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Lights On Briefing: No end in sight to the power crisis, shifting Everest base camp and more

What you need to know to start the week

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Lou Del Bello

Jun 20 2022

7 mins read

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Happy Monday 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

Just transition on the government’s agenda

India’s coal ministry is set to open a ‘just transition’ branch, which will look into how to move away from coal while protecting the communities that have relied on the fuel for generations in the country’s coal belt. The work of the new division will be supported by the World Bank with $1.15 million and a ‘detailed project report’ which will hear the voices of all coal stakeholders, particularly mine workers’ unions. The move hints at an important shift in India’s political debate around coal, because looking out for the regions that are economically dependent on mining was seen as a major roadblock to moving away from the fossil fuel.   

Snapping up Russia’s cheap fuel

Meanwhile, India keeps taking advantage of the steep discounts it can bag on Russian fuels since the invasion of Ukraine and the sanctions imposed by Europe on Russia’s coal and gas supply chains. According to unpublished government data seen by Reuters, coal purchases grew sixfold in the past month compared to the same period last year, to a value of $331 million. India oil trade has seen a 31-fold spike from last year, to $2.2 billion.


Pakistan

No end in sight for the energy crisis

The government is rolling out a series of emergency measures to manage the power shortages affecting Pakistan, including reducing the operating hours of large commercial clusters and imposing a five-day week. Energy demand spiked across the region due to last month’s heatwave, which has increased power consumption for air conditioning. Hydroelectric plants are also running dry, putting further strain on the energy system.

Adding to the crisis is the heightened competition in the LNG (liquefied natural gas) market, after the European Union ramped up imports of the fuel to bypass Russian supplies. “Europe is sucking LNG” from the world, a spokesperson for Shell told Bloomberg. “But that means less LNG will go to developing markets.”


Bangladesh

Controversial power saving measures

A steep rise in the price of gas, which makes up the bulk of Bangladesh’s energy mix, has forced the government to enact a series of energy saving measures, including closing all shops after 8pm. The emergency measures – a response to the international energy crisis induced by the war in Ukraine – have not gone down well with local trade associations, which point out that their members have already suffered in the past two years due to Covid lockdowns. Industry leaders have asked that the government waits until after Eid (9-10 July) to enact the measures.

Nepal and Bangladesh talk power trade

All eyes are on the bilateral meeting between the two Himalayan nations scheduled for next month, during which leaders will discuss regional energy trade and investments in energy infrastructure. In particular, Dhaka is reportedly pushing for two Bangladeshi power companies to invest in hydropower in Nepal – an exchange that would involve both infrastructure building and transmission and knowledge sharing. Currently, almost all the electricity produced in Nepal comes from hydropower.


Nepal

Lowering Everest base camp

Arguably the most famous camp site in the world, Nepal is being forced to shift the iconic base camp of Mount Everest, a place where mountaineers begin their final climb and which has become a destination in its own right for amateur trekkers. A new site at a lower altitude has been chosen because the glacier where the camp is located is becoming unstable, with researchers warning that meltwater could make the area unsafe from sudden rockfalls. Mountaineers have also observed crevasses appearing in the ice overnight underneath where they are sleeping. While the current base camp sits at 5364 metres, authorities are considering new locations with no permanent ice cover, 200 to 400 metres downhill.


Bhutan

Solar plans

Like other Himalayan countries, Bhutan is heavily reliant on hydropower for its energy production. The sector is also the backbone of its economy. In an attempt to diversify its energy and financial portfolio, the government is looking to add, within the next few years, 300MW of solar energy at a cost of $300 million, hoping to receive financial help from the Asian Development Bank (ADB). Currently, the country’s hydropower capacity is just over 2.3GW, much of which has been developed with Indian assistance.

Bhutan looks to join global solar alliance

As well as investing in solar development, Bhutan is inching closer to becoming a member of the International Solar Alliance (ISA), the group founded by India and France to bring together solar rich nations. The National Council, the upper house of Bhutan’s parliament, has approved the decision of the National Assembly lower chamber, in the hope that ISA membership will help channel financial support and provide the technical assistance the country currently lacks.


On Twitter this week

Research and further readings

  • Data resource: Energy Policy Solutions - This cool interactive tool lets you choose which combination among a vast array of policies, including buildings, transportation, agriculture, tax and more, can get India on track to meet its climate ambitions. Ulka Kelkar, climate change director for the World Resources Institute which helped develop the tool, tweets about the initiative quoting an article on why tax policy is also carbon policy.
  • Report: India - AQLI - Delhi’s air pollution is shortening the lifespan of its residents by an average 10 years, according to the latest analysis of the Energy Policy Institute of the University of Chicago. For people living in the Indo Gangetic Plain, the most polluted region in the world, toxic air is more dangerous than smoking or child and maternal malnutrition.
  • Report: Environmental Performance Index - The much debated findings of this environmental policy assessment, compiled by the Yale Center for Environmental Law & Policy, put India at the very bottom of the 180-country list analysed. The Third Pole hosted a Twitter Space talk with one of the authors to understand what has gone wrong. You can listen to the recording here.


Business of the week

Adani Group - The Indian conglomerate has made good and bad headlines. It was at the centre of a major controversy when a Sri Lankan official resigned in protest citing pressure from India’s PM Modi to award 500MW worth of wind power contracts to the group. Earlier this week, the subsidiary Adani New Industries Limited (ANIL) attracted interest from the French energy giant TotalEnergies. The company will acquire a 25 percent stake in ANIL to create a joint venture for the development of a $50 million green hydrogen hub with a 30GW capacity by 2030. 


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