Aug 28, 2018

Axios Generate

By Ben Geman
Ben GemanAmy Harder

Good morning! And happy belated birthday to Rush's Alex Lifeson, whose guitar gets us going today...

1 big thing: Facebook's new energy pledge

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Facebook plans to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 75% in 2020 and power its worldwide operations solely with renewable energy by the end of that year, the company said Tuesday.

Why it matters: Data centers for major tech companies suck up lots of power — those operations accounted for the vast bulk of Facebook's 2.46 million megawatt hours of electricity use last year.

Context: That's enough to power over 228,000 average American homes, according to a back of the envelope calculation using Energy Information Administration data on average residential power use.

  • Facebook, according to its website, was responsible for 979,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent last year, and roughly two-thirds came from powering data centers.

The big picture: Tuesday's announcement is the tech giant's first greenhouse gas target. And it expands on a prior pledge of getting 50% of its power from renewables, which the company says it reached last year.

  • It highlights the growing role of corporate procurement in driving expansion of wind and solar power, and and tech industry giants are playing a major role. Renewable purchasing deals are at record levels this year.
  • More broadly, Apple announced in April that all its worldwide operations are now powered by renewables, the same month that Google said it met 100% of its worldwide power needs with renewables for the first time last year.

How it works: Facebook said it will use a variety of contracting methods, such as renewable energy tariffs and direct power purchase agreements, to meet its renewables target.

  • "All of the projects are additional and new. In other words, these projects would not be happening without the long-term financial commitment that Facebook has undertaken," spokesperson Melanie Roe said.
  • In one case, last month the company announced a deal with Pacific Power to build 437 megawatts worth of solar projects to supply an Oregon data center.

Go deeper: The corporate renewables surge.

2. What's next for Mexico's shale patch

President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador at an Aug. 20 press conference. Photo: Carlos Tischler via Getty Images

Anna Mikulska, an Axios Expert Voices contributor, explores Mexican President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador's (AMLO) proposed a ban on fracking last month, which would prevent the country from tapping its potentially vast shale resources.

Despite Mexico's rising natural gas demand and increasing dependence on natural gas imports, the country's shale reserves so far have not figured into its energy reform.

The big picture: While a shale ban might have long-term effects on Mexico's economy, it's unlikely to do so during AMLO's term, which is limited to 6 years. Because of structural barriers to shale extraction that would nevertheless persist in that timespan, even a complete ban on fracking wouldn't significantly impact the Mexican energy sector.

Background: Mexico’s declining oil and natural gas production has motivated comprehensive energy reform that opened the oil and gas sectors to private investment.

Several factors hinder Mexico from reaching a rapid success akin to that of the U.S. shale revolution.

  • One example: Mineral rights are owned by the state, reducing the likelihood that potential landowners will accept disruption to their property. The process is additionally hindered by the government auctions required to assign exploration rights.

Read more of Mikulska's piece in the Axios stream.

Mikulska is nonresident fellow in energy studies at Rice University’s Baker Institute's Center for Energy Studies and a senior fellow at the University of Pennsylvania's Kleinman Center for Energy Policy.

3. What we're reading: wildfires and energy

Via Axios' Amy Harder... A window into how a warmer world affects local energy debates just unfolded in Spokane, a city in eastern Washington state that has had unprecedented bad air quality on par with Asia’s polluted cities because of wildfire smoke in the region.

Driving the news: The Spokane City Council last week approved an ordinance setting a goal to get 100% renewable electricity by 2030, according to The Spokesman Review. It’s one of dozens of American cities pledging more renewable energy.

Quoted: “Not normal,” City Council President Ben Stuckart, a Democrat, tweeted before last week’s meeting, per The Inlander, another local publication. "Unsustainable. Patios sit empty. Trail systems unhiked. Need masks just to get to work. Public pools closed. We need to take responsibility for our climate future or watch our future burn up.”

