Lights On Briefing: India's power giant hacked, Bhutan graduating and more

What you need to know this week

Lights On Briefing: India's power giant hacked, Bhutan graduating and more

Hello 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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The ultimate plan to save the discoms

In a last ditch effort to save their cash strapped power distribution companies, the financial woes of which have an impact on the energy sector at large, five states have agreed to cover the equivalent of $11.8 billion of outstanding payments and subsidy liabilities. Together, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Tamil Nadu constitute nearly 65 percent of the pending payments to power generators, which have historically been dispatching power with intermittent returns due to systemic inefficiencies of the distribution sector. The government hopes that this sweeping plan may rehabilitate the finances of the energy sector once and for all.

Battery powering India

Ambitious battery plans are seeing a rapid growth in India, with the latest project initiated last week by the government-owned Solar Energy Corporation of India (SECI). In order to achieve the goal of integrating 500GW of green energy capacity into the grid, Indian authorities have worked out that the country will need 27GW of battery storage by the end of the decade, in addition to over 10GW of pumped hydro energy storage. SECI has launched a tender for a 500MW/1000MWh plant, to be built in the state of Rajasthan.

Climate and energy performance ranked

The first State Energy and Climate Index was released by the agency NITI Aayog, the policy branch of the Indian government. The landmark study looks at individual states and Union Territories to gauge their readiness in the field of energy and climate response. The researchers have examined six parameters: power distribution performance, access, affordability and reliability, clean energy initiatives, energy efficiency, environmental sustainability and new initiatives. They found that Gujarat, Kerala and Punjab were the best performers among larger states, while Goa tops the smaller states ranking.

Polluters fight against science

The Maharashtra state power generator MahaGenco has sued the independent organisation Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) over a study quantifying the health impacts of the Chandrapur Super Thermal Power Station (CSTPS) near the city of Nagpur. The study shows that the unit caused 85 premature deaths in Chandrapur and 62 deaths in Nagpur, calling for more stringent emissions controls. The government’s response was to drag the scientists to court demanding around $1.3 million in reputational damages.

Major cyberattack hits energy giant

The government owned Oil India Limited (OIL) has been targeted by a cyber attack that has disrupted its operations in the northeastern state of Assam. The breach took place on 10 April at the Geological and Reservoir Department, disrupting the network and forcing OIL’s operators to work offline, a problem they said would ‘take time’ to rectify. In a police complaint, the company said that the cyberattacker had demanded $7.5 million as a ransom, through a note from the infected computer.


Textile makers boost solar investment

Leading fabric maker Paramount Textile Limited will acquire a 49 percent stake in a 100MW grid-connected solar project to be set up in the Pabna district, in the northwest of the country. The project is estimated to cost around $150 million and could make a big difference in a country with a negligible share of clean energy in the mix. The textile industry is a major economic driver for Bangladesh, and leaders in the sector have been increasingly engaging with the country’s energy transition.


The energy crisis hits home again

As sceptics had predicted when former Prime Minister Imran Khan announced cuts in gasoline prices, Pakistan is now in trouble amidst rising fuel prices. After the Ukraine war drove up fuel prices globally, the country is unable to source liquefied natural gas (LNG) on the spot market, where containers of fuel are sold with no long term contractual obligation. This has led Pakistan to cut electricity to households and industries, shutting down about 3500MW worth of power capacity, according to the new finance minister Miftah Ismail.


Moving on from LDC status means less climate money

As Bhutan gets ready to ‘graduate’ from the status of Least Developed Country (LDC) in 2023, following years of economic stability and improvement in disaster management, the new status may mean that the country will lose some privileges in the access to climate funds, a senior government official explained. In the process, Bhutan will lose access to the special funding provided to LDCs from the UN framework on climate change. However, although it won’t enjoy priority status, the country will still be able to access financial support through the Green Climate Fund and the Global Environment Facility [GEF] trust fund.

On Twitter this week:

A thread to unpack the figures in our @Nature cover story on climate pledges. It's a good-news / bad-news story. A glass half-full / half-empty one. We can reach 2C, if promises are fulfilled. But we need way more for 1.5C. This decade. Free access here: 15, 2022

Research and further reading

  • Comment: Making forest data fair and open - Data on tropical forests are in high demand, but ground forest measurements are hard to sustain and the people who make them are extremely disadvantaged compared to those who use them. In this piece, researchers propose a new approach to forest data that focuses on the needs of data originators, a reflection that is particularly relevant to India and its ongoing struggle to accurately capture the state of its forests.
  • Comment: Pakistan's political crisis that toppled Imran Khan's govt has been an energy crisis too - The political crisis that pitched Pakistan’s prime minister Imran Khan from office wasn’t just about the failure of his anti-corruption agenda and mismanagement of the economy, Bloomberg columnist David Fickling argues. It’s also, as with so many of Pakistan’s political crises, about energy and exchange rates.

Business of the week

Tata Power - India’s largest integrated power company has bagged a $525 million investment commitment for its clean energy branch, through a consortium led by fund manager BlackRock Real Assets and Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth fund Mubadala Investment Company. The vision is to create a comprehensive renewable energy platform which will include utility scale solar, wind and hybrid generation assets, solar manufacturing, rooftop solar, solar pumps and more. Another sign that despite policy bottlenecks that are holding back progress, foreign investors look at India as the next big renewable market.

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