S&R Associates presents the third issue of its quarterly roundup series on clean energy. Here, we cover updates from the period between the months of July and October of 2023.
This issue comprises regulatory updates on renewable energy and electric vehicles, respectively, including central and state government notifications in this regard, along with India-related updates and international developments.
In addition, we provide an overview of carbon credits, including in respect of its market dynamics.
Every year, Indians require 10 million new homes. At the same time, global markets are increasingly focused on sustainability, climate change and ESG-related goals. The confluence of such factors has created various opportunities to employ climate-responsive construction techniques, including through the use of eco-friendly and sustainable material. Relatedly, the interplay of energy-efficient solutions, green-certified buildings, targeted investments and financing, key legislative changes, government incentives and a coordinated regulatory framework, as well as increased digitalization, may change this ecosystem in fundamental ways.
The idea of carbon credits, including the establishment of a market for such credits, has generated significant global attention in recent years. While this idea is not new, it has become especially important today to understand what such credits entail and how these can benefit businesses – given the worldwide momentum towards ESG-related goals.
Carbon market transactions involve the purchase of emission rights from entities which have the technical and/or economic ability to reduce emissions. India’s Carbon Credit Trading Scheme, 2023 defines a ‘carbon credit’ to mean a value assigned to a reduction, removal or avoidance of emitted greenhouse gases amounting to one metric ton of CO2 or its equivalent. Accordingly, certificates may be issued by the government under the newly amended Energy Conservation Act, 2001.
In regulated carbon markets, each registered/obligated entity may be allotted a certain number of credits. Those that produce fewer emissions than the number of credits issued by the government (or an authorized agency) may enjoy a surplus. Conversely, companies with older and/or less efficient operations may generate more emissions than their credit allocation. The latter category may then look to buy credits to balance their emissions, including on account of a regulatory mandate.
This exchange between buyers and sellers will establish the market price. If it is cheaper for an emitter to trade in, rather than control, emissions, they can buy credits. Those that find it feasible to reduce emissions at a cost less than the market price can sell. Emissions trading can thus transform the right to emit a pollutant into a tradable good and create economic incentives for reduction.
S&R Associates presents the second issue of its quarterly roundup series on clean energy. Here, we cover the period between the months of April and June, 2023.
Broadly, this issue comprises regulatory updates on renewable energy and electric vehicles, respectively, including central and state government notifications in this regard, India-related updates and international developments, as well as other miscellaneous items.
In addition, separate analyses with respect to the newly introduced carbon credit trading framework in India provide an overview of the country’s proposed carbon market. Lastly, we discuss the advisability of green hydrogen certification in India.
In February, SEBI released a consultation paper on disclosures, ratings, and investing related to ESG, pursuant to which an assurance-driven reporting regime based on key ESG attributes (“BRSR Core”) may be introduced soon.
BRSR Core is intended to represent a focused subset of the Business Responsibility and Sustainability Reporting (“BRSR”) framework, which SEBI had introduced in May 2021 as a voluntary disclosure regime in lieu of the erstwhile Business Responsibility Reporting (“BRR”) paradigm. The main motivation behind introducing the BRSR framework was to ensure quantitative, standardized disclosures on ESG-linked parameters. While until FY 21-22, the top 1,000 listed companies in India by market capitalization could make disclosures under this framework on a voluntary basis, such disclosures are compulsory from FY 22-23.
This article provides an overview of category-wise BRSR compliance requirements. Further, it highlights some of the benefits and opportunities, along with potential legal risks, associated with such disclosures. The article also discusses some of the concerns and innovations related to the BRSR Core framework, including in light of SEBI’s proposals with respect to adjusting intensity ratios for country-level purchasing power parity and extending disclosure requirements to corporate supply chains.
Given India’s climate ambitions, a national transition to green hydrogen (“GH”) appears to be a pressing requirement. In August 2021, India announced the launch of its ‘National Hydrogen Mission’ (“NHM”) to scale up GH production. In February 2022, the Ministry of Power (“MoP”) announced the Green Hydrogen Policy (“GHP”) as the first tranche of instruments to bolster efforts in this direction. Among other elements, the GHP included an understanding that the renewable energy (“RE”) consumed for the production of GH will count towards renewable purchase obligations (“RPO”) of the consuming entity. This January, India’s Union Cabinet approved the National Green Hydrogen Mission (“NGHM”). In February, the Budget confirmed an outlay of almost INR 200 billion for NGHM. While the NGHM aims to develop policies for establishing a viable GH ecosystem, a framework of standards and regulations is expected to be formulated soon.
However, given the government’s accelerated focus on transforming India into a global GH hub, it is unfortunate that the country does not yet have a supporting framework with respect to hydrogen certification. The proposed deployment and uptake of Indian GH will depend on the widespread acceptance of instruments which guarantee its origin. In addition, such a framework can facilitate the trading of hydrogen as a commodity on national and international markets. While national certification processes must align with international markets, tracking systems will be necessary to trace attributes across the value chain, including for the purpose of creating transparency and boosting demand. Furthermore, a robust certification framework can increase investments in RE for the purpose of producing low-carbon hydrogen.
