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Lights On Briefing: Solar waste, drying Himalayan springs and more

What you need to know to start the week

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Lou Del Bello

May 31 2021

6 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.

In case you missed it, check my weekend interview on why climate change threatens the financial world and how the International Monetary Fund is responding. And if you haven't done so already, you can subscribe below for free, or support this newsletter through a paid membership.

India


The underdog of the solar race

At a time when Indian solar energy development is hailed as a success story in the country and across the world, off-grid solar remains the underdog, with sales dropping by 48 percent compared to 2019, according to new figures by the Global Off-Grid Lighting Association, which collated market data from July to December 2020. While grid-connected solar has bounced back after the Covid crisis, off-grid solar sales have been decreasing since 2018, a trend aggravated by the impact of the lockdown from which the sector is hardly recovering. India has a renewable energy target of 175GW of installed capacity by next year, including 100GW of solar. Of this, a share of 40GW is allocated to off-grid capacity, which includes rooftop panels, solar lamps, solar pumps for irrigation and more. By the end of 2019, India had installed just 5.4GW of decentralised solar. 

Another clean energy business throws in the towel 

Renewable energy business Sprng Energy, set up by the London-based investment firm Actis, is giving up on 100MW of Indian wind due to delays caused by the Covid crisis and uncertainties over potential buyers for the energy produced. The project, to be built in the central state of Madhya Pradesh, could be canceled if the Solar Energy Corporation of India (SECI) agrees to scrap the Power Purchase Agreement the company signed after winning the auction. This is just the latest example of a streak of renewable deals falling through due to failure to secure the distribution chain - something that is holding back clean energy development and, according to analysts, is starting to spook previously enthusiastic foreign investors.

The missed opportunity of solar recycling

As the share of solar in India’s energy mix grows, the country still lacks a disposal system for photovoltaic panels reaching the end of their life. Now researchers warn that if India were to deploy the expected 347.5GW of solar panels by 2030, around 2.95 billion tons of discarded minerals could add to its mounting e-waste problem by 2047. According to scientists from the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi and NorthCap University in Gurgaon, this would include $645 trillion worth of metals such as gold, aluminum, copper and silver. About 70 percent of the discarded solar components could be recycled, recovering $452 trillion worth of crucial minerals. 

Nepal


Budgeting for the EV revolution

After facing criticism for heavily taxing the import of battery powered vehicles, the government has thrown its weight behind clean transportation. The new fiscal budget announced last week abolishes the previously imposed 30 to 80 percent excise duty on the import of electric vehicles, and significantly reduces custom duties which currently stand at 60 percent, for the next five years. According to the government, the taxes had been imposed to help the country respond to the Covid crisis, but proved to be very unpopular. With the new budget, the government has also promised to build 500 charging points across the country and replace all light fossil fueled vehicles within ten years.

Pakistan


Gas cooperation enters a new phase

Pakistan and Russia signed an agreement to enter a new phase of the flagship North-South Gas Pipeline project, now renamed the Pakistan Stream Gas Pipeline. While the original plan was for Russia to pay for and own the pipeline for 25 years, now Pakistan will be the major shareholder with 74 percent of the $2.25 billion project. The 1,122km pipeline will connect Karachi to Kasur. The project holds great strategic importance for Pakistan which has a high gas deficit and with better infrastructure will be able to distribute imported fuel across the country as new LNG terminals are being installed.

Bhutan


Economy under water stress

More than 6,500 springs and streams provide the bulk of Bhutan’s freshwater, but the government’s forest department warned that due to climate change about a third of them are drying up. This is already affecting agriculture with possible loss of production and quality as well as outbreaks of pests and diseases fueled by erratic weather patterns. A government official called for the prioritisation of water management with more investment and better management on the ground to avoid an impending crisis.


On Twitter this week

Research and further readings

  • Long read: How to Survive Climate Change in the India-Bangladesh Borderlands - This beautiful essay charts the struggle of the resilient communities of the Sundarbans forest, who have shared their fragile environment with unique plant and animal species for centuries, but are now imperiled by intensifying erratic weather patterns.
  • Analysis: Green Bonds, Sustainable Bonds Demand Picks Up In India In The Pandemic Era - Sustainability is increasingly making its way in India’s financial world. Since the start of the year, a dozen local companies issued sustainable bonds and raised $4.96 billion. The amount raised in less than five months is already double what Indian companies had raised in the whole of 2020, or any year before that. 
  • Study: Virginia Tech Research Explores Climate Change and the Future of Food in Nepal - This study looks at the unexplored link between climate change and the spread of invasive weeds, which affects crop production, biodiversity and ultimately food security. The researchers used satellite images of the Chitwan Annapurna Landscape in Nepal to capture the changes and help develop strategies to manage the consequent risks.
  • Study: Groundwater monitoring with seismic instruments - German and Nepali researchers have devised a new system to study groundwater dynamics in high mountains using seismic waves. They observed a small tributary to the Bothe Koshi, a border river between China and Nepal, over three monsoon seasons. Using several weather stations and level gauges, the team collected data to establish a groundwater model that they then compared with the seismic records.
  • Study: Boom in ships that fly 'fake' flags and trash the environment - New research looks at the environmental impacts of so-called “flags of convenience”. The practice allows ship owners from nations with strict environmental regulations to have their vessels dismantled cheaply but often in a way that is very damaging to the environment. Bangladesh, India and Pakistan have the weakest environmental and labour protections and are identified as the top destinations for illegal scrapping.  


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