Why competition around Lithium is still far from being a threat

Newsletter - August 19, 2020

Primed for a race: Issues with the sustainability and environmental impacts of conventional li-ion batteries have spurred the hunt for alternatives | Photo: Electrive.com

Why competition around Lithium is still far from being a threat

There is a buzz around Tesla’s ‘Battery Day’, slated for September 22 this year, when it is expected to announce ground-breaking improvement in its lithium-ion battery technology. Also in the running are Hyundai and Lucid Motors — both of which would love to beat Tesla to the (uniquely psychological) milestone of the 1,000-mile battery.

However, despite its popularity, there is a certain dichotomy brewing around li-ion’s role in energy storage. There seems to be almost an equal push towards and away from the technology as the best minds across the world race towards dirt cheap, safe and universally applicable energy storage.

Having hit global commercial success since the 1990s, lithium-ion batteries have been applied to almost everything: from wristwatches and calculators to grid-scale energy storage and even space missions. Their energy storage capacity keeps getting better every year, they are now much less prone to fire hazards, and of course, they are getting lighter and more affordable, too.

However, their first iterations were developed in the ’70s and ’80s by John Goodenough, M Stanley Whittingham, Rachid Yazami and Koichi Mizushima. Whether it takes the same time for li-ion’s competitors to gain commercial recognition is uncertain, but the developers were awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2019 — such has been the technology’s impact on modern life.

The dichotomy stems from the challenges with the chemistry of lithium-ion, and the availability of lithium itself. Any storage technology must satisfy three non-negotiable parameters to be a worthy contender:

  • Have high energy density, which is the quantum of energy stored per unit weight of the medium used
  • Have a long life cycle, preferably in the tens of thousands before repetitive charging and discharging degrade performance
  • Be low cost, which is the most important factor that makes or breaks the chances of commercial success

The price of energy storage has dropped from ~$1,100/kWh in 2010 to ~$150/kWh today. Elon Musk’s Tesla is vying hard to go well below $100/kWh for li-ion powered EVs to be as affordable, or even cheaper, than ICE vehicles. But their driving range is still at roughly 400km to a charge. While nothing to be dismissed, so far the figure hasn’t quite allayed fears of range anxiety.

Research efforts that could help li-ion continue to lead in storage technology are:

1. Amorphous Lithium: which aims to improve li-ion’s cycle performance by sidestepping the problematic formation of dendrites with crystalline lithium.

2. Lithium-metal: With anode-free cells that use metallic lithium. Preliminary research suggests the technology could store 60% more energy pound-for-pound than the li-ion cells used in EVs and laptops. Tesla is also studying lithium-metal batteries with Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, Canada.

3. Cobalt-free li-ion batteries: The industry consensus is that cobalt, which is a rare-earth metal, stabilises li-ion cell chemistry and boosts its energy density. But it’s also toxic and 50% of the world’s cobalt deposits are in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where reports suggest artisanal mines employ poor adults and up to 40,000 children under dangerous conditions. There has been mounting international coverage of the mines’ human rights abuses, and the World Bank estimates that at current rates of demand for li-ion, global Cobalt production will have to jump 500% in the next few decades to keep up.

But Tesla is not waiting around. In June, Musk announced that all Tesla Model 3s built in China would use cobalt-free cells, and in July he urged mining firms to focus on nickel. This is because the most common li-ion cell chemistries are NMC (nickel-magnesium-cobalt) and NCA (nickel-cobalt-aluminium). Research is on to put the two together, eliminate cobalt altogether and simply develop NMA batteries at lower costs.

Canada Nickel Company Inc. has jumped at the opportunity. With access to Ontario’s mostly hydroelectric power—coupled with the unique benefit that the serpentine rock that houses the nickel absorbs CO2 when exposed to the air—it is laying claim to be the first miner that ships out carbon-free nickel.

4. Phosphorus-based anodes: Modern-day li-ion cells have anodes made mostly of graphite, but efforts are on to replace them with phosphorus, as it has very high energy density and high coulombic efficiency (the ease at which charge can be transferred in a system) of around 91%.

5. Deep sea deposits of poly metallic nodules: An exciting new prospect as the poly-metallic nodules are said to be 99% pure minerals. Scraping the seafloor to collect them all, though, would raise its own bucket load of violations.

The downside

One would assume that given all the research to better li-ion batteries every which way, investors would be racing each other to grab the largest share of the profits. The unmistakable switch by almost all automakers towards manufacturing BEVs (battery electric vehicles) would augur belief that there is no beating lithium-ion. At least not for e-mobility.

