Sep 26, 2018

Axios Generate

Good morning! Two quick notes:

  • If you're in D.C., join Axios' Mike Allen and European Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager at 8am on Friday for a conversation on global competition and the impact of 5G and similar innovations. RSVP here.
  • Axios' Amy Harder joined Titans of Nuclear, a podcast about nuclear energy, to talk about that resource, everything else in the energy industry and how she got started as a journalist. Check it out on iTunes here and on mobile here.

Onward to music. Today marks the 1969 release date of The Beatles' "Abbey Road," so this lovely cut is today's intro tune...

1 big thing: Parsing Trump's OPEC offensive


The White House is escalating its attacks against OPEC ahead of the midterm elections as the administration tries to get more barrels onto the market.

President Trump's latest broadsides, delivered at the United Nations yesterday, arrive amid oil trading close to 4-year highs.

The big question: Will the White House move to release oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, and perhaps even throw its support behind the (largely symbolic) "NOPEC" legislation that would go after OPEC with U.S. anti-trust laws?

Worth noting: Trump also said the U.S. is working with buyers of Iranian crude to cut purchases "substantially" as energy sanctions loom in early November.

  • That word could be important. His posture toward Iran was bellicose. But "substantially" could be a sign that the U.S. isn't bent on completely squeezing Iranian barrels out of the tight global market yet, according to Frank Verrastro of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The details: Trump's UN move came two days after OPEC and allied producers declined to commit to additional output hikes.

  • He bashed the cartel for "ripping off" the world and said, "we are not going to put up with it, these horrible prices, much longer."
  • "We defend many of these nations for nothing, and then they take advantage of us by giving us high oil prices," Trump said.
  • Later in the day, the State Department's energy feed on Twitter, not typically a rollicking platform for Trump, drew some attention in oil circles by signal-boosting his attacks.

What they're saying: Several analysts said Trump's OPEC remarks signal concern that looming U.S. sanctions on Iran — which are already putting upward pressure on prices — will create political problems ahead of the elections.

"Trump’s statement is more directly aimed at domestic audiences, creating a bogeyman he can point to during election season if gasoline prices rise to levels unacceptable to U.S. voters."
— Atlantic Council's Randy Bell writes

The big picture: "I think Trump used the speech on the world stage to voice his displeasure directly to those Gulf countries in a way that is likely even more impactful than one of his tweets," said Joe McMonigle of Hedgeye Risk Management.

"I expect that further messages are being passed to the leadership of these countries by U.S. officials this week."
— Joe McMonigle tells Axios

The intrigue: Verrastro said one thing to watch is how oil markets weigh Trump's intentions going forward.

  • He sees "countervailing" forces. On the one hand, there's the suggestion of paring back military support in that region that could put upward pressure on prices. On the other hand, there are hints of some wiggle room for Iranian crude buyers that could help lower prices.

Go deeper: Bloomberg has a detailed story about speculation that Trump will tap the SPR.

2. Shell won't join peers in state carbon battle

Amy scoops ... Royal Dutch Shell is sitting out a multi-million dollar fight over a carbon fee proposal in Washington state even as nearly all other oil companies with operations there rally to oppose it.

Why it matters: It’s a sign of the oil industry’s uneven evolution toward pushing policies that put a price on carbon emissions. And whether Washington State voters support the initiative, which is on the state-wide ballot this Election Day, will be a bellwether for other attempts at big climate policy.

Driving the news: In an interview with Axios on the sidelines of a conference in New York Monday, Shell CEO Ben van Beurden criticized aspects of the proposal, but said Shell won't join the industry opposition campaign, which is funded by BP, Chevron and others.

“It [the proposal] doesn’t in my mind win any beauty contests the way it has been designed. ... But we’re not going to fight it. Let me be very clear on that as well.”
— Ben van Beurden

Yes, but: Shell's decision to abstain from the fight is unlikely to win it much praise from critics. Many environmentalists say that despite oil executives rhetorically supporting carbon prices for years, they don’t push for it on Capitol Hill or anywhere else where it’s a live issue — like in Washington state.

Go deeper: Read Amy's full story in the Axios stream.

3. New in finance: Bill Gates and the World Bank

Two breaking stories on low-carbon energy finance this morning...

Venture capital: Quartz has the names of seven energy companies that are getting money from the Bill Gates-led Breakthrough Energy Ventures fund, including...

  • QuantumScape, which they report is a "startup building an all-solid-state battery, which many experts believe is key to the future of electric cars."
  • Commonwealth Fusion Systems, which is a "firm working on a nuclear-fusion reactor that uses high-temperature superconductors and aims to be the first fusion system to produce net-positive energy."

Batteries: Via the Financial Times, "The World Bank plans to back a 'transformative' expansion in the market for batteries used on power grids, with the aim of stimulating new products and applications to meet the need for energy storage in developing countries."

  • The bank is planning $1 billion in lending from its own coffers and another $4 billion from public and private investors, FT's Ed Crooks reports.
4. What's driving down U.S. CO2 emissions

Screenshot: EIA's report "U.S. Energy-Related Carbon Dioxide Emissions, 2017"

New data from the Energy Information Administration nicely captures how renewables are playing a growing role in cutting carbon emissions from electricity production.

Why it matters: The narrative around U.S. progress in driving down emissions over the last decade has often focused on natural gas shoving coal aside. And that's largely true.

  • But the chart above shows how growth in renewables played nearly as large a role as the shift to gas in 2017.

The big picture: Overall, U.S. energy-related CO2 emissions fell by 0.9% in 2017, according to the latest annual EIA report released Tuesday.

  • Emissions have fallen in 7 out of the last 10 years, and last year they were 849 million metric tons, or 14%, below 2005 levels, EIA said.

Yes, but: Transportation emissions rose by 0.8% thanks to increases in CO2 from jet fuel and diesel.

5. Latest in electric vehicles

New deal: Per CNBC, "Luxury electric car maker Lucid plans to offer customers high-speed charging services for electric cars across the United States on a charging network funded by Volkswagen, the companies said Tuesday."

  • Why it matters: Lucid's deal with VW's Electrify America arm is the second big development of late for the luxury EV startup, which this month announced over $1 billion in funding from Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund.

New report: Members of a coalition that spans automakers, efficiency advocates and power companies are out with a new set of recommendations to help cut transportation energy use by 50% by 2050.

  • Several of the proposals from the 50x50 Commission are aimed at boosting deployment of EVs.
  • Members of the broad group, which is led by the nonprofit Alliance to Save Energy, include officials from Audi, GM, Southern Company and many others.
  • Go deeper: Greentech Media has more here.

New incentives (maybe): Via Bloomberg, "California will hold a hearing this week on offering a $4,500 subsidy for each pure electric vehicle sold in the state, up from the current $2,500, even as customers from Tesla Inc. and General Motors Co. face the loss of even bigger federal credits."