Bills/Act/LawsDOMRExplainedGovt. SchemesHistorical Sites in NewsIOCRMains Onlyop-ed of the dayop-ed snapPIBPrelims OnlyPriority 1SC JudgementsSpecies in NewsStates in News
August 2019

Renewable Energy – Wind, Tidal, Geothermal, etc.

[op-ed snap] Renewable hybrid energy systems as a game changer


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Hybrid solar wind


Two recent auctions for wind/solar hybrid projects conducted were under-subscribed. However, we can believe that renewable hybrids can play a key role in helping India accelerate the decarbonization of power generation and lowering the cost of electricity in the medium term.


  1. Bids totaling 1.56GW were awarded against a total of 2.4GW on offer. The discovered prices were marginally below the ceiling tariff of₹2.70. 
  2. India added 65-70GW of wind and solar capacity so far, with wind and solar contributing 9.5% of generated energy in 2019.
  3. If the government target of 175GW is achieved by 2022, this share could exceed 15-16%.

Renewable energy – inherent challenges

  1. It relies on intermittent sources, producing energy only when the sun is shining or the wind is blowing.
  2. Its output is constrained to specific hours of the day.
  3. Its use leads to lower utilization of transmission lines. This can create issues in matching peak power demand with renewable output and raise the costs of transmission. 
  4. Countries with renewable energy penetration of 15% indicate that flexible energy resources that can rapidly ramp up or down are needed. These could include hydro or gas-based power, or energy storage solutions.

Renewable hybrids can be a solution

  1. A hybrid system can combine wind, solar with an additional resource of generation or storage.
    1. In India, solar output is maximum between 11am and 3pm, while wind output is highest in the late evening and early morning.
    2. Peak demand for power is reached in the evening hours of 6-9pm, which cannot be catered to by either wind or solar.
    3. If we can store some energy during excess renewable generation hours and release it into the grid during peak demand hours, the combined “hybrid” system can produce 24×7 clean energy as per varying levels of demand in the day. 
  2. The storage can take many forms, such as batteries, pumped hydro or mechanical storage through the flywheel. 
  3. The intermittency of wind and solar could also be balanced by adding a fast ramping source of power such as an open cycle gas turbine. 
  4. Hybrid systems are driven by reducing costs of battery storage and solar energy. 
  5. An optimal combination of solar, wind and storage can deliver stable round-the-clock power at today’s costs of around ₹6-7/kWh. Though this is significantly higher compared to baseload coal plants, lithium-ion battery costs are expected to fall from current $220-240/kWh to below $100 in the next 3-4 years.
  6. Costs of solar energy have fallen from ₹4.63/kWh in 2016 to ₹2.50/kWh in the latest auctions and may fall as low as ₹2/kWh in the next 3-5 years.
  7. McKinsey’s proprietary modeling suggests that if the above improvements are factored in, wind-solar storage hybrid systems could generate round-the-clock power with cost as well as reliability levels comparable to existing coal-fired power plants in the next 4-5 years.

Ministry of new and renewable energy’s solar-wind hybrid policy, 2018 provides a framework to promote grid-connected hybrid energy through set-ups that would use land and transmission infrastructure optimally and also manage the variability of renewable resources to some extent.

WTO and India

[op-ed snap] WTO may still emerge as the lynchpin of global trade governance


India and China are stripped of the “developing nations” status.


  1. Trump has reiterated that India and China have benefited immensely by misusing the developing country tag. 
  2. He blamed the WTO for this lapse and reiterated his threat to leave the institution.

Background of various countries

  1. China: The growing economic and military might presents the Chinese an opportunity 
  2. US: It fears to lose the mantle of the world’s preeminent power after three decades of unchecked hegemony.
  3. Chinese rise and US fears are straining their bilateral trade and causing collateral damage to the institution.