Yet, IHS Markit says that if BEVs were to snare 50% of auto sales by 2030, the demand for lithium would have to grow from 300,000 tonnes in 2019 to around 2 million tonnes. Meanwhile, the Special Issue on Strategic Battery Raw Materials by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), released in February this year, reports that mining lithium causes a great deal of air, soil and water pollution. Therefore, if the practice and the energy behind it is dirty, it would not only threaten local ecologies but also tarnish the “clean” image of BEVs.

The rising demand for li-ion batteries is also likely to swing the price curve around and raise their prices, since lithium, too, is a rare earth metal. China dominates global supplies at the moment and Europe is working hard to expand its market share, but the heavy concentration of lithium deposits in a few countries — Chile (58%), Australia (19%), Argentina (14%) and China (7%) — doesn’t bode well when deposits start to deplete. Any upswing in li-ion battery prices would be bad news for e-mobility.

The dichotomy

Of course, BEVs are not the only application for energy storage. Consumer electronics, utility-scale storage that balance out the intermittency of renewables and residential energy storage are going to be equally important. The current li-ion chemistry is not the silver bullet its backers would like it to be, so research in alternatives is gathering momentum.

In fact, that’s a key reason why some investors are reportedly skittish about pumping in millions more into lithium. While annual battery sales are expected to be worth $116 billion by 2030, data suggests that a new lithium mine takes about 4-6 years to come into full operational capacity. What if the alternatives surge past in the meantime? The technologies listed below have added some fuel to the uneasiness.

The competitors

Fluoride-ion batteries: Also known as FIBs, they are compact, lightweight and apparently hold up to seven times more energy than li-ion per unit weight. Fluoride is obtained from fluorine, which is much more plentiful than lithium and is therefore cheaper. Also, because FIBs are solid-state batteries (they have solid electrolytes), they minimise the risk of catching fire.

Yet, the catch is that so far they only operate successfully at temperatures of around 150 degree Celsius. A cell that was developed by Honda Research Institute, NASA and CalTech did work at room temperature, but it only lasted for seven cycles.

Liquid metal batteries: An area of considerable new interest, these work with metal electrodes and electrolyte solutions. The metal is kept in a molten state by heating the battery up to above 240 degrees Celsius—which limits its everyday practicality. The chemistry offers stable performance and negligible self-discharge—unlike li-ion batteries that tend to lose 5% of their charge in the first 24 hours if left on stand-by.

Also, this chemistry works much better when it comes to guarding against dendrite formation, which is a well-known issue with li-ion chemistry, as well as against the decomposition of the electrolyte.

Current research is being led by the University of Texas, which is studying a sodium-potassium alloy anode and gallium-based alloy cathode that works at 20 degrees Celsius, stores more energy than a comparable li-ion cell and charges and delivers energy several times faster. The cost of gallium is a deterrent, but the team is looking at alternatives, and sodium and potassium are both plentiful in supply and non-toxic.

Sodium-ion batteries: These use sodium instead of lithium to achieve similar energy storage capacity and charging-discharging rates, but at much lower costs due to the abundance of sodium. New research by the Washington State University (WSU) and the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) has indicated a major breakthrough in overcoming the drawback of crystalline sodium deposition on the batteries’ electrodes. 

Sodium-sulphur batteries: These use abundantly available sodium and sulphur and are thus touted to lower the cost of energy storage considerably. Manufacturers claim they will also withstand cycles for as long as 15 years vs. about 1.5 years for li-ion batteries. Therefore, even though they currently do not offer the same energy density, Abu Dhabi inaugurated the world’s largest energy storage plant in 2019 using sodium-sulphur batteries.

Their downside, however, is that both the metals are highly reactive and have been known to cause explosions if not handled correctly.

Zinc-air batteries: Again, the low cost of zinc makes it an attractive option, especially for microgrids. These batteries are non-toxic, non-reactive and are not prone to fire hazards. However, reports suggest that at current production levels, the global stockpile of zinc could run out in 25 years.

Redox flow batteries: One of the main contenders when it comes to stationary energy storage. These batteries are fundamentally different in construction as they decouple the medium for storing energy from generating power. In essence, flow batteries house the anode and cathode separate from the electrolyte, and the three can be brought together as and when needed. This enables them to be scaled up to any capacity.

Their advantages include little to no degradation in performance over multiple cycles, and the fact that most commercial variants use vanadium, which is again much more easily available than lithium, and are safe for residential needs as well. For example, VoltStorage from Germany, an energy storage start-up, has launched the first vanadium redox flow battery-powered power storage system similar to Tesla’s PowerWall.

They are, however, considerably heavier than li-ion batteries, and are thus primarily regarded as lower-cost options for stationary and/or grid-scale energy storage. That VoltStorage has also secured funding from SoftBank shows there is merit to the technology.

