Oct 7, 2019

Axios Generate

Good morning. Today's Smart Brevity count: 1,063 words, ~ 4 minutes.

My latest Harder Line column is a first-person account of trying to get wind and solar electricity. I'll share that, and then Ben Geman will get you up to speed on other news. 

1 big thing: Seeking greener and cheaper power

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A growing chorus of companies mostly unknown to the wider public is seeking to convince people you don’t need solar panels on your roof to go green.

The intrigue: Instead of writing about this from afar, I’m experiencing it firsthand. I signed up with Arcadia Power, a D.C.-based startup founded in 2014 that’s leading this sector with a digital focus.

Yes, but: I don’t suddenly have wind and solar directly powering my home. Arcadia is trying to simplify a more complicated dynamic that's at play due to how our electricity systems work.

The big picture: Out of America’s 127 million households, about 3.7%, or roughly 4.7 million, buy green electricity through different programs, according to an extrapolation of National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) data. That figure has grown nearly 250% since 2010.

What's new: Arcadia CEO Kiran Bhatraju wants to do for energy consumption what Uber does for transportation, Mint for finances, or Kayak for travel.

  • The challenge has traditionally been that people engage less with their energy consumption than they do these other things.
  • That’s changing. Concern about climate change is growing, renewables are becoming more readily available and affordable, and people are beginning to wonder how they can cut their personal carbon footprints.

How it works: All electrons flowing through power lines are the same, so being able to specify what kind of energy I'm using is impossible (unless I put solar panels on my roof).

  • That's where “renewable energy certificates,” or RECs, come in. These accounting credits are created when wind and solar farms begin operating, and companies buy them from the project developers.
  • Buyers of RECs then claim ownership over a certain amount of renewable electricity.

Arcadia Power’s main green offer is 50% wind energy (via RECs) for free by signing up. This is what I chose.

  • Another feature is a promise that my electricity bill won't rise and could even fall. This assumes similar usage! You can’t leave your lights on all day and crank your AC thinking renewable power is free — it’s not.
  • The company makes this promise by looking for better electricity rates than from your default utility. (It can only offer this in certain states whose electricity systems are competitively based.)
Bonus: The rise of voluntary green power buys
Expand chart
Data: NREL; Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios

The amount of renewable electricity being bought voluntarily has increased nearly 300% since 2010, according to new NREL data.

Read more

2. Trump pins fateful Ukraine call on Perry

ICYMI, Axios' Alayna Treene and Jonathan Swan scooped on Saturday ... President Trump told House Republicans that he made his now infamous phone call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at the urging of Energy Secretary Rick Perry — a call Trump claimed he didn’t even want to make.

Behind the scenes: Trump made these comments during a conference call with House members on Friday, according to 3 sources on the call.

  • Per the sources, Trump rattled off the same things he has been saying publicly — that his call with Zelensky was "perfect"and he did nothing wrong.
  • But he then threw Perry into the mix and said something to the effect of: "Not a lot of people know this but, I didn't even want to make the call. The only reason I made the call was because Rick asked me to. Something about an LNG [liquefied natural gas] plant," one source said, recalling the president's comments.
  • Two other sources confirmed the first source's recollection.

Why it matters: The president's remarks suggest he may be seeking to distance himself from responsibility or to recast the pretext for the call. White House officials did not respond to requests for comment.

Worth noting: Text messages released this week between Trump administration officials and Andrey Yermak, a top aide to Zelensky, suggest that Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, was a primary advocate for arranging the call.

  • There is no mention in the text messages of Perry playing a role in making this call happen.

Go deeper:

  • Read Alayna and Jonathan's full story.
  • Check out AP's piece on Trump allies who reportedly pressed Ukraine over management of the country's state-owned gas giant, per 2 sources.
3. Why slack oil markets may not last


A new research note from Rapidan Energy Group argues that the world is facing a tighter oil market over the next decade than conventional wisdom suggests, despite bearish forces weighing down prices in the near-term.

The big picture: It cites others' projections of a "structurally loosening" market over the next 10 years thanks to rather weak demand growth. Rapidan begs to differ.

  • "[W]e are increasingly confident that failure of demand growth to crater, much less peak, constitutes the next big 'surprise' in the oil market," they state.

Why it matters: If their look beyond the "perilous short-term oversupply" and further ahead to 2030 is right, then there's a rocky road ahead.

  • They see global spare capacity that's "too low to cap prices, much less mitigate geopolitical risk."
  • Rapidan has a skeptical take on electric vehicle penetration and the advance of vehicle efficiency gains.

By the numbers: Their note argues that the U.S. Energy Information Administration's latest long-term outlook boils down to an annual average of 400,000 barrels per day of demand growth in 2020–2030.

  • Rapidan sees it higher — a lot higher, in the 1.6 mbd range over that period.

The bottom line: "If we adopt EIA’s forecast of 0.9 mb/d global supply growth (we generally agree with EIA and consensus that non-OPEC supply growth is limited by maturing shale and underinvestment in long-cycle projects) and combine it with our more bullish demand forecast, we see demand growth exceeding supply by 0.7 mb/d," they write.

4. Catch up fast: EVs, ethanol, climate

Business: "Volvo Cars and China’s Geely plan to merge their engine operations into a standalone company, a step the Swedish automaker says will cut costs as it shifts to a fully-electrified lineup," per Bloomberg.

Policy: Via Reuters, "The Trump administration on Friday unveiled a plan to boost U.S. biofuels consumption starting next year to help struggling farmers, a move that cheered the agriculture industry but triggered a backlash from Big Oil."

Climate: "September 2019 was the warmest such month on record, tying the old record set in 2016, according to the Copernicus Climate Change Service, an organization funded by the European Union that tracks global temperatures," the Washington Post reports.

  • "This makes September the fourth-straight month 'to be close to or breaking a temperature record,' according to an agency statement," the story adds.
5. Quote of the day
"Mr. Looney may have to write off reserves he himself discovered."

Who said it: It's from a Financial Times editorial about BP's CEO-in-waiting, Bernard Looney, who heads BP's exploration and production division.

Why it matters: The 49-year-old is facing a tenure in which the industry will be under pressure to act more aggressively on climate change and move its portfolio over time to climate-friendly sources.

Go deeper: