Vol 1, November 2023 | The nuclear option

nuclear recator
An aerial view of the construction of a reactor prototype. Photo: CNEA

NPCIL is forming joint ventures, Niti Aayog is keen on SMRs— but India’s atomic establishment is bullish on first, sceptical about the second. Read more

An aerial view of the construction of a reactor prototype. Photo: CNEA

A JV in tow, will India’s new nuclear push work?

NPCIL is forming joint ventures, Niti Aayog is keen on SMRs. Unresolved questions swirl around both.

India’s new nuclear push differs from its predecessors.

This time around, the country is not solely banking on its atomic establishment to erect an array of nuclear power plants. As the first part of this series showed, that approach resulted in cost- and time-overruns, and yielded an outcome where India missed every single deadline to boost its nuclear capacity.

In a bid to avoid that fate, India’s new nuclear push stands on two new pillars. First, NPCIL will set up reactors in partnership with other state-owned companies like NTPC. Second, the country is very bullish about Small and Modular Reactors (SMRs). These, goes the thinking, will be cheaper and faster to construct.

These claims—that NPCIL’s JVs will result in a faster rollout, and that SMRs will be competitive against rival forms of energy——have not received the broader scrutiny they deserve.

The JV, first. 

Can Ashvini deliver?

The joint venture (JV) between Nuclear Power Corporation of India (NPCIL) and National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) named Ashvini is neither new nor unique. 

It dates back to February 2016 when the NDA government amended the Atomic Energy Act to enable NPCIL to form JVs with other PSUs for setting up nuclear power plants

The idea here is that JV partners bring their investible surplus to the alliance, while NPCIL brings in nuclear know-how. The controlling stake—in what are 51:49 arrangements—would be with NPCIL. 

Between then and now, NPCIL has formed JVs with NTPC, Indian Oil Corporation, and Nalco. “JVs were also mooted with Hindustan Aluminium and Indian Railways, but those have stayed at a MoU level,” Shah Nawaz Ahmad, who oversees India for the World Nuclear Association, told CarbonCopy.

Of these, the JV with NTPC seems to have made the most headway. NTPC, which will need to replace its coal fleet with cleaner alternatives, wants to install 2 GW of nuclear energy by 2032; 4.2 GW by 2035; and 20 GW by 2050. SMRs are a part of its strategy. It wants to limit its JV with NPCIL to large reactors—and form a separate JV (where it is the majority partner) to build SMRs with private partners. According to media reports, it has assembled a 15-member team in Mumbai to drive its nuclear ambitions. Beneath these announcements lie a mass of unknowns—like the JV’s capacity to resolve the problems that have hamstrung nuclear power till now. 

While NTPC can raise funds more easily than NPCIL, as physicist MV Ramana writes in The Power of Promise, India’s atomic establishment has never really struggled for cash. It has always been well-capitalised. 

What about competitiveness against rival forms of energy? Unlike coal-based power plants, nuclear power has little or no running costs. Unlike solar, whose installation cost now stands at ₹3 crore-₹5 crore/MW but panels start leaching efficiency after 15 or so years, nuclear plants have a much longer life. A better comparison is with hydel and pumped storage projects (PSPs). They, too, have high upfront costs, can be used for base load generation as well as grid balancing, and have low running costs—dams more so than pumped storage.

This is where things get interesting. At NPCIL, the cost of a nuclear power plant today ranges between ₹12 crore-₹15 crore/MW. Imported reactors cost more. At Mithi Virdi, for instance, the cost per MW for Westinghouse reactors has touched ₹40 crore.

While the cost/MW for dams and PSPs (₹7 crore-₹8 crore/MW) is lower than that of nuclear, their costs/unit are similar—₹6/unit for a new dam; between ₹5/unit and ₹9/unit for a PSP, which incurs costs while pumping water back to the higher reservoir; and around ₹7/unit for a reactor costing between ₹15-20 crore/MW.

“Nuclear… remains the dispatchable low-carbon technology with the lowest expected costs in 2025,” says the IEA. “Only large hydro reservoirs can provide a similar contribution at comparable costs but remain highly dependent on the natural endowments of individual countries.”

Land acquisition is one bugbear—but that applies to hydel and PSPs as well.

Technical glitches, however, are a bigger risk.  “India has had hardly any standardisation of nuclear plants thus far and without standardisation nuclear cannot compete,” a senior official familiar with the government’s clean energy plans told CarbonCopy on the condition of anonymity. The country has variously imported reactors from countries like France, Russia and the USA. “That is what NTPC is trying to do now—develop standardised designs,” he continues. “India has valuable experience with the standardisation of coal boilers which greatly sped up projects. That is how the idea of Ashvini came about.” 
These thoughts echo those of former Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh who said in an interview this week, “India should have standardised on its own design of a heavy water reactor. It should not depend on imported reactors. Two standard 700 MW reactors are coming up in Kakrapar and more elsewhere. India should standardise on those reactors. We should build on those reactors.

And so, the current expansion hinges on India’s 700 MW Pressurised Heavy Water Reactor. At Kakrapar, where this reactor was rolled out, it posted time-overruns on account of its “First Of a Kind” Systems and delays in procuring critical equipment.

 At this time, it’s unclear if the NTPC-NPCIL alliance has ironed out these glitches. CarbonCopy contacted both NTPC and NPCIL for interviews. They did not respond. Subsequently, questions were emailed to both companies. This article will be updated when they respond. 

Turn to SMRs and similar questions intensify. 

SMRs: An idea whose time has come?

