Sep 20, 2019

Axios Generate

By Ben Geman
Ben GemanAmy Harder

Happy Friday! Today's Smart Brevity: 1,254 words, < 5 minutes.

Situational awareness: Via CNN, "Hundreds of thousands of young people worldwide are joining marches and climate strikes today. This is the third such worldwide climate rally — and it may be the biggest day of climate demonstrations in history."

And 45 years ago, Barry White was just hitting #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 with today's legendary intro tune...

1 big thing: Green companies can't save the planet

Google campus in Mountain View, Calif. Photo: Amy Osborne/AFP/Getty Images

Amazon unveiled sweeping new energy and climate plans yesterday. Hours later Google announced its biggest renewable power buys ever.

Why it matters: The announcements by 2 of the world's biggest companies are stark signs that corporate giants are getting more aggressive about climate change.

  • And get ready for more pledges around the UN climate conference Monday and the annual Climate Week NYC that begins the same day.

But, but, but: Corporate commitments won't change the underlying trend of global carbon emissions on track to bring warming that blows past the Paris Agreement's temperature goals.

The big picture: The White House pullback combined with growing public and investor pressures have triggered new climate pledges and policies by "subnational" players — cities, states and companies.

  • But a newly updated analysis of thousands of these efforts shows that while they're consequential when carried out, they don't replace — at all — the need for stronger national-level emissions policies.
  • Still, these efforts could provide a significant boost to country-level plans and policies.

What they found: The report, which is from multiple organizations including the NewClimate Institute and Data-Driven EnviroLab, says global emissions in 2030 would be 1.2-2 gigatonnes of CO2-equivalent lower than national policies alone if plans by "subnational" players in the world's 10 largest economies are fully implemented.

  • That's roughly equivalent to Canada and Japan’s combined emissions in 2016, the study notes.

Catch up fast: Ok with that off my chest, let's look at what Amazon and Google actually rolled out.

  • Amazon: The company vowed to have net-zero carbon emissions by 2040; power its facilities and operations with 100% renewable energy by 2030; and buy 100,000 electric delivery vans.
  • Google: The company announced a 1.6 gigawatt package of renewable power deals in the U.S., South America and Europe that the tech behemoth is calling the "biggest corporate purchase of renewable energy in history."
  • By the way, Google says it already procures enough renewable power to match its annual electricity consumption. But that doesn't mean Google operations are using carbon-free power all the time, something the company hopes to achieve eventually.

Go deeper:

2. Amazon's big bet on EV startup Rivian

Let's spend more time with one part of Amazon's initiative: plans to deploy 10,000 electric delivery vans made by the startup Rivian as soon as 2022, and 100,000 by 2030 and perhaps much faster.

Why it matters: It's a major sign that that deep-pocketed players see Rivian as well positioned among the EV startups to cross the bridge into substantial commercial production.

“It means we have a new automaker, for real.”
— Gartner analyst Mike Ramsey, speaking to Bloomberg

But, but, but: One chunk of salt about Amazon's 100,000 vehicle order: Rivian has yet to begin commercial production of any EVs. Yet Amazon — which led a $700 million investment round in the company earlier this year — plans to start deploying them in 2021.

How it works: Per Wired, "Amazon’s vans will use the same battery, powertrain, and electrical network as the two consumer vehicles Rivian plans to start building next year, the $69,000 R1T pickup truck and $72,500 R1S SUV."

Where it stands: Earlier this month Rivian snagged a $350 million equity investment from Cox Automotive, a big industry data and information company.

  • And this year Ford invested $500 million in Rivian, and the companies are working together to develop a Ford EV of some sort.

What they're saying: "Amazon doesn't make decisions like this lightly," Navigant Research analyst Sam Abuelsamid tells the Detroit News.

