impact of a La Niña event for the past three years. Melting of glaciers and sea level rise – which again reached record levels in 2022 – will continue for up to thousands of years. Throughout the year, hazardous climate and weather-related events drove new population displacement and worsened conditions for many of the 95 million people already living in displacement at the beginning of the year. The report also puts a spotlight on ecosystems and the environment and shows how climate change is affecting recurring events in nature, such as when trees blossom, or birds migrate. 

With El Niño looming over strong, India sets up contingency plans for farmers 

The government is putting in place a contingency plan to mitigate the harmful effects of the looming El Niñoand protect farmers and farm output by setting up a system for specific advisory services and forecasts for each of India’s 700-odd districts based on different rainfall scenarios, which will be disseminated through Krishi Vigyan Kendras, a network of federally-run farm centres.

While the India Meteorological Department (IMD) had declared a 50% probability of an El Niño, it has now assessed a 70% probability in the June-August season and the probability rises to 80% in the July-September season. It is likely to be a mild to moderate intensity El Niño. There are chances of another weather phenomenon, a currently positive Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD), which tends to boost the rains and thwart an El Niño. IOD is the temperature difference between two spots (western and eastern) in the Indian Ocean.

Why is govt taking steps to monitor stock levels of pulses in the country?

After heavy rain and hailstorm in the second fortnight of March and early April in the country, the government has started taking steps to monitor stock levels of pulses in the country. 

As per a report in Down To Earth, central consumer affairs secretary Rohit Kumar Singh told reporters, “Officials of the Union Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food & Public Distribution visited 12 places in different parts of the country to talk to market players. They urged traders to upload pulses stock information on the ministry’s portal every Friday and warned of strict action if the instructions were not followed,” 

There have been reports of damage, especially from Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, but this loss is only three-five per cent. The target for the current year has been kept at 29.55 million tonnes. The total production of pulses in 2021-22 was 27.3 million tonnes, while production was projected at 27.81 million tonnes in the second estimate.

Global sea surface hits record high temperature, alarms scientists ahead of El Niño

The world’s oceans are heating rapidly and scientists are worried that it might add to more global warming. Combined with other weather events and the approaching El Niño – a phenomenon that heats the ocean  – the world’s temperature could reach a concerning new level by the end of next year. A new study has found that the global sea surface has hit a new record high temperature – in March, sea surface temperatures off the east coast of North America were as much as 13.8C higher than the 1981-2011 average. As per OISST data – a tool that provides a real-time daily index of ocean surface temperature – there is above-average temperature almost everywhere and currently the highest anomaly value on record. 

To counter the EU's planned carbon tax, India has reportedly asked the EU to recognise its carbon credit trading scheme.

Indian govt explores options to counter EU’s carbon tax plans, wants the bloc to recognise its carbon trading scheme

India’s Ministry of Commerce is reportedly weighing its options to counter EU’s planned carbon tax. The Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism will introduce a monitoring mechanism for emissions from its imports and follow it up with a carbon-based tax from the beginning of 2026, and is expected to hit Indian exporters, particularly in the metals and engineering industry. As a part of these efforts, India has reportedly asked the EU to recognise its carbon credit trading scheme.

Details on green impact of projects now unavailable on govt’s website

The green ministry’s website Parivesh stopped displaying information on the environmental impact of the different projects the government was undertaking, HT reported. This has irked activists and environmentalists who relied on this information, which included details on green clearances. 

The government, however, clarified to HT that some of the information will soon become available again after the Parivesh website undergoes a revamp. This will include details of meetings held by appraisal and forest advisory committees, information on forest and environment clearances. The clarification, however, did not say if information related to environment impact assessments (EIAs) or terms of reference (ToRs) will also be made available like before. 

NGT stays green nod given to JSW projects in Odisha

In a major win for protestors, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) suspended the green clearance given to Jindal Steel Works (JSW) Utkal project at the Paradip port in Odisha. The EC was given to JSW for two interconnected projects—an integrated steel plant (which included cement and power plants) and a jetty project near Paradip port. While giving its order, the NGT said that while investment into the project was significant, the principle of sustainable development could not be ignored.  

The land for this project was previously the proposed site for South Korean steel company POSCO’s project. But after a 10-year agitation, POSCO withdrew from the project in 2017. The Odisha government, however, gave the 1,253 hectares of land to JSW Utkal instead of handing it back to the local communities.   

