Please see below selected recent energy-related change.
- What's New? - Energy
- What's Changing? - Sustainability (includes latest headlines on UN Sustainable Development Goal 7 - Affordable and Clean Energy)
- In a six month period of 2021, the price of a basket of oil, coal and gas soared by 95%. For The Economist, this was a reminder that modern life needs abundant energy: without it, bills become unaffordable, homes freeze and businesses stall. The panic exposed deeper problems as the world shifts to a cleaner energy system, including inadequate investment in renewables and some transition fossil fuels, rising geopolitical risks and flimsy safety buffers in power markets. Without rapid reforms there will be more energy crises and, perhaps, a popular revolt against climate policies, warned The Economist.
- Lower-income nations will struggle to go green quickly. U.N. Development Programme chief Achim Steiner told a Devex panel it was “damn unfair” for lower-income countries to be penalised for developing gas power, adding that he was sympathetic to calls for a more “just transition.”
- Renewables edged out coal for the first time in 2020, generating 21% of all US electricity compared to coal's 19%. Investment to startups in the renewable energy ecosystem also reached new heights in 2020, with investors eyeing companies in the power generation space in particular.
- In the US, the levelised cost of electricity generated by land-based wind declined by 40% between 2016 and 2020 (or the equivalent of 12% per annum), according to NREL.
- The FT believes that energy is on the cusp of a new era and that the key elements of a climate revolution have been slotting into place behind the scenes.
- Forecasters suggest carbon prices will climb through 2030, even as countries chart their own emissions path. Researchers estimate putting the world on the path to net-zero emissions by 2050 means prices will need to exceed $100 per ton in major economies within a decade.
- The International Energy Agency dramatically revised its forecast for solar and wind energy. The IEA now says that solar energy will offer “the cheapest electricity in history”, which will lead to a “new normal” with exceptional levels of ongoing deployment. Meanwhile. researchers at University College London explained why solar and other renewables are on this path.
- New fossil fuel projects should be abandoned if the world wants to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050, the International Energy Agency warned in a new report. It's a big shift for the IEA, which environmental groups have long accused of underestimating the importance of renewable energy in the fight against climate change.
- However, the declining cost of renewable energy is accelerating political fissures between cities and national governments around the world. As cities seek to carve out more independence, some are securing their own power supply outside of the confines of national political dynamics, according to MIT Technology Review.
- China’s carbon emissions grew at the fastest rate for more than a decade in the first quarter of 2021.
- GZERO Media argued that nuclear is greener than many people think. It's not renewable like solar or wind, but nuclear's direct carbon dioxide emissions output is zero. Over its lifecycle, a nuclear plant produces about the same volume of indirect emissions per unit of electricity (mainly to extract and process uranium, to build and operate the facilities, and store the waste) as wind, and one-third of solar. However, nuclear is also very expensive, and unpopular. Generating electricity from nuclear now costs about $112-189 per megawatt hour, much more than solar ($36-44) and wind ($29-56). Also, while the total lifetime cost of building and running a plant has declined for solar and wind over the last decade, it has increased for nuclear, so poorer countries can't afford it.
- European companies will have to collectively cut carbon emissions in half over the next decade to limit global warming to 1.5°C by 2100, according to a report from non-profit CDP Europe and consultancy Oliver Wyman. The current climate plans of Europe’s 1,000 largest firms put the continent on track for a 2.7°C increase by the end of the century. Fewer than one in 10 businesses have a strategy that aligns with the Paris agreement. The report says banks can galvanise companies by rewarding ambitious firms with better lending terms.
- A study released by researchers at Cambridge University estimates that bitcoin mining is responsible for more electricity use than Argentina. Indeed, if bitcoin were a country it would be in the top 30 energy consumers worldwide.
- The International Energy Agency promised to publish a road map in May to help the global industry reach net-zero emissions by 2050, the IEA’s executive director told the FT. That long-term target will only be met if “decisive action” is taken over the next decade, while tracking progress and accountability will also play a key role, he warned.
- Energy-producing countries in the Middle East and North Africa faced a collapse in global energy demand in 2020 that left governments from Algeria to Iran with less cash flowing into their coffers as the pandemic sickened citizens and weakened economies. 2021 may be worse, because energy prices will remain low. Reforms will slow, and protests will grow.
- France’s central bank will start limiting fossil-fuel investments. By 2024, it will no longer invest in firms that generate revenue from coal, and divest from companies making more than 10% and 50% of revenue from oil and gas, respectively, reported Quartz.