Hydrogen fuel cells: The biggest challenger of them all, and rightly so. Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, and its fuel cells offer 10X the energy to weight ratio of li-ion cells and therefore significantly greater range for EVs. Toyota has been doggedly researching the technology in its dream of a hydrogen economy despite most of the other large automakers having committed to li-ion. Fuel cells are also considered to be the ideal solution for heavy-duty, long-distance vehicles, such as trucks and buses.

However, hydrogen is extremely reactive, flammable and poses extreme risk of explosion if not handled carefully. Till the time it can be produced by clean energy alone, relying on methane (CH4) only adds to fossil fuel emissions. Hydrogen fuel cells have also been panned by both Tesla and Volkswagen for the high costs of producing, transporting and storing the fuel, and their poor overall efficiency in powering EVs.

Outside of the auto sector, though, with the highest energy density of all elements, hydrogen is very attractive to industries as it can be compressed and/or liquefied and stored in large underground tanks. Compressed hydrogen’s energy density is around 40,000 Wh/kg, which is a whopping 140 times the 280 Wh/kg available from the best li-ion batteries. This makes it very useful to be used with renewable energy farms. When the fuel is reacted with oxygen to produce electricity, the only by-product is water.

There are other novel experiments currently underway with Energy Vault, liquid air and even regular bricks, but for the foreseeable future they are likely to be niche applications only.

Still not serious enough

All of the above technologies are in various stages of development, but most of them are still in their early stages and nowhere close to commercial viability. With persistent research in the past five years, the fire risk of li-ion batteries has also been considerably reduced. China’s BYD—arguably the world’s largest battery manufacturer—even debuted its fire-proof batteries in May, which are ready to be used in EVs.

Lithium-ion is, therefore, still head and shoulders above its competitors in cost competitiveness and the promise it holds for much greater energy density. Hydrogen fuel cells, redox flow and sodium batteries may progress rapidly in the next decade, but at least for BEVs, lithium-ion is likely to continue as the preferred solution.

Climate Science

Wet spell: An active monsoon saw floods in several parts of the country including a cloud burst and landslide in Kerala's Idukki district (in photo) which has reportedly claimed 70 lives | Photo: The News Minute

Torrential rain in India claims several lives, wipes out July deficit

After recording a lull in July, India’s monsoon season brought rain to northwest and central India between August 11 and 14, taking the overall precipitation to an excess – 103% of the long-period average (LPA). According to a report by the ministry of home affairs’ disaster management division dated August 12, 868 people have lost their lives to floods in 11 states, compared with 908 deaths in the same period last year.

Karnataka reported at least 12 deaths and a monetary loss of ₹3,500 crore, including extensive crop damage. Kerala also battled incessant rain and strong winds leading to a third consecutive year of floods. In Pettimudi in Kerala’s Idukki district, a landslide claimed 70 lives on August 6. A top official claimed a cloud burst led to the landslide.

Mumbai reported flooding in new areas this year, especially South Mumbai. Activists and experts blamed ongoing infrastructure projects such as the coastal road and metro work for the new trend, but officials maintained it was because of incessant rainfall.   

The India Meteorological Department (IMD) issued a red alert for two districts in Maharashtra and predicted heavy rainfall for Odisha, Chhattisgarh and Telangana in the next few days.

COVID-19 effect: UN climate science report won’t be ready before Glasgow summit next year

Only the first section of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report on the science of global warming will be ready for release ahead of the November 2021 summit in Glasgow because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This means the other two main sections of the report, which dealt with the impacts of climate change and ways to curb greenhouse gas emissions, will be delayed.

Tropical storms Josephine and Kyle marks unusually active Atlantic hurricane season this year

Hurricane season in the Atlantic has been unusually active this year. Tropical Storm Josephine and Kyle became the earliest 10th and 11th named storm on record in 2020. At this time of the year, the US typically records around three named storms. The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicted 25 tropical storms for this year, the highest in its history.

Satellite imagery captures extent of Milne ice shelf split

Satellite images of the Arctic’s Milne ice shelf, which split between July 30 and July 31, paint a worrying picture of the impact global warming has had on the region. The ice shelf area, which covered 8,600 sqkm at the beginning of the 20th century, now measures under 500 sqkm.

A new study supported the prediction that the Arctic would be sea ice-free by 2035. The study arrived at the conclusion after comparing Arctic sea ice conditions between the last interglacial and present day.

Warming rate higher than 0.5°C per decade in China: Study

A new study found that the warming rate in China is higher than 0.5°C per decade in numerous stations across the country. What makes this study unique is that while most previous research calculates warming rate based on either a long period or selected periods, this one calculated the same based on the seasonal temperatures obtained from 2,479 weather stations across China between 1958–2017. The study also found that the amount of seasonal warming over the past 60 years was highest in winter, followed by spring, autumn and summer.

