Monthly Non-Fossil Fuels News Commentary: January 2018


As India faces heat at the WTO for giving preference to domestic solar manufacturers in its renewable energy programme, the MNRE has made changes to the content sourcing policy. This comes at a time when the domestic solar manufacturing industry has sought safeguards and anti-dumping duty on import of solar panels from China and Malaysia. CPSUs and states are open to call tender with DCR under the EPC or contractor mode. CPSUs such as NTPC Ltd would be allowed to issue tender for solar project construction with the caveat that the private domestic developer should only be an EPC contractor and not power seller. Also, the new rooftop solar projects policy promotes use of domestic content with central financial assistance and subsidy. MNRE has floated the proposal to increase the amount of CPSUs projects to 13,000 MW from current 1,000 MW. Till last year, 10 percent capacity in each of the tender issued by the central government for solar power project was kept for domestic content sourcing. Earlier it was 50 percent and was brought down after the first appeal made by the US in the WTO in 2014. Apart from this, major PSUs such as NTPC and CIL have committed to build solar power generation capacity from domestic content. The WTO ruling in September 2016 stated that solar projects which are to be taken up by the government, for the government, there should not be any commercial sale. India asked for a year’s time to close all the projects floated on DCR. The deadline expired in December 2017. As the current status of the case stands, India has sent clarification that the Solar Mission is WTO complaint and none of the solar policies flout any trade regulations.

India has proposed to levy a 70 percent safeguard duty on import of solar power equipment from countries like China for 200 days to protect domestic industry from “serious injury”. The safeguard duty would be levied if the finance ministry accepts the recommendations of the DGS. Before final duties or import taxes are levied, DGS will hold further investigation into the injury caused by cheap imports. It would also hold a public hearing on the issue. India has annual manufacturing capacity for solar cells of around 3 GW as against requirement of 20 GW. DGS said import of solar equipment jumped from 1,271 MW in 2014-15 to 4,186 MW in the next year and to 6,375 MW in 2016-17. Current fiscal imports are pegged at 9,474 MW as compared to domestic production of 1,164 MW. Reasoning its decision, it said while China’s exports to India constituted a paltry 1.52 percent of its total global exports during 2012, this increased to 21.58 percent during 2016.

The finance ministry is considering the renewable-energy ministry’s request to tax panels imported for projects won under future solar auctions while exempting those already awarded. The proposed change could imperil the goal of installing 100 gigawatts of solar energy by 2022, especially as developers have relied on low-cost equipment from China to push tariffs to among the lowest in the world. India is planning to offer financial incentives to boost domestic manufacturing and energy security, while probing if Chinese solar-equipment makers are hurting the domestic industry by dumping inventories and driving down prices to unfair levels. Higher global module costs have already pushed up bid rates from record lows in auctions conducted by Solar Energy Corp of India late last year and the import tax could increase prices further.

India hit back at Washington’s latest legal assault on its solar power policies at the WTO, rejecting a US legal claim and exploring possible new protection of India’s own solar industry. The US triggered a new round of litigation at the WTO, arguing that India had failed to abide by a ruling that it had illegally discriminated against foreign suppliers of solar cells and modules. India said it had changed its rules to conform with the ruling and that a US claim for punitive trade sanctions was groundless. It said Washington had skipped legal steps, failed to follow the correct WTO procedure, and omitted to mention any specific level of trade sanctions that it proposed to level on India, leaving India “severely prejudiced”. India would be vindicated if the proper process was followed, it said. Renewable energy has become an area of severe trade friction as major economies compete to dominate a sector that is expected to thrive as reliance on coal and oil dwindles. India unveiled its national solar programme in 2011, seeking to ease chronic energy shortages in Asia’s third-largest economy without creating pollution. But the US complained to the WTO in 2013, saying US solar exports to India had fallen by 90 percent. The WTO judges agreed that India had broken the trade rules by requiring solar power developers to use Indian-made cells and modules. In a separate move that could protect its solar industry from global competitors, not only US rivals, India told the WTO that it was considering the case for imposing temporary emergency tariffs on solar cells, modules and panels, after a petition from the domestic industry.