Nature of contemporary trade

  1. Structural transformation – Since the WTO came into being in 1995, the world has witnessed massive structural changes.
  2. Technologies- New technologies have transformed the way we live, communicate, and trade. In 1995, less than 0.8% of the world’s population used the internet; in June 2019 it was around 57%.
  3. Complex production chains – Communication technologies and containerization lowered costs and boosted volumes of components of the trade. This allowed production chains to become increasingly international and also complex. An iPhone has about 14 main components that are manufactured by 7-8 multinational companies in more than 40 countries.
  4. Increased trade volumes – Overall trade in goods has nearly quadrupled since 1995. Growth in trade has exceeded growth in world GDP and has been associated with improved standards of living.
  5. Reduced tariffs –  WTO members’ import tariffs have declined by an average of 15%. Over half of world trade is now tariff-free. 

What WTO does

  1. WTO regulates more than 98% of global trade flows among its members.
  2. It also monitors the implementation of free trade agreements.
  3. It produces research on global trade and economic policy.
  4. It serves as a forum for settling trade disputes between nations.

Assessing WTO

  1. An alternate way to look at the WTO’s success to see the damage in trade value has helped avert. One estimate puts the value of avoided trade wars at $340 billion per year.
  2. The US had earlier used Super-301 legislation to designate specific countries as unfair traders and threatened them with higher tariffs unless they fell in line. Countries such as India and Brazil refused to negotiate under threat of US sanctions. 
  3. A measure is defined as unilateral if it is imposed by a country without invoking the WTO dispute settlement procedures or other multilateral international rules and procedures. Unilateral measures are inconsistent with the letter and the spirit of multilateralism. Article 23 of the Dispute Settlement Understanding prohibits members from doing so.
  4. Dispute Settlement in the WTO has become dysfunctional and appeals to the appellate body are taking longer than the prescribed 90 days.

The multilateral process needs to be strengthened and it cannot happen until the strongest member is vested in it. WTO may still emerge as the lynchpin of global trade governance.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

[op-ed snap] Raja Mandala: What India has to offer in the Gulf


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : India Gulf countries relations


Narendra Modi’s visit to the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain underlines India’s continuing commitment to relations with the Gulf region.

Gulf region – a new approach to India

  1. Gulf Kingdoms are eager to develop an independent relationship with India, independent of their relationship with Pakistan. 
  2. Modi is being honored with the Zayed Medal, the highest civilian honor in the Emirates.
  3. Some Gulf countries have expanded counter-terror cooperation with India, extending support to India in the conflict over Jammu and Kashmir. They have sought to open the OIC platform for India despite Pakistan’s objections.
  4. Gulf kingdoms have begun to address many of the long-standing Indian concerns with respect to the Indian diaspora and expatriate labor. 
  5. Gulf has begun to see India as a major economic partner. Saudi decision to pick up a 2% stake in the oil business of Reliance Industries Limited and UAE’s support for the construction of India’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve are two examples of deepening energy interdependence.

Challenges/ Way ahead

  1. Regional political turbulence – Paying greater attention to the domestic dynamics in the different kingdoms. A new trend has been the effort to promote moderate Islam in the region.
    1. UAE has been at the forefront of this effort.
    2. In Saudi Arabia, Crown Prince has taken some small but significant steps to liberalize the economy and society.
    3. India should offer strong public support for the reform agenda in the region.
  2. India must reciprocate the strategic economic cooperation ranging from energy and digital innovation to arms production and space technology. China has moved quickly to elevate its economic and commercial profile in the region.
  3. Expanding security cooperation: The highly vulnerable Gulf has long depended upon Britain and the US to protect themselves from threats.  Trump’s talk on downsizing America’s role in the Gulf is encouraging the region to diversify its security partnerships. India must have a proactive strategy for defense cooperation in the region.
  4. India’s instinct was to avoid getting drawn into the conflicts. But it can’t be a permanent Indian security strategy in the Gulf. India must vision itself contributing to the regional security in whatever manner it can.

