The economic downturn, growth of the renewable sector, and the impact of COVID-19 pandemic have achieved what was earlier thought impossible. A combination of these factors has led to a year-on-year (YoY) reduction in CO2 emissions for the first time in four decades, according to an analysis by the environmental website Carbon Brief.
The fall in CO2 emission levels has been steep in March because of the stringent lockdown measures put in by the government to fight the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the report, in March, CO2 emissions fell by an estimated 15% and is expected to have fallen by 30% in April. These huge numbers speak volumes about the global impact of the pandemic on CO2 emissions.
As per the report, the drop in demand for power has been borne mainly by the coal generators, and this reflects the drops in CO2 emission levels. The drop in coal power generation is in stark contrast to the rise in the generation of renewable energy. According to the study, the coal power generation fell by nearly 15% in March and 31% in the first three weeks of April.
For the financial year ending March, coal sales by Coal India Limited (CIL) decreased by 4.3%, and the trough deepened in March when coal sales fell by 10%, and the coal imports fell by 27.5%.
It’s not only electricity, but oil consumption has also been on a downward trajectory since 2019, and this was further compounded by the lockdown measures which saw private vehicles and public transport come to a standstill, leading to a fall in oil consumption in March by nearly 18%.
The study further points out that the crude oil production also saw a decline of 5.9% as compared to the same period last year and the natural gas production also witnessed a decline of 5.2 % during the same period.
Using the indicators of coal, oil, and gas consumption, the study estimated that CO2 emissions fell by nearly 30 million tons of CO2 in the financial year ending March 31, 2020, which is the first such decline in four decades.
The COVID-19 pandemic has already forced the authorities to think about the long-term goals of India’s energy use, and the government has already started talking about providing the much-needed impetus to the renewable sector as part of the recovery package.
The cheap renewable energy is emerging as a viable option to conventional energy, which is bound to get more expensive in the years to come.
The plummeting demand for thermal power has increased the woes of the power sector exponentially, and the government is looking for ways to bail out the sector from its current predicament as the sector was already battling issues before the COVID-19 pandemic struck.
The government is trying to provide the necessary boost to the renewable sector in these testing times. Recently, the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) issued a blanket commissioning time extension for all renewable energy projects under construction in the country on account of the nationwide lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Ministry’s notice, issued on April 17, 2020, directed renewable energy implementing agencies to grant an extension of time for projects amounting to the total period of the lockdown plus 30 days for normalization.
In another such move in early April, MNRE granted the “must-run” status to renewable energy generating stations. The Ministry also said that since the DISCOMs have already been given sufficient relief and the electricity from renewable generating stations comprises only a minor portion of the total electricity generation in the country, the payments to these renewable generators should be made regularly.
Apart from these, the government has also tried to assist ailing distribution companies in these trying times. For instance, power generators (including renewables) in the country have been ordered to maintain an uninterrupted supply of power across states even if the distribution companies deposit Letters of Credit for 50% of the cost of power they want to be scheduled. For payments delayed beyond 45 days (from March 24, 2020, and June 30, 2020), the late payment surcharge has now been reduced to 12% per annum from the earlier 18%.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on industries across the board, and the renewable sector is no exception. You can know more about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the renewable sector here.
Rakesh is a staff reporter at Mercom India. Prior to joining Mercom, he worked in many roles as a business correspondent, assistant editor, senior content writer, and sub-editor with bcfocus.com, CIOReview/Silicon India, Verbinden Communication, and Bangalore Bias. Rakesh holds a Bachelor’s degree in English from Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU).