Lights On briefing: Melting glaciers, battery boost and more

What you need to know to start the week

Lights On briefing: Melting glaciers, battery boost and more

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

In case you missed the weekend read, catch up with researcher Abhinav Soman as he walks us through the ups and downs of India’s electric mobility transition.

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Image Credit - Pikrepo

Manufacturing bags game changing boost

Solar, battery and auto manufacturing will receive a $10.75 billion boost to help India become a clean energy powerhouse and deliver on its pledge to become a $1 trillion digital economy by 2025. The stimulus is part of a $19.61 billion package to promote ten key sectors, including textile, food products and pharmaceuticals.

Solar industry leaders tell me that the scheme has been one of the sector’s longest outstanding requests, particularly after the government imposed sanctions on cheap Chinese imports, but ‘we are yet to see how effectively it will be implemented.’

Niti Aayog calls for battery makers

The policymaking branch of the Indian government, Niti Aayog, has called for businesses to come forward and bid to set up new Advance Chemistry Cells (ACC) facilities, a first step towards implementing the large scale National Programme on Advance Chemistry Cell Battery Storage. ACC battery manufacturing, the government says, “represents one of the largest economic opportunities of the 21st century for several global growth sectors, such as consumer electronics, electric vehicles, and renewable energy.”

Discoms up for grabs

In an attempt to salvage the sinking ship of India’s public energy distribution sector, the government has decided to privatise all the state-run distribution companies (discoms) across the Union Territories. This week, India has begun the process by officially opening up the state of Chandigarh’s discoms, according to sources speaking with The Mint. A pre-bid meeting is scheduled for December 1, and the last date to submit bids is December 30. The government is betting on the private sector to increase efficiency and dismantle the monopolies that have contributed to its financial distress.

Fast tracking rural solar

The government has increased the targets for its flagship solarisation scheme PM-KUSUM, which supports farmers who want to install solar pumps or connect a small size renewable plant to the grid. The program planned to achieve 25.57GW of installed capacity by 2022, now upgraded to 30.8 GW.


The government will seek a $2.7 billion loan from China for the first part of the Mainline 1 project, part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) scheme, connecting the coastal city of Karachi to Peshawar, near the northeastern border. The project’s financing committee decided that Pakistan would initially ask for $2.73 billion out of an estimated $6.1 billion available from China, out of concern for the financial soundness of the plan. The country is investing heavily in Pakistan, focussing on transport but also on energy infrastructure, mostly coal. A Pakistani energy expert tells me that at this rate China will ‘own’ the country - and this will radically change the power dynamic between the two nations.


Dhaka may soon have its first waste to energy plant built with finance from (you guessed it) a Chinese state-owned company. Officials say it will generate 42MW a day while helping the city tackle its waste problem. The China Machinery Engineering Corp will shoulder the upfront cost of the plant, but Bangladesh will pay nearly $2 billion for the power generated over 25 years. Government officials didn’t disclose the amount China will invest nor the timeline for the plant’s construction.


A boost to rural solar

A $3 million grant from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) will support the development of small scale solar in the country. “The project aims to provide the marginalized poor rural households in Bhutan with reliable electricity in a sustainable manner and a source of livelihood,” said finance minister Namgay Tshering. The plan is to distribute small scale PV systems to rural households, which will be integrated to the national grid. It will also offer training and equipment to communities.

Dangerous thaw

Glaciologists in Bhutan are sounding the alarm as the country’s 700 ice caps keep shrinking at an alarming rate. Based on historical data on the thawing of two benchmarked glaciers, Ganju La and Thana, scientists at the National Centre for Hydrology and Meteorology (NHCM) warned that Bhutan’s glaciers may disappear in the next 50 years - with huge consequences for the country’s water availability.

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Research and further readings

  • Interview: ‘Virus Particles Piggyback On PM 2.5 Leading To Deadly Cocktail’ - If you ever wondered how air pollution interacts with the spread of coronavirus, and why spikes in pollution often coincide with an increase in reported cases, don’t miss this interview in which Arvind Kumar, chairperson with the Centre for Chest Surgery at Sir Gangaram Hospital in Delhi, breaks down the problem in a detailed and accessible way.
  • Analysis: Solar is the new ruler of the Indian electricity market - The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis explains why, despite the devastating impact of the pandemic on the energy sector, investors’ interest in India’s renewable energy market remains robust, both at a domestic and international level.
  • Report: IEA Renewables 2020 - A new assessment from the International Energy Agency looks at the next five years of clean energy growth as the world recovers from the Covid crisis. It finds that renewables will account for almost 90 percent of the increase in power capacity worldwide in 2020 and will accelerate further in 2021. India is expected to be the largest contributor to the renewables upswing in 2021, with the country’s annual additions doubling from 2020.
  • Report: India’s electric vehicle transition - New research from the Council on Energy, Environment and Water found that reaching 30 percent EV penetration by 2030 would not only lead to significant air pollution reduction, but it could save India the equivalent of $14 billion in oil imports every year. If you want to know more, check my interview with author Abhinav Soman.

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