Daily Editorial Analysis for 21st April 2021

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A low-carbon future through sector-led change

Why in News

  • Recently the ‘Leaders’ Climate Summit’ is going to organized by the United States on April 22-23.
  • Discussions on whether India should announce a ‘net-zero’ emissions target, and by when, has started.
  • The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 1.5°C report called for global carbon emissions to reach net-zero by 2050, call for all countries to announce 2050 as the net-zero target year.
  • Since a disproportionate share of the carbon space has been used up by developed countries, it is important that they act boldly at home, to match the vigor of their diplomatic efforts.
  • Nonetheless, as a climate-vulnerable country, India must also up its game to contribute to limiting global temperature rise, ideally below 1.5°C.
  • While doing so, it should not lose sight of the history of global climate negotiations and its own developmental needs.
  • Though a large country and economy, we are still a very poor country with a significant development deficit — for example, our per-capita carbon emissions are less than half the world average.

India on Net-Zero Target

  • Commitment risks on Indian 2050 net-zero taking on a much heavier burden of de-carbonization than many wealthier countries, and could seriously compromise India’s development needs.
  • Other than two, the third path for India is to focused on concrete, near-term sectoral transformations through aggressive adoption of technologies that are within our reach, and an earnest effort to avoid high carbon lock-ins.
  • This is best accomplished by focusing on sectoral low-carbon development pathways that combine competitiveness, job-creation, distributional justice and low pollution in key areas where India is already changing rapidly.
  • The above approach is directionally consistent with India moving towards net-zero, which should be our long-term objective.

Another approaches for India in Electricity Sector:

De-carbonize power sector:

  • To achieve net-zero emissions, a key piece of the puzzle is to decarbonize the electricity sector, which is the single largest source (about 40%) of India’s greenhouse gas emissions.
  • De-carbonized electricity would also allow India to undertake transformational changes in urbanization and industrial development, for example by expanding the use of electricity for transport, and by integrating electric systems into urban planning.
  • So far, our efforts in the electricity sector have focused on expanding renewable electricity capacity, with targets growing by leaps and bounds from 20GW of solar to 175GW of renewable capacity by 2022, further growing to 450GW of renewable capacity by 2030.
  • While useful as a direction of travel, India now needs to shift gears to a comprehensive re-imagination of electricity and its role in our economy and society. One way to do this is to go beyond expanding renewables to limiting the expansion of coal-based electricity capacity.
  • This will not be easy: coal provides firm, dispatchable power and accounts for roughly 75% of electricity today; supports the economy of key regions; and is tied to sectors such as banking and railways.

The ceiling for coal power:

  • A first step would be to pledge that India will not grow its coal-fired power capacity beyond what is already announced, and reach peak coal electricity capacity by 2030, while striving to make coal-based generation cleaner and more efficient.
  • There is a strong rationale for this:
  • Coal is increasingly uneconomic and phasing it out over time will bring local gains, such as reduced air pollution, aside from climate mitigation.
  • Such a pledge would give full scope for the development of renewable energy and storage, and send a strong signal to investors.
  • A second step is to create a multi-stakeholder Just Transition Commission representing all levels of government and the affected communities to ensure decent livelihood opportunities beyond coal in India’s coal belt.
  • This is necessary because the transition costs of a brighter low-carbon future should not fall on the backs of India’s poor.
  • Third, a low-carbon electricity future will not be realized without addressing existing problems of the sector such as the poor finances and management of distribution companies, which requires deep changes and overcoming entrenched interests.
  • Fourth is, India will need to work hard to become a leader in technologies of the future such as electricity storage, smart grids, and technologies that enable the electrification of other sectors such as transportation.

Through a careful partnership with the private sector, including tools such as production-linked incentives, India should use the electricity transition to aim for job creation and global competitiveness in these key areas.

Improve energy services

  • Enhancing the efficiency of electricity use is an important complement to decarbonizing electricity supply.
  • Growing urbanization and uptake of electricity services offer a good opportunity to shape energy consumption within buildings through proactive measures.
  • Cooling needs are expected to increase rapidly with rising incomes and temperatures.
  • Air conditioners, fans and refrigerators together consume about 60% of the electricity in households.
  • Today, the average fan sold in the market consumes more than twice what an efficient fan does and an average refrigerator about 35% more.
  • India could set aggressive targets of, say, 80% of air conditioner sales, and 50% of fan and refrigerator sales in 2030, being in the most efficient bracket.
  • To reduce greenhouse gas emissions, this would have the benefit of lowering consumer electricity bills.
  • India can leverage this transition too as an opportunity to become a global leader in the production of clean appliances.

