Oct 5, 2018

Axios Generate

By Ben Geman
Ben GemanAmy Harder

Happy Friday. At this moment 30 years ago, Guns N' Roses were atop the Billboard album charts with "Appetite For Destruction."

That title could double as the headline for today's second newsletter item, so they'll take us into the weekend...

1 big thing: Where the oil is going
Screenshot from summary of IEA report, "The Future of Petrochemicals"

Rising use of petrochemicals that make plastics and other products will be the largest source of crude oil demand growth in coming decades, the International Energy Agency said in a new report.

The big picture: "Petrochemicals ... are set to account for more than a third of the growth in oil demand to 2030, and nearly half to 2050, ahead of trucks, aviation and shipping," the report shows.

  • Petrochemicals are used to make plastics, as well as fertilizers, clothes and a wide array of other products.
  • "Demand for plastics – the most familiar group of petrochemical products – has outpaced that of all other bulk materials (such as steel, aluminum or cement), and has nearly doubled since 2000," IEA notes.
  • The report also notes that petrochemicals are used to make parts of clean-energy technologies, such as solar panels and batteries.

Why it matters: The IEA report calls the topic a "blind spot" in energy policy debates.

Petrochemicals are fundamental and helpful parts of the global economy, but also pose major pollution problems and represent a growing source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

  • In particular, plastics are a major marine pollution problem.
  • More broadly, the report's long-term forecast shows that recycling and efforts to curb single-use plastics will be "far outweighed" by rising plastics consumption in developing economies.
  • In addition, the chemical sector represents 18% of all industrial-sector carbon emissions, and IEA forecasts substantial emissions growth in coming decades.

What's next (or could be): The report offers a "clean technology scenario" to lower the environmental toll of petrochemicals in coming decades.

  • It includes the adoption of better waste management and recycling to help cut ocean-bound plastic waste in half and the use of carbon capture and storage among other actions.

Go deeper: Reuters has more here.

2. A sobering climate report awaits

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Axios' Andrew Freedman looks ahead to Sunday evening, when the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is scheduled to release its special report on the risks and benefits of limiting global warming to 1.5°C, or 2.7°F, above preindustrial levels.

Why it matters: The report is expected to contain sobering findings about how difficult it will be to meet the 1.5-degree target, which is an aspirational goal contained in the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

Every country in the world — except the U.S. — intends to honor the 2015 agreement, and the report will help inform negotiators in the next round of climate talks, set for December.

Buzz: The report is expected to call for a major role for carbon removal technologies, such as direct air capture. But many of these methods are in their infancy.

By the numbers:

  • We are currently on track for global warming of between 2.7 to 3.7°C by 2100, according to Kelly Levin, a scientist with the nonpartisan World Resources Institute.
  • To meet the 1.5-degree target, we'd need to reach net zero emissions by mid-century, and negative emissions thereafter, using carbon removal technologies.
  • Emissions in 2030 would also need to be about 50% less than 2010 levels.

Yes, but: Current emissions projections show the world is on track to increase emissions through 2030.

Read more of Andrew's story, which is worthy of your time.

My thought bubble: Despite the plummeting costs of renewables, the growth of electric cars and other low-carbon energy tech, it will be a stark reminder that the pace of global energy transition and the level of political ambition remains at odds with holding global warming in check.

3. Car news: GM, Tesla, Daimler, oil prices

The big picture: "Oil’s march toward $100 a barrel is coming at just the right the time for auto makers investing billions in the switch to electric cars," Bloomberg reports.

Players: Via Reuters, "Renault-Nissan and Daimler may expand their cooperation to battery and autonomous cars technology and mobility services."

GM CEO Mary Barra writes for Axios that federal legislation is needed to help realize the safety and emissions-cutting potential of self-driving and electric vehicles.

  • What to watch: "The SELF DRIVE Act, passed by the House of Representatives, and the AV START Act, pending in the Senate, would direct the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to issue new and revised safety regulations on an expedited basis," she writes.
  • "The bills would allow safe self-driving deployment during the period between enactment and NHTSA’s issuance of new regulations, but only by manufacturers that prove their self-driving cars are as safe as human drivers."
  • Read the whole column here.

Tesla: ICYMI, Elon Musk is back on Twitter antagonizing the Securities and Exchange Commission just a few days after settling with them for $20 million (while Tesla reached a separate but related settlement for another $20 million).

  • He called them the "Shortseller Enrichment Commission" in a tweet yesterday afternoon.
  • Why it matters: The SEC reached settlements with Musk and Tesla that contain provisions aimed at vetting Musk’s shoot-from-the-hip tweeting. He’s mocking the very commission he struck a deal with — before that deal has even been approved by a judge.
  • The big picture: Musk has shown himself to be his own worst enemy. This tweet could herald continued erratic behavior by the CEO, which would be bad for both the company and the share price that the SEC was ostensibly trying to protect.
4. Report: Zero-energy homes nearing cost parity
Screenshot from Rocky Mountain Institute report, "The Economics of Zero-Energy Homes: Single Family Insights"

Building highly efficient homes that meet — or at least could meet — all their energy needs with renewables isn't just an expensive option for the eco-rich anymore, a new Rocky Mountain Institute report finds.

Check out the chart above: It summarizes their findings on the cost of building solar-powered "zero-energy" (ZE) homes and "zero-energy ready" (ZER) homes (which don't yet have solar panels) in 4 big markets.

Why it matters: Residential energy use is an important source of fossil fuel consumption and hence GHGs.

The big picture: These homes are just 1% of the nationwide residential market, but the additional cost to build these single-family homes is "far less than consumers, builders, and policymakers may realize," according to the low-carbon energy think tank.

By the numbers: In the case studies of these markets, they found that ZERs are roughly 1%–2.5% more expensive, while ZEs are 7%–8% costlier. Per a summary:

[T]he economics for these homes have changed: ZE homes have quietly passed cost thresholds that make them not only good for the environment but also cost-effective.
5. Energy storage notes in two states

Nevada: A new report from the Brattle Group finds potential for substantial, cost-effective growth of energy storage in the state. The report, prepared for state regulators, finds that up to 175 megawatts of utility-scale battery storage could be deployed in 2020.

  • That figure could rise to more than 1,000 MW by 2030, depending on the pace of cost-declines.
  • Why it matters: Via Utility Dive, "Nevada is revamping the planning process for its utilities, and the state’s Public Utilities Commission (PUC) is considering establishing an energy storage target."

New York: Caldwell Intellectual Property Law's Maggie Teliska writes for Axios that construction on New York State’s largest-ever energy storage project started late last month, to launch in 2019.

  • Located on the Luther Forest Technology Campus in Saratoga County, the project comprises a 20-megawatt lithium ion battery storage installation that will store unused solar- and wind-generated electricity.
  • Why it matters: Despite ranking low in energy use, New York has developed an aggressive roadmap to support new energy storage projects such as the one on the Luther Campus.
  • The state's support is necessary for both the funding and development of these projects, which aim to reduce peak energy demand during critical periods, dependence on fossil fuels and, ultimately, GHG emissions.
  • Go deeper: Read her full Axios Expert Voices piece.
Ben GemanAmy Harder