Lights On briefing: Tesla enters India, rooftop solar at the crossroads 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.
In case you missed last week’s stories, do catch up on why the US wants India as an ally, and why energy and water may soon become defence issues in the region. For my weekend read, I decided to look at five of last year’s biggest stories to see how things have progressed since.
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Tesla to set up shop in India
After years of hesitation due to India’s complex bureaucracy, the world’s top electric carmaker has finally given in to the temptation of India’s huge market, and is preparing to launch a manufacturing plant and R&D unit in Bengaluru.
However, a government official suggested that the manufacturing unit may become operational only after demand has grown enough, while for the time being the primary sourcing point would be Tesla’s China factory.
Fossil fuels a lifeline during the pandemic
While the economy collapsed during the lockdown last year, the Indian government decided against reducing excise duty - a tax levied on the manufacture of goods within the country - on petrol and diesel. The tax kept on rising during the lockdown, reaching 32.98 rupees ($0.45) per litre for petrol and 31.83 rupees ($0.43) for diesel after a record hike of 10 rupees per litre on petrol and 13 per litre on diesel.
The gamble paid off - the government raked in the equivalent of $26.8 billion against $18 billion the previous year, a 48 percent jump. This, experts say, was the biggest individual action that kept India afloat during one of the direst times in its history, and explains why fossil fuels are still vital to India’s economy.
The future of Indian rooftop solar at stake
Despite fierce opposition from solar developers, the government has decided that rooftop plants with a capacity higher than 10kW would not qualify for net-metering, allowing customers to sell the excess energy they produce and dispatch it to the grid. Now industry associations such as the National Solar Energy Federation of India (NSEFI) are appealing to the Ministry of Power to reconsider this directive which will harm the uptake of a segment of India’s solar that is already struggling to take off.
The problem, one expert explains, is that Indian electricity distribution companies, in chronically poor financial condition, would see a reduction in revenues if more people switched to solar. Another example of the defining contradictions of India’s complex energy system.
Global grid dreams, with help from France
India’s plan for a global grid is slowly taking shape. The French public utility Électricité de France SA (EDF) will design the roadmap for the creation of a green global grid which, India envisages, will stretch from South Asia to Africa. India’s plan is to transport clean power across regions, much like the existing intercontinental connections move gas or broadband connection through undersea optical fiber. If it materialises, the project will be a response to the might of China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
A boost to green finance
At least 2 percent of all loans issued by Bangladesh’s banks will have to be devoted to green projects such as renewable energy, according to a directive by the central bank. At least 15 percent of all loans should also be classified as ‘sustainable’. The move comes after Bangladesh’s central bank released a sustainable finance policy for lenders as part of the country’s effort to meet the Sustainable Development Goals.
World’s first air pollution refugee is from Bangladesh
A Bangladeshi man who was about to be deported from France has been granted the right to stay on grounds of the health risks posed by his country’s severely polluted air. The court acknowledged that the man’s life would be endangered by the poor air quality in Bangladesh, which would worsen his asthma. Experts say that this landmark ruling will usher in a global debate over people’s right to safely migrate from places where polluted air poses a serious threat to their health.
Some of the future air pollution refugees might one day come from Afghanistan, which in the last year has seen nearly 5,000 deaths linked to toxic air, according to the country’s health ministry. The deaths were caused by conditions ranging from lung to heart disease and were concentrated in the capital Kabul, one of the world’s most polluted cities. Coal and old vehicles with inefficient engines are the main contributors to the problem, but frequent power shortages also exacerbate it because people burn scrap tyres, plastics and other low quality fuels for heating.
Rethinking the future
The World Bank has launched a new Country Partnership Framework for the Kingdom of Bhutan. The plan, which will cover the next three years, focuses on human capital, economic and environmental resilience, in particular on disaster risk reduction and better management of the country’s natural resources. The report also stresses that Bhutan’s high dependence on hydropower as a source of revenue and foreign exchange is making the country’s economy vulnerable, and advises a diversification of the job market.
On Twitter this week
Research and further readings
Long read: Could climate adaptive, saline water-resistant Pokkali be rice of the future? - When Super Cyclone Amphan hit West Bengal, flooding rice fields with saltwater and killing crops, scientists embarked on a search for rice varieties that could withstand a similar disaster. Their search ended when they discovered a salt tolerant rice variety in a coastal village in the southern state of Kerala, where it had been grown for generations.
Study: Scientists offer road map to improve environmental observations in the Indian Ocean in the face of climate change - A group of 60 scientists have come up with recommendations on how to improve the Indian Ocean Observing System, a basin-wide monitoring system designed to chart the impacts of climate change in the region. As climate change keeps accelerating, researchers lay out ways of improving the study of fisheries, monsoon patterns and coastal areas.
Study: Lead poisoning of children - Researchers at Stanford University have devised a remediation process that can almost completely remove lead residues from unregulated battery disposal, a menace that affects mainly poor and middle income countries. The team tested the system in Bangladesh, involving covering soil, household cleaning, and awareness-raising activities. Surprisingly, they found that while soil lead concentrations declined by 96 percent after remediation, child blood lead levels decreased only by 35 percent. This suggests that chronic exposure may mean that lead ends up contaminating the bones and being released back into the bloodstream over time after the soil has been cleaned.
Study: Over US$50 billion in gas power projects and LNG import facilities at risk of cancellation in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Vietnam - Emerging markets that are banking on liquefied natural gas (LNG) as a source of power are likely to be hit by higher and more volatile prices going forward. While contract prices have been relatively stable in the recent past, the brief says, this is likely to change as the gas industry’s investment in production and development has stalled, and oil and gas companies continue to experience financial instability.
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