Lights On Briefing: Loopholes for polluters, Bhutanese space research and more

What you need to know to start the week

Lights On Briefing: Loopholes for polluters, Bhutanese space research and more

Happy Monday and welcome to today’s Lights On, a newsletter that brings you the key stories and exclusive intel on energy and climate change in South Asia.

In case you missed it, check this weekend's interview where I investigate Pakistan's unrealistic energy goals with the help of Syed Salman Tariq, a veteran of the country's power sector.

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Loopholes for polluters

Polluting industries in India will be able to expand their operations by simply self certifying that they won’t add any pollution to the environment. According to a new government guide for businesses seeking environmental certification, under the principle of “no increase in pollution load” companies can increase their output by up to 50 percent of what was originally permitted, as well as changing the configuration of a plant and the mix of raw materials they use. Critics point out that while these changes have to be assessed by an official auditor affiliated with the environment ministry, the move leaves room for potential misuse of the rules, particularly given India’s poor monitoring system.

Tata’s renewable bet

The renewable branch of the energy giant Tata Power may soon acquire publicly traded status with an initial public offering (IPO) expected to raise around $473 million, sources told Bloomberg. Renewable businesses want to seize the opportunity of India’s booming clean energy market, which is becoming increasingly attractive to foreign investors. Earlier this year, India’s biggest renewable energy producer, ReNew Power, also sought to enter the stock market. Tata Power’s total generation capacity is 12.8 GW, of which about 30 percent comes from solar and wind.

Towards a real time green energy market

India has added a new trade instrument to its energy exchange portfolio to boost the circulation of clean power. The new ‘day ahead market’ sets prices specifically for renewable power, encouraging traders to compete with each other and enabling an increasingly precise balance between energy supply and demand, an improvement deemed crucial to delivering India’s renewable goals. The original long term power purchase agreements are now being increasingly replaced by instruments supporting medium term, short term and real time markets, which divide each day into 15 minutes blocks.

A blueprint for tomorrow’s low carbon cities

A small energy management pilot explores ways of maximising efficiency and reducing carbon across all systems of residential clusters and campuses. If successful, the ‘energy-as-a-service’ system, devised by the British energy firm BP and the consultancy Infosys and soon piloted in the Infosys campus in Pune, could be rolled out in cities, business and industrial parks to reduce carbon emissions. The idea is to use artificial intelligence to manage local energy use and appliances in an integrated way, to provide low carbon power, low carbon heating and cooling, as well as clean mobility.


Restructuring Chinese debt

Pakistan is looking to restructure its $3 billion debt with China for the development of various energy projects under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which would help the country reduce power tariffs that currently contribute to the repayment. If the government successfully extends the repayment period to 12 years, that would keep energy prices at bay. Pakistan has been hesitant to take on further commitments under the Chinese trade initiative The Belt and Road, of which CPEC is an important part. I wrote about Pakistan’s energy plans in this weekend’s long read.


EIB halts unsustainable energy development plan

Objections from civil society led the European Investment Bank (EIB) to halt a major energy project and reconsider its impacts on land use, the environment and on indigenous communities at risk of being displaced. The EIB started an investigation and agreed with some of the concerns over the implementation of the Marsyangdi Corridor Transmission Line, part of the nearly 100 million euro Nepal Power System Expansion Project.

The EIB said it had taken the new evidence seriously and has developed a new plan to rectify the situation, also launching a public consultation.

Urban poor at risk from UK aid cuts

Deep cuts to the UK’s Tomorrow’s Cities programme, a disaster resilience scheme, will put at risk poor communities in Kathmandu and other developing cities around the world, which increasingly face forest fires and flooding driven by climate change. Kathmandu’s slums suffer from regular flooding and scientists at Tomorrow’s Cities were studying how to improve resilience among communities living in informal settlements.

The programme’s budget has been cut by 70 percent this year, from $6.7 million to $2 million. This comes on the back of a general reduction in the UK’s overseas aid budget under the current administration.


Space research made in Bhutan

Bhutanese scientists are working with the Indian Space Research Organisation to build and launch the country’s second ever satellite. The joint project will enable new earth observations, which are used to study receding glaciers, land usage and changes in forest cover. The prototype, which should be completed by the end of the year, will also carry an amateur radio system, providing free frequency bands for telecommunications.

Research and further readings

  • Long Read: A Way Forward to Reduce Irrigation Water Use in India - A new sophisticated model developed by the Indian Institute of Technology in Mumbai can help farmers manage their water use and ease the problem of severe underground water depletion, widely recognised as a ticking time bomb for India’s agriculture and food security.
  • Long Read: Mapping future hotspots of carbon dioxide emissions from mangrove loss - A new study identifies the Bay of Bengal among the six regions that could become hotspots of carbon dioxide emissions due to the loss of mangrove forests, described as ‘carbon superstores’ for their ability to trap the greenhouse gas.
  • Report: IEA’s Global EV Outlook - The International Energy Agency projects that under the current policy setup, by 2030 more than 30 percent of new vehicles in India will be electric, mostly due to the penetration of electric rickshaws and scooters.

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