Oct 25, 2019

Axios Generate

By Ben Geman
Ben GemanAmy Harder

Happy Friday! Today's Smart Brevity count: 1,226 words, 4.6 minutes

Next on “Axios on HBO”: Explore the only offshore wind farm in the U.S. Plus, an exclusive interview with Iraq’s President Barham Salih (sneak preview), the head of the IMF Kristalina Georgieva talks socialism and taxes, and Sen. Kamala Harris gives her take on 2020. Tune in Sunday at 6pm on HBO. 

And this month in 1991, Public Enemy released "Apocalypse 91… The Enemy Strikes Black," the fourth album by the pioneering act that provides today's intro tune...

1 big thing: Offshore wind's potential to fight climate change
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Adapted from IEA; Chart: Axios Visuals

Axios' Orion Rummler reports...Offshore wind power is poised to grow rapidly and fill an important role in the world's electricity mix, a new International Energy Agency report found.

What’s new: Offshore wind provides just 0.3% of global electricity today, IEA predicts within about two decades it will increase at least 15-fold and make up between 3.1% to 5.4%, depending on how aggressively countries enact policies to cut carbon emissions.

The big picture: Even that expected growth is just a small fraction of what IEA executive director Fatih Birol, in the report, calls "near limitless" potential for the massive resource.

Where it stands: The majority of current offshore wind projects are in Europe, but China added more offshore wind capacity in 2018 than the rest of the world.

  • Birol says that local air pollution in China — which is already fueling the country's embrace of other cleaner sources of energy — will drive an offshore boom there.
  • In its Sustainable Development Scenario — a benchmark for climate policies aligned with Paris agreement goals — IEA writes that emissions avoided with offshore wind would equal the current amount avoided with zero-emitting nuclear power.

Why it matters: Global carbon dioxide emissions from energy generation, a lead driver in climate change, reached a record high in 2018, a May IEA report shows.

Yes, but: Obstacles, like high current costs that outpace other electricity sources, will likely prevent reaching the full technical potential of offshore wind.

  • The report finds that the resource will be cost-competitive in China by 2030 — and soon in Europe — though the U.S. may take longer than that.
  • Recent delays in the U.S. federal review process of offshore wind indicate opposition, but there's less in waters than on land to energy facilities.

My thought bubble: A standing reminder from your Generate host that IEA has long underestimated renewables' growth, so offshore wind could expand well beyond their latest forecast.

Go deeper in the Axios stream

2. Senate Dems' emerging climate plans

Senate Minority leader Chuck Schumer said new plans to speed the transition to electric cars will be a pillar of wider climate legislation he'll propose if Democrats gain a majority in the 2020 elections.

Why it matters: The proposal unveiled in a New York Times op-ed on Thursday provides the first detailed look at major climate measures Schumer will promote if his party takes control of the chamber (which is an uphill battle).

  • Schumer's op-ed says his proposal already has buy-in from the United Autoworkers; automakers including Ford and GM; and big environmental groups including the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Driving the news: Schumer's plan has three core elements.

  • Big discounts for consumers who trade in gasoline-powered cars for U.S.-made electric or hydrogen fuel-cell models.
  • Grants to cities and states to deploy more EV charging infrastructure.
  • Grants for building or retooling manufacturing plants to focus on EVs and battery technologies.

By the numbers: The op-ed says the discounts would lead to 63 million fewer gasoline-powered cars on U.S. roads by 2030.

Consumer rebates for trading in gasoline-powered cars would start at $3,000 and ramp up "based on the zero-emission range" of the new vehicle, his office said.

The estimated cost of the overall three-part plan is $454 billion over 10 years.

The big picture: Schumer said last month that a sweeping climate bill would be "one of the first things we put on the floor" if Democrats gain a majority. The op-ed adds the EV plan would be a key part of the bill.

3. Here comes Ford's new EV
Screenshot of Ford release

Ford is offering a little more info about its upcoming long-range electric vehicle.

Driving the news: Yesterday the automaker said it will unveil its "Mustang-inspired" electric SUV on Nov. 17 and teased the outlines of the car (see above).

Why it matters: Ford has been slower to move into EVs than some other auto giants.

  • But it's now pouring billions of dollars into the effort to develop a number of vehicles — including an electric F-150 — as well as working with VW and investing in the startup Rivian.
  • The company says the "Mustang-inspired" SUV will have a range of roughly 300 miles.

Where it stands: "The new vehicle, which is also now rumored to be called 'Mach E,' has been spotted a number of times in recent months in testing camouflage," The Verge reports.

"There’s been speculation that it will cost around $50,000, come in short and long-range variants, and be available in rear or all-wheel-drive configurations," their piece adds

What's next: Via CNBC, Ford plans to have the vehicle available in U.S. and European dealerships next fall.

4. Tesla short sellers are feeling the burn
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Data: S3 Partners; Chart: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

Tesla's stock price rallied nearly 18% on Thursday after a stronger-than-expected earnings report, putting a big dent in the profits of short-sellers, Axios' Dion Rabouin reports.

  • Many short sellers pulled out of the trade after the stock fell to $178.97 a share in June, counting $5.16 billion in mark-to-market profits because of the stock's decline, according to data from S3 Partners. But those who continued to short Tesla have paid dearly, and are now in the red, year-to-date.

What happened: Tesla's stock has been a tale of two halves. In the first half of the year, short sellers had nearly recouped the entirety of their losses from the 2016-2018 period when Tesla was one of the market's hottest companies.

  • But since June 3, shares have rallied by more than 60%, as CEO Elon Musk has managed to produce solid numbers and beef up production in China.
  • Short sellers lost close to $1.5 billion on Thursday alone, wiping out almost 70% of their year-to-date profits, S3's managing director of predictive analytics Ihor Dusaniwsky said in a note.
5. BP backs forest carbon offsets firm

BP said Friday that its venture capital arm is investing $5 million in a company that specializes in offsetting carbon emissions through forest projects.

Why it matters: It's the latest example of oil giants using their venture arms to stake companies with tech and products designed to fight climate change.

Driving the news: BP is investing in Finite Resources Inc., which is the parent company of Finite Carbon.

"The investment will enable Finite Carbon to grow a new line of business to incentivize sustainable forest management, financed by businesses seeking to voluntarily offset carbon emissions," BP said in a release.

The big picture: Rob West, founder of the research firm Thunder Said Energy, tells me that oil majors' total VC spending may reach $700 million this year.

However, that's across all forms of tech, not just alternative energy and climate-related companies.

Where it stands: BP isn't the only oil major working in the forest space. The Italy-based multinational Eni calls forest conservation projects a "pillar" of their climate efforts.

Per Bloomberg, Eni rolled out plans earlier this year to plant 20 million acres in Africa.

But, but, but: The majors' investments in climate-friendly projects, business lines and startups remains a very small fraction of their spending on oil-and-gas exploration and production.

6. Exxon faces new climate lawsuit

The Boston Globe reports...

"The [Massachusetts] state attorney general’s office announced Thursday it is suing ExxonMobil Corp. for allegedly deceiving the state’s consumers about the role the company’s products play in climate change and misleading investors about the potential financial risks to the company."

Why it matters: The lawsuit signals the expansion of the growing legal battle over oil majors' role in global warming.

The suit arrives the same week as a trial opened in New York's supreme court, where that state's attorney general has brought a similar case against Exxon. The company has called the charges baseless.

Go deeper: Massachusetts accuses Exxon in lawsuit of climate change deceit (Reuters)

Ben GemanAmy Harder