The details:

  • The council approved the measure, 6-1, a veto-proof level of support if the mayor opposes it.
  • The city had been mulling such an ordinance since at least April, partly at the encouragement of 350 Spokane, a local chapter of the activist group
  • Spokane, population of a little more than 200,000, is the biggest city in eastern Washington, a conservative part of an otherwise progressive state.
  • Washington gets much of its power already from a renewable energy: hydropower.

Go deeper: Read Amy's full story in the Axios stream.

4. Arctic ice loss is LNG's gain
Expand chart
Data: National Snow & Ice Data Center, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency; Map: Lazaro Gamio/Axios, originally used in this Axios story

Bloomberg has some in-depth reporting on what the loss of Arctic sea ice means for the LNG industry.

"Their cargoes have traversed the region for the first time this year without icebreakers, shaving days off shipping times and unlocking supplies from difficult-to-reach fields in Siberia," they report.

Why it matters: The new access for LNG ships is one sign of how climate change is opening up a new era for Arctic shipping.

  • It's a topic my Axios colleague Andrew Freedman explored in detail recently when he wrote about Danish shipping giant Maersk's plan to send first cargo container vessel unaided through the Arctic's Northern Sea Route.

Winners: More from Bloomberg's reporting...

  • "More navigable waters are a boost for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s effort to expand his nation’s reach in the gas market and for energy companies such as Total SA and Novatek PJSC, which are leading Arctic developments."
  • "They also help reduce shipping costs for LNG, benefiting buyers and traders of the fuel from PetroChina Co. to Gunvor Group Ltd."

The big picture: During the period from 1979 to 2017, sea ice has declined by about 33,200 square miles per year, or 13.2% per decade compared to the 1981–2010 average, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

5. Number of the day: 1 million

Europe's electric vehicle fleet now totals over one million vehicles on the strength of sales in the first half of 2018 that are 42% above last year's levels for the period, according to the data tracking firm EV Volumes.

Why it matters: The figure, which includes battery EVs and plug-in hybrids, is a symbolic milestone that nonetheless signals the rapid growth of the technology, albeit from a very small base.

  • EVs are now 2.2% of the European market, they said.

The big picture: Via The Guardian, "Europe hit the [1 million] milestone nearly a year after China, which has a much larger car market, but ahead of the US, which is expected to reach the landmark later this year driven by the appetite for Tesla’s latest model."

  • Sales in the first half of the year totaled 195,000 vehicles, according to EV Volumes.

The intrigue: They expect the continent's fleet to reach 1.35 million by year's end, but also warned that a "caveat" for high growth during the second half of the year is availability of supply.

  • "Our tracking of plug-in vehicle inventory shows an average of only 4 days of supply on stock and 2 months of order back-log," their report notes.
  • "Models with more than 10, 000 unfulfilled orders, each, are Hyundai Kona, VW e-Golf, Jaguar i-Pace and Nissan Leaf and obviously the Tesla Model 3, all of them BEVs."
6. On my screen: Aramco, California, Tesla

Aramco's future: Reuters reports on the drama around why Saudi Aramco's plans for a massive IPO — an initiative of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — have apparently been scuttled.

  • The news service, citing "three sources with ties to government insiders," reports that "the prince’s father King Salman stepped in to shelve it."
  • "The decision came after the king met with family members, bankers, and senior oil executives, including a former Aramco CEO, said one of the sources, who requested anonymity," Reuters writes.

Tesla's future: Via the Wall Street Journal, "Now that Mr. Musk has squashed efforts to take Tesla Inc. private, the spotlight will turn back to the auto maker’s operational challenges, namely whether it can maintain its grueling production pace for the Model 3 to meet customer demand and generate cash to stave off fundraising."

California's future: The Los Angeles Times unpacks a major new state report on what's in store for California in a warming world, including its energy systems. Per L.A. Times:

"More air conditioning will place added strain on the electrical grid by increasing peak demand. To avoid blackouts, utilities will have to make costly upgrades, such as additional generating capacity, substations and energy storage facilities, to meet demand during hot months."
Ben GemanAmy Harder