Aug 27, 2019

Axios Generate

By Ben Geman
Ben GemanAmy Harder

Good morning! Tuesday's Smart Brevity count: 1,134 words, ~ 4 minutes.

And, exactly 40 years ago ZZ Top released "Degüello," so here's some killer guitar from Texas to provide today's intro tune...

1 big thing: G7 shows stark climate divide

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

Separate comments at the G7 meeting in France offered stark examples of how the U.S. has broken with historic allies on global warming.

Driving the news: The last question President Trump took at his concluding press conference asked what he thinks the world should be doing on climate.

  • Trump answered with a paean to the U.S. oil and gas boom and his pro-development policies — including opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to planned drilling.
  • "I'm not going to lose that wealth. I'm not going lose it on dreams, on windmills — which, frankly, aren’t working too well," said Trump, who earlier had not joined other heads of state at a session on climate (though aides did).
  • However, Trump also said that he's an environmentalist. Reuters has more here.

The other side, per AP: UN Secretary-General António Guterres openly suggests he's looking past the U.S. federal government for progress — and directly to Americans to fight climate change.

  • Guterres said, “I am very optimistic about American society and its capacity to deliver in relation to climate action."
  • “What matters here is to have a strong engagement of the American society and of the American business community and the American local authorities,” he added.

But, but, but: Yes, a number of states, cities and companies have stepped up their efforts.

  • But those "subnational" efforts won't put U.S. on track to meet the international commitments made under former President Obama, which would have required his successor to implement and build on his rules.

What's next: Guterres is hopeful that other countries will strengthen their existing pledges under the Paris agreement at next month's UN climate meeting in New York.

2: The race for long-duration storage
Giphy

A Massachusetts startup has raised $40 million in Series B funding to develop batteries with new chemistries capable of providing cost-effective, long-duration storage.

What's happening: Form Energy recently announced new funding from the venture arm of Italian oil giant Eni and Capricorn Investment Group.

  • Prior funders, including the Bill Gates-led Breakthrough Energy Ventures, also took part.
  • The money will be used to "develop engineering prototypes and a megawatt-scale commercial pilot of the energy storage system," a release states.

Why it matters: Long-term storage is one of the keys to enabling very high levels of intermittent renewables penetration in power grids while phasing out the need for complimentary fossil fuel plants.

  • But the most common battery technology that can help manage daily fluctuations — lithium ion — isn't currently cost-effective for long-term storage.
  • As this DOE primer notes, "[F]ull energy stored by a long-duration storage system is accessed relatively infrequently, resulting in fewer total cycles and thus less total revenue per unit energy."

The intrigue: The announcement comes just a week after the investment giant SoftBank Vision Fund said it's putting $110 million behind Energy Vault.

  • Energy Vault is a startup with a system that involves 35-ton composite bricks stacked into a large tower controlled via software by a crane system.

The big picture: The twin announcements for very different technologies — one using a battery system and one leveraging a gravity-based technique — show how the race to figure out economical long-duration storage is wide open.

Where it stands: Form has been working with a sulfur-based system, though the announcement late last week didn't specify any particular materials.

  • But overall, Carnegie Mellon University's Venkat Viswanathan says finding a way to use materials like sulfur — as opposed to more expensive materials like lithium — is key for long-duration applications.
  • “They are trying to fundamentally change the energy storage landscape by thinking of concepts where the raw material costs are extraordinarily low,” the engineering professor tells me.
  • “What needs to happen is the raw material costs have to be crazy cheap and so I think they are exploring a lot of different options associated with that general mission,” says Viswanathan, who has consulted with Form on a limited basis.

What they're saying: “The arrival of cost-effective long-duration storage is not nearly as far off as many would believe," CEO Mateo Jaramillo said in a statement.

Go deeper: Greentech Media has more here.

3. Get ready for a closer look at coal emissions

Axios' Amy Harder reports ... The International Energy Agency will take a newly detailed look at the climate and economic costs of the world’s coal plants in its 2019 World Energy Outlook, set for release in November, the agency's top official said.

Why it matters: "There is an important problem here," IEA executive director Fatih Birol said in a recent interview.

  • "The existing infrastructure provides a lifeline to people in developing countries, but at the same time, it’s the single most important driver of global carbon dioxide emissions," he said.

The big picture: IEA’s analysis will include a detailed, plant-level analysis, looking at what their "continued operation would mean for global emissions, energy security and costs,” a spokesperson said.

By the numbers:

  • Today’s coal plants emit more than 10 gigatons of carbon dioxide, which amounts to 1/3 of all energy-related CO2 emissions, Birol said.
  • Coal plants in Europe and the U.S. are around 40 years old, but ones in Asia are far newer — closer to 11 years old.
  • Birol calls those young plants a “blind spot” in our climate and energy debate, given they are likely to be emitting for decades longer.

Why you'll hear about this again: The intergovernmental organization's annual long-term outlooks are closely examined by analysts, companies, governments and others.

Go deeper: Why climate change is so hard to tackle

4. Oil's busy yet stagnant August
Expand chart
Data: Investing.com; Chart: Axios Visuals

Axios' Dion Rabouin writes ... Oil prices have been incredibly volatile so far this year, having fallen around 20% from their 2019 high reached in April. That gave back most of the gains from a 30% rise to start the year.

  • But ever since recovering from June's meltdown, the market has been unable to sustain momentum in any direction.
  • August has been perfectly emblematic of the sideways summer trading: WTI crude prices started the month at $53.95 per barrel after a nearly 8% selloff on Aug. 1, and closed on Monday at $53.98.
  • Check out Dion's Axios Markets here.
5. Catch up fast: coal, Iran, 2020

Coal: "Former coal CEO Don Blankenship’s misdemeanor conviction for conspiring to violate mine safety laws should be tossed out, a federal magistrate judge in West Virginia recommended Monday," AP reports.

Middle East: "Iraq is trying to cut its dependence on Iranian energy under pressure from the U.S., moving to connect its power grid to Tehran’s Arab rivals and develop alternatives to Iranian natural-gas imports," according to the WSJ.

2020: "Businessman Andrew Yang released his plan for addressing climate change on Monday, coupling calls for massive investment in technological innovation and nuclear power with the goal of reaching net-zero emissions by 2049 and federal funding to move at-risk communities to safer areas," per Politico.

6. One Olympics thing: electric vehicles

Toyota's "e-Palette" electric vehicle. Courtesy of Toyota

Toyota, which has a partnership with the Tokyo Olympics, has announced the slate of electric vehicles that will be used to move fans, athletes and others around the 2020 games.

By the numbers: The auto giant said that it's providing 3,700 "mobility products and/or vehicles" for the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

  • 90% will electrified in some way, including roughly 850 fully battery-powered vehicles and 500 fuel-cell vehicles, the automaker said Friday.

Look at the vehicle shown above.

  • It's the "e-Palette" that will "support transportation needs of staff and athletes, with a dozen or more running on a continuous loop within the Olympic and Paralympic Village."

Go deeper: Business Insider discusses the "bizarre autonomous and electric vehicles."

Ben GemanAmy Harder