Mar 14, 2019

Axios Generate

By Ben Geman
Ben GemanAmy Harder

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Situational awareness: Tesla will unveil its Model Y, a small SUV, at 8pm PT tonight in Los Angeles. Per MarketWatch, the rollout arrives as Tesla is "beset by concerns about demand and margins."

I'm still in Houston, which means we're still opening the newsletter with songs from the great Texas movie "Dazed and Confused." So let's take it easy...

1 big thing: How GM sees the EV charging landscape

Photo illustration: Axios visuals

HOUSTON — Here's one sign General Motors believes electric vehicles will be a big deal: They recently moved a longtime senior executive, Mike Ableson, into the newly created role of VP for EV charging and infrastructure.

Why it matters: The company has vowed to bring 20 all-electric vehicles to market by 2023. But making EVs a successful long-term bet will require deployment of lots of convenient charging infrastructure. That's not a business GM is in, so they need an exec dedicated to working with partners.

“There are lots of entities out there ... that are willing to invest in infrastructure, and so we recognized that in order to make sure we got sufficient EV charging infrastructure out there fast enough, we were going to have to start working very actively with these companies."
— Mike Ableson, to Axios

Here are a few takeaways from our interview at the big CERAWeek by IHS Markit conference...

1. New partners (maybe): Ableson reveals that GM is in discussions with more charging companies about joining an access and data-sharing initiative announced in January with 3 major networks: EVgo, ChargePoint and Greenlots.

  • The program is intended to provide information about station location, availability and status on the screen of recent Chevy Bolts, instead of consumers having to rely on separate phone apps for separate networks.
  • “We think we can take a lot of friction out of that whole experience," he says.

2. Business model: Even in the long-term, don't look for GM to roll out its own charging network. And he doesn't think that would be a good idea for the auto industry as a whole.

  • “Having charge networks dedicated to a specific OEM is not the right answer long-term for society in general. We’d go nuts if you had GM gas stations and Ford gas stations and Chrysler gas stations,” he says.

3. A contrarian view: Ableson believes there's too much focus on comparing charging times to how long it takes to fill up a gasoline-powered car. That's the wrong metric, he argues.

  • That's because while the logistics of liquid fuels requires gas stations, charging can occur anywhere — at home, at work, while shopping and so forth.
  • "So what we are really interested in is, how do we get these chargers all over and ... you have the opportunity to make the experience frictionless, [with] no credit cards or anything, just plug your car in and everything resolves itself on the back end,” he said.
  • “So I’m not as interested in getting down to below 10 minutes or whatever. I think a lot of that is driven because people compare back to filling stations, and I don’t see that being the customer experience going forward.”
  • He did note, however, that high-powered, very fast charging is relevant in some circumstances.
2. Breaking: Beto talks climate in 2020 launch
“Perhaps most importantly of all, because our very existence depends on it, we can unleash the ingenuity and creativity of millions of Americans who want to ensure that we squarely confront the challenge of climate change before it’s too late.”
— Beto O'Rourke, in his launch video

That's what former Texas congressmen Beto O'Rourke said about climate change as the Democrat jumped into the 2020 White House race Thursday.

Why it matters: If that "perhaps most importantly" part translates into heavy emphasis on the stump, it will be another sign that global warming is no longer a second-tier topic in national politics. But we'll see.

Go deeper:

3. Rick Perry on AOC and bailing out coal

HOUSTON — Energy Secretary Rick Perry suggested Wednesday that he hasn't given up on finding ways to help economically struggling coal-fired and nuclear power plants, even though efforts to date haven't taken flight.

Why it matters: Competition from cheap natural gas, renewables and other forces are leading to ongoing closures of coal-fired plants, and could prompt more nuclear facilities to shutter in coming years.

  • The administration argues this threatens grid security and reliability, although a range of experts dispute the claim.

Perry said the country needs a “stable foundation of electric power that is un-interruptible” and that he wants more discussion.