For some time now—especially once renewables’ prices began to drop—the nuclear industry has been trying to boost its own competitiveness. In the past, trying to bring down its costs, nuclear plants have bet on scale, spreading costs over a larger power output. With small and modular reactors (SMRs), the industry is heading the other way. Instead of building one large reactor, SMR makers want to mass-produce smaller reactors, and to use that scale to drive costs down. Modularity—where complete reactors are shipped out—is also expected to cut installation time and costs.

“If you take a large reactor like Kudankulam, on-site construction cost will be as much as 30-40% of the eventual cost,” said Vinod Sahni, a former director of the Raja Ramanna Centre for Advanced Technology at BARC. With SMRs, says manufacturers, installation time will drop from five or more years to less than two. The NDA echoes these claims. SMRs, it says, will yield significant savings in cost and construction time and fast-track nuclear power generation.

These claims by SMR makers have been challenged by others—including the nuclear establishment itself. Can mass production drive down reactor prices? The answer to that question lies in a thicket of deeper questions. In any manufacturing process, raw material costs account for a large chunk of costs. Efficiencies result from factors like cheaper sourcing of inputs by placing large orders; spreading the cost of the assembly plant, R&D, etc, over a larger output; and so on. And so,  how many reactors will an assembly line need to produce to score meaningful savings on manufacturing costs? In a paper about the competitiveness of nuclear power, Ramana estimated the cost/MW of SMRs will match that of large reactors only after anywhere between 700 and 60,000 reactors have been manufactured.   

Given that anywhere between 40 and 70 SMRs are in development across the world, how many reactors can each assembly line expect to manufacture each year? During installation, SMRs face the same risk as large reactors—of cost and time-overruns. Once installed, they produce the same externalities as large reactors (like accidents and radioactive waste disposal) and, ergo, have similar system costs as large reactors (boilers, turbines, safety systems, staff). All these costs, however, have to be recovered from lower power output. That will add to the cost per unit.

On the whole, SMRs might be much costlier than large reactors. In his talk at the India Nuclear Business Platform, AK Nayak, head (Nuclear Control and Program Wing) at the Department of Atomic Energy, pegged the “ballpark” cost of erecting an SMR at “₹200 million/MW” – or ₹20 crore/MW.

Their running cost might be higher as well. “Given their smaller size, SMRs have a greater surface area,” said Grover. “Which means greater neutron leakage and therefore, more spent fuel.” This point has been made elsewhere as well. “A recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences concluded that SMRs would create up to 30 times more radioactive waste per unit of electricity than conventional reactors”, reported Energy Monitor.

What about cost/unit? As IEEFA reported earlier this year, “NuScale’s first power plant… increased its initial estimated electricity cost from 5.8 cents per kWh to 8.9 cents per KWh. That increase [a jump from ₹7.25/unit to ₹10.3/unit] would have been even higher if not for $4 billion in federal tax subsidies and a $30/MWh subsidy,” added the Australian energy think-tank.

At ₹10.3/unit (or more), SMRs will be more expensive than pumped storage—which can also address intermittency and ensure grid stability. “I am not sure SMRs are a fruitful LT investment,” said author Prabir Purkayastha. “But pumped storage is. You can use it to cycle up and down. You can create these in small areas. They can do daily balancing as well as long-term balancing.”

For all these reasons, India’s nuclear community is not convinced. “Nowhere in the world have SMRs been used,” academic R Rajaraman told CarbonCopy in April. “We are yet to see a proof of concept. It’s all ambitious talk and exaggerated claims.”

These numbers—coupled with the absence of commercial models in the market and reluctance within the nuclear establishment—raise a large question. Support for SMR comes from elsewhere in the government. “In the DAE (Department of Atomic Energy) and Niti Aayog, some see SMRs as an opportunity,” Grover told CarbonCopy. “They think SMRs can be deployed quickly and economically.”

As this article was being finalised, news came too that NuScale had terminated its agreement with Utah. “NuScale’s Utah plant was expected to be the first SMR to win a license from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission for construction,” reported Reuters. Concerns about uncompetitiveness were a major reason.

The question writes itself. Why is India so bullish about an untested technology?

“Our unfortunate reality is that technocrats talk like politicians and politicians talk like technical experts.”

A nuclear scientist who has retired from BARC told CarbonCopy on the condition of anonymity.

A question of risk

At this time, the world is seeing as many as 70 SMR models under development.

“NuScale is creating a small reactor by downsizing an existing reactor,” said Ahmad. “Others are innovating new designs. In the next three to four years, an array of SMRs will be offered as the first of a kind. These will range from micro (200 to 500 kw) to small (below 300 MW).” (India has its own small reactor. This is the 300 MW AHWR300-LEU. Developed by BARC, it runs on thorium and plutonium. It, however, is not modular).

Most SMR makers are eyeing developing countries which need to decarbonise but don’t have enough solar, wind and hydel potential to quit coal. Take NuScale. It hopes to build SMRs in Romania, Kazakhstan, Poland and Ukraine.

And India. As Nayak said at his conference: India has to retrofit 22O GW of thermal capacity. “With a ballpark figure of 200 Mn INR/ MW,  business has a potential of INR 44 Trillion (USD 550 Billion) over the next 20 years,” he said. Add industrial demand for SMRs and that number will swell further. 

One outcome is lobbying. At this time, a bevy of foreign SMR manufacturers – chiefly Westinghouse, Holtec, NuScale, Rosatom — are eyeing India. Hardwired into their lobbying is the worry that India might relax vital safeguards and invest billions in an uncompetitive source of electricity. 