- About 90% of the new electricity generation added to the grid globally in 2020 was renewable energy, with the price for building solar hitting 1.5 cents per kilowatt hour. Clean energy will displace coal as the largest source by 2025, predicted Harvard Business Review.
- The Economist analysed coal, the main source of greenhouse gases. In America and Europe consumption has fallen by 34% since 2009. The International Energy Agency reckons that global coal use will never again surpass its pre-Covid peak. Yet coal still accounts for 27% of the raw energy used to power everything from cars to electric grids. More important, unlike natural gas and oil, it is concentrated carbon, and thus it accounts for 39% of annual emissions of carbon dioxide from fossil fuels. If global emissions are to fall far enough, fast enough, the task now is to replicate the West’s success and repeat it in Asia. Technology will help. Solar farms and onshore wind are now the cheapest source of new electricity for at least two-thirds of the world’s population.
- South Korea pledged that it will be carbon neutral by 2050, and will be spending $7 billion in order to get there. 95% of South Korea’s electricity comes from fossil fuels; part of the pledge includes phasing out nuclear power by 2060 too. Japan and China have made similar promises towards carbon neutrality.
- Solar power is now the cheapest energy in history, according to the International Energy Agency. As a result the IEA forecast 43 per cent more new solar capacity worldwide by 2040 in 2020 than it did in 2018, and is talking up a solar-based path to 1.5 degrees of warming – as opposed to 2 degrees or more - see details. The IEA, which traditionally underestimated uptake of solar power, now sees a plausible path to global net zero carbon emissions by 2050 as long as we take full advantage of it. Solar panels have plummeted in price, largely because of China’s decision in 2010 to mass-produce them.
- China has 99 per cent of the world’s battery electric buses. As of 2019 it had more than 400,000 including 16,000 in Shenzhen alone. They’re starting to catch on elsewhere, including some of the smoggier parts of California and now also in the UK.
- Global oil demand plummeted amid the pandemic, with BP warning that oil consumption may never return to its pre-pandemic peak. Similarly, OPEC said any recovery in demand would be longer than previously forecast. The drop (along with a falling price per barrel that preceded the pandemic) hit U.S. energy companies particularly hard, with Chevron and Exxon posting losses. The latter doubled down on oil and gas while rivals have invested in renewable energies, reported The Wall Street Journal - a gamble when potentially facing climate change-related regulation.
- Indeed, oil fuelled the 20th century—its cars, its wars, its economy and its geopolitics. Now the world is in the midst of an energy shock that is speeding up the shift to a new order. As covid-19 struck the global economy earlier this year, demand for oil dropped by more than a fifth and prices collapsed. There have been oil slumps before, but this one is different. As the public, governments and investors wake up to climate change, the clean-energy industry is gaining momentum, noted The Economist.
- China, the world's top producer of greenhouse gas emissions, pledged to become carbon-neutral by 2060. It's the first time that Beijing has made a concrete "net zero" carbon commitment, which will entail scaling up its (voluntary) national emissions cuts under the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change.
- Royal Dutch Shell said it planned to cut 7,000 to 9,000 jobs as it responds to challenges including the slump in oil demand amid the Covid-19 pandemic. The oil giant said the cuts would be implemented by 2022 and included 1,500 people who were taking voluntary redundancy. It gave no indication of where the job losses would happen. The move came months after it cut its dividend for the first time since World War Two.
- The cost of electricity from a solar power plant has fallen 83% in the last decade.
- After decades of investment, speculation, and slow advancement of renewable energy it appears that renewables are finally taking centre stage as competitive, reliable, and viable in many of the world’s largest economies. Although there are already some countries using 100% renewable energy, and many more approaching this feat, most in this group are low in population. However, some regions like parts of Brazil, Denmark, Canada, China, and Germany are proving that their populous, diverse economies can be supported by 100% renewables as well.
- The 2010s decade saw 3x more investment in renewables than the previous 2000s decade. Solar, wind and hydro are becoming the cheapest option for new generation. Billions of tonnes of emissions could be avoided, helping to fight the climate crisis.
- Some, countries are doing more with with less energy. For most of the 20th century, there was a strong correlation between a country’s economic growth and its energy demands. But in the last two decades, for example, GDP has more than doubled in the US while electricity generation has barely budged, rising 40% since 1990.
- Wind is free, so perhaps it was only a matter of time before wind power became genuinely cheap, argued Tortoise Media. The Carbon Brief blog said the era of negative wind power subsidies – in which wind farms pay the government over their lifetime rather than vice versa – is nearly upon us. Power from wind farms due to be built in 2020 alone in the UK, Germany and Denmark sold for €50-55 per kilowatt-hour, which is less than from all but the cheapest fossil fuel sources.
