Jul 13, 2018

Axios Generate

By Ben Geman
Ben GemanAmy Harder

Happy Friday! Monday will mark the 1974 release date of Neil Young's "On the Beach," but let's honor it now with this intro song...

1 big thing: Exxon's climate move is very Exxon

Exxon said yesterday that it won't renew its membership in the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a move that follows a dispute over climate policy but comes years after other major oil companies left the group.

Driving the news: According to several reports, in late 2017 Exxon was among the companies that opposed and helped defeat a draft ALEC resolution attacking the Obama-era "endangerment finding" that said greenhouse gases threaten humans — a conclusion that provides the legal underpinning of regulations.

The intrigue: Exxon declined to explain why it's leaving ALEC, which brings together companies and conservative state lawmakers. But nor did the company push back on reports that linked it to the recent debate.

My thought bubble: That's a pretty Exxon way of approaching a climate topic. The company is less outspoken on global warming in general than some of its peers, including Shell, BP and Equinor.

  • Consider that Exxon supports taxing carbon emissions and is among the corporate founding members of Climate Leadership Council, a nonprofit group pushing a CO2 tax plan that would return the revenues to the public.
  • However, while Exxon supports a tax, there's no evidence that the company actually lobbies lawmakers to implement one.

What they're saying: "If I know one thing about Exxon, it's that the company never wants to be seen to bow to pressure," said Andrew Logan, oil and gas director for the sustainable investor advocacy group Ceres.

One level deeper: Several major corporations have abandoned ALEC in recent years, but their exit styles vary. Shell explicitly cited differences over climate when it bailed in 2015, but BP, when announcing its departure that year, didn't offer a reason.

Go deeper: Read the full story in the Axios stream.

2. What hotter nights mean for power
Expand chart
Map and magnitude of hottest overnight low temperature records. Data: National Centers for Environmental Information; Map: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

Axios' Andrew Freedman reports ... Heat waves roasted much of the Lower 48 states during the past several weeks, setting thousands of temperature records.

Hot nights: In some cases, such as in southern California, the overnight lows were as warm as the average daytime high for the date.

  • This was also true during the East Coast heat wave in late June and early July. On July 2, Burlington, Vt., set a record for its hottest overnight low temperature on record for any night of the year, when the temperature never fell below 80°F.

Go deeper: Read the full story in the Axios stream.

The power angle: Hotter nighttime temperatures have several implications, including increased power demand due to more air conditioning use, and more stress on transmission and distribution equipment that doesn't get to cool off, experts say.

One level deeper: University of Texas' Joshua Rhodes explains that for buildings, this means more demand at night that also bleeds into the next day.

  • Typically, night provides “free cooling” of buildings, that is, when temperatures are colder they shed heat built up during the day.
  • But hotter nights impede this because less heat is dissipated back into the ambient air, and also because warm air holds more water, which also stymies this radiative heat-shedding.
  • “You will have buildings that start going into the next day being warmer than they would have been," said Rhodes, a research fellow at the Energy Institute at UT-Austin.
3. Apple's new China fund pushes renewables

Apple said yesterday that it's joining with 10 suppliers to launch a new "China Clean Energy Fund" to enable its large supplier network there to expand renewable power use.

  • The tech giant announced a list of 10 suppliers that will work with the company to invest around $300 million over four years in projects that total over a gigawatt of power.

Why it matters: Corporate sourcing is increasingly a driver of renewable power deployment, and Apple's move show how it can evolve to fold in supply chains too.

The intrigue: Via the Wall Street Journal, "Apple has gone on a charm offensive in China in recent years as it has looked to shore up its relationship with the Chinese government and consumers."

Strength in numbers: Apple said that joint efforts will enable suppliers "greater purchasing power and the ability to attain more attractive and diverse clean energy solutions."

China's incentive: Per Reuters, "China’s government has made cutting pollution a key priority, putting pressure on local and international firms to help reduce high levels of smog in its major cities and clean up the country’s waterways and polluted soil."

The big picture: Apple said in April that all of its direct operations worldwide are now powered wholly by renewables, and that nearly two-dozen suppliers have made that commitment for their Apple-related work.

4. Iran sanctions and revenue: It's complicated

New analysis by a Columbia University sanctions expert Richard Nephew explores an interesting reason why trying to hit Iran economically with oil sanctions isn't as simple as it looks.

Why it matters: The U.S is preparing to resume sanctions against buyers of Iranian crude in November, a move that will remove barrels from the market and could put upward pressure on prices, even as other OPEC members and Russia are increasing production.

  • Currently Iran exports roughly 2.4 million barrels per day, but it's unclear how much exports will fall under reimposed sanctions.

The intrigue: If prices go substantially up in a tight market, Iran's export revenue losses would be lessened — or might not even occur at all if prices really soar, writes Nephew in the commentary released via Columbia's Center on Global Energy Policy.

  • "Naturally, if oil prices remain roughly the same, every lost barrel of Iranian oil exports means a real economic loss to the Iranian government," writes Nephew, a State Department sanctions official under former President Obama.
  • "However, if oil prices go up . . . the immediate revenue impact of sanctions can be mitigated, potentially entirely. "
  • "[A]t $130 per barrel, Iran need only export 1.38 million bpd to average the same daily revenue as at $75 per barrel with 2.4 million bpd in exports. With a more conservative oil price increase—for example, to only $100 per barrel—Iran would generate the same revenue if it exported only 1.8 million bpd."

What they're saying: Bank of America Merrill Lynch analysts, in a new research note from this morning, caution that sanctions won't bite anytime soon, and they expect Brent crude prices to average $70 this year. They write:

"First and foremost, we expect a sizeable increase in supply from OPEC and Russia over the coming three months ... and we think the Trump administration will delay 'hard' sanctions on Iran until the end of the year due to the US mid-term election."
5. Quote of the day
"The president, he is pretty straightforward about what he believes, and he thinks Nord Stream 2 is not in the European Union's best interest, and my bet is he'll be more than happy to tell President Putin that straight to his face."
— Energy Secretary Rick Perry, speaking in Brussels yesterday

The context: That's Perry discussing U.S. opposition to Russia's proposed Nord Stream II natural gas pipeline into Germany.

Perry, after meeting with EU energy officials, fielded a press question about whether the project would come up in President Trump's July 16 meeting with Putin.

Yes, but: While the U.S. opposes the project, Perry strongly downplayed the prospect of sanctions against European companies working on the long-proposed pipeline.

  • “Sanctions are kind of the last place we would like to land. They are always an option," he said.
  • However, per Reuters, the State Department reiterated Wednesday that firms investing in the project remain at risk of sanctions.

What's next: Perry's comments are another signal that energy could be among the topics when Trump and Putin meet in Helsinki.

Go deeper: S&P Global Platts explores other energy matters in play here.

Ben GemanAmy Harder