Unlike thermal power plants (TPP), SMRs cannot be installed in seismic zones. This means NTPC’s TPPs around Delhi, for instance, cannot be retro-fitted. Also, nuclear reactors are required to have an exclusion zone—a 1.6 km radius—around them. Most thermal power projects, however, have towns and villages pressing up against their walls. In other words, to install SMRs, NTPC will have to either acquire land for a safety zone around power plants being retro-fitted or the government will have to do away with this stipulation.

The government is also soft-pedalling the civil liability issue. “That has been pushed to the backburner,” said the senior government official. “It is a part of the law but it is not at the centre of these discussions. It will not be a deal breaker.”

The questions write themselves. Should nuclear or renewables and pumped storage take the base-load? How much nuclear power should India build? Should it focus on large reactors or SMRs?

These are vital queries. To set up 10,000 MW of SMR capacity, India will need to spend ₹200,000 crore. For this sum, it could set up 16,000 MW of large reactors. Or, at ₹7.5 crore/MW, 25,000 MW of pumped storage capacity. Alternately, should the country invest in smarter grids?

The bigger question

Modern grid operators, wrote Ramana recently, are trying to create 100% renewable grids by addressing intermittency without falling back on “baseload” generation. 

“The first and foremost is energy efficiency, which reduces demand, especially during periods of peak use…. A second option is demand flexibility… wherein utilities compensate electricity customers that lower their use when asked — often automatically and imperceptibly — helping balance supply and demand.”

One recent study found, he writes, that “the U.S. has 200 gigawatts of cost-effective load flexibility potential that could be realised by 2030 if effective demand response is actively pursued.” Before embarking on the nuclear buildup, India needs to ascertain the equivalent number for itself – and then see how much additional base load it needs. The costs of not doing so are stranded nuclear plants—or expensive power for users.

Instead of having those conversations, however, India is rushing to embrace SMRs. Not only does all this draw the country’s ill-fated adventure with Enron to mind, it also highlights a larger flaw in India’s response to climate change. As journalist Joydeep Gupta had commented in a recent article for ThirdPole, secrecy pervades South Asian countries’ responses to climate change

In the case of nuclear, India is embarking on an expensive buildup—even thinking of retooling safety norms—  without much of a discussion on viability, alternatives and attendant costs.

Read the first part here.

El Nino may last till April 2024: ‘Expect warmer winter, more fog, summer heatwaves’

The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) has said the ongoing El Niño event may continue until April 2024 further heating up global temperatures on land and the ocean. This could mean “a relatively warm winter, more fog days between December and February [and] more [pre-monsoon] heatwaves”, HT reported. The newspaper quoted WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas as saying: “…record high land and sea-surface temperatures since June, the year 2023 is now on track to be the warmest year on record. Next year may be even warmer. This is clearly and unequivocally due to the contribution of the increasing concentrations of heat-trapping greenhouse gases from human activities.”

The article added that the Copernicus Climate Change Service assessed October 2023 as the warmest October on record globally, with an average surface air temperature of 15.30°C. October marked the sixth consecutive month that Antarctic sea ice extent remained at record low levels for the time of year, and Arctic sea ice extent reached its 7th lowest value for October.

India lost around 10% of its land mass to degradation: UN data

According to United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) data India’s total reported land degradation stood at 30.51 million hectares from 2015-2019, DTE reported. That is the size of 43 million football pitches, according to UNCCD. According to the data 251.71 million Indians constituting 18.39 per cent of the country’s population were exposed to land degradation during the same period. 854.4 million of the country’s people were exposed to drought from 2015-2018 (reporting cycle year). The total land area under drought is calculated as the sum of the reported area under all drought intensity classes (mild, moderate, severe and extreme).

Ken-Betwa developers listening? River interlinking could worsen drought: IIT Bombay study 

Last month the Centre gave Ken-Betwa river interlinking project final forest clearance, six years after it was given ‘in principle’ approval. But new study from the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay suggests river interlinking could lead to a decrease in rainfall in September in dry regions of India. The study shows that changes in soil moisture from one river basin can affect soil moisture in neighbouring basins, leading to changes in precipitation patterns, Mongabay reported.  The research looked at impacts of moving vast amounts of water on atmospheric feedback loops that regulate evapotranspiration and precipitation and found that the project can lead to a deficit in rainfall by up to 12 percent in already water stressed regions, when the monsoon is withdrawing in September.

Environmentalists say river interlinking could change groundwater levels, introduce alien invasive species and reduce sediment deposits downstream, among other ecological concerns. In the case of the Ken-Betwa interlinking project – the first of 30 such projects to reach the implementation stage – 10 percent of the Panna Tiger Reserve stands to be submerged. Around 6,809 hectares of forest land will be diverted for the project, Mongabay report saud. 

Fossil fuel use to put 1.5C warming threshold in jeopardy before 2030: New study 

A new report says fossil fuel emissions are threatening to breach 1.5 C (key climate threshold) more quickly than previously thought: world may breach the 1.5C limit by 2029, rather than the mid 2030s. Global average temperature in 2023 are expected to reach 1.5 °C of warming above the pre-industrial level, before the world first started heavily using coal, oil and gas around 1850. But to breach the Paris agreement’s limit, the heating must be sustained for many years. 

The Guardian reported that the “carbon budget” for limiting global warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial temperatures has depleted. The latest assessment report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimated that only 500bn tonnes of carbon could be released from 2020 to give the planet a 50% chance of staying below 1.5C. 

New report: Earth’s vital signs are now in ‘uncharted territory,’

Researchers at Oregon State University and other institutions around the world, in a new study, have found the Earth already in “uncharted territory” with climate change,to the point that unless greenhouse emissions are cut drastically, parts of the world that are home to one-third to one-half of the global population could face extreme heat, food shortages and water shortages by the end of this century, reported Phys dot org.

