Lights On briefing: Renewable world record, Bangladesh EV policy and more

What you need to know to start the week

Lights On briefing: Renewable world record, Bangladesh EV policy and more

Welcome back to the last Lights On news briefing of 2020, with key headlines on energy and climate change in South Asia.

As I mentioned yesterday, from next week I will take a break and publish once a week until January, while I recharge and work on a new project that I’ll reveal with the new year.

In case you missed this week’s stories, do catch up on China’s controversial plan for the world’s biggest dam, and my interview with Shouro Dasgupta, one of the authors of the Lancet Countdown report, on how climate change is making us sicker.

As 2020 draws to a close, and the Lights On community keeps growing in tune with India’s voice in the global climate and energy transition story, I am going to ask you to take part one more time: By the end of December, I am trying to add 50 members to our club.

How can you help? You can subscribe if you haven’t already, and more importantly you can talk about this newsletter to your friends and colleagues, and invite them to join.

I’ll also do my part - for each new subscription, I’ll give one for free, either to you to donate to whomever you want, or to a reader who needs it. Let’s do this.

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Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Renewable world record

India will soon be home to the world’s largest renewable plant, a solar and wind energy park in the Kutch district of Gujarat, with a capacity of 30GW. Prime Minister Narendra Modi will inaugurate the plant, together with a desalination plant in the nearby town of Mandvi, on December 15. Once up and running, the plant will surpass China’s Three Gorges Dam, the world’s biggest hydroelectric plant which also holds the title of biggest and most productive renewable plant.

Coal deadline missed

The power ministry plans to keep selling energy produced by coal fired power plants that it had earmarked for phaseout after their contracts with buyers expired, according to a draft proposal seen by Reuters. Old coal plants were meant to be closed down as a way of reducing air pollution and doing away with inefficient infrastructure. According to previous reports, the government intended to phase out old plants based on their ‘heat rate’, or how much coal input is needed to produce one unit of power. The power stations identified for closure reportedly totalled 10GW of capacity. The new proposal seems to indicate a change of plan, designed to help old plants earn additional revenue and help struggling distribution companies access cheap power.

Financing the EV revolution

Access to low interest finance to buy small electric vehicles is key to enable an EV revolution in India, senior officials with the policy arm of the government, Niti Aayog, acknowledged. Together with the World Bank the government is formulating a set of policies, still at a preliminary stage, that would make it more attractive for price conscious customers who still rely on cheaper conventional vehicles. Cost of vehicles, lack of charging infrastructure and local manufacturing capacity have been holding back the EV sector in India, but government incentives for manufacturing and investors willing to bet on the public appetite for two and three wheelers may reboot the market in the next few years.

Delhi’s open sewer

A majority of the drains in the Delhi catchment connected to the Yamuna river, one of India and the world’s most polluted waterways, are discharging untreated sewage in the water, contributing to the white frothing that every year is captured in images of devotees performing rituals unscathed by the floating white foam. Of 22 drains monitored, the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) found that 14 were completely untapped, and two were tapped but overflowing, bringing ammonia and other pollutants to a dangerous level. The CPCB instructed the Delhi administration to make sure all industrial plants comply with anti pollution norms - which appear to have been largely ignored for years.


Decarbonising brickmaking on the cheap

Kiln owners in the Rawalpindi area near the capital Islamabad are installing improved technology to reduce the emissions of brick production, responsible for a significant share of the total industrial pollution in South Asian countries, as directed by the Supreme Court of Pakistan. The new technology involves a simple design change - the bricks are stacked in a zig-zag pattern instead of a straight line, which improves the circulation of air and heat, reducing coal consumption by 20 to 30 percent. The Environment Protection Agency warned that all kilns that don’t have the new set up installed by the end of the year will be closed down.


Adaptation help is on the way

A $42 million adaptation project that will introduce new watershed management practices and climate smart agriculture will benefit more than 121,000 people in four main catchment areas in eastern Nepal. A collaboration between the Government of Nepal, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Global Environment Facility-Least Developed Countries Fund, the project will strengthen weather and water monitoring and land management over an area of 780km.


New EV policy

A new auto industry policy wants to promote the uptake of electric vehicles in Bangladesh through “investments in research and development of commercially viable technologies such as electric powered cars including the batteries and charging stations.” This will be done, the draft policy says, by setting up a ‘Technology Acquisition Fund’ to acquire technologies. Prime ministerial aide Salman F Rahman said that several foreign companies, including Toyota, have expressed interest in setting up automobile factories in Bangladesh. “I asked them to manufacture electricity-run vehicles and assured them of providing any facilities they want,” he said.

Research and further readings

  • Report: The state of the global climate 2020 - Climate change continued its relentless march in 2020, which is on track to be one of the three warmest years on record, according to this landmark report by the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO). The study anticipates that 2011-2020 will be the warmest decade on record, with the warmest six years all being since 2015. Ocean heat is also at record levels, and more than 80 percent of the global ocean experienced a marine heatwave at some point in 2020, with widespread repercussions for marine ecosystems.
  • Report: The 2020 report of The Lancet Countdown on health and climate change: responding to converging crises - In case you missed yesterday’s story, catch up on my interview with Shouro Dasgupta, one of the authors of this key piece of research. The three take home messages: No country, whether rich or poor, is immune from the health impacts of climate change, the pandemic and climate change need to be tackled in unison, and a joined-up response can deliver health and environmental benefits.
  • Report: Energy Efficiency 2020 – IEA - An important analysis of the latest trends in energy efficiency worldwide, including energy data, policies and technology trends. Like any other piece of research this year, the report doesn’t ignore the impacts of the Covid crisis on the sector, in this case energy efficiency and energy markets.
  • Long read: All change: India's railways bring back tea in clay cups in bid to banish plastics - The humble kulhad, the unpainted, disposable clay cup widely used before the plastic age to store drinks, dessert and yogurt, may be making a comeback at all 7,000 railway stations in India, as part of the government’s efforts to phase out single use plastic cups found everywhere on trains and platforms. However, similar experiments have been tried before with limited success - as critics argued that producing enough clay pots would be an energy intensive and polluting affair.
  • Study: Future Brahmaputra River flooding as climate changes may be underestimated - As if dam wars and weather modification experiments weren’t enough of a worry, we now learn that we may have been underestimating the destructive power of the Himalayan river under climate change. Researchers examined tree rings which recorded rainfall patterns going back centuries, before instrumental and historical records were available. Open access on Nature Communications.

That’s all for today! If you like what you read, please consider sharing this news roundup with a friend or two: