Lights On Briefing: The cost of cyclones, Bhutan carbon neutrality and more

What you need to know to start the week

Lights On Briefing: The cost of cyclones, Bhutan carbon neutrality 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.

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Renewables at a crossroads

Just last week, India was ranked the world’s third most attractive market for renewable energy, and first for solar, by the consultancy EY. Despite India having all that’s needed to attract foreign investors, Japan-based SoftBank sold off its 5GW portfolio of India renewables, worth $3.5 billion, to the green energy branch of the conglomerate Adani. Observers have suggested that policy instability and difficulties in procuring land may be at the root of the decision. If you want to know more, read my interview with Tim Buckley, director of energy finance studies at the Institute for Energy Economics & Financial Analysis (IEEFA).

Manufacturers investigate Chinese dumping

The Indian Solar Manufacturers Association (ISMA) appealed to the Directorate General of Trade Remedies (DGTR) to investigate the potential dumping of solar cells coming from China, Thailand and Vietnam, where Chinese producers set up shop to bypass punitive fiscal measures. The manufacturers argued that unfairly low prices would damage their business, and sought the imposition of fresh anti-dumping duties.

Despite new government incentives for domestic production and basic custom duties to penalise import, India’s solar manufacturing segment is still too small to meet the country’s growing demand. As of 2020, there were only 16 solar cells manufacturers, of which only half had a capacity of 100MW or more.

The long term cost of cyclones

Cyclone Tauktae, which made landfall in Gujarat last week, raised the alarm over the heightened risk of more such extreme events hitting India’s western coast in future. Scientists have pointed out that with the Arabian Sea becoming abnormally warm due to climate change, cyclones are likely to happen more often, and now industry experts expect the cost of building solar farms and roads in low lying areas to rise as a result. Going forward, bidders are likely to consider the risk of high speed winds, rain and flooding and adjust their offers accordingly. For more on this, read my story on how preparedness will need to change in India in the coming decades.


Cutting the atomic ribbon

The first Chinese sponsored nuclear power plant, with a capacity of 1100MW, has been inaugurated by Prime Minister Imran Khan. The plant had been connected to the grid in March. Before the latest addition, Pakistan’s nuclear generation capacity hovered around 1400MW. With the new plant, the share of nuclear power in the energy mix has increased to 12 percent, according to government officials.


Carbon neutrality at stake

Bhutan’s carbon neutral status could be jeopardised if the country doesn’t adjust its development trajectory, according to an official with the National Environment Commission (NEC). A medium GDP growth of 4 percent, the official Tshering Yangzom said, would deliver a moderate increase in the country’s carbon emissions, particularly from the transport sector, which still relies entirely on fossil fuels. Other areas to target for potential carbon reduction include agriculture, industries and human settlements.

Bay of Bengal

Bad weather ahead

Preparations are ongoing for cyclone Yaas, which has been forming in the east-central Bay of Bengal over the past few days and is expected to intensify into a severe storm this week. The cyclone is forecast to reach north Odisha and Bangladesh’s coasts by Wednesday. While eastern India and Bangladesh are traditionally well equipped to respond to tropical storms, scientists are watching the first cyclone of the season particularly closely, after last year’s Amphan reached unexpected speed and intensity, likely due to the abnormally warm waters that fueled its journey towards the coast.

On Twitter this week

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Research and further readings

  • Report: ‘Climate change to cost Pakistan $3.8bn yearly’ - Rising temperatures in Pakistan mean the country faces up to $3.8 billion of economic losses every year, according to a new Climate Risk Country Profile developed by the World Bank and Asia Development Bank. While the main risk from natural hazards remains Pakistan’s exposure to earthquakes, the report says, floods and drought are now a mounting threat, with an additional five million people becoming exposed to flooding by 2044 or earlier. Under a worst case climate scenario, the count increases to an additional one million people every year by 2070-100.
  • From the ground: Goa: During blackout, solar power users had their moment in the Sun - With entire neighbourhoods left in the dark after cyclone Tauktae skirted the coasts of the Western state, solar mini grids installed on rooftops provided emergency energy supply to small clusters of homes, powering essential appliances throughout the blackout. While these systems are relatively expensive to install, they bring savings on the standard electricity bill and keep the lights on in case of grid failure, a risk that according to scientists will become more substantial in the area due to climate change.
  • Opinion: Next gen FTAs are all about labour, environment protection. Only way India can edge China out - The demand for shared regulations on trade and sustainable development, which require parties to adhere to international labour and environmental norms, has been a key factor in the failure to strike a trade agreement between India and the EU. Here, the author argues that implementing such principles would not interfere with India’s sovereignty, as negotiators have argued, but instead it would make the country more competitive.
  • Report: 2021 Global Report on Internal Displacement - This year’s report, which counts the number of people displaced in 2020, sounds the alarm on the impacts of climate change, which drives more people away from home than war. Natural disasters, increasingly linked to global warming, affected South Asia the most, displacing 1.1 million people in Afghanistan, 929,000 in India and over 806,000 in Pakistan.

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