“The truth is that we are shocked by the ferocity of the extreme weather events in 2023. We are afraid of the uncharted territory that we have now entered.” Of 35 vital signs of planetary health, 20 are at record levels, and most in an environmentally harmful way, the out let reported adding that although renewable energy is increasing and rainforest depletion is slowing, ocean acidity, glacier thickness, and Greenland’s ice mass all fell to record lows over the past two years, while greenhouse gas emissions, sea level rise and ocean temperatures rose to record highs

Govts, Businesses drastically short on forests targets: Forest Declaration Assessment

Governments and businesses are failing the world on commitments to protect and restore forests? That’s the conclusion of the recent Forest Declaration Assessment. At multiple global commitments to forests,  hundreds of governments and businesses signed up pledges named after cities they were signed in: Bonn in 2011, New York in 2014, Glasgow in 2021. “But these pledges have not been realized, and deforestation reduction targets are slipping each year,” reported Phys.Org. 

There is no serious pathway to fixing climate change while forest losses continue at current rates, the outlet wrote. According to the UN forests directly generate US$250 billion (£206 billion) in economic activity a year. Their broader, indirect, value might be as much as US$150 trillion (£12 trillion) per year—double the value of global stocks—largely due to their ability to store carbon. Despite this, subsidies still provide incentives for people to convert forests into agriculture, Phys.Org report added. 

Study claims desert storms over the Arabian Sea enable greater carbon sequestration

A warming planet has resulted in the intensification of storms and extreme weather across the world, including in the Arabian Gulf and the Middle East. New research has now identified a secondary impact of these ‘desert storms’ originating in the Middle East and travelling across the Arabian Sea towards the Indian subcontinent. In the unprecedented study, scientists from the CSIR-National Institute for Oceanography confirmed the presence and influence of dust particles from Saudi Arabia and Iran on the Arabian Sea, including a positive impact on the carbon sequestration ability of the sea. “Dust particles carried by the wind over the deserts are an essential contributor of nutrients and trace metals to the microscopic surface-dwelling plants — the phytoplankton — in the global ocean, which in turn naturally help in controlling atmospheric CO2,” said director of CSIR-NIO and ocean scientist Sunil Kumar Singh in a quote to The New Indian Express.

Globally, climate adaptation needs 50% higher, but progress slowing down: UN report

Adaptation finance needs are 50% higher than previously estimated–this was one of the main findings of the Adaptation Gap report 2023, released on Thursday. The report found that these needs were 10-18 times as great as the global public adaptation finance flows. Another worrying finding was that globally, the progress on adaptation was slowing down, instead of accelerating, which is the need of the hour. 

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report, titled Adaptation Gap Report 2023: Underfinanced. Underprepared – Inadequate investment and planning on climate adaptation leaves the world exposed, was released ahead of the annual UN climate meet, COP28, to be held in Dubai at the end of November.  

Ahead of COP, China puts spotlight on methane through a reduction plan

China’s methane reduction plan, which was in the works for the past two years, was released last week amidst sighs of relief. A part of its agreement with the US at COP26 in Glasgow, the release of the plan is being seen as a positive sign for progress in negotiations between the world’s two largest emitters at COP28 in Dubai, which begins at the end of the month. While agreeing to broad efforts to curb methane emissions from various sectors and avoid the flaring of methane at oil and gas facilities, the plan stops short of any crystallised targets or timelines. Observers believe this could be a potential stumbling block for talks between the two.

Australia signs historic migration pact with Tuvalu

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese signed a bilateral agreement with the Pacific island nation of Tuvalu last week to help it combat the effects of climate change and guarantee support for migration. The pact also seeks to address security concerns in the Pacific, particularly with regards to Chinese presence in the region. The tiny nation faces an escalating existential threat in the form of sea level rise which has eaten away at its shoreline considerably, and has been at the forefront of calls for avenues to address these threats. The pact will see the creation of a special visa for up to 280 Tuvaluans annually which is 2.5% of Tuvalu’s 11,200 population. Funds will also be provided for land reclamation in Tuvalu to expand land in the capital, Funafuti, by around 6%, reports Nikkei Asia.

India opposes inclusion of ‘environment sustainability and trade’ by the EU at WTO Ministerial meet

India opposed the introduction of the issue of environment sustainability and trade for discussion, at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) meeting on the grounds that it was premature to bring up the matter for discussion as only one member, which is the EU, had come up with a paper on this, The Hindu Businessline reported adding that the matter must go through the regular committees and brainstormed there before it is brought up to the senior officers or Ministers. 

India opposed the issue arguing that there are multilateral environment platforms where the matter of environment sustainability is already being discussed. At such platforms, there are Nationally Determined Contributions taking into account every country’s profile and historical emissions. By linking it to trade, sustainability issues should not be allowed to be used as a barrier to trade, the businessline report said, quoting a senior official source. 

India fears the environment can be used as a tool to impose “unjustified trade restrictions” such as the proposed carbon taxes by the European Union under its Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM), the businessline report said quoting the source.

EU keen on imposing methane emission limits on gas imports

The EU is proposing to impose methane emission limits on its gas imports starting 2030, Reuters reported. This could potentially force its fossil fuel suppliers such as the US to reduce the methane leaks. The potent gas is an important component of natural gas that is used to run power plants and heat homes. According to the draft proposal, “Failure to comply shall be disincentivised, taking security of supply considerations into account.”

