Mar 6, 2019

Axios Generate

By Ben Geman
Ben GemanAmy Harder

D.C. readers: You're invited to Mind the Skills Gap tomorrow at 8am. Join Axios' Kim Hart for a look into the role that policy, business and education leaders play in offsetting the skills gap. 

  • The lineup: Kevin Hassett, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers; Rob Falzon, vice chair of Prudential Financial; and Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. RSVP

And, this week marks 30 years since De La Soul released "3 Feet High and Rising," so they'll infectiously play us into the news...

1 big thing: Tesla's image tumbles
Expand chart
Data: The Axios Harris Poll 100; Chart: Axios Visuals

Tesla's public reputation took a big hit in 2018, a tumultuous year for the electric automaker marked by a series of controversial comments by CEO Elon Musk, a new Axios-Harris Poll survey shows.

Why it matters: The drop in Tesla's ranking from number 3 to number 42 in the annual survey — the second-biggest decline after Facebook — shows the risks for companies with identities so closely aligned with one person.

"This is sort of a cautionary tale for when your CEO is a celebrity."
— John Gerzema, CEO, The Harris Poll

The big picture: Musk's wild 2018 included...

  • Baseless allegations of pedophilia against a man who helped rescue the Thai boys' soccer team.
  • His "funding secured" tweet about the now-aborted plan to take Tesla private, which drew a complaint from securities regulators that Musk settled.
  • Taking a drag from a cigarette with marijuana on "The Joe Rogan Experience."

By the numbers: Beyond the overall slide in the annual survey of the country's 100 most visible companies, Tesla also saw erosion in several of its metrics...

  • "Character" ranking slid from 7 to 57.
  • "Trust" ranking fell from 14 to 46.
  • "Ethics" ranking dropped from 5 to 56.
  • "Vision" went from 1 to 39.

Read more of my full story on our key findings and methodology for the Axios Harris Poll 100, a new partnership between Axios and The Harris Poll.

2. Exxon and Chevron go big in the Permian

Chevron and Exxon are both going very big on U.S. shale.

By the numbers: Exxon said yesterday that it plans to increase production by 80% to over 1 million barrels per day of oil equivalent in the Permian Basin by as soon as 2024.

  • That news arrived just after Chevron, the second-largest U.S.-based major, said it's planning Permian production of 900,000 barrels per day of oil-equivalent by 2023.
  • That's more than double current levels, per an investor presentation.

Why it matters: I'm hardly the first person to point out any of this, but the plans are a stark sign of how the world's biggest players are throwing their weight around in a region first developed by smaller, independent companies.

  • "The two Big Oil giants are advantaged because of their scale with large acreage positions, greater access to pipelines and guaranteed sales to their own refineries along the Texas Gulf Coast," Houston Chronicle notes.

The intrigue: It also makes things even more complicated for OPEC.

  • The Financial Times' Ed Crooks points out, "The ambitious expansion plans also lay down a marker for Opec, the oil producers’ cartel, that competition from US shale, which has put downward pressure on prices and transformed global crude markets over the past decade, can be expected to continue well into the 2020s."
  • Jason Bordoff, who heads a Columbia University energy think tank, tells Bloomberg that the Permian is "challenging OPEC’s ability to prop up prices while retaining market share."
3. Mike Bloomberg picks a tougher fight

You may have read by now that Michael Bloomberg isn't running for president, but I'm more interested in something he is doing: expanding his climate campaign to fight oil-and-gas.

Where it stands: The billionaire activist announced something called the "Beyond Carbon" campaign yesterday. It's an expansion of his longstanding work with the Sierra Club to shut down coal plants via an effort called "Beyond Coal," a campaign that will also continue.

What's next: Bloomberg didn't offer details beyond calling it a "grassroots effort to begin moving America as quickly as possible away from oil and gas and toward a 100 percent clean energy economy."

  • His aides declined to provide more, though a spokesperson told Axios that the Sierra Club will "remain an important partner along with others."

