Lights On briefing: Rising winter temps, Nepal's solar progress and more

What you need to know to start the week

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Lou Del Bello

Mar 08 2021

7 mins read

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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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Record winter

India may have been hit by some freezing spells this year, but data show that climate change has made the past winter exceptionally warm. According to the India Meteorological Department (IMD), India’s mean temperature remained 0.78°C above normal in January and February. Warm winters may be pleasant, but they are associated with a range of problems from crop damage to a spike in vector borne diseases, as mosquitoes thrive in higher temperatures.

Delhi in troubled waters

A lack of rainfall and the start of the crop season in Haryana have depleted the Yamuna river, a main source of water for Delhi, which has little of its own. Less water also means that the pollutants contaminating the Yamuna are now more concentrated than usual, forcing some areas of the capital to curtail water distribution. The situation is just the latest reminder of the chronic water crisis looming over Delhi, which is fast depleting its groundwater reserves yet fails to protect its waters from pollution and doesn’t have a coherent policy in place to ensure access for all.

A Tesla Made in India?

The government is certainly trying. After the world’s most valuable carmaker set up a subsidiary in Bangalore, the transport minister Nitin Gadkari told Reuters that unspecified ‘higher concessions’ would be granted to Tesla if it decided to move its entire production chain away from China. At the moment, the company plans to use its Indian infrastructure to assemble imported parts only, as the country’s market is still tiny for a car that is widely seen as a luxury product, out of reach for most Indian consumers.

Peer-to-peer solar energy trade

Solar producers in Delhi will soon be able to trade energy from their rooftop plants through a new peer-to-peer platform connecting 150 locations in the capital. The first of its kind experiment uses blockchain technology to enable power generators to sell their excess energy in near real time to other residential and commercial sites. Consumers can choose which seller to buy from, with the system ensuring speed and transparency for each transaction. The project is a collaboration between energy distribution giant Tata Power, in partnership with India Smart Grid Forum and Australian technology firm Power Ledger. 

Renewable targets: The world is watching

Speaking at a global energy conference, the US climate envoy John Kerry said that the Biden administration is creating a coalition of countries ready to help India reach its ambitious target of 450 GW of renewable capacity by 2030 - a feat that would require mobilising around $600 billion.

The consortium will help India with funds and know-how, at a time when “many companies are dealing with ESG (Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance) as well as SDG (Sustainable Development Goals) commitments”, Kerry said, “and now finding that it is very attractive to focus on a directly climate-related type of investment”. 

Bangladesh


The battle to save the ‘Old Ganga’

Bangladesh’s High Court demanded that the country’s environment department take action against 30 washing plants polluting the Buriganga river with discharge from the waste management process widely used to process coal and sand. The main river, whose name means Old Ganga in Bengali, is crucial to Bangladesh’s economy as it provides a route for trade across the country, but it’s also one of the most polluted, due to the industries occupying its edges. The court also asked the environment department to submit a report in seven days after complying with its directive, making sure gas and energy supply is interrupted for the companies found guilty.

Eradicating energy poverty

As well as celebrating 50 years of independence, this year Bangladesh may cheer another milestone - full electrification by the end of the year. Around 97 percent of the population already have access to electricity, with a total installed capacity above 23GW. Now the government is at work to identify the remaining off grid pockets and promote decentralised energy generation and supply systems. Bangladesh’s progress has been described as ‘nothing short of miraculous’ by local experts, who noted that rural electrification in the country, which nears 100 percent now, was only 40 percent before 2010.

Pakistan


Record low LNG prices

A new landmark deal with Qatar is expected to save Pakistan $3 billion over the next ten years in liquefied natural gas (LNG) imports. The country successfully renegotiated the previous deal signed in 2015, saving $317 million per year thanks to the lower prices agreed this time around. The agreement, which will enter into force in January 2022, seals the “lowest-ever publicly disclosed price under a long-term contract in the world”, according to Pakistani authorities. This achievement is particularly significant given Pakistan’s chronic energy struggles, involving power cuts during summer and gas shortages during winter. 

Magic urban forest

A Miyawaki forest was gifted by the Australian High Commissioner to the Pakistani climate change minister. The forest, comprising 1,200 native trees and shrubs will be planted in Islamabad in support of the country’s urban forest campaign. Through the Miyawaki method, inspired by the namesake Japanese botanist, miniature forests are planted close to each other and are said to grow up to 10 times faster, become 30 times denser and 100 times more biodiverse than conventional plantations.

Nepal


Mitigating hydropower dominance

Last week, a Nepali solar company generated about 10MW of solar power - the largest contribution to the national grid from a private solar producer so far - in the southeastern region of the country. The new record is part of a trend that sees solar slowly picking up in areas where hydropower development is not feasible, and contributing to diversifying an energy mix still dominated by hydroelectricity. This dependence means that during the dry months of December to February, electricity is scarce and imports grow. Experts say solar energy could help rectify the situation. 

This week on Twitter

Research and further readings

  • Video: Goa, India's coal gateway? - More than 70 percent of India's electricity comes from coal, and much of that enters the country through Goa, the smallest Indian state renowned for its pristine nature, and whose economy heavily relies on tourism. Now the government plans to transform the region into India's coal hub. 
  • Investigation: Letter from industrialist prompts minister to scrap environment policy - Cabinet minister Prakash Javadekar got the Corporate Environment Responsibility guidelines scrapped after receiving a letter from Rajju Shroff, founder of United Phosphorous Ltd, according to official documents seen by The Morning Context (Register to read the article for free).
  • Long read: India likely to miss 2022 target by a long way - India is set to miss its goal of reaching 175GW of renewable capacity: with a year to go, just about 53 percent of the target has been met, and states that were to be key contributors to solar development are lagging.


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