Jul 30, 2018

Axios Generate

By Ben Geman
Ben GemanAmy Harder

Good morning. Here's an irregularly timed reminder that you should get your friends, family and maybe even neighbors to read Axios. Forward them this email or send them this link to sign up for Generate and our other free newsletters.

My latest column goes behind the scenes on an industry's uphill battle getting President Trump to support the lower profile Obama-era climate deal struck in Kigali, Rwanda. I'll share a glimpse of that, and then Ben Geman will get you up to speed on the rest of the news. 

1 big thing: A powerful industry's Trump problem
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Big manufacturers are running into an uphill battle persuading President Trump to back an Obama-era climate deal.

The big picture: It's proving hard for them to convince a Republican who abhors regulations, dismisses climate change and dislikes global accords to embrace a policy that combines all three. It’s also the latest example of industry running into surprise trouble convincing Trump to back policies that many businesses support, like free trade.

The intrigue: Trump administration officials are concerned about costs to consumers who use appliances affected by the policy, including air conditioners and refrigerators. They're also critical of some of the tactics industry has employed in lobbying, according to multiple current and former government officials.

The details: The policy at hand is an amendment to the Montreal Protocol, a global treaty first created 30 years ago to protect the Earth’s ozone layer. The amendment reduces greenhouse gases, known as hydrofluorocarbons, emitted from refrigerants in everyday appliances like air conditioners. With leadership by the Obama administration, world leaders agreed to it in Kigali less than a month before Trump’s election win.

What’s next: The administration is still weighing whether to take the necessary next step: Sending the amendment to the Senate for a ratification vote. This uncertainty indicates a shift since November, when a career-level State Department official said the administration supported the policy.

Between the lines: The Kigali amendment to the Montreal Protocol features key attributes making it far less politically polarized than the higher profile Paris climate agreement, including the treaty's Republican origins and the fact that it would go through the Senate.

The bottom line: Will these differences be enough to get Kigali across the Trump finish line? Compared to Paris, “maybe it has a lesser chance of failing," said an administration official.

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

2. Big this week: Tesla, BP, EPA

Tesla: The Silicon Valley electric car company reports its Q2 earnings on Wednesday.

  • Why it matters: Look for analysts to ask for more information on reports that the company is seeking money back from suppliers as it seeks to become profitable later this year.

BP: The U.K.-based giant is the last of the super-majors to report its Q2 results during what has been a mixed bag of an earnings season thus far for its rivals.

  • The big picture: Several companies have reported a jump in profits thanks to higher crude oil prices, but have also missed analysts expectations.
  • Flashback: BP announced late last week that it's spending almost $11 billion to snap up new U.S. shale assets, so look for that to come up during the earnings call.

More earnings: A number of large energy companies will report results this week, including key independent oil-and-gas producers like Anadarko, Devon, Marathon and others.

EPA, part 1: As soon as this week, the agency is slated to unveil plans to weaken Obama-era carbon emissions and mileage rules for cars and light trucks that cover models years 2022–2025.

  • Why it matters: Those rules were a pillar of the Obama administration's climate agenda. The new plan signals a major fight with California, because it will reportedly propose ending that state's power to set tougher rules that roughly a dozen other states also follow.

EPA, part 2: Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler will testify before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on Wednesday.

  • Why it matters: It will be Wheeler's first appearance before lawmakers since his confirmation hearing to be EPA's deputy administrator and recent move into the top job after Scott Pruitt's ouster.
3. Where blockchain will really matter in energy
Expand chart
Adapted from Livingston et al., 2018, "Applying Blockchain Technology to Electric Power Systems"; Chart: Axios Visuals

David Livingston and Varun Sivaram write in our Expert Voices section ... In 2017, startups raised over $300 million to apply blockchain technology to energy, and deal flow has only ballooned in 2018. Although evangelists herald blockchain as the new internet, capable of upending mainstays of the energy sector like the centralized power grid, many applications have created more hype than value.

The big picture: There has been a dearth of straightforward, publicly accessible data on blockchain experiments in the energy sector, but that’s starting to change.

What we’ve seen so far makes clear that some of the humbler initiatives — those that work within the existing system and partner with incumbent utilities and regulators — are likely to have the greatest impact.

Although the largest number of blockchain ventures aim to replace the centralized grid with peer-to-peer electricity networks (see chart above), the electric power sector is slow to change and has powerful incumbents, making a radical transformation unlikely.

