Jul 1, 2019

Axios Generate

By Ben Geman
Ben GemanAmy Harder

Good morning! Today's Smart Brevity count: 1,222 words, < 5 minute read.

Housekeeping note: Amy's "Harder Line" column returns next Monday and Generate will take off Thursday and Friday for the holiday weekend.

Plus, happy birthday to the groundbreaking Debbie Harry of Blondie, who has today's intro tune...

1 big thing: A cool lens on a hot future
Expand chart

Adapted from a Resources for the Future report; Chart: Axios Visuals 

This is cool! A new online tool offers an interactive, apples-to-apples comparison of long-term global energy outlooks issued by intergovernmental bodies, major oil companies and others.

Why it matters: These detailed projections and scenarios inform policymakers, analysts, activists and really anyone trying to grapple with where the world might be headed.

But, but, but: A big challenge is that it's tough to compare big reports on the future of various fuels, and global or regional demand from parties like the International Energy Agency and Royal Dutch Shell.

  • They differ on metrics used for energy consumption, such as how they report carbon emissions, economic assumptions and data presentation.

Enter the interactive tool and accompanying report from scholars with the nonpartisan think tank Resources for the Future, which harmonizes these huge and distinct long-term analyses.

The big picture: The tool cleanly compares how these reports project the future based on current and planned national policies, and climate-friendly scenarios offered by some of the analyses. (Check out the chart above for CO2 outlooks.)

Here are some high-level takeaways from the comparison...

  • The studies agree that absent strong climate efforts, consumption grows "20–30% or more through 2040 and beyond, led largely by fossil fuels," notes RFF president Richard Newell and colleagues Daniel Raimi and Gloria Aldana.
  • That's driven largely in the global "east" — that is, Asia-Pacific, Africa and the Middle East — while consumption in the global "west" is largely flat.
  • Renewables surge, but without more ambition on climate, they "primarily add to, rather than displace, fossil fuels."

The intrigue: "Under ambitious climate scenarios, the global economy becomes much more energy efficient, global coal consumption declines by more than half relative to current levels, oil use falls by up to 20%, natural gas increases modestly, nuclear energy grows by more than 50%, renewables more than double, and carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies are deployed at scale by 2040."

Where it stands: Beneath high-level areas of agreement, the analysis shows that modelers with different companies and organizations can diverge a lot. For instance...

  • IEA's "current policies" case sees coal use growing 38% in the global "east" by 2040, while the U.S. Energy Information Administration sees a 6% rise there.
  • BP, Equinor, and IEA diverge sharply in how much carbon capture and storage comes online by 2040
  • In scenarios that would keep temperature rise below 2°C, Shell's "Sky" scenario is notable for assuming widespread deployment of carbon dioxide removal tech.

Take it for a spin

2. Oil jumps as OPEC+ closes in on deal extension

OPEC and Russia are slated to extend their production-limiting pact for 6–9 months, with the longer period looking more likely, according to reports from the OPEC+ meeting underway in Vienna.

Why it matters: The emerging decision, alongside the easing of U.S.-China trade tensions, could temper downward pressure on crude oil prices from the economic slowdown.

What's new: Per S&P Global Platts and others, Saudi Oil Minister Khalid al-Falih called a 9-month extension "most likely," while Russia's energy minister also likes the idea.

  • Crude prices Monday were moving up, with Brent trading around $66.47 and WTI about $60.12.

The big picture: The Russia-Saudi collaboration shows how the U.S. production surge this decade has shaken up the geopolitics of oil, challenging OPEC and forcing the cartel to seek new strategies.

  • The U.S. is now the world's biggest crude oil producer, ahead of both Russia and Saudi Arabia.

What they're saying: Hedgeye Risk Management's Joe McMonigle explored the preference for a 9-month rollover of the current deal that curbs output by 1.2 million barrels per day.

  • "The move seems to try to get in front of and address concerns about weakening demand going into next year," he said in a note.
  • And PVM analyst Tamas Varga tells Reuters: "Clearly, the producer group is more than willing to sacrifice market share for a balanced market."
3. Exxon says it's pushing trade group on climate

Axios' Amy Harder reports ... ExxonMobil is working to encourage a major Washington lobbying group to support policies addressing climate change, a top company official said.

Why it matters: Facing public, investor and legal pressure, oil companies are increasingly backing action on climate, yet sticking with trade associations whose positions don’t align with that shift.

  • At issue here is American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), a big refining group.

Driving the news: Royal Dutch Shell announced earlier this year it was leaving AFPM, citing "material misalignment" on climate policies.

  • But Exxon is opting to stay and try to influence the group’s positioning, said Nick Schulz, Exxon's director of stakeholder engagement.

Where it stands: "They are very aware of what our view is and we are trying to get AFPM to a different position,” Schulz said. “There are other members of AFPM that have a very different view on this."

  • Schulz, who spoke at the Aspen Ideas Festival last week in Colorado, said AFPM’s work on other issues — namely safety — are valuable to Exxon.
  • An Exxon spokesperson said the company doesn't support AFPM's position against increasing fuel efficiency standards.

Go deeper

4. Big this week: Tesla shows its cards

Within days Tesla is expected to report how many cars the Silicon Valley electric automaker delivered to customers during Q2.

Why it matters: The delivery numbers are a closely watched metric of the company's performance, especially as it emerges from production hiccups last year with its Model 3 and it tries to improve its logistics.

Where it stands: Per CNBC, CEO Elon Musk told staff in an email last week that "if we go all out," the company might break its record for deliveries, which is 90,700 vehicles in Q4 of last year.

  • They had dropped sharply in the first 3 months of this year.

But, but, but: The delivery numbers, while important, are not a proxy for the financial health of Tesla, which has yet to be consistently profitable.

  • UBS analysts, in a note Friday, see "near term upside for shares from the delivery announcement."
  • But they also see headwinds for Tesla stemming from lower prices for its autopilot, and the reduced value of federal tax credits.
  • "TSLA's US EV credits will fall in Q3 $1,875, implying Q2 likely benefited from pull-forward & consequently there could be payback in Q3. As we expect margin headwinds & slowing deliveries, we remain bearish," they said.

Between the lines: Bloomberg's Dana Hull reports: "Analysts’ fear is that even if Tesla does show marked improvement in deliveries this quarter, Musk will achieve this at the expense of profitability."

  • Her piece flags an interesting dilemma for Tesla — consumers who prefer the Model 3 instead of buying a more expensive Tesla.
  • "The potential cannibalization of higher-end Model S and Model X sales by the cheaper Model 3 gives Wall Street pause," she notes.
5. Breaking: Big insurer walking away from coal

The Financial Times reports ... "Chubb is set to become the first of the big US insurers to announce a ban on coverage for coal companies." The company is Swiss but much of its business is U.S.-based, FT notes.

Why it matters: It signals an expansion of a trend already evident among European insurance companies.

What's next: "Chubb will on Monday announce that it will no longer sell insurance to new coal-fired power plants or sell new policies to companies that derive more than 30 per cent of their revenues from thermal coal mining," FT reports.

  • The company "will also stop making new investments in companies that have a big exposure to thermal coal mining or coal-based energy production."
Ben GemanAmy Harder