Solar modules worth more than $150 million are stuck at various Indian ports due to a dispute over their classification and the import tax applicable to them. Indian Solar Association said that up to 2,000 solar module containers are now stranded at four major ports.  Most of the solar modules come from China, but several consignments are now held up because customs officials have demanded that some of them be classified as “electric motors and generators”, attracting a 7.5 percent duty, not as “diodes, transistors and similar semi-conductor devices” with no duty. The Indian unit of Germany’s Enerparc had 30 of its containers stuck at Chennai for three weeks as it finished some “paperwork” and paid a demurrage – a charge for failing to discharge the ship on time – of about ₹ 7 million ($110,471).  The renewable energy ministry has already asked the finance ministry to resolve the matter without disrupting business. Any duty is bad news for project developers such as SoftBank-backed SB Energy but good for local solar component makers such as Indosolar and Moser Baer. Indian manufacturers have struggled to compete with Chinese companies such as Trina Solar and Yingli and have sought anti-dumping duties as well as long-term safeguards. The finance ministry is examining a proposal from the renewable ministry to exempt projects bid earlier from paying the duty.

The Madras High Court has issued a temporary stay on a preliminary report of the DGS recommending imposition of 70% safeguard duty on imported solar equipment. Shapoorji Pallonji Infrastructure, a contractor-cum-developer of solar projects and part of the Shapoorji Pallonji Group, had petitioned the court against the recommendation, maintaining the company was never given a chance to respond to the original petition on the basis of which DGS suggested imposing 70% duty. The DGS had on December 19 last year sent a notice to all stakeholders saying it had initiated an enquiry into the matter on the basis of a petition filed by Indian Solar Manufacturers Association claiming that large scale imports of solar panels and modules from China, Malaysia, Taiwan and Singapore were causing “serious injury” to domestic manufacturers of similar equipment. The notice gave stakeholders 30 days to reply. However, the DGS announced preliminary findings on January 5. Solar developers prefer imported equipment because they are 25-30% cheaper than domestic ones, thanks to economies of scale and government subsidies in the exporting countries. Independent Solar Power Producers Alliance, an association of solar developers, too, has filed a petition in Delhi High Court seeking a stay on the recommendation.

Uttar Pradesh Electricity Regulatory Commission rapped the six solar power companies that had proposed to set up power plants in the state, saying it could not allow them to sell solar power at a rate much higher than prevailing market prices. The companies, including Adani Green Energy, had approached the commission nearly six months after UPPCL issued them a notice seeking cancellation of their agreement with New Energy Development Authority over high cost of power and delay in setting up projects despite an agreement in 2015. The Commission noted that the cost of power proposed to be supplied by the companies ₹ 7.02/kWh was much higher than the prevailing market prices of ₹ 2.44 to ₹ 4/kWh. The six plants, with a combined capacity of 80 MW, belong to Adani Green Energy, Sahastradhara Energy, Pinnacle Air, Awadh Rubber Prop Madras Elastomers, Technical Associates and Sudhakara Infratech. According to the agreements signed in 2015, the developers had to complete the projects by January 2017. That did not happen, forcing the state government to extend the deadline till March 2017.

Private sector lender Yes Bank said it will mobilise $1 billion by 2023 for financing solar energy projects in India. Yes Bank signed five solar energy co-financing Letters of Intent with Tata Power Delhi Distribution, Hero Future Energy, Greenko Group, Amplus Solar and Jakson Group for their solar projects in India to be completed by 2023. ISA is a treaty-based alliance of 121 prospective solar rich member nations and aims at accelerating development and deployment of solar energy globally.

Husk Power Systems said that it has raised $20 million to scale its renewable mini-grid business both in Asia and Africa. Husk Power designs, builds, owns and operates one of the world’s lowest-cost hybrid power plants and distribution network in India and Tanzania. It provides power to rural communities and businesses, entirely from renewable energy sources.

The IFC, the World Bank’s private investment arm, is set to invest $440 million (₹ 28 billion) in the 750 MW Rewa Ultra Mega Solar Park in Madhya Pradesh, paving the way for the financial closure of this project that has for the first time brought solar tariff in India on a par with thermal power. The investment by IFC will be in the form of debt to three companies that are setting up the units, each of 250 MW, Mahindra Renewables, Acme, and Actis. The deal for a $140 million (₹ 9 billion) funding with Actis has been signed, while the one with Acme for $150 million is due to be signed soon. The third one, with Mahindra, for the remaining $150 million is awaiting final approval. The solar park is being developed by Rewa Ultra Mega Solar, a joint venture between Madhya Pradesh Urja Vikas Nigam, a state government agency, and the Solar Energy Corp of India. It is scheduled to be commissioned in December 2018 and is part of meeting India’s renewable energy target of 175 GW by 2022.