Global warming can unlock carbon from tropical soil: Study

In a rare experiment, researchers tried to find out the effect of global warming on tropical forest soil. While past studies have concluded that warming leads to a much lesser carbon loss in tropical soil compared to forests in higher altitudes, this study found that tropical soil is highly sensitive to warming. The study exposed the soil profile to warmer temperatures (up by 4 degrees Celsius) for two years and found increased CO2 emissions by 55% compared to soils at ambient temperature.

Climate Policy

Shades of green: Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar has encouraged farmers to grow plantations which add to India's afforestation efforts while swathes of natural forests are diverted for development projects | Photo: Delhi Greens

India’s environment minister asks farmers to grow plantations on their land

Grow trees on your land which can be sold when ready, India’s Union environment minister Prakash Javadekar told farmers this past fortnight. The minister made some encouraging comments regarding afforestation in the country during a meeting with forest ministers of all states and Union Territories (UTs). He asked states to use the Compensatory Afforestation Fund to take up water and fodder augmentation projects in at least one forest in each state.

In some discouraging news, however, a research paper by Delhi-based environmental law firm, Legal Initiative for Forests and Environment, found that a total of 481.56 hectares (ha) of forest land in protected areas — which includes wildlife sanctuaries, national parks and conservation reserves — was diverted for developmental projects by the National Board for Wildlife (NBW) last year.

Parliamentary panel starts discussion on draft EIA despite objections from BJP-NDA members

There was a new twist in the controversial draft Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) 2020 notification saga this past fortnight. The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science and Technology, Environment, Forests and Climate Change began discussing the draft, much to the annoyance of some BJP-NDA members, who had hoped the notification would be discussed after the final draft had been released. These members had also pointed out that the Hindi version of the draft notification was still not available. Chairman of the committee, Jairam Ramesh, however, initiated the discussion saying the committee was not going to give recommendations immediately.

The Karnataka high court, meanwhile, stayed the publication of the draft notification till the next hearing on September 7. The court was hearing a PIL filed by United Conservation Movement Charitable and Welfare Trust (UCMCWT), which sought the notification be translated in all 22 regional languages and the deadline for receiving public comments be pushed to December 31.

Numaligarh Refinery Limited gets green nod for expansion project

Numaligarh Refinery Limited (NRL) in Assam claimed to have received environmental clearance from the Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change for its Refinery Expansion Project in July this year. The company stated it will focus on the Refining Capacity Expansion Project, Indo-Bangladesh Friendship pipeline (IBFPL) and Bio Refinery Project.

Climate change a factor when granting water licenses to coal plants, rules SA’s water tribunal

In a major victory for climate campaigners, South Africa’s water tribunal upheld a plea by environmentalists to scrap water licenses for the 600MW Khansiya coal plant on the grounds that the developer did not take into consideration the climate change risks. This is a significant ruling considering South Africa produces 90% of its electricity through coal. Activists hailed the decision and said this was the ‘first time’ climate change was acknowledged as a ‘relevant factor’ while considering applications for water licenses.

 EU considers sustainable fuel quotas to reduce airlines’ carbon footprint

In some more proof that the EU is at the forefront of the climate fight, the European Commission said it is considering sustainable fuel quotas for airlines in a bid to reduce the aviation sector’s massive carbon footprint. The plan is to push airlines to use low-carbon fuels, which will include liquid advanced biofuels and fuels produced with use of electricity, as opposed to fossil kerosene.

Britain to have legally binding environmental targets, new green watchdog

Britain is set to introduce legally binding targets in the four areas of air quality, waste reduction, biodiversity and cleaner water to fight climate change and “build back greener” from pandemic. The binding targets will be part of the environment bill, introduced last year and will have to be passed through parliament.

The country will have a new environmental watchdog, the Office for Environmental Protection, which will report annually on the government’s progress against the targets and oversee the country’s move towards its 2050 net-zero emissions target. Britain will host the United Nations’ climate summit in November 2021 after it was delayed from 2020 by the pandemic. It was the first G7 country to commit to a net-zero greenhouse gas emissions target for 2050.

Air Pollution

Shut for good: The Madras HC cited the polluter pays principle while rejecting Vedanta's plea to reopen the Sterlite copper smelter in Thoothukudi, Tamil Nadu | Photo: The New Indian Express

Madras HC “permanently seals” Vedanta smelter, says environment will reign supreme over economy

The Madras high court refused Vedanta’s plea to reopen the company’s copper smelter two years after it was closed following the deaths of 13 unarmed anti-pollution protesters in police firing. Vedanta, accused of polluting the environment, had denied the charges saying the unit was shut in “political response” to deaths in police firing. However, the court centred its verdict on the issue of pollution saying the polluter pays principle needs to be applied.

