Growth in EV use could lead to next oil glut in 2020s

Utilities plan for Clean Power Plan despite court’s stay

Major Midwestern utilities American Electric Power and Xcel are making plans to comply with President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, even though its enforcement is currently delayed pending appeal, their executives said at a conference last week. “Carbon regulation is not going away,” said the AEP official. Similarly, in several Midwestern states that are suing to stop the Clean Power Plan, the grid is decarbonizing anyway, with wind power setting new records in February. The renewal of the solar and wind tax credits has created a favorable climate for solar and wind despite the Clean Power Plan delay, though the stay has left nuclear power in limbo.   

2020s poised to be the decade of the EV

The cost of buying and operating electric vehicles will drop below the hydrocarbon-powered variety in six years, driven by continued declines in the price of batteries, according to a new study from Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Honda already plans for standard internal combustion cars to represent just one-third of its line-up in 2030.  Sometime in the 2020s, BNEF predicts, the global EV fleet will be big enough to displace demand for 2 million barrels of oil per day—the same imbalance that triggered the current oil glut—radically slashing the value of petroleum investments. Already, oil prices have defied official predictions by staying low for as long as they have.

Who needs an ‘energy miracle’?

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates made a splash last week with his call for an “energy miracle” to zero out the carbon pollution from the world’s rising demand for energy services. Accelerated research and development of a “clean, cheap source of energy” is needed, he said, drawing a softball write-up in Vox and a list of possible breakthroughs in The Christian Science Monitor, but a scathing critique by ThinkProgress’s Joe Romm. Romm argues for deploying existing technologies such as PVs and wind, which will become even cheaper as they’re manufactured at greater scale. Coincidentally, the Dept. of Energy is holding its ARPA-E Summit this week, where innovations such as methane-measuring drones and user-cooling chairs will be demonstrated.

Sage of Omaha senses change coming for utilities

Investor Warren Buffet—whose Berkshire Hathaway firm owns three large electric utilities—warned last week that power companies must evolve to compete in the changed energy landscape, and will lose money if their operations are sloppy. Despite that forward-looking vision, Berkshire Hathaway subsidiary NV Energy is fighting an initiative to reverse the end of net metering in the Silver State. In contrast, over two-thirds of utilities are exploring new ways, such as demand management and community solar, to profit from decentralized energy, and a new study touted the value of grid-controlled water heaters. The alternative future was embodied in a system that SolarCity rolled out in Hawaii: a package that integrates rooftop solar, battery storage, a programmable thermostat, and a smart water heater, aimed at maximizing how much energy a home can supply for itself—and how little it will need from the grid.

OR climate bill teed up for vote, WA rule in rewrite

After receiving far-reaching comments from across the political spectrum, Washington’s Department of Ecology opted last week to redraft the state’s proposed Clean Air Rule that would cap climate pollution from the state’s 40 largest emitters. A revised version is expected out later this year. Meanwhile, legislators in Salem prepared for final votes this week on a bill to shift Oregon to at least 50 percent renewable power by 2040 and transition away from coal-fired electricity. The proposal, put forward by a coalition of environmental and consumer groups and utilities, hit a procedural roadblock last week, but is expected to be voted on before Saturday’s deadline to adjourn this year’s session.

Rising seas cause skyrocketing rates of tidal flooding

Global warming is raising seas faster than anytime in the last 2,800 years, causing many-fold increases in the rate of tidal flooding, said a pair of studies released last week. Charleston, SC suffered 219 days of flooding in the study’s last decade, compared with 34 days between 1955 and 1964. In Miami Beach, where flooding rates have skyrocketed tenfold over that period, a fishing captain offered his beachside home for sale to liquidate it before ocean levels make it unsalable; across the continent, the Quinault Nation prepared to move its main settlement, Taholah, out of the way of the rising Pacific, at a cost of $300 to $400 million.

Coal and oil’s time it is a-changin’

China’s government-driven “war on coal” cut the country’s coal consumption 3.7 percent in 2015, the second consecutive yearly drop, as part of its campaign to reduce pollution from coal 60 percent by 2020. Meanwhile, its renewable generating capacity grew by 34 percent for wind and 74 percent for solar, according to a Greenpeace report. China’s National Energy Administration announced new coal plants will be curtailed, approved plants may not go forward, and 1,000 existing mines will be shuttered.  In another sign of the changing times, Royal Dutch Shell announced the departure of its top US executive, who led the company’s failed effort to drill for oil in the Arctic, which he called a “big bet” that didn’t pay off.

Image: A detail from a poster commissioned by the US Department of Energy, commemorating projects financed under the 2009 Recovery Act. 

Author Bio

Seth Zuckerman

former Editor, ClimateCast, Climate Solutions

For over 20 years, Seth has covered issues of natural resources and the environment as a freelance journalist for numerous publications, including The Nation, Sierra, Orion, Newsweek, and the Christian Science Monitor.  He is the co-editor and co-author of Salmon Nation: People, Fish, and Our Common Home (Ecotrust, 1999) and author of Saving Our Ancient Forests (Living Planet Press, 1991). He taught environmental journalism for two semesters at Brown University and directed the forestry programs of northern California’s Mattole Restoration Council from 2006 to 2011. Seth’s work with Climate Solutions marks a return to his academic roots: he holds an A.B. from Stanford in Energy Studies (1983), and an M.S. from UC Berkeley’s Energy and Resources Group (1990).