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Lights On Briefing: Coal to the rescue, Nepal's unseasonal dengue threat and more

This week's energy and climate news

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Lou Del Bello

May 10 2022

6 mins read

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Happy Tuesday and welcome to today’s edition of Lights On, with this week’s key stories on energy and climate change in South Asia.

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India 

Coal to the rescue?

India is resorting to coal, its dirtiest but most abundant fuel, to combat the recent blackouts driven by an unseasonal heatwave. While this power crisis may be temporary, it’s not the first one affecting the country since Covid lockdowns put the energy system to the test, and it likely won’t be the last. India relies on coal for 70 percent of its energy needs, and imported $120 billion worth of crude oil in the financial year 2021-22. While in the long run the government hopes to tackle India’s dependence on imported fuels by ramping up clean energy production, coal remains the only quick fix. As a result, India’s biggest power producer and coal giant, the state-run NTPC, is planning to expand its fleet of coal fired power plants, having signed a deal for the construction of a 1320MW unit in the state of Odisha. However, energy experts say that the problem with India’s grid is policy bottlenecks and poor planning when it comes to anticipating demand surges.

Solar milestones

The desert state of Rajasthan, home to the country’s biggest solar plant, has emerged as the solar champion of India having reached 10GW of large scale solar installations. The state’s total power capacity is 32.5GW, of which renewables contribute 55 percent. Solar alone makes up 36 percent of Rajasthan’s energy mix, a figure expected to rise as it strives to install 30GW of solar capacity by 2024-25.

A new climate consortium

The ministries of earth sciences, science and technology and forests and climate change have come together in a new consortium for climate science, mitigation and adaptation. The idea has the potential to break new ground in the Indian context, where a traditionally siloed governance model — in which each department designs its own independent strategy — has often been blamed for the failure to act on climate and other environmental crises such as air pollution. Representatives for the ministries involved said that the new consortium will cooperate on climate modelling, to create an ‘India-centric’ climate model, as well as focusing on the study of aerosols, urban climate and early warning systems.

Pakistan

The heatwave’s toll 

In agrarian Pakistan, protracted high temperatures over the past two months could lead to food and water shortages that would add to the country’s economic woes, according to experts who have crunched the data. According to Pakistan’s meteorological department, the country has seen a 62 to 74 percent deficit in rainfall since March, with the past two months being the hottest in the last 60 years. “I think we are not administratively prepared to handle acute water stress and growing food insecurity being created as a result of this major shift in weather patterns,” senior ecologist Rafiul Haq told Dawn.

Bangladesh

A boost to renewable investments

The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank has granted a $200 million loan to Bangladesh to support renewable energy infrastructure, among other projects. The Beijing-headquartered development bank will release the funding to a state-owned Bangladeshi investor body, which in turn will distribute low-cost loans for projects such as rooftop solar. The country’s current renewable capacity sits at 787MW, against a total capacity of over 22,000MW. By 2041, it aims to radically change this balance in favour of clean sources, employing enough renewables to generate 40 percent of its total energy.

Nepal

Waiting for the monsoon to fix the grid

Nepal is preparing for the rainy season by putting 200MW of expected excess electricity up for sale to India. The country, which depends on India’s electricity during the dry season and experienced its own power shortages amid the supply issues across the border earlier this year, is now counting on the monsoon rains to replenish its water streams and bring hydropower production back to full capacity. 

A new map of health risks

Doctors in Nepal have warned that pre-monsoon rains, possibly brought about by climate change altering weather patterns in the Himalayas, could increase the risk of disease outbreaks, including dengue. The mosquito-borne disease, which has already infected 44 people this year, is considered one of the health risks more likely to worsen worldwide due to a changing climate.


On Twitter this week

Research and further readings


Business of the week

ACME Solar - India’s largest solar PV developer is going all in on hydrogen. It has already set up what it believes to be the world’s first integrated solar to green hydrogen to green ammonia plant, with a capacity of 5 tonnes per day in Rajasthan, and is planning another one in solar-radiation-rich Oman. Now sources have told Mint that ACME Solar is working to set up an integrated 7GW renewable energy and green ammonia production facility in Tamil Nadu at an investment of about $6 billion. Sources have cautioned that the talks are at a very early stage. 


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