Feb 21, 2018

Axios Generate

Good morning and welcome back! Happy birthday to the late and brilliant Nina Simone, who provides today's intro tune . . .

Poll shows doubts on self-driving cars
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Data: Northeastern University/Gallup survey conducted Sept. 15–Oct. 10, 2017; Chart: Axios Visuals

New data: More than half of U.S. adults are uncomfortable with self-driving vehicle technology and would be unlikely to use it on a daily basis (though younger Americans are more positive), a survey shows.

I've got more here in the Axios stream on the newly released polling from Northeastern University and Gallup, and check out the chart above too.

Why it matters for energy: Autonomous vehicles, along with greater use of so-called shared mobility services like car-sharing and ride-hailing, are expected to help drive the expansion of electric vehicles, which today are a just a tiny share of the global vehicle fleet.

Case in point: BP, in a major report on Tuesday (more info in stories below), forecast that EVs will be 15% of the worldwide fleet in 2040, but account for 30% of passenger car miles traveled. That's thanks largely to a huge expansion in use of autonomous and shared vehicles.

Report: DOE won't prop up coal plants using emergency power

On the record: Via Utility Dive, a senior Energy Department official said Tuesday that DOE will "never" use emergency authority under the Federal Power Act (FPA) to keep financially struggling coal-fired power plants running for economic reasons.

  • Bruce Walker said at a meeting of an agency advisory panel that DOE would not use so-called must-run orders to "stave off an economic issue," according to the report.

Why it matters: Trump administration officials want to stop the wave of retirements of coal-fired power plants. Walker's comments underscore how they face major challenges finding policy tools more powerful than simply paring back environmental rules to help coal plants be competitive.

  • The dynamic was evident last month when the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission unanimously rejected Energy secretary Rick Perry's request for new regulations that would ensure revenues for coal and nuclear plants in some markets.

One level deeper: The FPA allows DOE to require power facilities to operate under emergency circumstances, such as preventing electricity shortages. Such orders have been invoked rarely over the years, including on two occasions in 2017.

BP: Oil could peak in 2035 but won't fade away for a while
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Reproduced from BP Energy Outlook 2018; Chart: Axios Visuals

ICYMI: BP sees a potential peak in global oil demand within 2 decades and has increased its long-term forecast for the rise of EVs, according to its report released yesterday.

Bottom line: The "evolving transition" scenario sees growth in global demand for liquid fuels (largely a proxy for oil) ending around 2035. More aggressive scenarios, including one that models a global ban on sales of internal combustion (ICE) vehicles starting in 2040, show a more aggressive move away from oil, as the chart above shows.

The "evolving transition" case — which sees policies and tech evolving in a way consistent with the recent past — forecasts higher EV deployment than last year's report.

  • "In the ET scenario, there are nearly 190 million electric cars by 2035, higher than the base case in last year’s Outlook of 100 million. The stock of electric cars is projected to increase by a further 130 million in the subsequent five years, reaching around 320 million cars by 2040," they note.

Yes, but: BP says there would be robust oil demand for a long time even with such an ICE sale ban, given oil's use in petrochemicals, trucking and elsewhere.

  • "This scenario reduces liquid fuel demand by around 10 million barrels a day relative to the Evolving Transition scenario but, even so, the level of oil demand in 2040 in the ‘ICE ban’ scenario is higher than in 2016," a summary states.

Click here for more in the Axios stream.

Pretty hot right now: 2018

New data: The January temperature across global land and ocean surfaces was 1.28°F above the 20th century average of 53.6°F, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association.

  • This was the fifth highest for January in the 1880–2018 record, with the last 4 years ranking among the top Januarys on record, NOAA said in its latest monthly snapshot yesterday.

Record-setting: NOAA also reports that the January average reach of Arctic sea ice last month was the smallest January measurement in 4 decades. It was 9.4% below the 1981–2010 average for the month, and 42,500 square miles smaller than the previous record set in 2017.

One useful chart about electric vehicles
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Reproduced from BP Energy Outlook 2018; Chart: Axios Visuals

One more thing from BP's big outlook yesterday. This chart provides a look at how their greatly increased projection of global EV adoption stacks up against some other major forecasts.

Why it matters: The contrasting outlooks show how even experts in the field can differ significantly about how quickly the electrification of transport will unfold. The pace of EV adoption is among the factors that will dictate how quickly global oil demand eventually peaks and declines, which by turn affects global carbon emissions.

On my screen: carbon capture, solar, bike-sharing's future

Costs and benefits: A blog post at UC-Berkeley's Energy Institute at Haas looks at the how cities are seeking to balance the congestion and pollution benefits of bike-sharing against some of the problems cropping up with the proliferation of dockless bike services.

  • "It’s true, dockless bike shares do not have the most impressive track record so far. But as competition and regulatory oversight intensify, companies will face stronger incentives to balance supply and demand (to reduce costs) and mitigate nuisance (to keep their city hosts happy)," writes economist Meredith Fowlie, who adds that innovations are already emerging.

Climate change: A piece in the MIT Technology Review explores whether the new expansion of tax credits for carbon capture efforts in the recent federal spending deal is substantial enough to move the needle on the slow-to-catch-on technology. The answer is a tentative "Yes."

  • "Energy researchers who have crunched the numbers in the days since have concluded that on many projects the boosted tax credit could finally tip the scales for a technology that’s long proved far too expensive," the story notes.
  • It says that projects to trap emissions from industrial facilities are likely candidates, while retrofitting coal-fired power plants remains economically daunting.

Solar power: A Wall Street Journal story finds that several forces will continue driving new solar installations, despite the new tariffs that are likely to dent growth to some degree.

  • "While the tariffs may slow the rate of solar expansion, local and state policies requiring utilities to procure renewable energy will continue to help create a baseline market for solar power, particularly for large, utility-scale projects," the paper reports.