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Lights On briefing - India’s solar own-goal, China coal boom and more

What you need to know to start the week

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Lou Del Bello

Jun 29 2020

4 mins read

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Good morning and happy Monday!

I am excited to introduce my first news roundup in a brand new format. Here’s a selection of stories to watch this week, plus a pinch of my confidential intel to help you anticipate what may come next.

Here in Delhi tensions with China are still mounting, and they reverberate across all industry sectors.

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Solar woes

India’s is charging ahead with its plan to make China pay for the standoff at the northeastern border which cost the lives of 20 soldiers. On Thursday, the Minister of Power and Renewable Energy RK Singh shared more details on the proposed anti dumping measures (see last week’s issue for context), mentioning 40 percent custom duty on imported solar modules, 25 percent on solar cells and 20 percent on inverters by 2022. 

An industry leader told me that if unmitigated, the measure would plunge India’s solar industry into chaos. The hope is that the government will grandfather the 35GW of projects already in the pipeline that would be affected.

What we stand to lose

In an age of climate change, borders don’t matter. A much needed op-ed on Bangladesh’s Dhaka Tribune explains why the Sino-India conflict is a mere blip in the planetary crisis unfolding in front of our very eyes in the Himalayan region

But border conflict is much more than a distraction: a draft Vision Document for a Carbon Neutral Ladakh compiled by the Ministry of Forests and Climate Change, which I was able to review, highlights the crucial role of transboundary cooperation to “manage corridors of wild animals, such as snow leopard, sharing and distribution of river water, trade of natural resources and their sustainable production”. 

Coal fiasco

It’s well known that India’s coal infrastructure is inefficient, but now fresh data from Bloomberg Energy Finance add weight to this notion. According to the agency's latest report on India’s Clean Power Revolution, the “coal power fleet delivered just over half its maximum generation output in the fiscal year ending March 2020. This is a historical low, marking a 21- percentage point decline in a decade, from 78% in 2010.” 

Down to Earth has a handy summary of the story.

Covid turbocharges Chinese coal

While Indian coal struggles, a survey of coal plant development in China from January to June 2020 finds that China greenlighted 17GW of new coal capacity for construction, more than the amount permitted in all of 2018 and 2019 combined (12GW).

The authors believe that this is due to the need to boost GDP with megaprojects, in an effort to reboot the economy after the coronavirus crisis.

Big oil looks east

A two-part series by Carbon Copy tracks the maze of foreign fossil fuels investments in India, much of which is focussed on gas and refineries instead of coal, and thus falls under the public radar. As major economies wean themselves off carbon, major oil companies are looking east to establish themselves before it’s too late.

Floating solar

India’s biggest floating solar power plant, of 100MW of capacity, is being built in the state of Telangana by the government-owned NTPC Ramagundam.

Installing solar panels on water has some structural advantages - such as reducing the evaporation of surface water. But as one analyst points out here, it can also address the problem of lack of land that stands in the way of India’s renewable ambitions:

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Bandi Bansidhar @BandiBansi

The ambitious target of 100 GW (60 ground & 40 rooftop) of Solar by 2022 has been estimated to require land area equivalent to 3 times the size of Mumbai. In a land scarce country like ours, we need to explore alternate solutions such as this mega floatovoltaics project by NTPC.

Vandana Gombar @vgombars

Work begins on largest floating solar power plant at NTPC https://t.co/RL3U0IaE4E

June 22nd 2020

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Free mining

India’s ministry of mines has asked the government to allow the expansion of non coal mines skipping public consultation. Far from being just a streamlining exercise, such a change would enable developers to overlook important environmental and social impacts. Mongabay India has the story.

That’s all for today! Watch out for the story of the week on Thursday, and send me your comments and confidential tips by just replying to this email.

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