Aug 20, 2019

Axios Generate

By Ben Geman
Ben GemanAmy Harder

Hello readers! Today's Smart Brevity count: 1,045 words, ~ 4 minutes.

Situational awareness: The NYT reports Tuesday: "The White House, blindsided by a pact between California and four automakers to oppose President Trump’s auto emissions rollbacks, has mounted an effort to prevent any more from joining the other side."

And happy birthday to the late Isaac Hayes, who has today's terrific intro tune...

1 big thing: Aramco's IPO revival and its discontents

The Saudi Aramco oil field complex facilities at Shaybah in the Rub' al Khali. Photo: Reza/Getty Images

It's really back! Or at least really might be back.

Driving the news: This morning Bloomberg reports on concrete signs that Saudi Aramco is trying to move forward on its on-again, off-again, on-again plans for a mammoth IPO.

  • "Saudi Aramco has picked Lazard Ltd. and Moelis & Co. to advise on the oil giant’s second attempt at the world’s largest initial public offering," they report, citing unnamed people with knowledge of the matter.

Why it matters: The listing of a slice of Aramco could be the largest IPO in history, and the proceeds are meant to help fund the kingdom's plans to diversify its crude-dominated economy.

But, but, but: All kinds of questions remain about the plans first announced in 2016, including the listing venue and Aramco's ability to hit anything close to their hoped-for $2 trillion valuation.

Meanwhile, Reuters has an interesting new piece this morning about how global warming could create hurdles for Saudi Aramco's plan to list 5% of the company, which the kingdom hopes will bring in up to $100 billion.

The big picture: "[S]ome investors and lawyers say the window to execute a sale at a juicy price is shrinking and Aramco will need to explain to prospective shareholders how it plans to profit in a lower-carbon world," they report.

The intrigue: The Saudis argue that their oil is well positioned even in an increasingly carbon-conscious world because their emissions per extracted barrel are lower than other big producers.

Go deeper: Saudi Arabia touts its crude oil CO2 edge

2. Proposed: A new energy discipline

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The twin goals of decarbonizing energy while expanding global access warrant a new academic discipline to create a "common umbrella" for work scattered across multiple fields, a new Stanford-led paper argues.

Why it matters: The commentary published in the journal Joule is a recognition of the immensity and complexity of the challenges and the "considerable uncertainty about the best way to undertake them."

  • The researchers are trying to launch the unified field and have started planning a workshop on the topic.

The big picture: They propose a discipline called "macro-energy systems" that focuses on the "large-scale, systems-level, long-term aspects of sustainable energy planning."

  • "Co-analysis of economic, engineering, environmental, and social factors is often critical for answering societal-scale questions," the commentary states.
  • "As a result, this discipline combines methods from many fields spanning the natural, social, and engineering sciences."

What they found: The paper says pulling together this scattered work, much of which began decades ago, would have several benefits under the "macro energy systems" umbrella, such as avoiding redundant efforts and establishing accepted methodologies.

3. Chart of the day: Tesla's market weight
Expand chart
Reproduced from Cox Automotive; Note: Does not include plug-in hybrids; Chart: Axios Visuals

For all the justified worries about Tesla's finances, they remain in a pretty good competitive spot in the EV market — for now.

The big picture: The chart above, via this new Cox Automotive report on the U.S. EV market, shows how the Silicon Valley company dominates the market for pure electric vehicle sales.

  • "Without Tesla, EV market share is stagnant, yet almost 100 electrified models are coming soon," the report notes.
  • Among a survey of people "considering" an EV purchase, Tesla dominates in brand awareness at 81%.

It's not the only recent data showing Tesla's strength in the EV market.

  • Bloomberg breaks down new info from the California New Car Dealers Association.
  • "Tesla registrations surged to 40,085 in the first half, giving it 4.2% market share in the biggest U.S. state by population," they report.
4. EV hurdles and opportunities

Speaking of the Cox analysis, they look at some of the hurdles facing EV adoption, based on their survey of roughly 2,500 consumers.

Why it matters: Overcoming consumer reticence is important for the growth of what remains a niche market, even as automakers big and small roll out new models.

Where it stands: 77% of respondents who are considering an EV purchase and 87% of those who are not say EVs are "somewhat" or "much more" expensive that gasoline-powered cars.

  • But, but, but: Cox, in a release alongside the survey, notes that the price gap is "closer than most realize" and is getting smaller.

There's also fresh data on longstanding public concern about charging availability.

  • Among respondents considering an EV, roughly two-thirds say there are too few charging stations near their home and workplace.
5. A climate forum without Inslee or Harris

Jay Inslee, whose 2020 campaign is centered on climate change policy, was not one of the nine Democratic presidential candidates to get an invite to CNN's climate change town hall on Sept. 4, Axios' Marisa Fernandez reports.

  • The Washington State governor did not meet the polling threshold.

Quick take: The irony. Inslee has helped to boost the topic's profile in the contest. Yet, that hasn't accrued to his benefit in the polls despite surveys showing the Democratic primary electorate cares a lot about global warming.

But, but, but: Inslee's campaign says he's participating in the separate candidate climate forum Sept. 19–20 at Georgetown that MSNBC is covering.

The intrigue: Sen. Kamala Harris, meanwhile, is not taking part in the CNN event because she has a scheduling conflict, the network reports.

  • Per ABC News' Zohreen Shah, it's because of fundraisers scheduled in Los Angeles.
  • Her absence is notable in part because Harris also has yet to release a detailed climate and energy platform, although one portion surfaced in a bill she floated late last month.
6. New coal plants jeopardize climate targets
A coal-fired power plant in Salaya, India. Photo: Sam Panthaky/AFP/Getty Images

If most of the world's proposed new coal facilities are ultimately built, their output would far exceed the level required to limit global warming to 1.5 °C, Axios Expert Voices contributor Justin Guay writes.

Driving the news: A Global Energy Monitor report found that 538 GW of coal plants are still under consideration around the world.

  • This represents a 62% reduction in proposed coal plants over the past 3 years — from a proposed 1,427 GW in 2015 — but still amounts to much more than the global carbon budget can absorb.

Background: According to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's 1.5 degree report, keeping warming below that threshold requires coal generation to decline 70% by 2030 and be phased out by 2050.

Between the lines: The GEM report does have some encouraging news — since 2010, only about one third of proposed plants have been built.

Read more

Guay directs global climate strategy at the Sunrise Project and advises the ClimateWorks Foundation.

Ben GemanAmy Harder