NGOs sue EU for including gas, nuclear in green taxonomy

Environmental campaigners are suing the EU for including nuclear and gas in its green investments guide. The legal actions—one filed by Greenpeace and another by a coalition that includes Client Earth and WWF—are being filed in the EU’s general court in Luxembourg. Greenpeace argued the EU’s taxonomy unlawfully designated gas and nuclear as bridge technologies. 

The taxonomy aims to help the EU achieve its carbon neutrality by 2050 target. The other case challenges the inclusion of gas, which the petitioners say, violates the EU climate law that sets the net-zero by 2050 target. 

China, Brazil unite in fight against illegal deforestation

China and Brazil joined hands to control illegal trade leading to deforestation. In a joint statement, both countries said they planned to do this by “effectively enforcing their respective laws on banning illegal imports and exports”. China is a major importer of Brazilian soy and crude petroleum along with being its largest trade exporter. Both countries also said they will enhance monitoring through the use of satellite information. 

UN’s climate fund not taking enough risks, finds assessment

A performance review of the Green Climate Fund (GCF) found it was missing important issues, and was incoherent which made it difficult to understand who was responsible. The UN’s flagship fund was struggling to manage the risks in its climate-related projects, such as maladaptation. The review found the GCF to be too cautious of taking high-impact projects in poorer countries that are most affected by climate change. This assessment contradicts the commitment made by the GCF in 2016 to take more risks that other institutions were unable or unwilling to take. 

. Greenhouse gas emissions and other human activities can significantly alter the pattern of monsoon flow over the tropical Indo-Pacific Oceans and lead to an increase in tropical cyclones over the west Pacific.

Study links air pollution to the weakening of Indian monsoon

The Indian monsoon has weakened over the past few decades, in part, by air pollution and a rise in west Pacific tropical cyclones, according to a study by researchers from Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology in Pune. Greenhouse gas emissions and other human activities can significantly alter the pattern of monsoon flow over the tropical Indo-Pacific Oceans and lead to an increase in tropical cyclones over the west Pacific, the study stated. A higher frequency of tropical Pacific cyclones can cause a weakening of the monsoon, as it is associated with moisture depletion over India. IITM scientist Dr TP Sabin said, “Monsoon in India depends on low-level moisture transport from the Indian Ocean towards the Indian landmass. This flow tends to weaken due to human-induced pollution as per our model simulations.” reported TOI.

Tata Steel begins hydrogen gas injection trial to make greener steel

Tata Steel started a trial to inject hydrogen gas at its blast furnace in the eastern city of Jamshedpur, the company’s flagship plant. This is the country’s attempt to reduce metallurgical coke usage and cut carbon emissions. The company used 40% of the injection systems in the trial on Sunday, Tata Steel said in a statement, adding that it was the first time in the world that such a large quantity of hydrogen gas was continuously injected in a blast furnace. 

Reuters reported that the trial can potentially reduce coke rate by 10%, translating into a 7% to 10% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions per tonne of crude steel produced. India has set green hydrogen consumption targets for some industries like steel, to meet its net-zero by 2070 target.

Indoor air pollution is slowing down brain development in babies: study 

Indoor air pollution is damaging the cognitive development of babies under two years old in India, according to a study by researchers from the University of East Anglia (UEA). Scientists pointed out that indoor air quality is linked to cooking fuels, efforts to reduce cooking emissions should be a key target for intervention, reported DTE. The team collected in-home air quality data from rural India, focusing on PM2.5 levels. This study is the first to establish an association between poor air quality and cognitive problems in infants under two, the report said.

Families from various socio-economic backgrounds in Shivgarh, a village in Uttar Pradesh were part of the research. Scientists observed poor air quality in households that used solid cooking materials such as cow dung cake. Infants from these houses had lower visual memory scores at six and nine months of age. They also had slower visual processing speeds from 6-21 months.

Very small particulate fragments in the air are a major concern as they can move from the respiratory tract into the brain, said John Spencer, lead researcher from UEA’s School of Psychology.

