Sep 2, 2020

Axios Generate

By Ben Geman
Ben GemanAmy Harder

Good morning. Today's Smart Brevity count: 1,100 words, <4.5 minutes.

🎵 And at this moment in 1971, the late Aretha Franklin was atop Billboard's R&B charts with this amazing tune...

1 big thing: The renewable threat to biodiversity

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

New research finds that expanded mining for materials used in renewable power technologies and electric cars could harm vulnerable species and ecosystems absent better planning.

Why it matters: The peer-reviewed paper in Nature Communications explores a sticky problem as it warns of exacerbated habitat loss and degradation from mining.

  • The tech needed to fight one threat to biodiversity — climate change — can create other big risks unless policymakers act "urgently" on the matter, the researchers found.
  • It's not a far-off threat either. A new Financial Times feature explores how increased mining in Indonesia for nickel, an EV battery component, will create more marine waste.

How it works: They looked at tens of thousands of "pre-operational, operational, and closed" mining sites for dozens of materials, many of which target supplies needed for clean energy applications.

  • It then draws a 50-kilometer radius around them to assess their "spatial coincidence with biodiversity conservation sites and priorities."
  • They find that mining "potentially influences" almost 50 million square kilometers.
  • 8% of that overlaps with "protected areas," 7% with "key biodiversity areas," and 16% with "remaining wilderness."

Yes, but: Simon Evans of the climate news and analysis site Carbon Brief cautions via Twitter that the analysis assumes an extremely wide potential impact radius (again, 50 kilometers) around mining sites.

  • "[O]f course it's possible to think of potential impacts that can extend a long way, but as a default for all mines I don't think it is that meaningful," Evans tweeted.

The big picture: Greatly expanding climate-friendly energy and transport means much higher demand for materials like lithium, copper, cobalt and more.

  • As the International Energy Agency puts it, rising deployment is set to "supercharge demand for critical minerals."
  • The paper's authors, writing in The Conversation, cite World Bank estimates that demand for a suite of critical materials could grow by 500% by 2050.

The bottom line: "Careful strategic planning is urgently required to ensure that mining threats to biodiversity caused by renewable energy production do not surpass the threats averted by climate change mitigation and any effort to slow fossil fuel extraction and use," the paper concludes.

  • Lead author Laura Sonter of the University of Queensland in Australia tells the Guardian that the "good news" is “many of the required materials also exist outside areas important for conservation.”
2. A political win for the climate movement

Sen. Ed Markey's victory in the Massachusetts Senate primary is a big moment in climate politics, even though it's hard to see Rep. Joe Kennedy voting much differently if he'd won.

Driving the news: Markey handily beat Kennedy in yesterday's contest, making him a near-certainty to win re-election this fall in the heavily Democratic state.

Why it matters: Markey has long been among Capitol Hill's most outspoken members on climate.

  • He co-authored the Green New Deal resolution with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who endorsed him in the race.
  • Climate groups worked on Markey's behalf, including the AOC-aligned Sunrise Movement, which poured organizing resources into the contest.

What they're saying: "We didn’t want to wake up to a bunch of headlines saying Ed Markey lost and voters rejected the Green New Deal," Sunrise Movement political director Evan Weber told the Washington Post.

3. Lucid Motors teases specs ahead of big launch

Image courtesy of Lucid Motors

Lucid Motors is doing its damndest to build interest in its upcoming Lucid Air electric sedan ahead of finally taking the wraps off the thing next week.

Driving the news: The Silicon Valley startup today released new details about the car's drivetrain and performance.

  • A dual-motor edition with up to 1,080 horsepower can cover a quarter-mile in 9.9 seconds, the company said, calling it the only electric sedan with that ability.
  • The electric motors can spin at up to 20,000 rotations per minute. They are part of a 900-plus volt electric drive unit that weighs 163 pounds and can "fit inside a standard airline carry-on roller bag."
  • Each drive unit provides over 650 horsepower, and is smaller and more powerful than the competition, according to Lucid.

The big picture: It's the latest in a rat-tat-tat burst of announcements about the car, which is slated to launch production at an Arizona factory early next year.

The bottom line: The EV space is getting more crowded, so Lucid has to find ways to stand out — even if that means touting speeds and range that few drivers need.

The intrigue: Lucid said the car's "Wunderbox" charging system is well-equipped for serving as a backup home electricity.

  • "The Wunderbox ... enables a wide array of future-ready, bi-directional power delivery features from the vehicle to the grid (V2G) for situations such as managing home power outages."

Quick take: That's important in California, the country's largest EV market and a place plagued by power outages in recent years.

4. Energy jobs that Gen Z wants
Data: Morning Consult; Chart: Axios Visuals

Members of Generation Z are far more interested in careers in renewable energy than nuclear power or fossil fuels, new Morning Consult polling shows.

Why it matters: The new data underscores a much-discussed problem facing the oil-and-gas and nuclear sectors: Attracting young talent. For instance, this Wall Street Journal piece explores the topic.

How it works: Morning Consult polled 1,000 people ages 13–23 about whether they were interested in careers in the industries listed above.

  • "When Gen Zers do look to the future, it seems that participating in sectors whose emissions contribute to climate change holds little appeal," they report.
  • Nuclear power also holds much less appeal than renewables, even though it's a zero-emissions generation source.

Of note: The poll's margin of error is ±3%.

5. Number of the day: $193 million

That's how much Exxon may have saved in U.S. taxes in 2018 under the GOP-led tax-cutting legislation approved late the prior year, per a recent note from Rystad Energy.

Why it matters: The analysis provides a window onto the industry-specific effects of the wider tax bill.

  • "Taking ExxonMobil’s U.S. operations as a specific example, we estimate that in 2018 the company saved $193 million (36%) in corporate tax, reducing asset breakeven oil prices by as much as 5.3%," Rystad states.

The big picture: "[I]n a sample of 50 operators our study estimates that operating cash flows for all companies could increase by more than $5 billion per year (with an average of about $250 million to $300 million per year in tax benefits)."

6. Catch up fast: Deals, shale, utilities, EU

Power: "Utilities across the world have been moving very cautiously away from fossil fuels, if at all, over the past two decades, with the vast majority adopting a passive approach to managing their portfolios and only a small share actively shifting to green energy, according to a new analysis." (S&P Global Platts)

Fracking: "Oilfield services firm Schlumberger agreed to sell its North American shale fracking business to rival Liberty Oilfield Services, unloading a unit that underperformed during the shale bust." (Reuters)

Money: "A consortium led by Apollo Global Management Inc. agreed to invest billions of dollars in the real estate of Abu Dhabi’s oil company, in what will be one of the Middle East’s largest property deals." (Bloomberg)

Climate: "The European Union will redouble efforts to meet its green goals to help mitigate the economic havoc wrought by COVID-19, its top climate official said on Tuesday, rejecting any notion that the pandemic had made ambitious climate action unaffordable." (Reuters)

Ben GemanAmy Harder