Jul 23, 2021

Axios Generate

🎉 Happy Friday! Today's Smart Brevity count is 1,261 words, < 5 minutes.

📊 Data point of the day: >70%. The estimated population living in cities by 2050, per a new IEA report that sees "massive growth" in urban energy infrastructure needs.

🎶 Yesterday marked the 1977 release date of Elvis Costello's "My Aim is True," which provides today's intro tune...

1 big thing: Next heat dome on deck (seriously)

Temperature departures from average on July 29, as projected by the European model. (Weatherbell.com)

A significant and far-reaching heat wave is poised to build across much of the continental U.S. during the next few weeks, Andrew writes.

Why it matters: It could be the most expansive in the country so far during this unusually hot summer, aggravating drought conditions and wildfires.

Climate change from human-caused emissions of greenhouse gases is increasing the frequency, intensity, and duration of heat waves.

The big picture: Forests across the West are already burning at a scope and intensity that's extreme for this time of year.

  • Drought data released Thursday showed that what is already the worst western drought so far this century is intensifying.
  • The U.S. Drought Monitor shows that 65.4% of the western U.S. is in "extreme" to "exceptional" drought conditions, the worst two categories on the scale, up from 52.8% on June 1.

Driving the news: A heat dome, which is an area of high pressure aloft that helps to lock in place hot, dry weather, will form this weekend over the West and eventually migrate to a position across the Central Plains.

  • Computer models show temperatures climbing to 10°F to 15°F or higher above average for this time of year across the affected areas.
  • Temperatures will easily reach the mid-to-upper 90s to triple digits from portions of the Pacific Northwest to the Plains, parts of the Midwest, and eastern U.S. (with the exception of the Northeast).
  • Cities such as Des Moines, St. Louis, Minneapolis and Chicago will be in the path of the heat wave next week.

How it works: Model projections show the heat could stick around for much of August as weather patterns pile up like cars on the Washington Beltway, going nowhere fast.

What we're watching: Whether the extreme conditions will help move the needle on legislation to cut emissions and bolster infrastructure resilience.

  • Rep. Sean Casten (D-Ill.), told Axios he's hearing sobering stories from people affected by extreme weather this summer.
  • "People are now getting it because it's tangible and they can't say, 'well this is just a crazy scientific theory and prediction but I don't think it's going to happen,'" Casten said Thursday.

Read more

2. A snapshot of warming's effect on energy use
Data: EIA; Chart: Sara Wise/Axios

A brief new analysis explores how the staggering Pacific Northwest heat wave led to higher summer power demand — a topic policymakers must grapple with as the planet warms, Ben writes.

Driving the news: The Energy Information Administration looked at demand in several regions at 5 pm — when northwest temperatures often peak — in the three weeks after the summer solstice.

The big picture: The chart above captures two of the regions, and as you can see, demand trended significantly higher than the same stretches in 2019 and 2020.

  • Higher heat prompts increased energy use for air conditioners, fans, dehumidifiers and other equipment, they note.
  • Air conditioning use is increasing in the region too.
  • Portland, Oregon hit 116°F during the heat wave, while other Pacific Northwest areas also broke all-time records with similar readings.

How it works: EIA tracked 5 pm demand in regions called "balancing authorities" that contain the three cities they analyzed (two of them are above).

Their "Hourly Electric Grid Monitor" provides real-time data for 64 of these regions nationwide.

3. Battery startup claims long-duration breakthrough

Giphy

The startup Form Energy says it has developed cost-effective battery chemistry for long-duration storage using abundantly available iron, Ben writes.

Why it matters: Batteries that can hold and discharge energy for many hours or days are key to enabling very high levels of intermittent renewable energy penetration on power grids.

Driving the news: "Form Energy’s first commercial product is a rechargeable iron-air battery capable of delivering electricity for 100 hours at system costs competitive with conventional power plants and at less than 1/10th the cost of lithium-ion," Form said.

What's next: Via the Wall Street Journal, which broke the news in a deeply reported behind-the-scenes feature, reports that Form says its product will be ready for commercial deployment in 2025.

The big picture: Various investors of the company based in Somerville, Massachusetts include Bill Gates' Breakthrough Energy Ventures, Italian oil giant Eni and Energy Impact Partners.

  • Form yesterday announced a $200 million series D funding round led by metals giant ArcelorMittal.
  • The companies are "working jointly on the development of iron materials which ArcelorMittal would non-exclusively supply for Form’s battery systems," Form said.

Catch up fast: The Energy Department last week unveiled an initiative aimed at cutting the costs for grid-scale, long-duration energy storage by 90% within this decade.

  • Companies are developing competing battery chemistries but also other technologies like thermal systems using molten salts and other materials, compressed air and several other concepts.

What they're saying: "There is a Cambrian explosion of new storage technologies and in a Darwinian sense, they are not all going to survive. But the prize is huge both for investors and for society," clean energy expert Ramez Naam tells the WSJ.

Bonus: A battery lobbying shift

Speaking of storage, the Energy Storage Association is merging with the larger American Clean Power Association, Ben writes.

Quick take: The merger plan announced yesterday could help extend the reach of storage industry lobbying and advocacy.

The American Clean Power Association spent well over $500,000 on federal lobbying last quarter, compared to $20,000 for the Energy Storage Association, public filings show.

Go deeper: American Clean Power and Energy Storage Associations Pursuing a Merger (Power Magazine)

4. The legal case for going beyond ESG

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

It's not enough to invest in sustainable businesses. Instead, asset managers sometimes have a legal responsibility to actively influence the sustainability outcomes of the businesses they invest in. That's the message of new analysis from law firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Axios' Felix Salmon reports.

Why it matters: Large investors at insurers, pension funds, and non-ESG mutual funds are understandably very conservative when it comes to changing the way in which they invest the trillions of dollars under their control. A sober 564-page presentation from a major law firm is exactly the sort of thing to help them change their ways.

Catch up fast: Freshfields conducted the definitive legal study on environmental, social and governance investing in 2005. In an era when many lawyers and compliance officers were worried that ESG investing might conflict with fiduciary duties, Freshfields showed that legally it was nearly always permitted, and was sometimes required.

The big picture: The same broad verdict applies now, to the narrower field of investing for impact. The big message is that using investors' money as a way to force change is a natural part of what any fiduciary should do when faced with the reality of global warming.

Read the whole story.

5. EV notes: Rivian and U.S. sales

Manufacturing: "Amazon.com Inc-backed electric vehicle startup Rivian Automotive plans to build a second U.S. assembly plant that will also include battery cell production." (Reuters)

Deployment: "While still a sliver of the overall market, sales of plug-in vehicles more than doubled in the first half of 2021 compared with last year, when the pandemic sapped sales. That far outpaced the 29% rise for total vehicle sales, according to research firm Wards Intelligence." (WSJ)

6. Quote of the day
"We are still going to be the last man standing, and every molecule of hydrocarbon will come out."
— Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman

The big picture: Abdulaziz is quoted in this in-depth Bloomberg piece about his strategy amid OPEC+ tumult, questions about long-term oil demand and pressure to act on climate.