China’s air quality sees improvement, but remains in dangerous territory

Air quality in China, which deteriorated rapidly in the 1990s and early 2000s, has improved steadily over the past decade. PM 2.5 levels peaked around 50-60 micrograms/m3 and have been falling since 2013, following the launch of the country’s Air Quality Action Plan. The plan introduced mandates on modernising thermal power plants with equipment to remove sulfur dioxide, which can contribute significantly in the formation of PM2.5 particles in the atmosphere. Levels of these particles, however, still remain 6-7 times higher than the WHO-endorsed guideline. According to the researchers who published the findings, further improvements will hinge on how and when coal power can be replaced in the country.

EU car manufacturers make record profits but fight €150 pollution fixes

A new analysis found that while European car manufacturers are making record profits, they are fighting  €150 pollution fixes to curb air pollution. The analysis found that Europe’s five big carmakers have more than doubled their annual profits since 2019 to €64 billion. The existing EU proposals to tighten air pollution rules would cost at most €150 per car. However,   the car industry is opposing this proposal, claiming that it would be too expensive to comply with. The analysis revealed that European car manufacturers are paying out unprecedented amounts to CEOs and shareholders. More ambitious pollution limits, compared to the current proposals, would cost Europe’s largest carmaker, Volkswagen, €5.7 billion over the entire lifetime of the regulation. This is just 37% of its 2022 profits, the analysis estimated.  

Centre plans to bid 30 GW of renewable capacity in the first two quarters and 20 GW in the last two quarters.

India triples renewables auctions to meet 2030 target, to bid 50 GW RE projects in FY 23-24

To meet the looming 2030 renewable energy target and demand of developers to have predictable bidding trajectory, the government issued an agency-wise bidding calendar for 50 GW of renewable energy projects for the current financial year (FY 2023-24), reported Bloomberg and Mercom. The Centre designated SJVN (joint venture of central government and state government of Himachal Pradesh) to float tenders and act as the intermediary procurer of power. SJVN will work with SECI, NTPC, and NHPC to open bids to avoid concurrent bids.

The Centre plans to bid 30 GW of renewable capacity in the first two quarters and 20 GW in the last two quarters. The SECI and NTPC will issue tenders for 12.5 GW of solar/Hybrid/Round-the-Clock (RTC) projects and 2.5 MW of wind projects each. NHPC and SJVN will issue tenders for 7.5 GW of Solar/Hybrid/RTC projects and 2.5 MW of wind projects each. The bidding calendar is expected to attract international investment, and iron out grid connectivity issues and provide certainty to developers. According to the US-based Mercom Capital, India needs to add 30 GW of solar energy capacity annually to meet the 280 GW solar target by 2030. 

Kerala State Electricity Board proposes green energy premium for consumers

A proposal submitted by the state power utility company Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB) to the state electricity commission includes plans to introduce an additional tariff for those who want to switch over exclusively to green energy. KSEB proposed an additional tariff of Rs2.54/ unit over the existing tariff. While DISCOM acknowledged the demand for the switch, particularly among the industrial and commercial segment of consumers, it also listed challenges and additional costs that would be incurred to facilitate a 100% green power supply. Storage/baking alone is estimated to add Rs1.54/unit, almost two-thirds of KSEB’s proposed premium.

Gujarat clears 1.99 lakh hectare land for green hydrogen projects, Adani, Reliance biggest gainers

Gujarat cabinet cleared land allocation policy for green hydrogen projects, which earmarks 1.99 lakh hectares for 5 key players: Adani (84,486 ha), Reliance (74,750 ha), Torrent Power Limited (18,000 ha), ArcelorMittal Nippon Steel India Limited (14,393 ha) and Welspun Group (8,000 ha), reported the ET.

The companies demanded 3.26 lakh hectare, and got Cabinet approval for 1.99 lakh hectare at the rate of Rs15,000 per hectare on a 40-year lease basis. The government will earn an estimated Rs299 crore from these land parcels. The government will receive Rs2,998 crore as security deposit from these five companies. The total renewable power generation using green hydrogen on the proposed land is estimated to be 99,814 MW with 39.95 lakh metric tonne green hydrogen production.

Advantage India solar exports? US House panel votes to restore ban on solar imports from South-East Asia

In a move that indirectly benefits Indian solar exports, a United States House of Representatives panel voted to restore tariffs on solar panel imports from four Southeast Asian nations, reversing the Biden administration’s decision to allow more solar imports from China into the U.S. The panel said that by allowing solar products through Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam, “China is obviously circumventing American tariffs designed to ensure a level playing field for American workers.” The house panel dubbed the decision to suspend tariffs on solar imports from these countries for two years as “misguided.”