Instead, the most promising applications — such as making existing trading markets more efficient and orchestrating far-flung networks of customer appliances — seek to manage the increasing complexity of the electric power system, which is under strain as intermittent solar and wind generators, power-hungry electric vehicles and decentralized electrical equipment connect to the grid.

Livingston is deputy director of the Atlantic Council’s Global Energy Center. Sivaram is the Philip D. Reed Fellow for Science and Technology at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Go deeper: Read their full Expert Voices piece and check out the report at CFR.org.

4. On my screen: batteries, crude oil, nuclear

Batteries: The Faraday Institution, a major battery R&D initiative supported by the U.K. government, has tapped former high ranking BP exec Neil Morris as its new CEO.

  • Why it matters: Faraday's recent launch shows how the U.K. is making a major push to join the intense global competition for development of next-wave, super-batteries for use in electric cars and energy storage.
  • What they're saying: Morris, in a Q&A posted by Faraday, talked up its collaborative between academia and industry.
  • "The prize is to bring together leading researchers and industry to work on tightly focused projects that can advance the technology more quickly and effectively than either group could have done alone," he said.
  • Go deeper: The U.K. gets into the battery race.

Oil: The Wall Street Journal has a detailed look at a topic familiar to Generate readers — concerns that relatively low industry spending on new projects in recent years could translate into a supply crunch down the road.

  • "The oil industry needs to add 33 billion barrels of crude every year to satisfy anticipated demand growth, particularly as developing countries like China and India are consuming more oil. This year, new investments are set to account for an increase of just 20 billion barrels, according to data from Rystad Energy," they report.

Nuclear: Friday brought the news that Iowa's only nuclear power plant will soon shut down. Per the Des Moines Register, "NextEra Energy, owner of the Duane Arnold Energy Center, says it will retire Iowa's lone nuclear plant in late 2020, five years earlier than anticipated."

  • Why it matters: Some climate advocates are increasingly worried that nuclear plant retirements are slowing efforts to decarbonize the power sector, even if those units are replaced partially or even entirely by renewables.
  • Go deeper: The climate stakes of nuclear plant retirements.
5. Trump's manic energy policy
Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

Axios' Jonathan Swan and Amy report ... During White House discussions about renewable energy, Trump has declared — more than once and to the amusement of senior administration officials — "I hate the wind!"

Why this matters: The Trump administration's energy policies are hurricanes of contradiction. They reveal an extraordinary gap between the president and his administration.

  • Trump has a visceral hatred of wind turbines. He believes they are terrible returns on investment that blight coastlines and obstruct views, sources with direct knowledge tell Axios.

Ironically, given Trump has shown nothing but contempt for wind energy, the Trump administration is working hard to promote wind farms up and down the Atlantic Coast.

Another contradiction...

  • In private conversations with administration officials, Trump has said he loves hydroelectricity. But he has not publicly supported what would help the most: legislation in Congress speeding up the federal licensing process.

And another...

  • "The biggest contradiction," the source with direct knowledge of the internal discussions said, is that "Trump will literally say 'we'll save coal' and in the next sentence that we'll become 'energy independent.' You can't do both. The natural gas boom is coming at the expense of coal."

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

6. How Uber and Lyft are making traffic worse

Axios' Steve LeVine and Henrietta Reily report ... In the 1930s, New York building commissioner Robert Moses built one highway and bridge after another, with the aim of relieving congestion in America's biggest city. But each time, the result was the same: worse traffic.

The big picture: Eight decades later, transportation experts are observing a similar phenomenon with the world's newest urban innovation: ride-hailing services. According to a major new study, Uber, Lyft and their smaller rivals are clogging major U.S. cities — not relieving congestion — and even more traffic may be on the way when self-driving cars are commonplace.

  • On Thursday, the New York City Council began considering bills aimed at capping ride-sharing services. A vote may come as early as Aug. 8, and any cap would be a first for a U.S. city.

Why it matters: A major promise of the self-driving, ride-hailing future has been cleaner, more walkable, and people-friendly cities, with much more efficient, individual transportation. But if the study — like others before it — is accurate, we are instead heading toward a bigger problem.

Go deeper: Read the full story here.

Yes, but: Henrietta's got a separate story in the Axios stream that explores how Uber and Lyft are increasing their sustainability efforts.

  • She looks at moves such as Lyft's efforts on carbon offsets and shared rides, and Uber's initiatives on electric vehicles.
Ben GemanAmy Harder