On May 22, 2018, thousands of people took to the streets of Thoothukudi in south India against Vedanta. The 815-page judgment stated that the case “cannot be treated as a knee-jerk reaction”.

On Vedanta’s plea that shutting of the plant will be a “blow to the economy”, the verdict said, “The courts have held that when it comes to the economy pitted against the environment, the environment will reign supreme.” Vedanta has also fallen into legal trouble over its operations in Zambia.

Four oil & gas firms to pay 286-cr fine for polluting Mumbai’s ‘gas chamber’ areas of Mahul, Chembur 

While coming down heavily on oil and gas companies, India’s green court, the National Green Tribunal (NGT), slapped a ₹286-crore fine on them for turning Ambapada, Mahul and Chembur in Mumbai  into “a gas chamber”.

Four companies, including Bharat Petroleum (BPCL) and Hindustan Petroleum (HPCL),  BPCL and HPCL, M/s Sealord Containers Limited and Aegis Logistics Limited were found guilty of releasing volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Based on the principle of polluter pays, the NGT has levied fines of ₹76.5 crore for HPCL, ₹67.5 crore for BPCL, ₹142 crore for Aegis and ₹20 lakh for Sealord.

The ‘respiratory morbidity survey’ conducted in 2015 with the residents in Ambapada, Chembur and Mahul found 67.1% of the people in Mahul area complained of breathlessness more than three times a month, 76.3% reported complaints in all seasons, 86.6% complained of eye-irritation and 84.5% felt a persistent chest pain. A pulmonary function test had shown that 7.3% had mild restriction and 5% had mild obstruction of the lungs.

Power giant NTPC to transfer fly ash to cement manufacturers

In a positive move, the state power firm NTPC has begun shifting tonnes of toxic fly ash in railway wagons to be used by the cement industry. The National Thermal Power Corporation flagged off fly ash from its 3,000 MW Rihand plant to cement plants in UP’s Amethi district. The plant now has facilities to load dry fly ash from Silo storage systems onto railway wagons.

Experts point out the move may help address the issue of overabundance of fly ash piling up in Singrauli-Sonbhadra region, at the boundary of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. The state firm struck a deal with the railways and cement companies to supply the fly ash. The polluted Singrauli-Sonbhadra region has nine major thermal power stations, including three NTPC-owned plants — Rihand (3,000 MW), Vindhyachal (4,760 MW) and Singrauli (2,000 MW). Half of the 51 GW combined installed capacity of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh is located in the Singrauli-Sonbhadra region. Three major incidents of fly ash breach in the region have exposed the plants’ failure to manage unused ash.  Sudden ash flooding in the villages has resulted in deaths at times. 

No registration of inferior BS IV fuel vehicles sold after lockdown in Delhi 

India’s Supreme Court refused to allow registration of inferior BS IV fuel compliant vehicles in Delhi-NCR which missed the deadline of March 31. In the rest of the country, the top court allowed the registrations of vehicles that were sold in March but could not be registered by the March 31 deadline because of the COVID-19 lockdown. The decision came after the automobile dealers’ lobby (FADA) filed an affidavit in the top court sharing details of sold, but unregistered BS-IV vehicles. 

Earlier, the top court had ordered the dealers’ association to submit the details of vehicles sold either online or through direct sale during the last week of March. The court had told dealers’ lawyers it would take appropriate action against those responsible for the vehicles sold, especially on March 29, 30 and 31 during the lockdown.

PM backs clean air plan for 100 cities, experts say need policy targets for industry 

In his August 15 Independence Day speech, PM Modi had said a clean air plan will be implemented on mission mode in 100 cities, but reports suggest the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) launched last year is yet to make progress. The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) is directing states to implement the city-level action plans approved for around 102 cities to meet the NCAP target of 20% to 30% reduction in PM 2.5 concentrations over the 2017 annual concentration.

Experts warn that the Centre should have clear indicators tracking NCAP 2024 targets. They pointed out that COVID-19 restrictions helped meeting those targets, but industries’ bid to bounce back will pollute the air. 

Mercedes makers pay $3 billion over using software to cheat diesel emissions test

In the diesel emissions cheating software case, German carmakers Daimler reached a nearly US$3 billion settlement with US regulators and vehicle owners. The case for civil and environmental damages was linked with 250,000 US diesel passenger cars and vans in the United States. 