Quick take: On its face, this is a more complicated undertaking. While "Beyond Coal" has helped to retire coal plants, that advocacy effort basically swims with the current.

  • That's because cheap natural gas, the rise of renewables, regulations and other forces have all been shoving coal aside in power markets.

But, but, but: The oil-and-gas industry is bigger than coal and has deeper pockets. And trying to get "beyond" those fuels is trickier.

  • Take oil in transportation, for example. Electric vehicles are a tiny (though fast-growing) fraction of the car market, and it's even harder to wring oil from other forms of transportation, like heavy trucking, shipping, planes.

I'll be curious to see this campaign unfold.

4. Energy industry's workforce challenge

Axios' Amy Harder reports on a new study showing that all segments of America’s energy industry are having trouble hiring workers.

Driving the news: Hiring difficulty last year was cited by more than three-quarters of employers in areas like energy efficiency, electric power and vehicles.

  • This is an increase of nearly 7% over 2017, per the annual report that had been conducted by the Energy Department and is now done by 2 nonprofits.

Details: The U.S. Energy and Employment Report analyzed 5 sectors: energy efficiency, electric power generation, transmission/distribution/storage, fuels and motor vehicles.

  • The report was done by the Energy Futures Initiative, a think tank founded by former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and the National Association of State Energy Officials.
  • The report found that lack of experience, training or technical skill was “almost universally cited as the top reason” for the hiring difficulty across the 5 sectors.
  • More than half of construction employers in the energy efficiency sector, which has more than 1.3 million workers, said it was “very difficult” to hire new employees.

Go deeper: Read Amy's full story.

5. EVs on display in Geneva
Image of the VW ID. Buggy concept, courtesy of VW

All kinds of EV concepts are on display at the Geneva auto show this week, including...

Volkswagen: The company unveiled a concept (see above) that's inspired by the "classic Californian dune buggies of the 60s."

  • The Associated Press has more: "Volkswagen has trotted out a sleek, lime-green concept car known as the "ID. Buggy" for its most eye-popping premiere at the Geneva auto show. The roof- and door-less vehicle aims to evoke the more leisurely side of electric mobility.
  • The Verge reports: "A 62 kWh lithium-ion battery is integrated into the buggy’s floor, while a 201-horsepower electric motor in the rear gives it an expected range of 155 miles."

The big picture: That's just one of a bunch of models on display, ranging from futuristic concepts to stuff automakers actually plan to produce.

Go deeper: Reuters has a fun slideshow of what all sorts of automakers are displaying.

6. In my earbuds: CO2 removal, energy transition

A few podcasts I've enjoyed lately and you might too...

Venture capital: The carbon dioxide removal (CDR) marketplace Nori, whose pods I've just discovered, chatted with Y Combinator's Gustaf Alstromer about their plans to fund a number of companies in that space.

  • Why it matters: CDR advocates basically argue that these techniques — such as direct air capture and various soil techniques — are likely needed to compliment emissions-cutting in order to avoid highly dangerous warming levels.
  • One takeaway: “My early observation is that we need a lot more founders to start these companies. That is the missing link. I’ve seen enormous amounts of interest from investors, from press and media — almost too much — [and] from people that want to work for these companies, but not enough good founders to start the companies,” Alstromer said.
  • Go deeper: Y Combinator's carbon-removal push and Y Combinator readies climate funding news.

Energy transition: These 2 podcasts talk about future scenarios.

  • Over at the Columbia Energy Exchange, Lord Adair Turner of the Energy Transitions Commission talks about the pathway to decarbonizing sectors like steel, cement and shipping (we looked at ETC's analysis here).
  • The latest podcast from the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies chats with research associate Rob West about what he calls the risk of unintended consequences if investors sour too quickly on fossil fuels.

Green New Deal: The latest episode of the The Energy Gang from Greentech Media has a lively chat about takeaways from Sen. Dianne Feinstein's viral meeting with kids backing the GND. (Disclosure: They kindly cited a story of mine.)

Ben GemanAmy Harder