Days before COP28, countries fail to reach agreement at preparatory talks

Two days of preparatory talks in Abu Dhabi, ahead of the crucial COP 28 summit in Dubai at the end of the month, failed to produce any breakthroughs. The talks were attended by 70 ministers and the aim was to agree on text ahead of the COP. The Loss and Damage fund is the main focus, with one delegate from Egypt telling AFP that almost 80% of the text was agreed on. 

Banks gave $150 billion to firms with carbon-intensive projects in 2022

Banks have given funds amounting to more than $150 billion in 2022 to companies that are working on carbon-heavy projects with the potential to derail any and all efforts to stop global warming. According to the Guardian, there are 425 projects in the pipeline, which can each emit more than one gigatonne of CO2 into the atmosphere. Additionally, these banks, mainly in China and Europe, gave more than $1.8 trillion to these companies between 2016 and 2022. 

Top court ban on fireworks ‘goes up in flames’, AQI breach 1000 in many areas in Delhi

The air quality index (AQI) in Delhi exceeded ‘very poor’ and ‘severe’ marks and “went straight for hazardous in many areas like Anand Vihar (849), Pusa Road (970) and India Gate (999)” reported The Weather Channel. Hourly PM2.5 and PM10 levels exceeded 1000 at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium and RK Puram between 11 PM and 4 AM after residents flouted the ban on firecrackers, the report said adding that as per SAFAR, the national capital’s AQI stood at 445 as of 11:30 AM.

New Delhi, Kolkata and Mumbai were among the world’s worst 10 for pollution on Monday morning,  reported Reuters. The country wide ban on firecrackers “was boldly flouted” reported DTE. An AQI level of 400-500 harms healthy people and is dangerous to those with existing diseases. AQI of 150-200 brings discomfort to people with asthma, lung and heart problems. Levels of 0-50 are considered good.

Authorities ban firecrackers every year but its never enforced. AQI deteriorates ahead of winter, when cold air traps vehicular and industrial pollution, construction dust and agricultural waste burning. Delhi government postponed an earlier decision to restrict use of vehicles after a brief spell of rain on Friday brought some respite from a week-long exposure to toxic air.

Firecracker regulation for the whole country, not just Delhi: Top Court

India’s Supreme Court had clarified that firecracker regulations apply to all states, not just Delhi reported DTE. The apex court banned barium and banned chemicals in firecrackers, stating, “the regulation is applicable across the country, binding all states and not just the Delhi-National Capital Region”. The judges added that “At this juncture, no specific order will be necessary since this Court, in the course of hearing the petitions, has passed several orders where steps have been indicated to minimise and avoid air as well as noise pollution. Hence, the said orders will bind every state in the country…”.

Speaking to DTE Arvind Kumar, chairperson of the Centre for Chest Surgery & Lung Transplantation at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, New Delhi said the reminder is extremely delayed, the order should have come 6 months ago.

‘Stop ad hoc measures, scale up monitoring, address road transport to tackle air pollution’

Cloud seeding, smog towers, odd-even transport are ad hoc measures authorities should scale up monitoring and factor in health to tackle air pollution, wrote Mongabay. The report also reminded that vehicular pollution was the most significant cause of air pollution in Delhi. 

Earlier this year Urban Emissions studied the causes of Delhi pollution from 1990 to 2022 and found road transport to be the most significant contributor throughout the year. The metro rail, CNG buses, and high emission standards for vehicles helped reduce on-road emissions but, “the growing number of vehicles and their usage is nullifying any improvements coming from introducing better vehicle and fuel standards and any other interventions to curb traffic,” the paper says.

Delhi has the highest density of air monitoring machines in the country.  There are 931 ambient air quality monitoring stations under the National Air Quality Monitoring Programme, according to the Central Pollution Control Board. This is less than half of what the National Green Tribunal had directed to be installed, Mongabay report said, adding that “India would need at least 4000 continuous monitoring stations, around 2800 in the urban areas and 1200 in the rural areas, to truly represent the air quality trends.”

How climate crisis is affecting cricket, India’s elite sport

DW reported on how air pollution is impacting India’s elite sport of cricket.  Smog formed by pollution from power plants, vehicles and other sources reacting in sunlight and heat, have deteriorated the air quality so much that training sessions before the match had to be cancelled.

The report added that the organisers are trying to tackle the problems at the World Cup matches by installing air purifiers in the dressing rooms and water misting alongside the pitch. “In an ideal world, you don’t want a situation like this…But I’m pretty sure the concerned people are taking the necessary steps to avoid these kind of situations.” DW report quoted India captain Rohit Sharma. 

Deadly chemical accidents linked to fossil fuel industry occurring almost daily in the US: Research

A new report by Coming Clean and a network of environmental and economic justice organisations in the Coalition to Prevent Chemical Disasters have warned that deadly chemical accidents are occurring almost daily, on average, in the United States, exposing people to dangerous toxins through fires, explosions, leaks and spills, reported the Guardian

The majority of the incidents tallied are connected to the fossil fuel industry, including the use, transport, production and disposal of fossil fuels and fossil fuel products, according to the report.  The estimates are conservative as the research is based only on incidents reported in the news. The new report shows 829 hazardous chemical incidents from 1 January 2021, through 15 October of this year, or roughly one every 1.2 days. 