In order to kick-start fund mobilisation under the ISA, the central government will set up a $350 million solar development fund. Nine companies and banks have agreed to develop and finance various solar projects, which include a $1-billion partnership corpus of NTPC Ltd and CLP India to the ISA. The firms are: Vyonarc Development, Greenko Solar, Gensol Group and SOLARIG from Spain, Shakti Pump, Refex Energy, Amplus Solar, TATA Power, Jackson Solar, and Zodiac Energy. CLP India and NTPC announced forging a partnership deal with the ISA and committed to making a voluntary contribution of $1 million each to the ISA fund corpus.

ONGC has embarked on an ambitious project on innovation towards making an “Efficient Electric Chulha (Stove)”. ONGC launched a nationwide campaign to seek innovative solutions for the development of Solar Chulha. An overwhelming response with more than 1500 entries was received by ONGC in the duration of the campaign. The top three entries will receive awards of ₹ 1,000,000 ₹ 500,000 and ₹ 300,000 respectively. On successful demonstration and testing performance of the units, about 1000 units may be initially procured by ONGC for demonstration in different regions. ONGC may also provide financial support for fabrication of 1000 units, from the start up fund set up by ONGC to popularize the product amongst the masses. ONGC is working towards finding an efficient household cooking solution to ensure last-mile delivery of clean energy.

In an initiative to promote clean energy, BSES, one of Delhi’s two electricity discoms, launched the country’s first solar rooftop consumer aggregation programme for residential buildings to provide the installations at a single point for the entire apartment complex. The sister discom BRPL’s “Solar City Initiative”, designed to maximise rooftop solar power use in south and west Delhi, was launched at an event. In the first phase of the programme, around 150 residential societies will be targeted in the Dwarka area. Listing the benefits for consumers, the discom said a 1 kW solar PV rooftop system is expected to generate 4-5 kWh of electricity per day, which corresponds to an average monthly saving on bills of about ₹ 750 for a period of 25 years for single-point delivery consumers. Besides, the scheme would help BRPL in meeting its renewable purchase obligation, as well as minimise overloading issues in congested areas during the peak summer months. BSES also announced that a portal has been launched as part of the initiative for online processing of rooftop solar applications, as well as a dedicated solar helpline for faster resolution of customer queries.

GAIL (India) Ltd said it has commissioned the country’s second largest rooftop solar power plant. The firm has installed a 5.76 MWp solar plant at its petrochemical complex at Pata in Uttar Pradesh, the company said. The plant over the roofs of warehouses covers a total area of 65,000 square meters. Tata Power Solar had in December 2015 commissioned a 12 MW solar rooftop project in Amritsar, which produces more than 150 lakh units of power annually and offset over 19,000 tonne of carbon emissions every year. India is plans to have 40 GW of rooftop PV by 2022. This is part of its target of have 175 GW of non-hydro renewables capacity by 2022 (made up of 60 GW onshore wind, 60 GW utility-scale solar, 10 GW bio-energy, 5 GW small hydro and 40 GW rooftop solar). It currently has 60 GW of renewable energy capacity. Captive solar power initiative of GAIL will reduce carbon emissions by 6,300 tonnes per annum and help India achieve climate goals.   With most of the fossil fuel companies either producing or consuming solar power it is not clear if fossil fuels are underwriting renewable energy costs.

Adani Group has been named in the top 15 global utility solar power developers that includes likes of First Solar, Total, SunEdison and Engie. Adani, ranked 12th, is the only Indian company on the list put out by Greentech Media, a Wood Mackenzie business. Top of the list is First Solar with an operational capacity of 4,619 MW and in-development capacity of 4,802 MW. Adani has 788 MW of operational capacity and another 1,270 MW under development. Adani Renewables is targeting 10 GW of installed renewable power by 2022. The company currently has 12 MW of operational wind assets, as well as 788 MW of solar PV.

Solar power tariff fall seems to have bottomed out and may not drop beyond an all-time low of ₹ 2.44/kWh in absence of well-structured bids and rising solar panel prices on demand pressure. The solar power tariff fell to an all-time low of ₹ 2.44/kWh in May 2017 during an auction for 500 MW capacities at Bhadla (IV) in Rajasthan. It had the viability gap funding component, as per the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy data. According to data, the solar tariff rose to ₹ 3.47/kWh for 1,500 MW capacities in Tamil Nadu under a state scheme in July and then dropped again to ₹ 2.66 /kWh in an auction for 500 MW capacities in Gujarat. In an auction of state-run power giant NTPC for 250 MW capacity, the tariff was ₹ 3.14/kWh. But it dropped again with viability gap funding to ₹ 2.47/kWh and ₹ 2.48 /kWh for 500 MW Bhadla-III and 250 MW Bhadla-IV auctions in December 2017. Many experts are also of the view that solar tariff has bottomed out and may not fall further. During 2017, solar power tariff hovered around ₹ 2.4/kWh level only in auctions for capacities, where viability gap funding component was there.