Industry groups in the US had criticized the investigation contending that the pipeline projects in the country would be impacted adversely, as domestic manufacturing capacity was not in a position to cater to the increasing demand. The ban on imports of Chinese-made panels has benefited Indian manufacturers. India’s solar module exports witnessed an unprecedented 321% hike year-over-year, totaling $561.6 million, driven by US demand, accounting for over 95% of the shipments.

No plans to extend ALMM for renewable energy player: Official

The government has no plans to further extend the Approved List of Models and Manufacturers (ALMM) of solar photovoltaic modules at the moment, news agency PTI  reported quoting a senior government official speaking at the annual ‘Mercom India Renewables Summit 2023.  The Joint Secretary at the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) Lalit Vohra said: “ALMM was only deferred for a year. As of now, we are very clear we are not extending it.”

The government earlier extended the ALMM by one year till March 2024 amid industry raising concerns over raw material availability and supply chain. ALMM was introduced to boost domestic manufacturing. On a question related to include the ancillary and downstream industry under the production-linked incentive scheme for solar module manufacturing, he said the government evaluates any request brought to it and accordingly takes steps.

The government is now considering diverting unutilised funds amounting to around Rs. 2000 cr, originally earmarked for electric three-wheelers, towards procurement of e-buses.

E-buses to be focus of new FAME tweak

The Indian government is reportedly planning a modification in the allocations under its FAME subsidy scheme. According to The Business Standard, the government is now considering diverting unutilised funds amounting to around Rs2000 crore, originally earmarked for electric three-wheelers, towards procurement of e-buses.

The report comes hot on the heels of the failure of a mammoth tender floated by Convergence Energy Services (CESL) to attract any bidders. No bids were submitted for the  ₹5,000-crore tender floated by CESL earlier this year to replace old, environmentally harmful diesel buses at state-run public transport systems with electric buses. These established automakers include Tata Motors, Ashok Leyland, and PMI Electro Mobility, reported the Economic times. The stakeholders said that the lack of funding for bus makers has capped bidding, citing state-run transport companies’ inability to timely pay the bus makers who were leasing the buses to them. Electric buses are 3–4 times more expensive than diesel buses, and because there is no broad infrastructure for charging them, banks cannot readily confiscate and redeploy them in the event of under recoveries.

The business model indicated that these buses will remain on the balance sheets of the automakers, who will lease them to government organisations and earn money on a pre-defined basis. Experts said that the availability of money will continue to be difficult unless a payment security mechanism is put in place.

BIS releases standards and tests for EV charging infra

The Bureau of India Standards (BIS) released standards and tests for EV charging infrastructure and requirements for battery swapping systems, the Economic Times reported. It also specified the safety standards for a battery swap system. The BIS said in a statement that the standards are designed to provide uniformity and compatibility for EV charging infrastructure  across the world. The standards ensure that EV charging systems are secure, dependable, and compatible with a range of cars and charging network providers, according to BIS.

The series of standards has 10 parts which define the charging modes, communication protocols, electrical safety, and performance test requirements for EV charging systems, the statement added.

Power finance corp loans ₹633 crore to Gensol Engineering Ltd

According to a statement released by Gensol Engineering Ltd (GEL), the company received a loan of ₹633 crore from the state-owned Power Finance Corporation (PFC) for the purchase of 5,000 passenger electric vehicles and 1,000 cargo EVs. The passenger EVs will be leased to Blusmart Mobility Pvt Ltd (BMPL) to expand its fleet of ride-hailing cabs. The first loan tranche has been disbursed, and the first batch of electric taxis have begun operating in Delhi, the statement continued. Over 1,00,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent in emissions would be saved through these PFC sponsored 5,000 electric four-wheelers. This is comparable to the amount of CO2 absorbed annually by more than 5 million fully mature trees. 

Indian cab startup BluSmart challenges Uber to an EV battle

With wagers on an all-electric taxi fleet and an aggressive effort to poach dissatisfied customers and drivers, BluSmart, an Indian ride-hailing start-up, hopes to compete with Uber and Ola for market share in the country. A complete transition to all-electric taxis for market leaders Uber and Ola is anticipated to be a challenging task that would occur while both businesses battle with driver retention and customer satisfaction difficulties.  