  • He called the move a sign to other companies considering fleet electrification that "Rivian is a company they need to take a look at if they're going to do this."
3. Nuclear plant closing the day of climate protests

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

NEW YORK — Climate activists are rallying here and around the world today calling for urgent action curbing carbon emissions, while a controversial but carbon-free nuclear power plant 180 miles away quietly goes offline, Axios' Amy Harder reports.

The big picture: It’s an ironic moment. Nuclear power provides America — and the world — with one of the largest sources of carbon-free electricity.

  • But many environmentalists nonetheless don’t support it because of fears about safety and radioactivity. Plants are shutting down under economic duress, and in many cases carbon emissions are rising.

Driving the news:

  • As the social movement to tackle climate change intensifies, the protests today are expected to be among the largest in history.
  • The plant shutting down — Pennsylvania’s Three Mile Island — was the site of America’s worst nuclear energy accident after a partial core meltdown in 1979. One reactor shut down because of the disaster, which has since created extra financial hurdles for the remaining reactor.

By the numbers:

  • Nuclear power provides more than half of America’s carbon-free electricity. In Pennsylvania, that share is nearly 94%.
  • It could take Pennsylvania nearly 13 years to replace the lost carbon-free electricity from Three Mile Island, according to a March report by Andrew Place, a commissioner on the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission.

Go deeper: As climate change worsens, America faces nuclear closures

4. Global renewables growth bounces back
Screenshot from IEA's estimate of 2019 global renewable power capacity growth

Growth of renewable power capacity resumed in 2019 after stalling last year, the International Energy Agency said in an estimate Friday morning.

Why it matters: Last year was the first time since 2001 that growth was flat, the agency said. But IEA estimates that capacity additions this year will grow almost 12% to nearly 200 gigawatts.

Threat level: Despite the growth, it's not consistent with keeping warming in check, IEA warns.

  • "Renewable capacity additions need to grow by more than 300 GW on average each year between 2018 and 2030 to reach the goals of the Paris Agreement," the agency said.

* * *

Speaking of renewables, the consultancy Rystad Energy flags an interesting milestone: Wind power is about to outpace coal in Texas.

  • “Our forecasts suggest that onshore wind in Texas will generate about 87 terawatt-hours (TWh) of electricity by 2020, versus the anticipated 84.4 TWh from coal,” Rystad's Carlos Torres Diaz said in the analysis.
5. Cory Booker goes there on nuclear and climate

The Democratic 2020 hopeful had some pointed words in an interview with HuffPost...

"Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) compared Democrats who oppose nuclear energy to Republican climate science deniers, highlighting a growing rift in the party over the nation’s biggest source of emissions-free electricity."

Why it matters: As reporter Alexander Kaufman notes, it's one of the sharpest criticisms of anti-nuclear stances in the primary battle, and "grazes a particularly sensitive nerve in the climate policy debate."

The big picture: Booker is echoing view among many analysts that decarbonizing power relatively fast would be extraordinarily tough if plants are closing, and that construction of next-wave reactors should be an option.

“As much as we say the Republicans when it comes to climate change must listen to science, our party has the same obligation to listen to scientists."
— Cory Booker, to HuffPost

The intrigue: It highlights a sharp energy policy split between Booker, who is lagging in the polls, and anti-nuclear positions of Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, who are much closer to frontrunner Joe Biden.

6. 1 petro-thing: Aramco IPO drama

Saudi Arabia is "pressuring" rich families to buy into the planned IPO of state oil giant Aramco in order to hit Prince Mohammed bin Salman's hoped-for valuation, according to anonymous sources in the Financial Times ($).

The intrigue: "Eight people familiar with the talks said they were part of a plan to build confidence in the Saudi Aramco deal, which has been rocked by last weekend’s devastating attacks on Saudi Arabia’s oil infrastructure," they report.

  • "Many of the families targeted had members previously imprisoned in Riyadh’s Ritz-Carlton hotel in 2017 and 2018, in what the government billed as a crackdown on corruption. Some of the detainees said they were tortured."
Ben GemanAmy Harder