Happy Tuesday and welcome to today’s edition of Lights On, with this week’s key stories on energy and climate change in South Asia.
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Coal to the rescue?
India is resorting to coal, its dirtiest but most abundant fuel, to combat the recent blackouts driven by an unseasonal heatwave. While this power crisis may be temporary, it’s not the first one affecting the country since Covid lockdowns put the energy system to the test, and it likely won’t be the last. India relies on coal for 70 percent of its energy needs, and imported $120 billion worth of crude oil in the financial year 2021-22. While in the long run the government hopes to tackle India’s dependence on imported fuels by ramping up clean energy production, coal remains the only quick fix. As a result, India’s biggest power producer and coal giant, the state-run NTPC, is planning to expand its fleet of coal fired power plants, having signed a deal for the construction of a 1320MW unit in the state of Odisha. However, energy experts say that the problem with India’s grid is policy bottlenecks and poor planning when it comes to anticipating demand surges.
The desert state of Rajasthan, home to the country’s biggest solar plant, has emerged as the solar champion of India having reached 10GW of large scale solar installations. The state’s total power capacity is 32.5GW, of which renewables contribute 55 percent. Solar alone makes up 36 percent of Rajasthan’s energy mix, a figure expected to rise as it strives to install 30GW of solar capacity by 2024-25.
A new climate consortium
The ministries of earth sciences, science and technology and forests and climate change have come together in a new consortium for climate science, mitigation and adaptation. The idea has the potential to break new ground in the Indian context, where a traditionally siloed governance model — in which each department designs its own independent strategy — has often been blamed for the failure to act on climate and other environmental crises such as air pollution. Representatives for the ministries involved said that the new consortium will cooperate on climate modelling, to create an ‘India-centric’ climate model, as well as focusing on the study of aerosols, urban climate and early warning systems.
The heatwave’s toll
In agrarian Pakistan, protracted high temperatures over the past two months could lead to food and water shortages that would add to the country’s economic woes, according to experts who have crunched the data. According to Pakistan’s meteorological department, the country has seen a 62 to 74 percent deficit in rainfall since March, with the past two months being the hottest in the last 60 years. “I think we are not administratively prepared to handle acute water stress and growing food insecurity being created as a result of this major shift in weather patterns,” senior ecologist Rafiul Haq told Dawn.
A boost to renewable investments
The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank has granted a $200 million loan to Bangladesh to support renewable energy infrastructure, among other projects. The Beijing-headquartered development bank will release the funding to a state-owned Bangladeshi investor body, which in turn will distribute low-cost loans for projects such as rooftop solar. The country’s current renewable capacity sits at 787MW, against a total capacity of over 22,000MW. By 2041, it aims to radically change this balance in favour of clean sources, employing enough renewables to generate 40 percent of its total energy.
Waiting for the monsoon to fix the grid
Nepal is preparing for the rainy season by putting 200MW of expected excess electricity up for sale to India. The country, which depends on India’s electricity during the dry season and experienced its own power shortages amid the supply issues across the border earlier this year, is now counting on the monsoon rains to replenish its water streams and bring hydropower production back to full capacity.
A new map of health risks
Doctors in Nepal have warned that pre-monsoon rains, possibly brought about by climate change altering weather patterns in the Himalayas, could increase the risk of disease outbreaks, including dengue. The mosquito-borne disease, which has already infected 44 people this year, is considered one of the health risks more likely to worsen worldwide due to a changing climate.
On Twitter this week
While the focus is on heatwaves over land, take a look at these heatwaves over the ocean, called marine heatwaves. They can modulate weather systems such as cyclones and monsoons.
Video from Down To Earth/CSE based on our research on marine heatwaves.https://t.co/HPdmUjIeoRMay 9, 2022
Research and further readings
- Podcast: Hafta 379: India's heatwave, Prashant Kishor's 'padyatra', US abortion law - This week I chatted with the Newslaundry team about heatwaves and other menaces, tune in if you want to hear me get heated about climate change.
- Long read: Storm Catchers - From the always superb FiftyTwo, the vivid tale of a new monsoon forecasting model pioneered by a group of Indian scientists, an experiment that might just be the most important achievement of 21st century meteorology.
- Long read: Does hydel have a role in India's decarbonisation plans? A three part series dives into the promises and challenges of hydropower as India’s technology of choice to balance the grid and enable a deeper decarbonisation - something that the author finds is easier said than done.
- Long read: The World Has No Choice but to Care About India's Heat Wave - A veteran journalist’s journey across heat stricken India, and what high temperatures in this part of the world mean for the global conversation around climate change mitigation and adaptation. Follow the author’s whereabouts on The Energy Adventure(r).
- Analysis: A climate scientist on India and Pakistan's horror heatwave, and the surprising consequences of better air quality - As the planet continues to warm, extreme heat such as that experienced in India and Pakistan in the last few weeks will become more commonplace. In the region, the author warns, steps to improve air quality are an added factor that will likely increase temperatures during heatwaves.
Business of the week
ACME Solar - India’s largest solar PV developer is going all in on hydrogen. It has already set up what it believes to be the world’s first integrated solar to green hydrogen to green ammonia plant, with a capacity of 5 tonnes per day in Rajasthan, and is planning another one in solar-radiation-rich Oman. Now sources have told Mint that ACME Solar is working to set up an integrated 7GW renewable energy and green ammonia production facility in Tamil Nadu at an investment of about $6 billion. Sources have cautioned that the talks are at a very early stage.
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