Lights On briefing: India's electric railways, Tesla and more
This week's key stories
Hello and welcome back to the Lights On news briefing, with key headlines on energy and climate change in South Asia.
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High altitude chai, memories of my Himachal escape - Photo by me
India’s railways see electric future
In just three years, India may boast the world’s largest electric railway network, the Minister of Railways Piyush Goyal said. The project would involve 20GW of renewable energy infrastructure which would power the entire network. This is not the first time that the government has discussed the plan with the public, and some progress has been made, albeit with hiccups. For example, while the major routes on the Northern Railway zone have been electrified, electric locomotives have to be switched to diesel powered ones in some nodes, causing frequent delays. The situation is even worse in the South Western Railway area, where only 731 km of the 3,566 km track has been electrified. Is the deadline out of reach?
Tracking illegal oil spills with satellites
India and France are inching closer to launching a planned constellation of maritime surveillance satellites for the Indian Ocean region, which will trace illegal spillage of oil by ships, according to a senior official of the French space agency CNES. The plan took shape in August last year, when CNES and India’s own ISRO space agency committed to building a constellation of satellites carrying telecommunications, and optical remote-sensing instruments. Once up and running, it would be the first space-based system in the world capable of tracking ships continuously. One to watch.
Rooftop solar in dire straits
Despite a steady demand for renewable energy during the pandemic, rooftop solar remains the black sheep of India’s clean energy portfolio. Fresh data from the consultancy Bridge to India found that only 473MW of new rooftop systems were installed between January and June against 1,534MW in the same period a year ago. This is a four-year low due to a combination of policy changes, financing costs and the Covid crisis.
To know more about why some clean technologies progress at a slower pace, see my latest article on the global climate pledges’ tech gap.
India gears up for Tesla entry
Few people can send markets spinning with a tweet. One is the US president Donald Trump, Elon Musk is another. The Tesla CEO had discussed setting up shop in India in the past, but backed off due to India’s notoriously tough regulatory bite. However he recently tweeted that he finally plans to invest in India next year - for sure:
According to the Hindu Business Line, Tesla had already indicated its intention to set up an R&D centre to the Karnataka government, which has tweaked its 2017 Electric Vehicle & Energy Storage Policy coupled with stamp duty exemption to accommodate the American giant as well as other mobility startups.
Pumped hydro revolution
The Austrian company Andritz confirmed it has signed a deal for the supply of electro-mechanical equipment for India's largest pumped storage plant, in Andhra Pradesh. Pumped storage is of huge strategic importance for India’s energy transition, as it enables the integration of various energy sources ensuring grid stability (here’s how it works). The 1,200 Megawatt project is being developed by the independent power producer Greenko and is expected to be up and running in 2023. It will be part of India’s first integrated renewable energy storage project combining solar, wind, and pumped storage.
Just after the World Bank approved a $450 million package to help Pakistan develop its renewable energy capabilities, Reuters learned that ‘potentially crippling gas shortages’ have led the country to ramp up its liquified natural gas purchases from the international spot market - a gap that highlights the country’s insecure energy landscape. Pakistan may be looking at procuring up to six cargoes for the month of December, a season in which demand for gas normally spikes. However this year authorities expect the shortfall to be greater due to dwindling indigenous supply.
India is trying to counteract the Chinese influence in Myanmar by tapping into its booming energy industry. While China already controls almost 70 percent of foreign energy investments in the country, India is now discussing setting up a petroleum refinery in the country involving a $6 billion investment. It’s still early stages, but the animosity between the two giants may well provide the motivation to splurge on fossil fuel infrastructure, at a time when India is expected to focus on a green recovery.
Research and further readings
Long read: Pakistan’s involvement in the Belt and Road Initiative has just become more opaque - A newly established authority aims to centralise decision-making and take autonomy away from the provinces where the China Pakistan Economic Corridor’s (CPEC) key projects will be built. This measure taints the transparency of the project and its environmental consequences
Long read: India Wants Manufacturers To Manage Plastic Waste. Here’s How Proposed Rules Fall Short - The central government’s proposed rules for ‘extended producer responsibility’ (EPR) for plastic waste, which would make a manufacturer responsible for managing plastic waste after a consumer has used their product, are unlikely to meet their objective. This essential deep dive explains why.
Long read: As Afghans count cost of deadly floods, officials warn of worse to come - Join Reuters reporter Shadi Khan Saif on an emotional journey through the devastation of climate change impacts on a country that with its tiny emissions is the least responsible for it.
Report: Energy Insecurity in Asia: Challenges, Solutions, and Renewable Energy - Unlike energy security, energy insecurity has not been extensively studied. This report explores the issue through a series of detailed case studies and potential solutions.
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