The breakup of the settlement includes total US$1.5 billion with U.S. authorities, about US$700 million with owners and “further expenses of a mid three-digit-million EUR (euro) amount to fulfil requirements of the settlements.” Daimler stated. The maker of Mercedes-Benz cars said the settlement will impact its cash flow over the next three years, with the main impact within the next 12 months.

Daimler came under the scanner after Volkswagen admitted in 2015 to installing secret software on 580,000 US vehicles, which allowed them to emit up to 40 times legally allowable emissions. VW stopped selling diesel cars in the US after a US$25-billion settlement with car-owners and the authorities. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV in 2019 reached a settlement worth about US$800 million with regulators and owners over using illegal software that produced false results on diesel-emissions tests, but still face an ongoing criminal probe.

Air pollution making bees and fruit flies sick and sluggish: Study

According to WHO, 4.6 million people die because of air pollution annually. What’s the impact on other species? A new study from India has revealed air pollution is making the honey bees in the wild sluggish and it may be shortening their lives. Bees exist in the wild and in cities as vital pollinators. They travel hundreds of kilometres annually as they pollinate thousands of plants and crops across the country. 

Researchers studied the species in Bengaluru, which has some of the highest levels of air pollution in the country. Scientists collected the giant Asian honey bees from four different sites with different levels of air pollution. The bees were observed for three years. At the most polluted sites, they made significantly fewer flights to flowers, thereby reducing the number of plants that could be pollinated in those areas. The bees at these sites were stressed and had low immunity. They were covered in arsenic and lead, their heartbeat was arrhythmic and they died faster on being captured.

The experiment with fruit flies also showed the same results. Scientists also found there were fewer flowers as pollution levels grew. Scientists said pollution from traffic impairs the bees in their pollinating duties, resulting in fewer flowers and insects, which would severely limit our diets. 


Grand plans: The 'One Sun, One World, One Grid' project for a global energy grid has reportedly hit operational roadblocks despite finding mention in PM Modi's I-Day speech | Photo: The Bihar Now

‘One Sun, One World, One Grid’ put on hold, revived in PM’s I-Day speech

Prime Minister Narendra Modi mentioned the ambitious ‘One Sun, One World, One Grid’ (OSOWOG) in his Independence Day address on August 15. But the project of a mega trans-national electricity grid supplying non-stop solar power across the globe has been put on hold

The initiative was announced in 2018 by the PM, but only this June the ministry of new and renewable energy came out with a Request for Proposal (RFP) to hire consultants for converting the idea into policy.  In July, the MNRE put the RFP on hold “until further notice.” While no specific reason was offered, the calls to ministry went unanswered, DTE reported. According to BS, COVID-19 was one of the reasons for delaying the process

The World Bank was providing technical assistance for the project. Issues of intricate geopolitics, unfavourable economics, globalisation and undue centralisation have been highlighted as drawbacks. 

Centre waives ISTS charges until June 2023 for solar and wind projects

The Centre has extended the waiver of inter-state transmission system (ISTS) charges and losses on supply of solar and wind power until June 30, 2023. Industry bodies had demanded a one-year extension to account for the disruptions on account of the COVID-19 pandemic. Solar associations claimed that due to the pandemic, planning in terms of capacity addition, development pipeline, and execution on ground was affected and expected to get further delayed. 

The government said no ISTS charges would be levied for 25 years from the date of commissioning of the power plants for the supply and sale to entities having renewable purchase obligations (RPOs). 

International Solar Alliance: First ‘virtual’ summit on Sep 8, big names may log in

The International Solar Alliance, a joint initiative of India and France launched in 2015, will host its first online world solar technology summit on September 8, next month. Global industry elites and Nobel laureates are expected to login. India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi will inaugurate the virtual summit. Big names who may attend include SoftBank chief executive Masayoshi Son, Tesla chief Elon Musk and Bertrand Piccard, who flew around the world in a solar powered plane.

Power minister said India will share its experience in commissioning round-the-clock (RTC) projects along with hybrid projects that will supply energy during peak hours after sundown. India also plans to place the issue of setting up of the World Solar Bank in its agenda for the annual assembly scheduled in October, as a special finance vehicle with authorised capital of $15 billion to fund projects for small island countries. 

Project’s worth $1.4 billion have already been tied up and are at different stages of construction. France has put in EUR1.5 billion. India announced about US$2 million of ISA funding for 47 innovative projects not exceeding US$50,000, one project in each of 47 small island countries.

During first 6 months of 2020, wind, solar supplied 10% of global power: Study

Solar and wind energy projects produced a record 10% of global electricity in the first half of 2020, as coal power witnessed a fall. But much more needs to change to meet Paris targets, according to a  study by climate think-tank Ember. According to the study, power demand dropped 3% during the six months of lockdowns, but coal plants still produced 33% of global electricity during this period. 