Household Air Pollution in India


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : PM 2.5, PMUY

Mains level : Household air pollution in India


  • A study published by the Collaborative Clean Air Policy Centre states that the single greatest contributor to air pollution in India is the burning of solid fuels in households.
  • The burning of such solid fuels, like firewood, impacts the health of household members accounts for somewhere between 22% to 52% of all ambient air pollution in India.
  • The study postulates that based on this evidence, switching to cleaner fuels such as LPG for household use will have a dramatic impact on pollution levels and health problems due to pollution.

What is Household Air Pollution and how dangerous is it?

  • Fine particulate matter refers to particles or droplets with a diameter of 2.5 micrometers (0.000001 metres) or less, and is also known as PM2.5.
  • The emissions of PM 2.5 generated by the burning of solid fuels in households is termed Household Air Pollution (HAP).
  • The study claims that approximately 800,000 premature deaths occur in India every year as a result of exposure to HAP indoors.
  • Moreover, the HAP produced indoors travels outdoors, and becomes a contributor to ambient air pollution, with around 300,000 more premature deaths per year attributable to exposure to outdoor HAP.
  • The full impact of HAP is thus composed of the exposures to HAP 1) inside and around a given house and 2) from the household contribution to ambient air pollution states the study.
  • The median estimate for the contribution of HAP is, according to the study, around 30%, far greater than that of industries (2%-10%), power plants (8%-15%), and transportation (8%-11%).
  • The contribution of HAP to premature mortality is, as per the median across all studies, 58% higher than premature mortality due to coal use, 303% higher than that due to open burning, and 1,056% higher than that due to transportation.

Why should solid fuels be avoided?

  • Firewood, animal dung, and agricultural waste are some of the fuels commonly used in households across India as a means of generating energy for cooking, light, and heating, among other things.
  • One of the many pollutants produced on the burning of such solid fuels is fine particulate matter.
  • Such particles can travel deep into the respiratory system, and exposure to them can cause several adverse health effects, both short-term and long-term, including respiratory problems and heart disease.

How many people use solid fuels in India?

  • In states such as Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Assam, around 72.1% of the population regularly uses solid fuels.
  • The median annual ambient is 125.3µg/m^3, a level that is rated “unhealthy” as per the Air Quality Index, and can lead to serious health concerns with prolonged exposure.

What are the study’s recommendations?

  • The study asserts that immediate action is required to rectify the harm caused by HAP.
  • It points to initiatives undertaken by the government of India to promote LPG for use in households as opposed to the traditionally used solid fuels, such as the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana.
  • However, the study claims that more effort is required, in particular, increasing the use of electricity as a substitute in these scenarios, and ensuring that the use of LPG is sustained.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-United States

 ‘Public Charge’ in US immigration policy


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Public Charge

Mains level : US Visa policy and impacts on Indian diaspora

  • Last week, the US signalled a major change in its green card policy, by announcing an expansion in the meaning of the term “public charge”.
  • The new rule could drastically reduce legal immigration to the US.

The ‘Public Charge’

The present definition, according to the website of the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), is as follows:

  1. For purposes of determining inadmissibility, “public charge” means an individual who is likely to become primarily dependent on the government for subsistence, as demonstrated by either the receipt of public cash assistance for income maintenance or institutionalization for long-term care at government expense.
  2. The programs falling under the above definition include Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) cash assistance, state and local General Assistance programs and long-term care programs like Medicaid among others.
  3. Programs generally not considered under “public charge” include “non-cash benefits” such as public schools, childcare services, Medicaid (non long-term), public assistance for vaccinations, emergency medical services, Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), nutrition programs like Food Stamps, foster care and adoption assistance and job training programs.