As the Indian ride-hailing market is crucial for Uber, it is also slowly adding EVs, targeting 25,000 cars in the country.  BluSmart, a new player, hopes to make the best of the opportunity by outperforming its competitors that use combustion engines in terms of electrification, cleanliness, and dependability by directly managing its fleet and drivers. To begin with, drivers are unable to cancel reservations made through the BluSmart app.

Australia released EV strategy improving EV supply and affordability

The Australian government has released a strategy outlining how it plans to scale up electric vehicle sales across the nation. A new fuel-efficiency standard, which will be created following consultation and mandate automakers to reach certain emissions limits for their whole fleet or else face penalties, is one essential element of the strategy. The government’s key areas include the availability of EVs, the systems and infrastructure required to enable their adoption, and the desire for them among drivers. The key six outcomes anticipated after the strategy implementation are an increase in the variety of EVs available, a decrease in transportation emissions, easier EV charging across the country, more local manufacturing and material recycling, cheaper EV ownership, and more.

Moscow emerged as the fourth-biggest coking coal supplier to India between April 2022 and February 2023.

India to double imports of Russian coking coal

As per a report in Reuters, steel minister Ramchandra Prasad Singh told a conference in New Delhi that India is moving in the direction of importing coking coal from Russia and planning to double imports. The decision would help India to cash in on lower prices and diversify its imports. India’s coking coal demand is likely to jump 8 per cent to 10 per cent in 2023 due to rising steel demand from the housing and infrastructure sectors.

Coking coal imports from Australia, the country’s biggest supplier of the key raw material for steelmaking, have traditionally constituted 75 per cent to 80 per cent of India’s annual shipments. But government data show that ‘during the first 11 months of the previous fiscal year to March 2023, Australia’s share dropped to 54 per cent due to higher imports from the United States and Russia. Moscow emerged as the fourth-biggest coking coal supplier to India between April 2022 and February 2023, by exporting 3.9 million tonnes, and may emerge as the second-biggest supplier this year’.

India’s pivot away from coal power takes shape in policy amendment

In a fresh twist in India’s energy transition story, Reuters reported that the government is opening the doors to the possibility of halting any new coal power capacity additions, apart from power plants already in the pipeline. According to the news agency, the revelation has come through the deletion of a key clause in India’s National Electricity Policy (NEP). The first draft of the NEP, published in 2021, had said that it may add new coal fire capacity. The Central Electricity Authority (CEA) had also said last year that India may add up to 28 GW of new coal power. The final draft of the NEP, however, removes any reference to new coal power, according to Reuters. “After months of deliberations, we have arrived at a conclusion that we would not need new coal additions apart from the ones already in the pipeline,” said a source quoted by the agency.

Biden approves Alaska gas exports, draws harsh criticism for releasing another “carbon bomb”

The Biden administration approved the Alaska Gasline Development Corp’s (AGDC) project to export liquefied natural gas (LNG) to countries with which the United States does not have a free trade agreement, especially in Asia. The decision by the US energy department has prompted harsh criticism from environmental groups, calling it another carbon bomb waiting to be released. The roughly $39 billion project, for which exports were first approved by the administration of Donald Trump, is expected to be operational by 2030 if it receives the required permits.

According to a study published in the journal The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in April, the methane emissions from the United States oil and gas fields during 2010-2019 were 70% higher than the official figures of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Oil and gas fields released 14.8 teragrams (Tg) of methane annually from 2010-2019.

Net zero emissions: Germany plans to ban installation of new oil and gas heating systems 

The German government approved a bill that will prohibit the installation of new oil and gas heating systems from 2024. The move has been made to transform Germany’s heating systems in an attempt to meet net zero emission targets but it has been met with a lot of criticism from opposition parties who argue that it will impose unmanageable costs on homeowners.

About half of Germany’s 41 million households currently use natural gas heating, and almost a quarter use heating oil. The bill will require any heating system installed in new or old buildings after January 2024, to be based on 65% renewable energy sources. Homeowners will be encouraged to install heat pumps to run on RE sources of electricity, or to switch to district heating, electric or solar thermal systems. Biomass heat, hydrogen and gas obtained from an approved environmentally friendly source, such as biomethane, will all be encouraged under a programme of subsidy payments of 10-40% for each heating system.