Mercury levels in the atmosphere have increased sevenfold due to human emissions: Study

According to recent research from the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), since the beginning of the modern era, roughly 1500 C.E., humans have increased the concentration of potentially toxic mercury in the atmosphere by sevenfold. Researchers created a novel technique to precisely calculate the annual mercury emissions from volcanoes, the greatest source of mercury emissions from natural sources. That estimate and a computer model were utilised by the team to reconstruct pre-anthropogenic atmospheric mercury levels. Prior to humans adding mercury to the environment, the average amount of mercury in the atmosphere, according to the study, was 580 megagrams. However, in 2015, independent research that looked at all available atmospheric measurements estimated the atmospheric mercury reservoir was about 4,000 Mg—about seven times more than the natural situation indicated in this study. The difference is made up of human emissions of mercury from mining, industry, waste incinerator, and coal-fired power stations. A separate study revealed the mercury footprint of artisanal gold mines through the impact on native tropical bird populations. Researchers have found that birds living within 7km of artisanal gold mines in Central and South America were contaminated by four times as much mercury as similar birds living in other high altitude areas in the region.

Air Quality in October 2023 was the worst in the last five years

According to Respirer Reports’ Analysis of Air Quality in October for the past five years, Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Kolkata saw PM 2.5 levels higher in October 2023, compared to a year ago. Chennai was the least polluted, with a fall of over 23% compared to a year ago. Delhi’s PM 2.5 level in October, 2023, was higher than a year ago. It remained the most polluted city. Mumbai saw a steady increase in October PM 2.5 levels from 2019 to 2023, pollution spiked by over 42% compared to October a year ago. In earlier years, PM 2.5 shot up between 2019 and 2020 (by 54.2%), fell slightly in 2021 (by 3%) and 2022 (by 0.9%). In Hyderabad and Kolkata, October PM 2.5 levels went up in 2023 compared to 2022. Hyderabad, PM 2.5 increased between 2019 and 2020 by 59% and dipped slightly in 2021 by 2.9% and considerably in 2022 by 29.1%, but went up again in 2023 (by 18.6%). In Kolkata, PM 2.5 dipped between 2019 and 2020 (by 26.8%), went up in 2021 (by 51.7%), decreased in 2022 (by 33.1%) and rose again in 2023 (by 40.2%). 

NTPC tenders land and transmission package for 2.4 GW solar projects

State-owned National Thermal Power Corporation has floated tenders to develop inter-state transmission system (ISTS)-connected solar projects in Andhra Pradesh with greenshoe options: a 900 MW solar project in Kurnool, with an additional 300 MW greenshoe option and a 900 MW solar project in Anantapur, with a 300 MW greenshoe option, Mercom reported. Green shoe is additional capacity of power procured to meet the Renewable Purchase Obligation and the Energy Storage Obligation. Developers need to arrange land at 5 acres/ MW) on either a freehold or leasehold basis near an ISTS substation for 30 years, make the approach road to the pooling substation, including any interconnection between plots by self or through the state machinery.

India: CEA pitches for EVs to support national power grid

India’s Central Electricity Authority has proposed a targeted strategy to incorporate electric vehicles in the national power grid and its balancing. Earlier this year, the CEA was tasked by the Ministry of Power with framing guidelines for reverse charging of the grid through EVs. The CEA thereafter formed an expert committee comprising members from premier academic institutions, discoms and stakeholders in the EV ecosystem. The proposal, which came through a report on vehicle-to-grid services prepared by the CEA with the help of this committee, outlines how smart charging can unlock the grid stabilisation potential of idle EVs by offering increased flexibility for peak shaving and load balancing.

International Solar Alliance increases VGF for solar projects to 35%

The International Solar Alliance (ISA) increased Viability Gap Funding (VGF) for solar projects in developing countries from 10% to 35% of the project cost. ISA previously provided a grant of $150,000 or 10% of the project cost. The VGF would largely be used in the developing and underdeveloped nations of Africa and South America, TOI reported. The move is expected to attract private players. 

The VGF includes ISA Fund with insurance and payment security, green funds promised by developed countries as per COP21 commitments if the ISA establishes the required infrastructure, and private sector Investment.

Lithium supply chain diversifies: US and India make headway in search for suppliers

The United States’ search for alternatives to Chinese-dominated supply chains for materials critical to energy transition has finally yielded fruit. The Ewoyaa lithium project in Ghana represents one of the first dents made by American investors in the existing lithium supply chain. “Our investment in Ewoyaa will help alleviate potential future US supply constraints and provide crucial resources to help reduce America’s dependence on foreign nations, like China,” the chief executive of one of the companies involved told Bloomberg recently, while crediting the US’s Inflation Reduction Act with the decision to invest in lithium production.

Meanwhile, India has set its sights on South America for its lithium requirements. India’s Ministry of Mines is reportedly in talks with the governments of Chile and Bolivia for access to their respective lithium reserves. “While a ‘decision is pending’ on acquisition of blocks in Argentina, for Chile the Mines Ministry is on-course to sign non-disclosure agreements (with the government there), identify mines and blocks, explore prospecting opportunities, among other factors. In Bolivia, the Ministry is looking at downstream tie-ups, wherein it will facilitate EV battery making and processing set-ups by Indian companies who will invest in the South American nation,” reports The Hindu Businessline.

India increases RE usage for DISCOMS, others to 43.33% by 2024-25

India issued a notification on renewable energy consumption for discoms, open access and captive power consumers. The new norms specify minimum share of consumption of non-fossil sources by the obligated consumers. The target of consumption of total power from non-fossil fuel power by the end of 2024-25, has been increased to 43.33 percent, from 29.91 percent, Saur Energy reported. The new norms allow consumers to use hydro power and buy Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) to meet the shortfalls. 

SJVN wraps up 1.5 GW renewables, storage tender with $0.053/kWh tariff

Indian state-run hydropower producer SJVN (Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam)  allocated 1.18 GW (of 1.5 GW) renewables storage tender for an average price of $0.053/kWh, PV magazine reported adding that seven Indian developers secured the bids. Acme Solar won 250 MW. Juniper Green and Tata Power Renewable secured 200 MW each. The other winners include ReNew (184 MW), Solarcraft Power (150 MW), Hero Future Energies (120 MW), and TEQ Green/O2 Power (80 MW).