Consequences of an immigrant becoming a ‘public charge’

  • Under the existing policy, USCIS immigration officers can deny a green card on “public charge” grounds if the applicant is “likely to become primarily dependent on the government for subsistence”.
  • This discretionary power has to be exercised only after looking into “the totality of the circumstances”, including factors such as age, health, financial status, education, and skills.
  • Inadmissibility on “public charge” grounds can only take place in green card proceedings, and not in those for citizenship (which in most cases is sought when the applicant already has a green card).

What has the Trump administration changed?

  • The new rule expands the ambit of the term “public charge”, by introducing additional conditions that could preclude an immigrant from obtaining a green card.
  • Major changes include: more welfare programs being included in the “public charge” list, the taking into consideration of even past use of benefits, and a significant increase in the family and individual income criteria.

Impact of the move

  • The rule is also criticised for its possible long term impact on the US, as legal immigrants already residing in the country would now be fearful of availing essential services.
  • Critics have alleged a racial bias, saying that the move targets immigrants from developing countries, while prioritizing more affluent applicants from the global North.

International Space Agencies – Missions and Discoveries

Tardigrade: the water bear


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Tardigrade

Mains level : Not Much

  • On this April 11, the Israeli spacecraft Beresheet attempted to land on the Moon, but crashed on the surface.
  • It was carrying a number of items — including thousands of specimens of a living organism called Tardigrade.


  • The Tardigrade, also known as water bear, is among the toughest and most resilient creatures on Earth.
  • The Tardigrade can only be seen under a microscope.
  • Half a millimeter long, it is essentially a water-dweller but also inhabits land and, a 2008 study found, can survive in the cold vacuum of outer space.
  • It derives its name from the fact that it looks like an eight-legged bear, with a mouth that can project out like a tongue.
  • Its body has four segments supported by four pairs of clawed legs.
  • A tardigrade typically eats fluids, using its claws and mouth to tear open plant and animal cells, so that it can suck nutrients out of them.
  • It is also known to feast on bacteria and, in some cases, to kill and eat other tardigrades. Although they are famed for their resilience, they are destructible too.
  • Should a human being swallow a tardigrade with her food, her stomach acid will cause the flesh of the tardigrade to disintegrate.

Survival instinct

  • In 2017, a study found that if all other life were to be wiped out by a cataclysmic event — a large asteroid impact, a supernova or a gamma-ray bursts — the tardigrade would be the likeliest to survive.
  • It can endure extreme hot and cold temperature levels.
  • Although the tardigrades on the Israeli spacecraft were dehydrated, the organism is known to “come back to life” on rehydration.
  • In fact, they themselves expel water from their bodies and set off a mechanism to protect their cells, and can still revive if placed in water later.
  • However, there is no evidence of liquid water on the Moon, although there is ice.
  • Without liquid water, it is possible that the tardigrades will remain in their current state, unless future astronauts find them and revive them in water.

Air Pollution

India biggest emitter of sulphur dioxide: report using NASA data


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Sulphur Pollution

Mains level : Curbing air pollution

India largest emitter of sulfur

  • A new report by Greenpeace India shows the country is the largest emitter of sulphur dioxide in the world, with more than 15% of all the anthropogenic sulphur dioxide hotspots.
  • This was detected by the NASA OMI (Ozone Monitoring Instrument) satellite.
  • Almost all of these emissions in India are because of coal-burning, the report says.
  • The Singrauli, Neyveli, Talcher, Jharsuguda, Korba, Kutch, Chennai, Ramagundam, Chandrapur and Koradi thermal power plants or clusters are the major emission hotspots in India.

Why India?

  • The vast majority of coal-based power plants in India lack flue-gas desulphurization technology to reduce air pollution.
  • In a first step to combat pollution levels, the MoEFCC introduced, for the first time, sulphur dioxide emission limits for coal-fired power plants in December 2015.
  • But the deadline for the installation of flue-gas desulphurization (FGD) in power plants has been extended from 2017 to 2022.

