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Lights On briefing: Air pollution sets in, EV perks and more

What you need to know to start the week

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Lou Del Bello

Oct 12 2020

7 mins read

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

Last week has been a big one, with many of you choosing to become members of the Lights On community. As well as sharing details about my plans and all the ways you can take part, I also introduced the weekend read, an accessible and thought-provoking break from your hectic news week. In case you missed it, here’s the first one, on the future of electric mobility in India. 

Before digging into today’s headlines, a reminder that it would help me hugely if you could pass this newsletter on to friends and colleagues who may be interested - now is the time to grab that discount before the paywall goes up.

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Image - Wikimedia Commons

It’s smoggy out there

As Delhi’s air becomes thicker, the local government is enforcing a series of emergency anti-pollution measures under the GRAP (Graded Response Action Plan) scheme. Starting this Thursday, diesel generators will be banned in the capital and surrounding urban centres, and authorities will be on the ground to monitor industrial emissions, dust sources and waste burning. A word of caution: These measures were in place for the past two years and made no difference whatsoever to the sorry state of Delhi’s air.

As part of its “war against pollution” campaign, the capital’s administration is also launching a new “Green Delhi app” that citizens can use to report alleged violations of the anti pollution rules. However, previous such experiments have yielded mixed results as a significant number of complaints were reportedly left unattended.

The return of the smog tower

After the first smog tower built last year in Delhi was slammed by experts as little more than an expensive gimmick, the administration is setting aside another $2.7 million (200 million rupees) to build a second large scale air purifier in the city centre. The tower is expected to be completed in 10 months.

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CEEW @CEEWIndia

Our analysis had found that #Delhi would need at least 25 lakh #smogtowers similar to the one installed in Lajpat Nagar in January 2020 to clean the city's air. Read more by @JasjeevSinghTOI #airpollution #Mission808080 timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/77… timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/delhi/why…

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August 4th 2020

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Perks of driving green

Going electric in Delhi has just become a little cheaper: on Sunday, Delhi Transport minister Kailash Gahlot announced that under the city’s new Electric Vehicle Policy, battery operated vehicles will be exempt from road taxes.

Self reliant solar industry

In the latest tit for tat between India and China, government-owned companies such as NTPC and BHEL may start manufacturing polysilicon, a raw material used to produce photovoltaic panels, after Chinese manufacturers increased the price of solar wafers, an essential component of photovoltaic cells. According to an unnamed official of the Ministry for New and Renewable Energy, the companies may set up around 10GW of polysilicon manufacturing capacity, which would offer a cheaper alternative to Indian solar makers.

The wind industry adapts to climate change

One of the unexpected impacts of climate change in India is the low wind speed that makes life difficult for wind power generators. The Mint reports that this year’s worst ever wind energy performance was due to an erratic summer monsoon, a problem that will likely occur again as climate change alters seasonal weather patterns. Now a wind turbine manufacturer, Vestas, has introduced a new turbine optimised for ultra-low wind conditions. If successful, it will help India reach its goal of 60GW of installed capacity by March 2022.

Old menace in the air

India’s sulphur dioxide (SO2) levels remain firmly at the top of the world ranking, despite declining massively due to the lockdown earlier this year, according to a new analysis by Greenpeace India and the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA). Sulphur dioxide is a toxic pollutant that increases the risk of stroke, heart disease, lung cancer among other conditions.

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Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air @CREACleanAir

In 2019, India emitted 21% of global anthropogenic (human-made) SO2 emissions, nearly twice that of second ranked global emitter, Russia. (2/7)

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October 8th 2020

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Discoms in deep trouble (again)

In news that will surprise no one, state distribution companies’ debt to India’s energy producers keeps increasing, reflecting the impact of the Covid crisis on an already chronically strained sector. Despite various relief measures put in place by the government, the total dues went up by 37 percent year on year, to a total of $18.2 billion, according to an online analysis portal launched in 2018 to increase transparency in the sector. 

A hell of a task for the power minister RK Singh, who just last week promised to rehabilitate the distribution sector in just three years.

Bhutan

Bhutan, one of the two carbon negative nations in the world, may reassess its radical commitment to forest conservation after the Covid crisis left its economy weaker and its population poorer, due to job losses and wage cuts.

The government is considering timber production, boulder and mineral exports as a “low hanging fruit” to help offset the loss from tourism. “We have to have a rational mindset as we need to harness our forest timber as even some experts from the Forest Department say that we can thin our forests for their own health,” said the finance minister Namgay Tshering.

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Research and further readings

  • Analysis: The Impact of China’s Production Surge on Innovation in the Global Solar Photovoltaics Industry - An exploration of how government-aided cheap solar, China’s ‘gift to the world’, may have the unintended side effect of stifling innovation. China’s surge, the author David Hart says, shifted the course of technological innovation, leading to low prices and high efficiency. But R&D-intensity, patenting, and start-ups cratered. This way, alternative technological pathways that might have led to even lower prices and better performance were cut off.
  • Analysis: Could Bangladesh and Pakistan Make Waves by Cooperating on Climate Change? - A look at how the two historical enemies may join forces against the threat of climate change. Given Pakistan and Bangladesh both rank in the top 10 vulnerable countries of the Global Climate Risk Index, and they are both subject to India’s control of their water resources due to their lower riparian position, cooperation may help build environmental resilience and a united diplomatic front.
  • Report: India Residential Energy Survey 2020 - The largest pan-India survey on energy access and consumption patterns in Indian households was launched by the Council on Energy, Environment and Water. The surveyed states account for 97 percent of the Indian population, providing a detailed picture of the state of electricity and cooking energy access, energy consumption, expenditure patterns and more.


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