Energy from wind and solar plants rose by 14% during the first half of 2020 compared to the same period in 2019, while output from coal plants fell by 8.3%, stated the report.

Researchers said to keep a chance of limiting climate change to 1.5 degrees Celsius, coal generation needs to fall by 13% per year till 2030. Europe and the UK contributed most from wind and solar, at 21% and 33% respectively during the period. China and the US contributed 10% and 12%, respectively. Coal power generation fell by over 30% in the US and Europe, but only 2% in China, during the first half of 2020.

Offshore wind to surge to over 234GW by 2030, India to miss offshore wind power target

India will miss its offshore wind energy 2019 target even as global offshore wind capacity will surge to over 234GW by 2030 from 29.1GW at the end of 2019 led by major growth in the Asia-Pacific region and growth in Europe, according to a new report from the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC).

With nearly 7,600 km of coastline, India has a target of 5GW of offshore wind power by 2022 and 30GW by 2030. India has earmarked nearly 70GW of potential area for offshore wind energy development.

Meanwhile, the tender for the first 1GW project in the Gulf of Khambhat in Gujarat has been delayed. The government is now eyeing a stronger wind resource area off Tamil Nadu.

The research states that 2019 was the best year on record for offshore wind, with 6.1GW of new capacity added globally, bringing total global cumulative installations to 29.1GW. China bagged the top spot for the second year in a row for new installations, installing a record 2.4GW, followed by the UK at 1.8GW and Germany at 1.1GW. While Europe continues to be the leading region for offshore wind, countries in the Asia-Pacific region, as well as the US market, will be regions of significant growth in the next decade.

Companies may not be allowed ‘grandfather clause’, will have to pay solar import duty

The government may not allow already commissioned renewable power projects to use “grandfather clause” to import solar equipment from China, even though it had earlier assured them they could. As a result this, the projects planned with precise budgets, might “fall into danger”.

Sources say that the Ministry of Finance refused to allow exemptions, adding that the government may offer a formula similar to coal cess to allow companies to recover the losses incurred over safeguard and basic Customs duties. The consumers will bear the brunt, experts said.  

The government plans to waive 5% interest to cell manufacturers, along with an additional 3% waiver in the form of the cross-subsidy surcharge if the manufacturing plant also makes ingots and wafers.

UK’s Actis acquires Acme solar projects for estimated ₹2,300 cr

UK based investor Actis acquired two solar projects in India totalling 400MW from Acme Solar Holdings Ltd.Located in Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, Actis is estimated to have paid ₹2,300 crore for the projects, ET reported. Since the lockdowns, it’s one of the largest deals in Indian renewable sector. Actis outbid Canadian fund Brookfield to strike a deal with one of the largest solar power producers in India, ET reported.

Electric Vehicles

Mobilising change? Delhi and Telangana are the latest Indian states to unveil their EV policies as efforts to increase demand and supply gain momentum | Photo: Saur Energy

Delhi and Telangana formally adopt EV policies

The Government of Delhi has finally notified and adopted its EV policy, under which 25% of all new vehicles sold in the city by 2024 will be electric. The policy has also notified per kW subsidies for battery packs—₹5,000/kWh—and purchase incentives for different vehicle categories, such as ₹30,000 for two-wheelers and ₹150,000 per four-wheeler for the first 1,000 units. The draft of the policy was first notified in 2018 and is one of the government’s key tools to fight the city’s chronic air pollution. Dialogue and Development Commission vice-chairman Jasmine Shah asserted that the policy will be rolled out over the next three months and that efforts were being made to ensure that subsidy amounts will be reflected in bank accounts within seven days of purchase.

The state of Telangana, too, has notified its EV policy, which includes purchase incentives for all vehicle categories, but also aims to attract an investment of ₹30,000 crore. The money will be used in establishing an energy park at Divitipally, to attract EV manufacturers to set up their facilities in the state and generate 1.2 lakh new local jobs.

Incidentally, the sale of EVs has shot up by 23% in Hyderabad (the state capital) over 2019 as customers are increasingly choosing to buy EVs for their subsidised prices and lower costs of ownership. The reduction in their GST rates, from 12% to 5%, has also been touted as helpful. 

India’s new regulation on battery-less EVs puzzles manufacturers 

India’s Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) has issued a new circular, under which EVs can be sold and registered nationwide without their battery packs. The move is aimed to de-link the cost of the battery, which could cost up between 30 – 40% of the vehicle’s price, and therefore enable a cheaper upfront purchase cost. It also does away with the Central Motor Vehicle Act’s (1989) stipulation that an electric vehicle and its battery pack be tested together for certification. 

