Dec 13, 2019

Axios Generate

Happy Friday! Today's Smart Brevity count: 1,267 words, ~ 5 minutes.

Situational awareness: The Associated Press reports from Madrid: "Officials from almost 200 countries are preparing for a last push at an annual U.N. summit to finalize rules for the Paris climate accord amid signs that resolving the issue of international carbon markets may be postponed for another year."

Plus, tomorrow will mark 40 years since The Clash released "London Calling," which brings us into the weekend...

1 big thing: Europe's climate deal, with an asterisk

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Leaders of the European Union endorsed a plan Friday to make the bloc a net-zero carbon emitter by mid-century, according to a slew of reports from their meeting in Brussels.

Why it matters: The deal is a "historic move that sets in motion a radical overhaul of the continent’s economy," Bloomberg reports.

  • They add that it creates "political momentum" for the climate policy proposals that European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen laid out this week.

But, but, but: Their piece and others from Brussels note that coal-reliant Poland, which balked at the target, is currently exempted from the agreement.

  • The official summit statement, according to several stories, notes: "One Member State, at this stage, cannot commit to implement this objective as far as it is concerned, and the European Council will come back to this in June 2020."

What's next: Per Reuters, "Von der Leyen said the Brussels summit deal, reached in the wee hours of Friday by 27 national EU leaders, was enough for the commission to start rolling out concrete climate legislative proposals for the bloc next year based on the 2050 goal."

Where it stands: Some more on the negotiations via the BBC...

  • "Several eastern European countries wanted financial and other guarantees before they agreed to the EU cutting to zero its net amount of greenhouse gas emissions."
  • "The Czech Republic and Hungary were brought on board after assurances that nuclear energy could be included in the final mix."

Quick take: Targets are ... just that. The bigger question is whether the continent can successfully develop and implement the array of policies that together will actually bring steep emissions cuts.

Go deeper: Europe's "Green Deal" shows the hard road to U.S. carbon emissions cuts

2. PG&E shut-offs ripple through solar markets

The solar industry came out with new data yesterday showing record residential installations in the third quarter, edging out prior highs in 2016.

The intrigue: One part of the quarterly report that caught my eye confirms that PG&E's power shut-offs are driving interest in solar-plus-battery systems, though the real effect won't be known for a while.

By the numbers: Overall, the U.S. residential market grew by 712 megawatts of installed capacity as 15 states saw their biggest gains ever.

  • The total solar PV market grew by 2.6 gigawatts of capacity, up 25% from the prior quarter, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association and Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables.

Where it stands: Let's look at California, the biggest U.S. market where nearly 300 megawatts of residential capacity was added in Q3.

  • One driver of the record residential growth there is demand stemming from looming state mandates for solar deployment in new homes.

Why you'll hear about this again: The report says an "unexpected" driver of demand is "increased consumer interest in solar and solar-plus-storage options in response to dissatisfaction with California utilities."

  • "This disaffection has a long history but most recently stems from Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS) which have left hundreds of thousands of utility customers without electricity, often for days at a time."
  • It's the latest sign of forecasts that the outages will spur battery sales.

What we're watching: How much this might help juice deployment in the future.

  • Wildfires and the risks to power supply — and the potential for planned blackouts — have been a known in California for quite a while, so that has likely led to some sales that are showing up in the Q3 numbers.
  • But PG&E's massive intentional outages to cut fire risks began in October, so analysts will have a much better sense of their impact on solar-plus-storage purchases in data that's not captured in this report.

The big picture: The report's finding of growing interest in solar and batteries stemming from the outages is consistent with prior signs of this trend.

  • Last month, for instance, Sunrun's CEO said on an earnings call that customers are increasingly choosing their "Brightbox" service that combines solar with batteries.
  • The Wood Mackenzie report also notes that national media attention to the shut-offs is increasing interest in solar paired with batteries outside the state.
  • Greentech Media reported yesterday that California regulators are shifting the focus of an existing distributed generation incentive program to "giving battery-solar backup systems to those at greatest risk of wildfires and blackouts."

But, but, but: The preemptive power outages are spurring interest in backup power in several forms.

  • This NBC News piece is among several of late about consumers' snapping up fossil fuel-powered home generators.
3. Chart of the day: Asia is coal's epicenter
Expand chart
Reproduced from IEA; Chart: Axios Visuals

The International Energy Agency is out with a preview of next week's report on the state of coal and the future of the resource over the next five years.

What they found: One conclusion is that Asia will largely dictate the future of how quickly the world does — or doesn't — begin moving away from the most carbon-emitting fuel.

The big picture: Coal use is falling fast in the U.S. and the EU, but it's rising in Asia, which, as the chart above shows, now dominates coal-based electricity.

"As Asia’s share continues to rise, the rest of the world is becoming increasingly irrelevant in the conversation about coal power generation, which is one of the key sources of global CO2 emissions."
— Carlos Fernandez Alvarez, IEA analyst
4. What oil companies want from Trump on CO2 capture

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Technology that captures carbon dioxide emissions needs way more subsidies — reaching well into the billions of dollars — to thrive, according to a new oil industry report, Axios' Amy Harder reports.

Driving the news: The report by the National Petroleum Council, an advisory committee to the Energy Department representing all aspects of the oil and gas sector, recommends putting $15 billion into research and more than doubling an existing subsidy.

The big picture: Carbon capture technology, which can be installed in power plants and other emitting facilities, is considered essential to cutting emissions given the world remains heavily dependent upon oil, natural gas and coal. It’s expensive, but technically feasible.

By the numbers:

  • The report says the Energy Department should put $1.5 billion a year — or $15 billion over a decade — into research and development. That represents a threefold increase over current funding, according to the report.
  • An existing tax credit gives companies between $35 and $50 per ton of carbon dioxide captured; the report recommends increasing that to $110. These are effective prices on carbon, just narrowly tailored to a specific technology.

Between the lines: It comes as quite a surprise that essentially the entire oil industry — via this below-the-radar committee — is telling Washington they want a price on carbon of $110.

But, but, but: Much of this would need congressional support, and although funding for energy innovation has increased in recent years, it’s unlikely Congress would approve such a huge increase in spending — especially without a bigger package of other climate-change related policies.

Go deeper: Carbon capture subsidies don’t go far enough, oil council warns (Houston Chronicle)

5. Catch up fast: hydrogen, oil markets, Tesla

Hydrogen: The Los Angeles Times reports that power officials in Los Angeles are looking to hydrogen as they seek to fully wean the area off of coal-fired power.

  • They hope to get energy from what's now a coal-fired plant in Utah that will be converted to use natural gas, but "would eventually burn renewable hydrogen instead of natural gas — something that has never been done before."

Oil markets: "Oil rose to its highest in nearly three months on Friday as progress in resolving the U.S.-China trade dispute and Britain’s general election result appeared to lift two clouds that have been hanging over investor risk appetite," per Reuters.

Tesla: The electric car and solar company has lost its third general counsel in the last year, Bloomberg writes.

  • "Jonathan Chang, a longtime attorney for the electric-car maker who was promoted to the role in February, left the company Dec. 6."
  • He's now with an AI startup.