Lights On briefing: Hydrogen promises, water risk and more

Key stories to watch this week

Lights On briefing: Hydrogen promises, water risk and more

Hello and welcome back to this Tuesday edition of the Lights On news briefing, with key headlines on energy and climate change in South Asia.

It’s election day in the US, and the outcome will matter a great deal to the entire world. If you too feel invested, check out my exclusive interview with Andrew Light, former Obama climate negotiator, who speaks about what the next US president can do for India’s energy transition. And in my weekend read, I hear from IEEFA’s Vibhuti Garg about how India’s green recovery efforts compare with the US’s and Europe’s.

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Can’t start the day without masala chai - a snap from my latest work trip

Infosys joins the race

Multi-billion dollar IT corporation Infosys is the latest in a streak of nations and big businesses to embrace carbon neutrality. The company, which had pledged to reach net zero emissions by 2040, overshot its target by 20 years, and the Paris Agreement’s goal by 30 years. Finshots lays out the details of this mammoth task, which involved a drastic shift to renewable energy and even an internal carbon pricing system.

Japan takes SO2 pollution seriously

India’s largest power producer NTPC has sealed a deal with Japan’s public finance institution, the Japan Bank for International Co-operation. Under the bank’s initiative for green development, NTPC received a 50 billion yen ($482 million) loan to fund flue gas desulphurization (FGD) and renewable energy projects. Flue gas desulphurization removes sulfur dioxide from the emissions of fossil fuel power plants, as well as from waste incineration. If this upgrade seems like a no brainer, Indian power producers are extremely reluctant to shoulder the cost - remember this story?

Hydrogen promises

The Solar Energy Corporation of India (SECI) may soon call for bids to set up new green hydrogen plants, according to sources who spoke to the Mint. Hydrogen has the potential to address sectors that are hard to decarbonise, such as steelmaking and heavy duty transport, and is mostly produced through electrolysis, where an electric current is used to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. But while in the past this method wasn’t cheap or particularly clean, because the electricity was produced through fossil fuels, falling renewable prices may change the story - and investors are taking note.

Oil catastrophe

Mukesh Ambani, Asia’s richest man, saw his net worth collapse this week by $7 billion as Reliance Industries, India’s biggest refining company, closed 8.6 percent lower on the Bombay Stock Exchange on Monday. The loss followed the pandemic’s impact on energy demand - which has affected fossil fuels the most. Observers say that while Reliance can absorb huge losses in its fossil fuel segment, it’s in the renewable sector that it’s now looking for profit. The multinational has also pledged to go carbon neutral by 2035.

Water risk reminder

Thirty Indian cities are among the 100 most vulnerable to water risk, according to a new analysis by the WWF Water Risk Filter. Home to a total 350 million people and key global economic hubs, the cities at risk could be affected by issues of water supply and quality, public health and disrupted governance. Delhi, Jaipur, Pune, Srinagar, Kolkata, Bengaluru, Mumbai among others could all face a similar fate by 2050 without a dramatic improvement in water infrastructure, consumption patterns and nature restoration, the analysis found.

A pollution battle fought at home

India’s air pollution crisis has a silver lining, at least for the air purifier industry. With air quality worsening in many of the country’s major cities, particularly in Delhi, air purifier sales have skyrocketed by 50 percent, and are expected to grow further before the end of the pollution season. This may be a relatively small market development, since air purifiers remain a niche segment in India, but signals an increased awareness of the danger of extreme air pollution - something that, one hopes, may in turn increase public pressure on decision makers.


Nepal may soon revolutionise its brick making industry, which is responsible for 600 pollution related annual deaths and adds about $46 million to the country’s healthcare bill. Every year, Nepal fires 1600 kilns for traditional brick making with 1 million tonnes of coal, and it’s not alone: across South Asia, traditional brick kilns are a major source of air pollution.

Now the Asian Development Bank has allocated $125,000 to ramp up the adoption of the Good Bricks System, a non-fired brick making technique that has been promoted by the association of brick manufacturers Good Bricks Alliance.

Find me on Twitter

  • Analysis: From China to India, exporters brace for Biden carbon policy - As America goes to the polls, businesses in Asia prepare for a potential victory of the candidate with the most aggressive climate plan in the country’s history. Joe Biden’s plan includes rejoining the Paris Agreement, ending federal subsidies for oil producers and, crucially for US trading partners, introducing a border carbon adjustment mechanism which would make carbon-intensive imports more expensive. A must read before the results come in.
  • Analysis: Mapped: How climate change disproportionately affects women’s health - Climate change’s health impacts are not felt equally across the world, and it’s not just a matter of geography. A warming world can have a greater impact on women due to their different standing in society. This detailed interactive highlights how women in South Asia are more likely to be impacted by extreme weather due to the specific social expectation placed on them, or even due to the garments they are required to wear.
  • Long read: The ill-conceived push for a high dam to curb Kosi flooding is a litmus test for democracy in India - When the Kosi river floods in Bihar, government officials from Delhi and Patna rush to observe the river’s “wrath” from high-flying helicopters. Then, they announce that they have the answer: the Saptakoshi High Dam, to be built in Nepal, which will end the flooding forever. The geopolitical pressure is such that Kathmandu will have to comply. Or at least that’s what they say. A fascinating exploration of how humans, with their greed and short sightedness, fuel what we call ‘natural’ disasters.

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