The winners are required to supply the contracted amount of firm and dispatchable power from renewable power projects with energy storage systems. The projects can be built anywhere in India and should connect to the interstate transmission grid. SJVN will sign 25-year power purchase agreements with the successful bidders. The power will be sold to different buying entities across India.

Haryana’s Draft Solar Policy Targets 6 GW Capacity by 2030

Haryana is aiming to instal 6 GW of solar power by 2030: 3.2 GW ground-mounted capacity, 1.6 GW rooftop solar, and 1.2 GW of solar irrigation pumps, according to its recently released Draft Haryana Solar Power Policy 2023. 

There will be no capacity restriction for those setting up projects for their own consumption. These projects can be situated anywhere in India, and the generated power can be transmitted via open access, Mercom reported, adding that the draft backs large-scale solar projects on canal tops, banks, and other water bodies. The government can lease panchayat land for 30 years to set up projects.  Eligible consumers can install rooftop systems of capacity not surpassing the target capacity set by the government. Haryana has a maximum cumulative capacity of 500 MW for rooftop solar systems.

According to the outlet, utility-scale projects will not require any changes in land use approval; they are also exempt from External Development Charges (EDC), scrutiny fees, and infrastructure development charges. Last December Delhi government  draft solar policy set up 6 GW solar target by 2025 expecting solar energy share in annual electricity demand to jump to 25% from 9%. Uttar Pradesh approved an increase in its target to 22 GW of solar capacity by FY 2026-27, Mercom reported. 

New catalyst offers fresh hope for carbon utilisation

Carbon capture and utilisation received a significant technological boost this past fortnight. Scientists from Rice University in the US unveiled a novel catalyst to speed up the conversion of carbon dioxide to methane. The new copper-based catalyst enables breaking carbon off carbon dioxide molecules and recombining it with hydrogen to form methane. The catalyst has the potential to improve the utilisation prospect of carbon capture technologies by helping efficient and speedy conversion into an industrial feedstock like methane. “Overcoming such issues (of inefficiency in conversion) can help close the artificial carbon cycle at meaningful scales, and the development of efficient and affordable catalysts is a key step toward achieving this goal,” explains the study’s lead author.

A new robotic system promises to speed up the discovery of novel photovoltaics

Despite cementing its place in the energy economy of the future, solar energy is still saddled with significant challenges of scale and technological limitations. One of foremost challenges is the development of new photovoltaic materials. The process is far from straightforward, with materials necessarily having to meet a triad of requirements – they must be highly efficient, made from common chemical elements, and have low toxicity. Not many materials check all three boxes and development of novel materials is weighed down by expensive, laborious and time-consuming studies. Researchers from Japan’s Osaka university are attempting to revolutionise the process through a unique robotic system that automates the experimental process. The new robotic system announced by the researchers provides a one-stop-shop photoabsorption spectroscopy, optical microscopy, and time-resolved microwave conductivity analyses. In all, the researchers claim their robotic system cuts the time involved to just one-sixth of the time needed under the conventional process. 

Hydrogen gets a new, cheaper and more efficient carrier

Hydrogen’s viability as a clean fuel has inherently been limited due to the costs and risks associated with its storage and transport. This challenge has resulted in the exploration of “energy carrier” compounds such as ammonia, formic acid, and metal hydrides which offer a material avenue to store and transport hydrogen. Researchers from Japan’s Kyushu University have now developed a new material capable of storing and transporting hydrogen at room temperature for as long as three months and more cheaply than other methods. Additionally, the material can be used its own catalyst for the extraction of hydrogen, something that had previously not been achieved with other potential energy carriers. “We looked to nature for hints. There are a series of enzymes called hydrogenases that catalyze hydrogen into protons and electrons and can store that energy for later use, even at room temperature. By studying these enzymes our team was able to develop a new compound that does exactly that,” explains Professor Seiji Ogo who led the research team. The new material uses nickel, which is inexpensive relative to other metals conevntionally used as catalysts in the process such as platinum and rhodium.

Second life: World’s largest steel mill to be repurposed for wind turbine manufacturing

Formerly the world’s largest steel mill, situated in the US state of Maryland is going to be given a second lease of life as a manufacturing hub for offshore wind turbines. The decision was made by the US Department of Transportation Maritime Administration which awarded $47.4 million to a new factory, called Sparrows Point Steel. “Through both the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the Inflation Reduction Act, we’re bringing manufacturing jobs back to the US and back to Maryland, and this investment will help make Baltimore a competitive manufacturing hub for offshore wind and a premier destination for clean energy growth,” read a statement prepared by six of Maryland’s Democratic lawmakers.

India mandates imported-coal blending and full-capacity operations till FY24-end

Recently, the Indian government has extended mandatory blending of imported coal with domestic fuel for power gencos till the end of the current financial year. This was done in an attempt to ensure uninterrupted power supply across the country. Additionally, it extended Section 11 of the Electricity Act 2003, popularly known as the emergency clause, which requires imported coal-based power facilities to operate at full capacity through June 30, 2024. The first extension was given to full capacity up to September 30, and then extended the period to October 31, and then again to June 30, 2024. The All India Engineers’ Federation (AIPEF) has opposed this move to extend the deadline for coal import for the third time. The association claimed that this was an obvious instance of supporting businesses selling and importing coal, then shifting the cost increases associated with the importation onto common electricity users.