Solar developers have moved the power regulators of Haryana and Uttarakhand to smoothen out anomalies which are impeding the growth of solar capacity in these two states. In one petition, the DISPA has noted that the regulator, the HERC has yet to implement a key recommendation of the Haryana Solar Policy announced in March 2016. In another, it has appealed to the UERC to remove the limit of 500 kW it has imposed on the size of rooftop solar plants. Haryana’s solar policy clearly states that both ground-mounted and rooftop solar projects should be exempted from “all electricity taxes and cess, electricity duty, wheeling charges, cross subsidy charges, transmission and distribution charges and surcharges”. However, HERC has not yet passed any order making these concessions effective. The petition before the UERC argues that the 500 kW limit for rooftop solar plants is entirely arbitrary. Its origins lie in the guidelines issued by the MNRE in June 2014, which imposed “a limit of 500 kW in respect of installed solar capacity for projects under net metering arrangement”. DISPA had also moved the Gujarat Electricity Regulatory Commission to provide net metering and other incentives for putting up solar rooftop plants not only to house owners, but also to solar developers so that they can lease roofs from house owners. House owners were often reluctant to set up solar rooftop projects as they were unaware of the technicalities or could not afford the initial upfront costs. That petition is still pending.

In an attempt to provide electricity to houses in remote and inaccessible areas of the state where electrification is not possible due to difficult geographical terrain, the UPPCL will soon be providing off-grid electricity by setting up solar power plants. According to the UPPCL, the task to identify the areas that are inaccessible and have not yet been brought under the corporation’s power grid has been handed over to Non-conventional Energy Development Agency. Small solar grids will be set up in the identified remote areas, which will cover one or more villages as per the requirement of load. Every house will be connected with it.

Encouraged by the successful implementation of solar projects in states like Karnataka and Gujarat, the UP is planning to invite bids for 100 MW of solar power projects by March. The bids are for projects on open access basis to be set up in the Bundelkhand region. Leading players like Adani Group, Tata Power Solar, ReNew Power and Hero Future Energies are likely to be interested in the projects to be offered in UP, suggested an industry player. The state government has separately invited tenders for the selection of consultancy firms for establishment of a project management unit to assist UP New and Renewable Energy Development Agency in implementation of the state’s Solar Power Policy 2017. The last date for submission of e-tenders is January 14 and the online technical e-tender opening date is January 15. The financial tender opening date for qualified bidders is January 30. The UP Solar Power Policy 2017 targets implementation of 10,700 MW of grid-connected solar power projects by the end of 2022. Of the total capacity, 4,300 MW is targeted to be achieved through deployment of grid connected rooftop projects, and 6,400 MW through ground mounted utility scale power projects.

India said it can reach a capacity of 17,000 MW in renewable energy by the year 2022. As per the share of renewable energy in the total electric power generation capacity, the addition was 52.2 percent.  This is an order of magnitude smaller than the target announced when the current government came to power.

Haryana wants solar-based micro irrigation schemes be implemented in all districts. At present, the scheme is being implemented on a pilot basis in 14 canal outlets in 13 districts with an outlay of ₹ 246.5 million.

The New Year has brought a fresh ray of hope in India’s nuclear energy sector, with Westinghouse, the bankrupt energy company being sold to a Canadian investment major, Brookfield Business Partners. Westinghouse is supposed to build six of its AP-1000 nuclear reactors in India, a project that had been delayed after the company filed for bankruptcy earlier in 2017. The $4.6 billion acquisition is expected to get the beleaguered US-Japanese company out of hot water. Toshiba, the owner of Westinghouse had been looking to sell the nuclear business after it filed for bankruptcy. Westinghouse had, in its discussions with the Indian government, assured that it would continue to work on the six reactors which are expected to come up in Kovvada, Andhra Pradesh. The company is expected to build six reactors in India — private sector and government entities are currently exploring whether a greater amount of indigenous components can be used to build these reactors, bringing down their costs as well as giving a fillip to Indian nuclear industry. This might even help Westinghouse avert the potential liabilities of the Indian nuclear liability law, which has been singularly responsible for being a drag on the Indian nuclear industry. The government devised an insurance pool and new rules which make it easier for domestic players, but an air of uncertainty continues to hang over foreign players.