The GH value chain includes production, transportation, storage, and end-use. Each of these activities involves several underlying processes, every one of which requires the use of energy – thus leading to emissions. These emissions can vary depending on the material and technology used. Although color schemes are popular to characterize different types of hydrogen, color-coding by itself fails to provide meaningful details about associated emissions. For instance, even post-production, GH can be involved in significant emissions by the time it reaches an end-use facility, especially if the energy required for constituent processes is not fully supplied through renewable sources.
While RE certificates (“RECs”) help consumers identify the renewable attributes of the energy purchased/used, being able to have the origin credibly certified enables them to make claims about a certain volume of RE generated. For the purpose of GH certification, in addition to RECs, India could draw on tracking templates for other energy products (e.g., biofuels). Further, given that hydrogen is not a primary source of energy (only a carrier), creating a proper link between GH certificates and RECs will be important. Such linkage is additionally necessary to avoid double-counting. Nevertheless, since GH markets are still at a nascent stage, a transitional period could be allowed during which the electrolyzers used to produce GH are enabled to utilize power from existing renewable plants, backed by RECs.
The global pivot on sustainable development has revitalized preferences among both occupiers and developers for certified green commercial buildings. Given emerging ESG trends, most MNCs looking to lease or set up offices in India are keen to occupy premises with green and/or sustainability ratings. This trend has created significant demand for commercial assets with energy-efficient ratings, which in turn has incentivized developers to upgrade and shift focus towards green buildings. Concomitantly, green financing may be on the rise, as domestic and offshore investors seek high-quality Grade A projects that are sustainable and ESG compliant. As part of their short-term ESG goals, listed developers may want to increase their green portfolio by the end of the decade, along with ramping up renewable energy deployment.
In this situation, it is useful to examine the cost of pursuing such green goals, given the existing housing demand in India in terms of both residential buildings and Grade A commercial/industrial assets. Emerging evidence suggests that green buildings are a higher-value, lower-risk asset than standard structures. Local developers are increasingly realizing that additional capital expenditure incurred upfront is likely to be offset by significant savings over the long term on operational costs.
The Energy Conservation (Amendment) Act, 2022 (“EC Amendment”) has included large residential buildings under its regulatory regime, along with enhancing the scope of the Energy Conservation Building Code (“ECBC”). Further, the EC Amendment has introduced the idea of sustainability, where a new building code related to energy conservation will provide norms for the use of renewable sources and green buildings. While the ECBC applies to a specified category of commercial buildings only, the new code will apply to office and residential buildings as well. Nevertheless, future digitalization may expand opportunities further. The diffusion of internet-connected devices in the residential and commercial sectors may allow added integration across demand and supply, such as by meeting India’s large-scale tri-generation requirements (cooling, heating, and power) through smart cities and district energy systems involving ‘cooling as a service’ (CaaS).
India’s debut issuance of sovereign green bonds by auction provides a significant opportunity to ascertain the current market appetite for such sustainability-linked initiatives, including among institutional investors. Indeed, such bonds have been successful in the past in the context of an eclectic set of sovereign issuances. Among other things, standards established by such issuance may lead to welcome improvements in the Indian bond market in general terms. For instance, Indian companies may want to ride on enhanced credibility standards, as applicable, and seek to better address persistent concerns related to greenwashing. Such broad advantages notwithstanding, in this piece, we look at some of the finer details related to India’s debut sovereign green bond issuance.
Consistent with India’s ambitious climate-related targets, significant investments are being made in the domestic renewable energy sector, driven largely by private sector activity. Acquisitions and bonds represent a large portion of this capital, along with foreign equity, traditional loans, and mezzanine financing. Enabled by an encouraging FDI regime as well as locally-targeted regulatory schemes – such as incentives introduced by the government to bolster domestic capacity and manufacturing – self-sufficiency and foreign capital now constitute an integrated ecosystem. Along with conventional means of financing, newer frameworks such as infrastructure investment trusts specifically set up in the renewables space could be better explored in the future, especially in light of the urgency with which India needs to catch up towards its climate targets. Legislative changes in respect of the power markets – such as those related to trading in renewable energy certificates (RECs) – may also be curated by appropriate regulatory bodies to expand upon existing revenue streams.
On August 22, 2022, the Government of India notified the new regime for overseas investments by Indian entities and individuals. The new regime is a mixed bag of liberalizations, new restrictions and clarifications, and signals the revised thinking of the Reserve Bank of India in certain respects, particularly in relation to the scope of overseas investments and round tripping. This note discusses the changes introduced by the new regime and its impact on cross border transactions.