  • “I’ve thrown a lot of jello over at the wall on this one trying to find some solutions that we can all, or at least a majority of us can get behind to support that,” he told reporters.
  • "We are looking for the answers to a question that vexes us," he said in a press conference at CERAWeek.

Where it stands: Early last year, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission unanimously rejected Perry's push for big changes to wholesale power market rules that would guarantee revenues for some coal-fired and nuclear plants.

Since then, the administration has mulled options for using sweeping national security powers to help plants stay open, but it hasn't gone anywhere.

* * *

Speaking of Perry: Via CNBC, "Energy Secretary Rick Perry said Wednesday that he would 'absolutely' have a conversation with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., about the Green New Deal."

4. Where wind and solar take the biggest share
Expand chart
Data: IEA; Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios

HOUSTON — Wind and solar are poised to be the fastest growing electricity sources in the world, and a small handful of European nations and American states are leading the way in increasing shares of these resources, Axios' Amy Harder reports.

Driving the news: Crown Princess Mary of Denmark touted her nation’s impressive offshore wind resources at CERAWeek yesterday.

The intrigue: Addresses like that show how this confab, traditionally known for its oil and gas executive speeches, is increasingly focusing on renewable energy and climate change.

Where it stands: The accompanying chart shows the top shares of wind and solar in the world, according to International Energy Agency data.

  • Denmark has the most by far with 52.4%, with Ireland and Portugal around 25%.
  • America’s windy states are led by those in the middle of the country: Kansas, Iowa and Oklahoma.

Yes, but: Hydropower is actually the largest current renewable power source, accounting for almost two-thirds of global renewable electricity.

  • Numerous countries, including Norway and Brazil, have high penetrations of this carbon-free resource, although hydropower additions have been declining since 2013, per IEA, whereas wind and solar are increasing significantly.

Go deeper: Tale of four countries: the world’s evolving energy mixes

5. Crude rising and more petro-notes

Markets: Crude oil prices are trading at 4-month highs on Thursday. Per Reuters, traders are responding to the combination of the OPEC+ agreement, U.S. sanctions against Iran and Venezuela, and yesterday's data showing a reduction in U.S. stockpiles.

Sanctions: Via S&P Global Platts, senior State Department adviser Brian Hook said Thursday that the U.S. could extend waivers on Iranian sanctions for some buyers if separate sanctions against Venezuela significantly affect supplies and prices.

  • Why it matters: "Hook's comments ... were the first public indication that the Trump administration was open to extending the Iran sanctions waivers, and seemed to be a softening of Hook's previous public stance that the waivers would likely expire in May as part of the US goal to push Iran crude exports to zero," per S&P.

Gender: Per Bloomberg, "Hard targets for women in oil and gas are necessary to accelerate diversity in a male-dominated industry, Royal Dutch Shell Plc’s U.S. President Gretchen Watkins said in an interview."

The big picture: ICYMI yesterday, my Axios colleague Dion Rabouin has an excellent look at the rise of the U.S into a global oil force.

  • "Thanks to the end of a 40-year-old crude oil export ban signed by President Obama, a shale boom and a host of geopolitical sea changes, the U.S. is poised to reshape the global oil market over the next 10 years and beyond," Dion writes.
  • Go deeper
6. GOP's Green New Deal pushback

Amy reports that top House Republicans are urging Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to hold hearings on the Green New Deal as they seek to cast the progressive policy as bad for poor Americans.

Why it matters: This effort, which includes a letter and press conference on Thursday, represents congressional Republicans’ most detailed response yet to Democrats’ push on climate change since last year’s election.

  • While largely symbolic, this back-and-forth shows just how quickly the topic has gone from Washington’s back burner to front burner.

Read more of Amy's full story.

Meanwhile, The Hill reported yesterday evening that Senate GOP leaders plan to bring the GND resolution up for a vote the week of March 25.

  • They're seeking to put Democrats in a political bind over the resolution, which has uncertain support in Democratic ranks despite backing from several of the party's White House hopefuls.

Go deeper: Senate Democrats look to play climate offense

Ben GemanAmy Harder