Jun 28, 2019

Axios Generate

Happy Friday! Smart Brevity count: 1,152 words, ~ 4 minute read.

Situational awareness: Per Bloomberg this morning, "Discussions between leaders at the Group of 20 Summit in Japan will clarify uncertainties about the direction of the oil market before the OPEC+ meeting next week, said Russia’s Energy Minister Alexander Novak."

And an early happy birthday to Colin Hay (it's tomorrow), who brings us into the weekend with this lovely intro tune...

1 big thing: Podium spotlight on Harris, not climate

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The first primary Democratic debates are over, and there were several interesting takeaways.

1. Watch Kamala Harris. The California senator had a big night and a memorable confrontation with Joe Biden over civil rights.

  • Why it matters: With a burst of attention to her campaign all but certain, we still don't know much about her energy and climate platform.
  • Where it stands: Harris hasn't released a plan. She co-sponsored the Green New Deal (GND) resolution, but that's a sweeping vision statement, not a policy blueprint.
  • Driving the news: Last night Harris called climate "an existential threat to us as a species" and a "crisis" but declined to provide policy details.

2. Under pressure: The climate questions from NBC moderators — which arrived deep into both contests — weren't nearly enough to sap calls for a climate-specific debate from activists and some candidates.

  • By the numbers: Last night saw around 9 minutes of chatter that began almost 80 minutes in, following about 7 minutes the night before.
  • What they're saying: "Think we need more time to discuss the greatest existential threat facing humanity? Chip in to power our campaign for a #ClimateDebate," the youth-led Sunrise Movement tweeted in a fundraising appeal.
  • Quick take: I'd be surprised if the Democratic National Committee backed down after repeatedly rejecting the idea. But the pressure also likely means that networks hosting the next contests won't ignore the topic outright like they did in past cycles. So ... get ready for more less-than-satisfying exchanges.
  • Go deeper: Climate change got just 15 minutes out of 4 hours of Democratic debates (Vox)

3. The GND showed up. Harris touted her support, while former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper praised the "sense of urgency" but attacked the universal health care and jobs guarantee provisions.

  • Quick take: The GND's blend of sweeping goals on climate, health care and jobs made it a target for a candidate seeking traction in the moderate lane.

One more thing: Chuck Todd asked them all to name their top legislative priority, based on the premise that they'll have to decide where to spend political capital.

  • He didn't really get the focused answers he was seeking, but Hickenlooper and Sen. Michael Bennet flatly named climate change. Watch it

Go deeper: Dems touch on climate in debate

2. Climate talks end amid rifts

The latest round of UN climate talks in Bonn, Germany, ended without major progress or even agreement on last year's key IPCC report warning about global warming, per several outlets.

Driving the news: Climate Home News reports there's no path forward for countries to weave that key scientific analysis into subsequent talks.

  • "A major report on [limiting global temperature rise to] 1.5C has been excluded from formal UN climate negotiations, after Saudi Arabia tried to discredit its scientific underpinnings," they note.
  • Their piece adds that talks deadlocked because a few nations "refused to engage in substantive discussions over how the report’s findings could be used to inform policies on increasing the pace and scale of decarbonisation."

Why it matters: The October 2018 IPCC report laid out severe consequences of allowing warming past 1.5°C and explained why very steep emissions cuts — which unavoidably means less reliance on fossil fuels — are needed soon to stay under that threshold.

  • But that said, the report's influence — or lack thereof — on UN negotiations won't be the driving force behind national decisions on climate and energy policy in the future.

Go deeper: Key global warming target slipping out of reach, UN scientists warn

Meanwhile, Bloomberg writes there were rifts in talks over how to craft a credit system for helping advance emissions-cutting projects in developing nations.

  • "The delegates remained deadlocked on accounting rules and governance for the system, pushing the debate to their next meeting in Chile in December," they report.
3. Fusion startup closes $115M funding round

The Massachusetts startup Commonwealth Fusion Systems says it has closed a $115 million Series A funding round that includes several new backers.

Why it matters: Nuclear fusion has long been something of a holy grail of limitless clean energy without dangerous waste, but the daunting scientific and cost challenges mean real deployment remains a huge question mark.

Where it stands: New funders for the company that works with MIT researchers include Future Ventures, Khosla Ventures and Lowercase Capital. They join existing investors — the Italian oil giant Eni and the Bill Gates-led Breakthrough Energy Ventures.

What's next: "Commonwealth Fusion expects to have its smallest possible reactor built by 2025 thanks to the research that MIT has done on proprietary magnet technology that the company uses to confine its nuclear reaction," TechCrunch reports.

4. Price tag for a fully renewable grid? $4.5T


That's the top-line figure in this new report from the consultancy Wood Mackenzie on the cost of moving the U.S. electric grid to 100% renewables over the next 10–20 years.

Why it matters: Electricity is the 2nd-largest source of U.S. carbon emissions, just slightly less than transportation.

  • Reuters points out that it's one of the first independent cost estimates on the topic.
  • The consultancy's report comes as several Democratic White House hopefuls are pushing aggressive emissions-cutting plans.

The big picture: "For any country to embrace a nationwide transition to 100% renewable energy (RE100) or zero carbon (ZC100) emissions constitutes a massive disruption with far-flung economic and social repercussions," it states.

  • The report notes that today, there aren't any "large and complex" power systems in the world that operate with over 30% wind and solar on an average annual basis.
  • The report is a rough tally of combined costs including the building of new generating capacity, storage and high-voltage transmission.

The intrigue: The price tag could boost advocates of keeping a wider suite of zero-carbon options on the table, including nuclear and fossil energy with CO2 capture.

  • The report lists "inclusion of zero-carbon technologies" among the ways to address "cost complexities."
  • Just incorporating existing nuclear generation as part of a decarbonized grid would save $500 billion, they estimate.
5. The Massachusetts storage push
Battery units in Longmont, Colo. Photo: Aaron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post via Getty Images

A new $3.5 million energy storage system went online last month in Ashburnham, Massachusetts, continuing a statewide expansion of systems designed to ease pressure on the electric grid at times of peak demand, writes Axios Expert Voices contributor Maggie Teliska.

Why it matters: In January, Massachusetts became the first state to offer incentives for battery systems, with the approval of a $2 billion state energy efficiency plan.

By the numbers: The program is expected to support the installation of 30–34 MW of storage capacity during its 3-year term, on top of 190 MW from other operating and planned projects.

The plan draws on recommendations from an economic study performed by the Applied Economics Clinic. The findings concluded that the cost benefits of battery storage should qualify it for efficient energy incentives.

  • Both commercial and residential customers will be able to sign up for 5-year contracts with their utility provider for new battery storage installations.
  • At the end of each year, incentives will be paid out based on how much the storage system was able to offset use of the grid.

Read more

Teliska is a technical specialist at Caldwell Intellectual Property Law and CTO of Regent Power. She is also a member of GLG, a platform connecting businesses with industry experts.