Lights On Briefing: COP26 guestlist, India's coal crisis and more

What you need to know to start the week

Lights On Briefing: COP26 guestlist, India's coal crisis and more

Happy Monday and welcome back to the Lights On news briefing, with key headlines on energy and climate change in South Asia.

As COP26 approaches I am adding a section to the news brief with the latest on climate diplomacy, plus an occasional selection of my own stories.

Towards COP26


Chinese president Xi Jinping will be a notable absence at the UN climate meeting, according to a scoop from The Times newspaper, while other newspapers report he may yet decide to attend. The presence of the leader of the world’s biggest polluter is considered crucial to the success of COP26: China’s net zero pledge has inspired other countries to consider the target more seriously, and Xi’s absence could embolden opponents to radical climate action.

Budget shortfall

Developing countries’ climate targets are much more costly than previously anticipated, according to a new UN analysis released this week. The UN climate framework’s standing committee on finance found that to meet their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC), developing countries will need around $5.9 trillion up to 2030, a sum that dwarfs the $100 billion a year nations are still fighting over. The figures will cast new urgency on the finance debate in Glasgow, already a main agenda point of the meeting.

Global solar grid

India’s plan to connect the planet through solar energy is expected to be formally launched by prime ministers Narendra Modi and Boris Johnson at COP26. The plan for a global clean energy grid, in the works for more than three years, is now taking shape after an extensive assessment study by the French firm EDF.


Homemade batteries

The state owned Solar Energy Corporation of India is launching a tender for 1GWh of battery storage, and has invited potential participants to submit their expressions of interest. Ramping up storage capacity in the country would help incorporate more renewable energy into the grid, enabling its movement from solar- and wind-rich states to others with fewer renewable resources. Batteries are crucial for India to meet its clean energy targets, but they will only be deployed at scale if domestic manufacturing picks up and prices go down fast enough.

Behind India’s coal crisis

Fresh data from grid regulator POSOCO shine new light on why India is running low on coal. In early October, India’s electricity demand rose by 4.9 percent, with a 1.4 percent supply deficit,  despite a 3.2 percent rise in coal-fired output and an additional 30 percent of solar.

The demand spike, due to economic recovery after the spring’s Covid wave, resulted in a supply deficit that has forced some states to cut power to 14 hours a day. Here’s an explainer of what the government is doing to tackle the crisis.

The crisis’ ripple effect

India’s biggest and the world’s second largest coal producer, the government-owned Coal India, has stopped selling coal to customers outside the power sector. This will affect a range of industries that use coal to run their factories, including  aluminium smelters, cement manufacturers and steel producers, accounting for a quarter of India’s coal consumption. In a letter to Coal India’s chairman reviewed by Reuters, aluminum industry leaders said that "the entire industry has been brought to a standstill and left with no time to devise any mitigation plan."


Baby steps towards clean manufacturing

Sindh province has released the draft of a new “cleaner production policy”, in collaboration with WWF Pakistan. The policy is up for public feedback for a month and will then be submitted to the provincial cabinet for final approval, setting new rules for the local manufacturing sector. The initiative aims to do away with polluting and unsafe industrial practices, and could become the blueprint for a country-wide reform of the sector down the line, the environment minister said.


Energy waste

The Himalayan country, which until 2017 was energy poor, now faces the opposite issue and wastes between 200MW and 600MW a day due to lack of buyers. The government appealed to India to purchase its power surplus, mostly generated by hydropower, but the downstream neighbour, which sells energy to Nepal via its power exchange market, is yet to respond.


Unpaid bills

Afghanistan could soon face power shortages after the Taliban takeover, as it’s failing to cover the cost of the energy it imported over the past three months, which accounts for 78 percent of its total consumption. The country purchases electricity from Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Iran for about $20 to $25 million a month, and is now appealing to the UN to provide $90 million to cover the outstanding bills.


ADB steps up

The Asian Development Bank will ramp up its climate budget to $100 billion by 2030, up from a previous $80 billion commitment. The Manila based multilateral development bank aims to boost its member countries’ climate action in areas such as energy storage, efficiency and clean transport. Funds will also be set aside for adaptation action in the fields of urban resilience, agriculture and water, as well as in public-private partnerships.

On Twitter this week

India’s coal crisis explained in graphs:
Coal-based power plants, which had 50.9 MT of coal stocks in April 2020 (31 day stock) & 28.8 MT (16 day stock) in May 2021, are now facing a crisis when coal stock at power plants dropped to 8 MT at the end of September 2021.(1/12) 14, 2021

Research and further readings

From my desk

What else I have been writing about:

Wired UK: The promise and perils of the solar energy boom - India’s solar power capacity is growing, and quick. And its struggle to meet ambitious targets is a global problem.

The Third Pole: Asian Development Bank plans to buy out and retire coal plants - Some financial institutions are looking for innovative ways to drive the energy transition and correct the market distortions that have kept fossil fuels at the top until now. As COP26 approaches, the ADB is pitching a solution.

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