Rest of the World

Taiwan has joined South Korea in demanding compensation for steep US tariffs on solar panels, opening a 30-day window for negotiations, a World Trade Organization filing showed. US President Donald Trump signed into law a 30 percent tariff on imported solar panels, billed as a way to protect American jobs but which the solar industry said would lead to layoffs and raise consumer prices. It was among the first unilateral trade restrictions imposed by the administration as part of a broader protectionist agenda that has alarmed Asian trading partners producing cheaper goods. Taiwan, with no fossil fuel resources but a booming tech sector, says it ranks as the world’s second largest solar cell manufacturing base after China, putting it at the heart of an industry caught up in a global trade battle. The US, India and China are all racing to develop their solar industry, a huge growth area as the world moves toward environmentally friendly sources of energy, and are engaged in legal fights to keep their firms in pole position. The US has alleged that China and India are giving their solar sectors an illicit leg-up, and last week Trump resorted to “safeguard” tariffs, effectively shielding US solar manufacturers from foreign competition.

US President Donald Trump’s decision to slap tariffs on solar panel imports is a blow to a booming global industry, and hit stocks in European and Asian solar groups on fears their business might suffer. Although the move was intended to help American manufacturers, some in the sector said it would slow US investment in solar power and cost thousands of US jobs. Trump approved a 30 percent tariff on solar cell and module imports, dropping to 15 percent within four years. Up to 2.5 GW of unassembled solar cells can be imported tariff-free in each year. The US has the world’s fourth-largest solar capacity after China, Japan and Germany. Globally, solar capacity soared to almost 400 GW last year from under 10 GW in 2007, according to the International Renewable Energy Administration. The US-based Solar Energy Industries Association said the decision could cause the loss of around 23,000 US jobs this year, and result in the delay or cancellation of billions of dollars in solar investments. The US government argued that its domestic manufacturers could not compete with what it said were artificially lower-priced Asian panels. The Chinese firms that are the world’s biggest makers of solar photovoltaic cells will be hit by the tariffs at their production sites across Asia.

SMA Solar, Germany’s largest solar group, expects the industry to take a just a small hit from import tariffs imposed by US President Donald Trump, sending its shares to an 11-week high. Trump approved a 30 percent tariff on solar cell and module imports, dropping to 15 percent within four years. Up to 2.5 GW of unassembled solar cells can be imported tariff-free in each year. Although the move was intended to help American manufacturers, some in the sector said it could slow US investment in solar power and cost thousands of US jobs. However, SMA Solar, the world’s largest maker of solar inverters, said it expected the impact to be small, forecasting industry growth in the Americas region would average about 18 percent per year until 2020, more than the 10 percent expected globally. The US government argued that its domestic manufacturers could not compete with what it said were artificially lower-priced Asian solar panels.

SunPower Corp said it was putting a $20 million US factory expansion and hundreds of new jobs on hold until and unless its solar panels receive an exclusion from federal tariffs. The decision to impose tariffs on cheap imported panels was intended to protect American manufacturing jobs, but many in the solar industry have argued that tariffs will raise costs and trigger thousands of layoffs in the installation end of the industry. SunPower’s project development arm has already lost business to rival First Solar Inc, which makes panels that are exempt from tariffs.

The world’s largest solar-thermal power plant has been given development approval by the South Australian government. Construction on the 150 MW Aurora plant, to be built by utility-scale solar power company SolarReserve, will begin in 2018 at an estimated cost of $509 million. The plant would create 650 construction jobs and 50 ongoing positions when completed. The plant will work by using a series of mirrors to concentrate sunlight on a receiver at the top of a 220-meter tower. The sunlight will then heat molten salt to 565 degrees centigrade, generating steam to drive a turbine that will produce 150 MW of electricity making it the largest single-tower solar thermal plant in the world. It will have the capacity to power 90,000 homes with eight hours of full load storage. It will join the largest lithium-ion battery, built by Tesla to complement the state’s power grid during the high-demand summer, as another major renewable energy project in South Australia.