Such a sector-wise approach, which can and should be developed for other sectors, can demonstrate concrete, yet ambitious, domestic action that sets India on the path toward net zero emissions. It empowers India to insist that developed countries complement their distant net zero targets by enacting concrete near term measures that are less reliant on unsure offsets. It also allows India to nimbly adapt its sectoral transition plans as technologies mature and enable it to ratchet up its pledges periodically as required by the Paris Agreement.

Way Forward

  • Going further, India may even consider committing to submit plausible pathways and timelines to achieving net-zero emissions as part of its future pledges.
  • India can also use this period to develop a strategic road map to enhance its own technology and manufacturing competence as part of the global clean energy supply chain, to gain benefits of employment and export revenues.
  • Such an integrated approach, which is ambitious, credible and rooted in our developmental needs — including climate mitigation needs — will represent an ambitious, forward-looking and results-oriented India.

GS PAPER III                                     

Ingenuity: NASA Mars Mission

Why in News

  • Recently NASA successfully test flight of the Ingenuity (of mass 2-kg) helicopter on Mars ushers in a new era for space exploration.
  • Planets like Mars can be explored much quicker by air than by ground vehicles like rovers.
  • It could also result in significant advances in high-altitude helicopter connectivity on Earth itself.

About Ingenuity

  • Ingenuity flew for 40 seconds at a height of 3 meters above the Martian surface.
  • Lift is generated in order to fly to counter gravity which depends on aircraft design, on gravitational force, and on atmospheric density.
  • Ingenuity operated totally autonomously, running its flight according to pre-arranged instructions.
  • “Choppers” have spin rates of 450-500 rpm (rotations per minute). Ingenuity’s blades can rotate at 2,400 rpm.
  • Achieving such high rpm for the one-meter-long blades was big proof of concept for propulsion technology.
  • It takes over 20 minutes for a radio signal to travel from Earth to Mars. Ingenuity operated totally autonomously, running its flight according to pre-arranged instructions.
  • Mars has about one-third of Earth gravity. But the atmosphere has less than 1% as dense. Atmospheric Pressure of 6 millibars of Mars’ is equivalent to Earth’s atmospheric pressure at 25,000 meters above sea level.
  • The thinner the air, the less the lift.
  • Ingenuity needed a heater and thermostat to be kept warm to withstand up to the minus 100 degrees Celsius temperatures of Martian nights.
  • The short flight opens up exciting possibilities for the future of space exploration which need not be limited to a rover on wheels needing a surface to move on.
  • It has capabilities to explore the moons of Saturn in the future.

Significance of Ingenuity

  • It makes the logistics of supplying installations in high-altitude areas like Siachen and Ladakh very daunting.
  • If the Ingenuity design scales commercially, it would dramatically improve the ability of helicopters to operate at higher altitudes.

Aerial Technology

  • Helicopters (and fixed wing aircraft) use wings with curved surfaces to create lift.
  • Air flows at different speeds on the wing’s upper and lower surfaces, to generate lift.
  • Fixed-wing aircraft move forward to create air-flow.
  • Helicopters spin blades. The faster the rotation, the more the lift.
  • Copters have higher mobility. They can hover, and move in any direction, including flying upside down.
  • Copters are also notoriously hard to control. Blade configurations are complicated. Torque created by one set of blades often has to be balanced by spinning another set of blades in the opposite direction.

History of Aerial Technology

  • The first helicopter design in 1480s. Leonardo Da Vinci conceptualized a two-rotor chopper, powered by a human pedaling a screw mechanism and it works.
  • The first ever powered flight took place in 1903.
  • The Wright Brothers’, Wilbur and Orville Wright Flyer flew for just 12 seconds and it only rose 3 meters off the ground.
  • When Neil Armstrong took his first step on the moon in 1969 it was a small one for man but it represented a giant leap for mankind.

Way Forward

  • The conquest of technology in today’s world might even lead to the designing of helicopters that can one day fly even in the rarefied atmosphere around Mount Everest.
  • The Perseverance rover was only 60 metros away recording the historic flight but just imagine the capabilities of flying machines that can capture images at close quarters of worlds millions of miles away from earth.
  • Such breakthroughs may encourage men who envisage colonizing planets in the solar system to dream on.

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