Lights On briefing: Uttarakhand flood, water disputes and more

What you need to know to start the week

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.

I hope you enjoyed yesterday’s guest post on India’s deep decarbonisation, if you haven’t read it you can catch up here.

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Himalayan glacier bursts in Uttarakhand

More than 125 people went missing after a glacier broke in the Chamoli district of the mountainous northern state on Sunday. The subsequent avalanche swept through downstream villages and caused major damage to the Tapovan Vishnugad power plant, a 520MW hydropower project still under construction. While the rescue operations are still ongoing - so far seven bodies have been recovered - scientists are now trying to assess the nature of the event, and its potential links with climate change. "It's a very rare incident for a glacial burst to happen,” said Mohd Farooq Azam, assistant professor of Glaciology & Hydrology with IIT Indore. “Satellite and Google Earth images do not show a glacial lake near the region, but there's a possibility that there may be a water pocket in the region. Water pockets are lakes inside the glaciers, which may have erupted leading to this event.” While more analysis is needed to refute or confirm this hypothesis, scientists agree that the rapid warming of the region is contributing to glaciers’ instability.

India explores geothermal 

The remote northern region of Ladakh is slated to host India’s first ever geothermal development, as part of the region’s goal to maintain its carbon neutrality as it develops new infrastructure. The deal signed by the Ladakh administration and the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) Energy Centre involves a small pilot of 1MW capacity, and the  following expansion of the project through drilling new wells. The partners hope that the plan will prove commercially viable yielding up to 200MW of geothermal capacity.

Digitising the energy transition

A million euros in funding is up for grabs for digital solutions helping speed up the green energy transition. The Department of Science and Technology, under India’s Ministry of Science and Technology, is looking in particular at transnational initiatives which “shall contribute to identify and address critical challenges in the digitisation process towards a green energy society.” The project is a collaboration with the global platform ERA-Net Smart Energy Systems, which receives funding from the EU.

Solar overtakes wind

Solar installed capacity has reached 10.3 percent of India’s energy mix, exceeding wind capacity for the first time, according to the consultancy Mercom capital. The group’s CEO Raj Prabhu explained that this figure is extraordinary given wind power had “over a decade plus in head start over solar.” By the time solar installations in India began in 2010, he said, wind installations had already surpassed tens of GWs. “However, solar in recent years has seen explosive growth driven by falling costs. We expect solar to be the dominant source of energy for the foreseeable future,” he added.

Pakistan

Business-led renewable growth

The US aid agency and the UN industrial development branch have teamed up with the government to support small and medium scale energy activities across Pakistan, to boost economic growth. The idea is to encourage greater participation from the private sector, with a focus on low cost and renewable energy sources.

Afghanistan

Water deal, at last

Five decades of water disputes between Iran and Afghanistan may be coming to an end with a new water rights agreement on the shared Helmand River. The ministries of Energy and ministries of Foreign Affairs from the two countries met in the border city of Zabol to broker the deal, which will also involve a new survey of the river’s catchment area. The study will enable Iran to plan for a reservoir to tackle water scarcity in the area, while disputes remain over the construction of the Kamal Khan Dam in Afghanistan, which Tehran argues has contributed to drying the region in the first place.


This week on Twitter

Research and other readings

  • Analysis: Uttarakhand flood: 2019 study warned Himalayan glaciers melting at alarming speed - It will take a long time for scientists to establish a potential fingerprint of climate change in Sunday’s disaster, but this article is important to put the story into context. It quotes a 2019 study which found that Himalayan glaciers are melting twice as fast as they were before 2000. Food for thought.

  • Analysis: Not just climate change, Chamoli disaster was human-induced - The other side of the story: before blaming climate change, it’s important to understand the direct part that humans played in the disaster that may have killed more than 100 people. Stone quarrying, blasting of mountains and digging of tunnels in the base of the fragile mountain system, for the construction of two dams in the area, has undermined its stability and likely contributed to the glacial burst.

  • Analysis: What is the value of a tree? - Today’s entry from the newsletter Finshots examines India’s reforestation programs and explains why a centuries old tree cannot be replaced by any number of fast-growing saplings, a policy that the government has adopted to reconcile greening efforts with a push for big infrastructural development.

  • Research: Advanced groundwater search to adapt to climate extremes - Afghanistan will host one of the most advanced satellite programmes ever approved to support groundwater search and sustainable climate adaptation. Afghanistan suffers from devastating drought as well as floods in the spring season, made particularly damaging by the lack of infrastructure for water management. The project, a collaboration between Danish and Afghan aid and research institutions, will employ remote sensing technology to map out water supply in the country.


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