For new projects commissioned in 2017, electricity costs from renewable power generation have continued to fall significantly compared to the fossil fuels, according to a new report from the IRENA. It estimates onshore wind is now routinely commissioned for $4 cents per kWh. The current cost spectrum for fossil fuel power generation ranges from $5-17 cents per kWh. The IRENA with more than 150 member countries says the cost of generating power from onshore wind has fallen by around a quarter since 2010, with solar photovoltaic electricity costs falling by 73 percent in that time. It also highlights that solar costs are set to fall further with another halving expected by 2020. The best onshore wind and solar photovoltaic projects could be delivering electricity for an equivalent of $3 cents per kWh, or less within the next two years. Global weighted average costs over the last 12 months for onshore wind and solar PV now stand at $6 cents and $10 cents per kWh respectively, with recent auction results suggesting future projects will significantly undercut these averages. The IRENA report also highlights that auction results are signalling that offshore wind and concentrating solar power projects commissioned between 2020-22 will cost in the range of $6-10 cents per kWh, supporting accelerated deployment globally. IRENA projects that all renewable energy technologies will compete with fossils on price by 2020.

Westinghouse Electric Co signed an agreement to deliver nuclear fuel to seven of Ukraine’s fifteen nuclear power reactors between 2021-2025, and will source some fuel components locally, Westinghouse said. Owned by Toshiba Corp, Westinghouse said the deal would help Ukraine diversify its energy supplies. The deal builds on an existing agreement to supply six reactors, which was set to expire in 2020. Kiev’s pro-Western government wants to wean Ukraine off a traditional dependence on Russia for energy supplies, including gas imports and nuclear fuel.

French nuclear and renewable energy group New Areva has signed a memorandum of commercial agreement with Chinese partner CNNC for the construction of €10 bn ($12 bn) nuclear fuel reprocessing facility in China. In 2013, Areva and CNNC had signed a letter of intent to build a used fuel treatment and recycling facility in the Asian country. Areva said that the latest agreement reaffirms its commitment with the Chinese partner to complete the contract negotiations for the Chinese commercial used fuel treatment-recycling plant project. The Chinese treatment-recycling plant, which will have a reprocessing capacity of 800 ton of spent nuclear fuel from Chinese power plants annually, is planned to be built on the model of New Areva’s two existing plants, La Hague and Melox, both located in France. A final deal on the facility is expected to provide much needed boost to the French nuclear industry, which has been struggling to gain new contracts since the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011.

Russian state nuclear agency Rosatom has proposed building a nuclear power station in Argentina, President Vladimir Putin said. Putin was speaking after talks with his Argentine counterpart, Mauricio Macri, in Moscow.

EDF Energy said its Hinkley C nuclear power station in Somerset, southwest England, will come online by the end of 2025 and give the developer the experience to lower the costs of subsequent nuclear plants planned in the country. Hinkley Point C will be the first nuclear plant built in Britain in decades. It is expected to provide 7 percent of Britain’s power needs while helping to replace the country’s ageing nuclear fleet and closing coal plants. The plant, being built by the British arm of France’s EDF with China General Nuclear Power Corp, has been beset by delays and higher cost estimates. It was initially expected to start producing electricity in 2017. The project has also been criticized over its guaranteed price for electricity, which is higher than market rates. EDF also plans to build two more nuclear reactors at Sizewell in eastern England.

Saudi Arabia plans to prequalify for bidding firms from two or three countries by April or May for the first nuclear reactors it wants to build. Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter, wants nuclear power to diversify its energy supply mix, enabling it to export more crude rather than burning it to generate electricity. It plans to build 17.6 GW of nuclear capacity by 2032, the equivalent of around 16 reactors, making it one of the biggest prospects for an industry struggling after the 2011 nuclear disaster in Japan. A joint venture between the Saudi government and the winning developers would be signed in 2019 after the shortlisting by end of 2018. Commissioning of the first plant, which will have two reactors with a total a capacity between 2 and 3.2 GW, is expected in 2027. Saudi Arabia has sent a request for information to international suppliers to build two reactors, the first step towards a formal tendering competition. Riyadh was currently evaluating requirements from five countries; China, Russia, South Korea, France and the US. Saudi Arabia is interested in reaching a civilian nuclear cooperation agreement with Washington, and Riyadh has invited US firms to take part in developing the kingdom’s first atomic energy program.

