Mar 18, 2024 - Energy & Environment

View from Houston: CERAWeek's competing visions

Illustration of two overlaid images of the Houston skyline with a lightning bolt pattern over them.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

HOUSTON — This week, a huge events center here will be ground zero for battles over the shape and speed of the energy transition.

Why it matters: CERAWeek by S&P Global opens Monday with speeches from Big Oil CEOs and top Biden officials. It serves as a window into policy divisions and areas for potential cooperation.

The big picture: The international confab is much more too — private government-industry huddles, big-name onstage interviews, sideline dealmaking, and a large clean technology event with startups galore.

Ahead of the confab, Axios chatted with S&P's Dan Yergin, the Pulitzer-winning energy historian and CERAWeek emcee, about big themes this week.

Behind the scenes: U.S. electricity thirst is jumping after many years of flat consumption, amid rising use of EVs, new manufacturing, and artificial intelligence growth.

  • "One of the biggest things ... is the whole new outlook on electricity demand, and AI data centers [have] been a big driver of it," Yergin said.
  • More broadly, "AI is going to be a big thread running through the entire conference," Yergin said.

Inside the room: Geopolitical tensions are a major theme. CERAWeek is happening amid the Middle East crisis, and, for the third time, Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

  • That guarantees focus on energy security — and how it intersects with climate policy.
  • Two wars, plus Western conflict with Iranian proxies, having rather little effect on oil prices shows the "powerful" geopolitical and market psychology impact of the U.S. shale boom, Yergin said.

Follow the money: Implementation of hundreds of billions of dollars in federal support from Biden's climate law will be a big topic, he said.

Context: The controversial White House pause on liquefied natural gas export approvals — and how importers view it — will be a hot topic.

  • "I think people are hoping that there will be clarification at CERAWeek as to what the pause means."

Mining and mineral markets are also a hot topic. "The conference represents the reality that metals and mining have become part of the energy complex because of energy transition demand," Yergin said.

What we're watching: Elections here and beyond. "For all parts of the energy industry — whether you're in renewables, whether you're an oil and gas, whether you're in technology — you recognize that this will be a very momentous election in terms of the energy trajectory," Yergin says, addressing the looming contest between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump.

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