Ahead of COP28: India set to expand coal power capacity as demand surges

According to the TOI report India is “doubling down” on coal-fired power ahead of COP28 as the country’s experiencing a surge in power demand amid a “sharp uptick” in the economy. Addressing a meeting of state ministers India’s power minister RK Singh said : “There is going to be pressure on nations at COP28 to reduce coal usage…[W]e are not going to compromise on availability of power for our growth, even if it requires that we add coal-based capacity,” , the newspaper article quoted. Singh said India would meet its climate targets, adding that “the country has to start work on 30,000MW [of] new thermal generation capacity on top of the 50,000MW already underway to avoid shortage.” The TOI report said RK Singh has asked all states to run at full capacity and import coal. 

ONGC to start production from its flagship deep water project this month

State-run Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) will finally start producing oil from its $5 billion deep-sea project in Bay of Bengal’s Krishna-Godavari basin this month after a series of delays. According to statements made by ONGC Director (Production) Pankaj Kumar to Press Trust of India, production will be low initially — between 8,000 and 9,000 barrels per day, and then gradually ramped up. The first consignment is due to be sent to ONGC subsidiary Mangalore Refinery and Petrochemicals Ltd for further testing and quality assessment.

Meanwhile, ONGC has also asked the government to allow it to use gas produced from its legacy operations in its petrochemical unit. The gas produced from these projects are currently allocated by the government to different industries based on a priority ladder list. The proposal has been made to with an eye on reducing the cost of gas procurement for its in-house petrochemical subsidiary ONGC Petro Additions Ltd.

India raises windfall tax on crude to ₹ 9,800 per ton

The Indian government has raised the windfall tax on petroleum crude from ₹ 9,050 per tonne to ₹ 9,800 per tonne. According to a government statement, the windfall tax on aviation turbine fuel—which was previously ₹1/ liter—has been eliminated. Additionally, the administration lowered the fuel windfall tax from ₹ 4/ litre to ₹2/ litre. Earlier, the windfall tax on petroleum oil was reduced on October 18 from ₹12,100 rupees per tonne to ₹ 9,050 per tonne.  In July of last year, India levied a windfall tax on producers of crude oil and prolonged the tax on petrol, diesel and aviation fuel exports because private refiners preferred to profit from strong refining margins in foreign markets rather than selling their products domestically.

Sale of leases to drill Gulf of Mexico for oil and gas postponed over endangered whale’s protections

An auction for rights to drill for oil in the Gulf of Mexico has been postponed by the Biden administration due to legal uncertainties surrounding protections for the endangered Rice’s whale. The lawsuit that Chevron, Louisiana, and the American Petroleum Institute brought caused the lease sale, which was initially planned for September, to be postponed. The lawsuit contested clauses that were added to the transaction with the intention of safeguarding the Rice’s whale, one of the most endangered whale species worldwide. The oil industry advocates have urged President Joe Biden’s government to proceed with the sale anyway. However, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management announced that the event would be postponed due to legal uncertainty. The lease auction was announced earlier this year and was mandated by the 2022 climate legislation that was a part of the Inflation Reduction Act. Large areas of Gulf waters along the shores of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama were included in the tracts that were available. 

World needs $7 million to ensure future natural gas supply: Study  

According to a new analysis from the Institute of Energy Economics in Japan, governments need to invest $7 trillion in new LNG export plants, facility upgrades, and the development of new gas fields in order to secure a smooth energy transition. According to the analysis, emerging nations will not be able to reach carbon neutrality by the middle of the century, hence the scenario estimates a 56% reduction in emissions by 2050. According to IEEJ, around $10 trillion will be required to provide a sufficient supply of LNG until the middle of the century.  According to industry insiders and experts, the present “pipeline of projects” won’t be sufficient to meet the expected rise in worldwide LNG demand. They claim that even with all of the projects that have been announced globally, the supply that will be required over the course of several decades will not be met. The report also stated that obstacles including rising interest rates and supply chain hiccups could have an effect on offshore wind energy projects and perhaps lead to financial problems.

Fossil fuel companies spilling million of litres of toxic wastewater in Texas

Produced water—a briny liquid produced by oil and gas wells—is generated in billions of gallons annually in Texas and frequently spilled hundreds of times. There is no specific policy that the relevant administration has ever adopted regarding the reporting and cleanup of produced water spills. In Texas, oil and gas companies recorded over 10,000 isolated spills totaling over 148 million gallons of generated water between 2013 and 2022, according to a public examination of the data. Only about 40% of the water reported spilled from 2013 to 2022 was recovered by businesses using vacuum trucks. Large amounts of water, sand, and proprietary chemicals—some of which are toxic—are needed for both conventional oil and gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in order to release the oil and gas from deep underground. The liquid waste that rises to the surface is called produced water, and it contains organic compounds like benzene, which is carcinogenic, as well as naturally occurring dangerous compounds from the earth, such as arsenic. The extremely salty water can cause land to become barren for years. 

Granting 27 oil and gas licences “boost for UK energy security” : UK Trade body

The major trade association for the offshore energy industry, Offshore Energies UK, has hailed the announcement of 27 new oil and gas licences as a “boost for UK energy security.” According to the organisation, the sector requires the churn of new licences to guarantee that local production does not reach a cliff edge.In October 2022, the 33rd round of oil and gas licensing was opened for applications, releasing 931 blocks and part-blocks. The permits were announced by the North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA), which stated that licences were given priority to locations with the potential to enter production sooner than others.Climate activists, meanwhile, denounced the licencing as “backward” and issued a dire warning, saying that the UK would “fuel the climate crisis rather than helping to fix it.”