At ground zero of Ukraine’s Chernobyl tragedy, workers in orange vests are busy erecting hundreds of dark-coloured panels as the country gets ready to launch its first solar plant to revive the abandoned territory. The new one-megawatt power plant is located just a hundred metres from the new “sarcophagus”, a giant metal dome sealing the remains of the 1986 Chernobyl accident, the worst nuclear disaster in the world. Ukraine, which has stopped buying natural gas from Russia in the last two years, is seeking to exploit the potential of the Chernobyl uninhabited exclusion zone that surrounds the damaged nuclear power plant and cannot be farmed. The installation of a huge dome above the ruins of the damaged reactor just over a year ago made the realisation of the solar project possible. Ukrainian authorities offered investors nearly 2,500 hectares (25 square kilometres) for potential construction of solar power plants in Chernobyl.

France will not increase carbon emissions as it reduces its reliance on nuclear energy in coming years. The centrist government has launched a year-long debate about energy policy before deciding in early 2019 on the future share of nuclear energy in France’s power production. It now stands at 75 percent. To assist discussions, grid operator RTE has prepared scenarios for cutting nuclear energy’s share from 56 percent to 11 percent by 2035, and an additional scenario on reducing nuclear reliance to 50 percent by 2025. Environment activists complain that the government has withheld scenarios cutting back nuclear capacity the most, when it held workshops this month to prepare for the public debate. France would not build more plants powered by coal or fuel oil, he said, but said the government would consider whether there was a role for gas, which has lower emissions than coal or other fossil fuels. Sustainable energy advocacy group NegaWatt said the most ambitious scenarios for reducing nuclear reliance could be achieved without boosting CO2 emissions provided there was a stronger focus on energy efficiency and if the nuclear reactors had their lifespans’ extended a little beyond 40 years. The majority of EDF’s nuclear reactors were connected to the grid between 1980 and 1990. Closing them all promptly after 40 years, their scheduled lifespan, would cut so much capacity that France would have to build new gas plants to fill the gap. EDF wants to extend the lifespan of its reactors to 50 years, but will need approval of nuclear regulator ASN for each reactor. The ASN has said it will rule on the principle of lifespan extensions in 2021.

The Trump administration announced it is doing away with a decades-old air emissions policy opposed by fossil fuel companies, a move that environmental groups say will result in more pollution. The US EPA said it was withdrawing the “once-in always-in” policy under the Clean Air Act, which dictated how major sources of hazardous air pollutants are regulated. Under the EPA’s new interpretation, such “major sources” can be reclassified as “area sources” when their emissions fall below mandated limits, subjecting them to differing standards. The EPA said the policy it has followed since 1995 relied on an incorrect interpretation of the landmark anti-pollution law.

A team of scientists at Stanford University, including a researcher of Indian origin, has shown how nanotechnology can be used to create crystalline silicon (c-Si) thin-film solar cells that are more efficient at capturing solar energy. The discovery can reduce the cost of solar energy production globally, they noted. The team used optical modelling and electrical simulations to show that a thin-film crystalline silicon solar cell with a 2D nanostructure generated three times as much photo current as an unstructured cell of the same thickness. The longer the light spends inside the solar cell – the greater its chance of getting absorbed. The discovery reveals a simple method to improve the efficiency of all silicon solar cells.

The California regulators have approved PG&E’s request to decommission the 2,256 MW Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant by 2025. With the approval from the California Public Utilities Commission, PG&E will retire the power plant, which features two nuclear reactors, upon completion of its operating licenses. The regulator has also authorized the firm to recover $241.2 mn in costs associated with retiring the plant; $211.3 mn to retain PG&E employees until the facility is retired; $11.3 mn for retraining of workers; and $18.6 mn for Diablo Canyon license renewal expenses incurred by PG&E. However, the regulator has rejected PG&E’s request for $85 mn for a Community Impact Mitigation Program in the absence of express legislative authorization.

New York City announced that it filed a multibillion dollar lawsuit against five top oil companies, citing their “contributions to global warming,” as it said it would divest fossil fuel investments from its $189 billion public pension funds over the next five years. The lawsuit, against BP Plc, Chevron Corp, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil Corp and Royal Dutch Shell Plc, follows similar lawsuits filed last year by San Francisco and other California cities seeking billions of dollars in damages from rising sea levels due to climate impacts. The lawsuits are the latest legal challenges against oil companies over climate change and come as the firms are searching for new business models amid pressure by governments and consumers for cleaner energy.

Denmark just set a world record for using wind power to drive its economy. Its government now predicts that anyone betting against the technology is on the wrong side of history. Denmark is positioning itself as the flag bearer for wind power. Denmark obtained 43.4 percent of its electricity from wind last year, beating its own record. The government’s goal is to derive 50 percent of the country’s entire energy consumption from renewables by 2030. Denmark is home to the world’s biggest turbine maker, Vestas Wind Systems A/S, which just raised its outlook after getting more orders than it expected in 2017. The state also holds a controlling stake in Orsted A/S, the world’s biggest operator of offshore wind parks, which this week raised its 2017 profit forecast thanks to strong winds in northern Europe.

