Sep 7, 2018

Axios Generate

Happy Friday! Tesla CEO Elon Musk already announced the weekend's arrival by taking a drag off a joint and sipping whisky in a live interview late yesterday.

Guessing the internet will have more to say about that. So I'll switch gears and note we're just days away from the moment 20 years ago when "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill" hit the top of Billboard's album charts. She's got today's intro song...

1 big thing: new thinking on a familiar problem

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The big question: What's the best way to cost-effectively wring almost all carbon emissions out of power generation?

Renewables are part of the answer, but it will also take other low-carbon tech options, and policymakers should not close the door on any of them, a new paper by MIT researchers finds.

Why it matters: "Deep decarbonization" of electricity systems by mid-century is an important part of preventing runaway global warming.

What they did: The study in the peer-reviewed Joule offers a new taxonomy for how to think about a decarbonized power mix.

  • The study explored almost 1,000 scenarios based on various emissions limits, regional differences, technology uncertainties and more.
  • It's the latest entry on the "no" side of a dispute among some academics and activists over whether renewables and storage alone can decarbonize energy systems.

The details: Longstanding ways of categorizing power sources — including "baseload" for large fossil fuel and nuclear plants; "load following"; and "peaking" resources to meet demand spikes — no longer make sense in a world where renewables are already in more widespread use, the study argues.

It instead breaks down climate-friendly energy technologies into three basic categories...

  1. Variable renewable resources, like wind and solar.
  2. "Fast-burst" resources, including batteries and pricing changes, that can provide quick adjustments to supply or demand.
  3. "Firm" low-carbon resources including nuclear, natural gas with carbon capture and hydro-dams with large reservoirs.

What they found: We're going to need to rely on that last category — "firm" low carbon resources, in order to affordably get power sector emissions down to zero, the study concludes.

  • "Across all cases, the least-cost strategy to decarbonize electricity includes one or more firm low-carbon resources. Without these resources, electricity costs rise rapidly as CO2 limits approach zero," the study states.
  • The availability of these firm resources could cut the cost of fully decarbonizing power by as much as 62%.

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

2. On my screen: Aramco's VC move, shale, EVs

Tech play: Via The Wall Street Journal, "Saudi Arabia’s national oil company is considering a $1 billion venture-capital fund to invest in international technology firms, according to people familiar with the proposal, as the kingdom deepens efforts to diversify its economy."

  • Why it matters: The kingdom's investment strategy outside of oil production is especially interesting to watch now that one major plan — raising tens of billions of dollars via the IPO of Aramco — is on ice.

Shale slowdown: Per the Financial Times, "The US shale oil industry is slowing as logistical challenges including labour costs and a lack of adequate pipeline capacity pile up, the chief executives of some of the largest production and oilfield services companies have warned this week."

  • Why it matters: A big question has been how long production could keep surging, especially in the Permian basin, even as logistical constraints and resource challenges — like water disposal — loom over development.
  • What's next: The Energy Information Administration will release its latest monthly data on shale production in mid-September.

India's EV move: Per Reuters, "India will soon launch a new policy to boost the production and use of electric and alternate fuels-driven vehicles, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Friday, as the world’s third biggest oil consumer tries to cut its import bill."

  • His comments Friday come a day after India's transportation minister said the country is aiming to have electric vehicles make up 15% of vehicle sales in 5 years.
3. Shell's quiet carbon tax meetings


E&E News has new details on the scope of oil-and-gas giant Shell's work on carbon pricing. They report:

Shell Oil Co. has convened regular meetings since early 2016 with key environmental groups and think tanks to build support for a nationwide carbon tax, according to sources.

Why it matters: While several of the super-majors have been on board with carbon pricing for years, the more important question these days is whether they'll actually put any muscle into changing the political calculus in Washington.

  • Shell is among the oil companies that support the idea of a tax that would be accompanied by ending some greenhouse gas regulations.

The intrigue: The meetings continued even after the 2016 elections, which basically ensured that a carbon tax will remain politically moribund.

  • The E&E story notes that Shell initiated the meetings "in part because it was believed that greenhouse gas regulations would be strengthened if Democrat Hillary Clinton won the election."
4. Google launches self-help tool for energy use

Screenshot: Google's Your Plan, Your Planet

Axios' Amy Harder reports ... In a new interactive online tool launched today by Google, you can find out how much energy and water you’re using (and wasting) when doing the things we all do: wash our clothes, take showers, throw out spoiled foods and more.

Why it matters: This tool helps to make two of the most basic and yet also opaque necessities of life — energy and water — a little more tangible. People living in developed countries expect to have these at all times, yet many of us are much less aware of how much we’re using and the repercussions.

The details: Google created the tool, called Your Plan, Your Planet, with the help of the California Academy of Sciences. The tool is broken down into three sections: energy, water and food usage. For example:

  • A 10-minute shower uses more than 9,000 gallons of water annually. That would fill 31 hot tubs.
  • Keeping lights on in a 3-bedroom house for 6 hours a day uses 2,365 kilowatt hours of energy annually, which produces the same carbon dioxide emissions as driving a car for 2.5 days.
  • Flour and nuts are best stored in the fridge to last longer. Beef is best eaten within 12 months once frozen, but it’s apparently “remains safe to eat indefinitely,” per the tool.
  • The tool gives you tips and encourages you to set pledges to be more efficient with the water and energy you use, and the food you eat.

Go deeper: Try it yourself.

5. An African solar growth market

A tailor uses a generator for power in Lagos, Nigeria, in 2016. Photo: Pius Utomi Ekpei/AFP via Getty Images

World Bank's Jonathan Coony writes for Axios Expert Voices ... Over 75 million Nigerians lack electricity access — including nearly 60% of those in rural areas — and development of the off-grid solar (OGS) market there seriously lags behind other African countries, notably in East Africa.

Yes, but: Factors that have impeded the Nigerian OGS market appear to be changing and the sector is poised for substantial growth in the coming years.

  • Widespread deployment of commercial OGS technology across the country could not only address the harmful energy-access shortfalls but also provide a catalyst for job growth and investment.

Progress on multiple fronts promises growth for the Nigerian solar sector, including:

  • Policy commitment: The government has electricity access targets of 75% and 90% for 2020 and 2030, respectively.
  • Now, with a revitalized Rural Electrification Agency, new policy frameworks and a $350 million World Bank project, the government is better equipped to achieve these goals and foster sector growth.

Go deeper: Coony, the World Bank's global lead for green competitiveness, has much more on the Axios stream.