NASA data

  • The report also includes NASA data on the largest point sources of sulphur dioxide.
  • The largest sulphur dioxide emission hotspots have been found in Russia, South Africa, Iran, Saudi Arabia, India, Mexico, United Arab Emirates, Turkey and Serbia.
  • Air pollutant emissions from power plants and other industries continue to increase in India, Saudi Arabia and Iran, the report says.
  • In Russia, South Africa, Mexico and Turkey, emissions are currently not increasing — however, there is not a lot of progress in tackling them either.

India is the loser

  • Of the world’s major emitters, China and the United States have been able to reduce emissions rapidly.
  • They have achieved this feat by switching to clean energy sources.
  • China, in particular, has achieved success by dramatically improving emission standards and enforcement for sulphur dioxide control.

Climate Change Impact on India and World – International Reports, Key Observations, etc.

Okjokull Glacier, Iceland


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Location of the glacier

Mains level : Sea level rise and global warming

  • Iceland loses about 11 billion tonnes of ice per year, and scientists fear that all of the island country’s 400-plus glaciers will be gone by 2200.
  • In Iceland, people gathered to commemorate the loss of the glacier Okjokull, which was officially declared dead in 2014 at the age of 700.

Okjokull Glacier is now dead

  • Okjokull, also called OK (jokull is Icelandic name for “glacier”), was part of the Langjökull group.
  • The glacier was officially declared dead by the Icelandic Meteorological Office when it was no longer thick enough to move.
  • What once was glacier has been reduced to a small patch of ice atop a volcano.
  • The people attending the ceremony will walk up the volcano northeast of the capital Reykjavik to lay a plaque which carries a letter to the future.
  • The plaque is also labelled “415 ppm CO2”, referring to the record level of carbon dioxide measured in the atmosphere in May 2018.

Why is Iceland mourning?

  • An ice-free Iceland represents more than just an identity crisis for Icelanders.
  • If global leaders don’t take action to slow rising temperatures, the melting of Greenland’s ice sheet alone could raise sea-levels more than five feet in the next 200 years.
  • Enormous quantities of methane slumbering in the Arctic permafrost are threatening to come alive as record temperatures fry the poles.
  • Two fast-melting glaciers in Antarctica are holding back enough sea ice to flood oceans with another 11 feet of water.

Indian Ocean Power Competition

[pib] National Maritime Domain Awareness Project


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : NMDA Project, SAGAR

Mains level : Maritime Security in IOR

  • Raksha Mantri visited the Information Management and Analysis Centre (IMAC) and Information Fusion Centre – Indian Ocean Region (IFC-IOR) located at Gurugram.
  • The two centres function under the National Maritime Domain Awareness (NMDA) Project.

About NMDA project

  • The NMDA project was launched in accordance with the vision of PM on SAGAR (Security and Growth for All in the Region).
  • The IMAC monitors movement of more than 120,000 ships a year passing through the Indian Ocean.
  • The cargo carried by these ships account for 66 per cent of world crude oil, 50 per cent of container traffic and 33 per cent of bulk cargo.
  • Thus, IMAC performs a very crucial role in collecting shipping information, analysing traffic patterns and sharing the inputs with the user agencies.
  • IFC-IOR is a collaborative initiative by the Indian Navy in coordination with partner nations and multi-national maritime agencies to enhance Maritime Domain Awareness and Maritime Security.
  • The Centre is likely to host International Liaison Officers from the partner nations in the near future.


SAGAR (Security and Growth for All in the Region) Programme

  • SAGAR is a term coined by PM Modi in 2015 during his Mauritius visit with a focus on blue economy.
  • It is a maritime initiative which gives priority to Indian Ocean region for ensuring peace, stability and prosperity of India in Indian Ocean region.
  • The goal is to seek a climate of trust and transparency; respect for international maritime rules and norms by all countries; sensitivity to each other`s interests; peaceful resolution of maritime issues; and increase in maritime cooperation.
  • It is in line with the principles of Indian Ocean Rim Association.