Mar 13, 2020 - Energy & Environment

The impact of coronavirus spans the energy universe

An illustration of a cracked or wounded lightning bolt.

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The effects of the coronavirus on renewable energy, electric vehicles and oil are all coming into sharper focus in recent days.

Why it matters: A report from research firm BloombergNEF provides a window onto the breadth of the virus' effects on a suite of energy technologies, not just use of oil.

  • The addition of new solar power generating capacity could fall this year for the first time since at least the late 1980s. The biggest upheaval comes in China.
  • For wind, researchers see "considerable downside risk" to their prior forecasts for new wind installations of 75 gigawatts of new capacity, but still expect a record year. The amount of the drop will depend on how fast Chinese suppliers resume full production and the duration of construction delays in the U.S.
  • Another problem for the wind industry is that canceled events and company travel bans are "threatening to weaken transaction volumes" this year.
  • For electric vehicles, they're not immune to the wider decline in car sales stemming from coronavirus, the report notes. In China, the largest market, they expect sales to be flat, but add that the numbers could fall if coronavirus recovery drags on.
  • In the U.S., the report provisionally sees flat EV sales this year, but adds, "this could be revised down." It cites other headwinds, including uncertainty over fuel economy rules, expiring tax credits for some automakers' vehicles and low oil prices.

The big picture: They say the "distracted policymaker effects" of coronavirus could affect renewables and battery storage policies as legislative bodies shut down or work on emergency response.

But, but, but: There are also hopeful signs in the analysis. For instance, researchers see "minimal" effect on the offshore wind sector outside of China.

  • And BloombergNEF expects EV sales to "weather the storm better than sales of internal combustion vehicles."
  • It sees a 50% rise in Europe as automakers try to meet carbon emissions standards, and expect the Chinese government to announce a major stimulus program for the auto sector.

Go deeper: Coronavirus poses threat to China’s electric vehicle goals (Financial Times)

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include information about estimated U.S. electric vehicle sales.

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