The US power grid regulator rejected a directive to prop up aging coal and nuclear power plants, in a setback for the Trump administration that disappointed coal miners but pleased drillers, environmentalists and renewable energy advocates. FERC said it had embarked on a new process to determine whether the grid can be strengthened. The move was a blow to the plan to reward certain nuclear and coal-fired power plants that store 90 days of fuel on site by paying for their operating costs through power price adjustments. President Donald Trump promised to aid the coal and nuclear industries, which have suffered shutdowns resulting from a glut of cheap natural gas. FERC’s new plan involves asking grid operators to submit within 60 days their concerns about the resiliency of the power system. The commission will then decide whether additional action is warranted, FERC said.

Over 30 energy sector players from around the world including India converged in Nepal to explore the country’s hydropower potentials. The aim of the expo was to assist the Nepal government in achieving its objective of generating 17,000 MW of hydroelectricity in the next seven years. Over 30 hydropower generators, producers of electrical equipments, investors, consultants and designers from Nepal, India, China, South Korea, Norway, Germany, Brazil, Italy, Sweden and Austria showcased their products and services at the three-day expo Himalayan Hydro Expo 2018. Italys CMC, Germanys VOITH; BFL, CRYSTAL, FLOVEL from India, VAPTECH – Bulgaria, MAVEL – Czech Republic, Powerchina, CSEC from China among others participated. President Bidya Devi Bhandari inaugurated the exhibition and said Nepal could not utilise its huge hydropower potential due to various reasons and that, it produced only 700 MW of hydro-electricity in the last one hundred years. The president urged private players to join hand with the government in harnessing Nepal’s immense hydro potentials.

Scientists are developing a novel technology that may economically convert fossil fuels and biomass into useful products, including electricity, without emitting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Engineers at The Ohio State University in the US devised a process that transforms shale gas into products such as methanol and gasoline – all while consuming carbon dioxide. The process can also be applied to coal and biomass to produce useful products, researchers wrote in the journal Energy & Environmental Science. Under certain conditions, the technology consumes all the carbon dioxide it produces plus additional carbon dioxide from an outside source, they said. The researchers have also found a way to greatly extend the lifetime of the particles that enable the chemical reaction to transform coal or other fuels to electricity and useful products over a length of time that is useful for commercial operation. The same team has discovered and patented a way with the potential to lower the capital costs in producing a fuel gas called synthesis gas, or “syngas,” by about 50 percent over the traditional technology. The technology, known as chemical looping, uses metal oxide particles in high-pressure reactors to “burn” fossil fuels and biomass without the presence of oxygen in the air. The metal oxide provides the oxygen for the reaction. Chemical looping is capable of acting as a stopgap technology that can provide clean electricity until renewable energies such as solar and wind become both widely available and affordable, the researchers said. The engineers also developed chemical looping for production of syngas, which in turn provides the building blocks for a host of other useful products including ammonia, plastics or even carbon fibres. The technology provides a potential industrial use for carbon dioxide as a raw material for producing useful, everyday products, researchers said.

WTO: World Trade Organisation, MNRE: Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, CPSUs: Central Public Sector Undertakings, EPC: Engineering, Procurement & Construction, MW: megawatt, GW: gigawatt, US: United States, DCR: Domestic Content Requirement, CIL: Coal India Ltd, DGS: Directorate General of Safeguards, UPPCL: Uttar Pradesh Power Corp Ltd, kWh: kilowatt hour, ISA: International Solar Alliance, IFC: International Finance Corp, ONGC: Oil and Natural Gas Corp, discoms: distribution companies, PV: photovoltaic, BRPL: BSES Rajdhani Power Ltd, MWp: megawatt peak, DISPA: Distributed Solar Power Association, HERC: Haryana Electricity Regulatory Commission, UERC: Uttarakhand Electricity Regulatory Commission, UP: Uttar Pradesh, CO2: carbon dioxide, IRENA: International Renewable Energy Agency, CNNC: China National Nuclear Corp, EPA: Environmental Protection Agency, PG&E: Pacific Gas and Electric Company, FERC: Federal Energy Regulatory Commission

Courtesy: Energy News Monitor | Volume XIV; Issue 35


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