However, the circular has puzzled EV manufacturers as under the Centre’s FAME II policy, all EV subsidies are linked to the type and capacity of their on-board batteries. The new directive thus contradicts the mechanism established to determine the quantum of subsidy for each EV. 

Single charge Hyundai Kona EVs hypermile past 1,000 km

Korean car manufacturer Hyundai has reported that its unmodified Kona electric compact SUVs have driven over 1,000km on a single charge in a simulated test in Germany. The test was conducted with the cars’ air conditioners and media systems turned off to minimise battery consumption. Each of the three test cars had a 64kWh battery pack and over the 35-hour test window, averaged speeds between 29-31 km/hr. 

Yet, the results indicate that the Kona EV offers impressive range, and its future iterations could come close to the 1,000km mark under more realistic conditions. The current “hypermiling” record stands with the Tesla Model S, which ran for 1,078km on a single charge—but on a larger battery.  

Europe to take on China in quadrupling global EV battery manufacturing capacity by 2030 

A new Wood Mackenzie report says global EV battery manufacturing capacity will quadruple by 2030 to reach 1.3TWh (terawatt-hours), with China, and the Asia Pacific region in general, accounting for nearly 80% of the growth. China’s capacity is expected to more than double—from 345 GWh in 2020 to 800 GWh in 2030 as even foreign manufacturers, such as LG Chem, SK Innovation and Samsung SDI (all from South Korea) have now become eligible for Chinese government subsidies.  

However, the report says Europe’s capacity, too, is expected to rise from 7% of the world’s share at the moment to around 25% by 2030. This will be as a result of new gigafactories built by Sweden’s NorthVolt in Sweden and Germany. Interestingly, China’s CATL is also planning to build a gigafactory in Germany, while LG Chem will expand its facility to Wroclaw, Poland.

Fossil Fuels

Not so slick: The oil spill off Mauritius has now spread along 15km of the coastline and could take decades to clean up | Photo: Sailors TV

Mauritius oil spill could devastate marine life, impair local economy for decades

The 1,000 tonnes of fuel oil spilled along Mauritius’s east coast by a Japanese tanker could reportedly devastate the island nation’s pristine marine ecosystem, including its coral reefs, fish, molluscs, crabs and mangrove forests. The oil spill from the MV Wakashio has spread along 15km of the coastline and despite parent firm Nagashiki Shipping taking responsibility for the “ecological disaster”, removing the oil fully—both from the waters and from the seabed around the beach—could take decades. 

This would be especially worrisome for Mauritius as tourism and fishing are the mainstays of its economy. India, for its part, has dispatched a 10-member team from the Coast Guard that is trained in oil spill containment. 

World’s largest private coal miner concedes US coal mines have grim future 

Peabody Energy, the largest coal miner in the US and the world’s largest private coal mining firm, has written down the book value of the US’s largest coal mine—Wyoming’s North Antelope Rochelle mine—by US$1.42 billion after conceding that the mine had little value left, and that the share of coal in US’s power mix would “continue to be lower than prior year levels”. 

The start admission comes in its earnings report for the second quarter of 2020 and after its massive restructuring in 2017, when it had promised to create “substantial value” for its shareholders. Its share price has since lost 90% of its value. 

BP to retire 40% of oil and gas operations by 2030

Oil and gas heavyweight BP (British Petroleum) has pledged to cut its oil and gas operations by 40% by 2030, and its refining operations by 30% over the same period. The announcement follows its previous pledge to go carbon-neutral by 2050, and the firm will instead invest up to US$5 billion a year in clean energy to expand its renewables’ portfolio from 2.5GW today to 50GW by 2030. 

The announcement is hugely significant as BP is one of the world’s largest oil and gas firms, but so far, it is the only large driller to have pledged a reduction of its fossil fuel operations. The firm has also been investing heavily into setting up EV charging stations across the UK, and plans to boost the numbers to 70,000 by 2030 as a decisive pivot towards cleaner energy. However, its 20% stake in Russia’s Rosneft — which is also a major fossil fuel exporter — remains untouched. 

BHP’s Chilean copper mining firms agree to pay millions to exit coal power PPAs

Two of Chile’s copper mining firms, Minera Escondida Limitada and Minera Spence SpA, which are controlled by mining giant BHP, have agreed to pay all damages to exit their PPAs with the Angamos coal power plant well before the end of term. The PPAs were signed with plant owner AES Gener SA, which will now receive US$730 million from Escondida and US$109.6 million from Minera Spence SpA, in installments that start from August 31. 

While the exact reason for the early termination is unclear, the decision is likely influenced by the plant’s higher tariffs as compared to renewables.