Welcome back to the Lights On news briefing, with key headlines on energy and climate change in South Asia.
In case you missed it, check out my weekend interview with Cecilia Han Springer, senior researcher at the Global China Initiative at Boston University, on what it takes to decarbonise the Belt and Road Initiative. With her team, she has just launched an impressively detailed database tracking Chinese energy investments abroad - some eye-opening findings there.
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Chai and savoury snacks at Dahlgarwad bazaar in Ahmedabad's Old City - Image credit - Flickr/Meena Kadri
Hydrogen take off
Just last week we learned that the government owned Solar Energy Corporation of India (SECI) may soon call for bids to set up new green hydrogen plants. Turns out that investors have wasted no time and deals are already being sealed. Snam, a leading Italian energy infrastructure operator, entered two separate partnerships with Greenko and Adani Group for setting up a green hydrogen business. Snam, which currently owns the largest gas pipeline network in Europe, plans to invest €6.5 billion in new energy transition businesses, including clean mobility.
The government of Maharashtra has approved the construction of two metro lines in the Mumbai area, with support from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development which will provide two loans for a total of €545 million to realise the project. The pact was signed after a year of negotiations and is the agency's single largest credit line to an infrastructure project in India. According to RA Rajeev, commissioner for the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority, the new lines will save 12,100 tonnes of greenhouse gases every year, as well as reducing air pollution.
Indian EVs to get their own gold star
Electric vehicles (EVs) in India could soon come with an efficiency label pretty much like refrigerators, air conditioners and other home appliances. EVs could be brought under the standardisation and labelling (S&L) programme of the government, helping customers choose the most energy efficient vehicles. The Bureau of Energy Efficiency, a government agency under the Ministry of Power, has been tasked with designing a specific star rating system for the EV industry, which would assess vehicles, batteries and other equipment.
The proposal was met with interest, although with the Indian EV ecosystem being at a very early stage, making up less than 1 percent of total auto sales, some believe that right now there are more urgent roadblocks to be addressed.
Moving electric on the cheap in Tamil Nadu
The Tamil Nadu government has granted a 100 percent tax exemption for electric vehicles for two years, until December 2022. The move follows an earlier concession of a 50 percent exemption which has been extended to encourage demand in the state. Tamil Nadu, the second largest state economy in India, is an important hub for automotive manufacturing and is now going all in on electric mobility. It launched its own EV policy last year to encourage investment in the sector.
Solarise Delhi’s rooftops
The distribution companies BSES Rajdhani and BSES Yamuna have launched two new solarisation programs in the Safdarjung and Karkardooma areas of Delhi. The idea is to encourage residents to opt for rooftop solar through a series of perks such as easy financing options, extended warranty and customised solar systems. Recognising the potential of rooftop solar in a country with about 300 days of sunshine a year, the government has set a target of 40GW installed capacity by 2022. However by September 2019, India’s entire capacity was 349MW only, set up mostly on government buildings rather than by homeowners.
Prime Minister Imran Khan unveiled a major relief package for Pakistan’s industries reducing electricity tariffs in a bid to encourage power consumption and manufacturing. The package does away with premiums for peak hour consumption, and offers a range of discounts for small and medium industries using additional power compared to their previous bills.
The government has designed the incentives in the hope that local industries will be able to ramp up production and increase exports, “because wealth generation is directly related to exports," said the PM.
Last May, in an attempt to curb illegal logging, Nepal’s government imposed a blanket ban on the collection, transportation and sale of timber in community forests. Now the consequences of a poorly thought through policy are emerging, with nearly 150,000 cubic feet (4250 cubic meters) of legally logged wood rotting away in the community forests of Udayapur district. According to the Federation of Community Forest Users’ Nepal, the ban may lead to the equivalent of nearly $1.3 million in lost revenues as the timber spoils in the open. Locals also complain about the lack of wood to build homes. Activists are now urging the government to reconsider the policy.
Research and further readings
- Long read: Could the Himalayas harbour the next pandemic? - The world is in an “era of pandemics”. Unless the destruction of the natural world is halted, diseases will emerge more often, spread more rapidly and kill more people than ever before. The Hindu Kush Himalayas – which stretches from Afghanistan in the west to China in the east over some of the world’s most biodiverse areas – is one of these potential emerging disease hotspots, and doctors argue that the current approach of trying to contain outbreaks is not going to work. Instead, we need to address the root causes of each outbreak rather than focussing on its impacts.
- Study: Pollution Regulators Misinformed, Low On Motivation: Study - An acute shortage of technical experts and other staff has reduced central and state pollution regulators to mere advisory bodies, leaving them unable to enforce air quality standards, according to new extensive research conducted by the non-profit Centre for Chronic Disease Control. The findings are particularly troubling as the government recently decided that the best way to tackle the pollution crisis is to launch a new commission.
- Long read: Solar power to the rescue? - Middle class Pakistani are embracing rooftop solar as a workaround to an erratic grid. While the environmental benefits may be a plus, well off families in Lahore are more worried about intermittent power supply and growing electricity prices. Despite becoming the new cool in town, rooftop solar is still slow to take off in Pakistan, when compared to India and China.
- Long read: A new Cold War in the Himalaya - For centuries, the Himalayas served as any icy frontier between empires, but even though it is no longer a barrier due to better connectivity, the world’s highest mountain range has become a climate and geopolitical hotspot. This important feature explores how the current international order is not “fit for the purpose of confronting the climate emergency”.
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