Welcome back! Today's Smart Brevity: 1,202 words/< 5 minute read.
Situational awareness: July was the hottest month in records dating back to 1880, per federal data released Thursday that underscores the Earth's warming trend as greenhouse gases pile up in the atmosphere. Go deeper.
And at this moment in 1998, the Beastie Boys led the Billboard album charts with "Hello Nasty," which takes us into the weekend and outer space...
Axios' Amy Harder explores why, despite rapid renewables growth and falling costs, future grids powered by these resources alone would face daunting hurdles.
Driving the news: A 100% renewable electricity system would greatly increase the risk of blackouts, per internal modeling by the consultancy Wood Mackenzie.
What they’re saying: “Not only are [renewables] causing intermittency issues, they can no longer recover costs in the power market,” said Robert Whaley, a senior WoodMac analyst.
But, but, but: The analysis doesn't assume technological breakthroughs, which could lower costs and improve storage capabilities that minimize blackout risks.
By the numbers: Right now America’s electricity mix is mostly gas and coal (63%) and about 17% renewable sources. This includes 6.5% wind, 2.3% solar and 7% hydropower.
Where it stands: The chart above illustrates steep declines in wind and solar costs compared to natural gas and coal. The visualized renewable costs exclude federal tax credits (they’re even cheaper with them).
Why you'll hear about this again: There's an ongoing fight between advocates who argue a 100% renewable grid would be affordable and stable, and those who say other resources — including nuclear and gas with CO2 capture — should be on the table.
Even "modest" carbon taxes, like those seen in the chart above, would cut emissions as much as the Obama-era vehicle and power plant rules that President Trump is abandoning, an MIT economist finds in a new working paper.
Why it matters: The results "underscore the economic power of a carbon tax" compared to "economically inefficient" regulations, writes Christopher Knittel, who directs the MIT Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research.
The big picture: The pro-tax argument arrives as Democratic 2020 hopefuls are tossing around plans to revive and toughen Obama-era initiatives, while lawmakers from both parties have recently floated CO2 tax bills.
Driving the news: The new paper attempts to calculate what level of taxes on CO2 or greenhouses gases more broadly would provide emissions cuts equivalent to these 3 major policies combined...
But, but, but: Carbon taxes have very little traction among Republican lawmakers despite a few members' recent efforts.
Of note: The paper is limited in scope. It's exploring emissions cuts that are too small to deeply decarbonize the U.S. economy, or even achieve the U.S. goals under the Paris agreement.
Meanwhile, Knittel tells Axios his short paper could help provide guidance to the next White House by encouraging them to explore recent Capitol Hill ideas.
What they're saying: "Showing that even a small carbon tax would have achieved larger emissions reductions than the Obama climate regulations is a useful exercise," said Noah Kaufman, a pro-carbon tax economist.
Transformers at an electrical substation in Houston. Photo: George Rose/Getty Images
Axios Expert Voices contributor Joshua Rhodes explains why recent high electricity prices in Texas are a feature of the state's power market, not a bug.
Driving the news: Demand for air conditioning across Texas helped drive wholesale electricity prices to the market cap of $9,000/MWh earlier this week, testing both the grid's capacity and the public's response to price spikes under the state's wholesale electricity market.
The big picture: ERCOT, the grid operator for most of Texas, runs an “energy-only” market that pays power plants only when they produce energy, and not merely for being available to do so.
How it works: ERCOT boosts the wholesale market price when reserves are low, sending a market message that capacity is valuable. But this process has been criticized for not providing enough scarcity pricing to drive new investment across the electricity system.
Where it stands: The grid has so far survived summer with no real damage, and the weather forecast promises near-term relief.
Rhodes is a senior energy system modeler at Vibrant Clean Energy and a research associate in the Webber Energy Group at UT Austin.
On Tuesday we covered new research on the health and emissions benefits of renewables in the Rust Belt — a story that noted Ohio's new law that cuts the state's requirements.
But, but, but: Ohio's GOP Lieutenant Gov. Jon Husted reached out to argue the law is an environmental win.
Real fast: It creates $150 million in annual subsidies in 2021-2027 that will keep 2 nuclear plants operating; aids 2 coal plants (1 in Ohio and 1 in Indiana); and, steers $20 million annually for 6 solar projects being developed in Ohio.
What they're saying: "We would have had a larger carbon footprint had the bill not passed. A substantially larger carbon footprint,” Husted tells me.
The other side: Interests ranging from environmentalists to the oil-and-gas industry opposed the bill. This Vox story lays out the lines of attack.
Go deeper: Nuclear bailout bill passes Ohio legislature, signed by Gov. Mike DeWine (Cleveland.com)