- The FT reported that Big Oil faces a future where it may not be so big, and may have less to do with oil. The industry has faced an increasingly uncertain future as climate change has moved to the forefront of the public’s consciousness. Investors, too, have stepped up their calls for action. Now the coronavirus pandemic, by radically cutting demand for oil and gas and giving governments the whip hand in directing the revival of their economies, looks likely to accelerate the long-term shift away from fossil fuels in many nations.
- An unusually mild winter, coupled with worldwide coronavirus-related economic shutdowns, have drastically reduced global demand for natural gas in recent months. The International Energy Agency said consumption would fall by 4 percent in 2020, the largest annual drop in history.
- Coronavirus’s impact on oil companies, from the biggest supermajors to small independent producers, was swift and devastating. In a matter of weeks, the world’s most valuable commodity had become practically impossible to sell. Is the crisis proof of the need to accelerate a transition away from fossil fuels, asked Quartz in its field guide to the future of fossil fuels.
- The International Energy Agency said that global industrial greenhouse emissions in 2020 would drop by 8 percent as a result of coronavirus-related quarantines, the largest one-year drop since World War Two.
- More than 100 cities across the globe report that as much as 70% of their energy production now comes from renewables, and at least 40 cities and 158 companies committed to dial that up to 100%. Hundreds more—both cities and countries—pledged to move to renewable energy production. Even oil-rich Saudi Arabia is working on a detailed, long-term plan to help diversify its economy and move away from oil. Renewables will take on greater importance in the coming decade. The International Energy Agency projects renewables will account for about 40% of energy distributed through the global power grid by 2040. In the next five years, we should see faster growth in green tech than ever seen previously, according the Future Today Institute.
- Prices for West Texas Intermediate (WTI) a US crude oil benchmark went below zero in April 2020 for the first time in history. Coronavirus-lockdowns destroyed so much demand for oil that sellers were left with more oil than they can store, forcing them to pay buyers to take the stuff off their hands. The international oil benchmark, Brent, stayed in positive territory for the time being, in part because it is shipped primarily by tankers which can respond more flexibly to ups and downs in demand around the world.
- Wind and solar provided 18 per cent of the EU’s electricity in 2019. In comparison, electricity generation from coal collapsed by 24 per cent in a single year, creating a 12 per cent fall in European power sector CO2 emissions, the biggest fall since at least 1990.
- Batteries are on track to overtake fossil fuels as the primary way we power the world, but significant hurdles remain on the road to an all-electric future. Quartz analysed the history, science, and business behind batteries and looked inside the race to replace Big Oil.
- The European Union wants to attract $1.1 trillion of public and private money to support its ambitious plans to reach carbon neutrality over the next ten years. Some member states are also boosting the money they're spending to go green. Germany's government this week said it would spend up to 44 billion euros to offset the impact of abandoning coal as a power source by 2038.
- China’s data centre industry consumed over 2 percent of the country’s power in 2018 and emitted as much carbon dioxide as 21 million cars on the road. Despite the growing push for renewables in China, the data centre industry continues to rely heavily on coal-fired power.
- Energy trackers at BloombergNEF estimated that a 62% increase in electricity demand over the next three decades will bring in $13.3 trillion in new investments by 2050, with $5.3 trillion going to wind and $4.2 trillion to solar.
- IMF research found that, globally, energy-related subsidies remained large at $5.2 trillion (6.5% GDP) as recently as in 2017. About three quarters of global subsidies are due to domestic factors - energy pricing reform thus remains largely in countries’ own national interest - while coal and petroleum together accounted for 85% of global subsidies. Efficient fossil fuel pricing in would have lowered global carbon emissions by 28% and fossil fuel air pollution deaths by 46%, and increased government revenue by 3.8% of GDP.
- Nature further warned that energy is at the root of many political ructions. President Donald Trump’s intention to pull the United States out of the Paris climate agreement in 2020, the European Union’s restrictive policies against importing Chinese photovoltaic cells and the political hostility towards the school strikes over climate-change inaction are all reactions to attempts to shift the world to a low-carbon economy.
Energy systems around the world are going through rapid transitions that affect many aspects of our lives, said McKinsey. The continuation and acceleration of these shifts will bring important changes to the way we fuel our cars, heat our homes, and power our industries in the coming decades.
- For the past 25 years, natural gas has played an increasingly important role in global electricity generation. Around 22% of the world’s electricity now comes from natural gas power plants, while the use of the fuel is predicted to rise by 45% globally by 2040.
- Arguing that it’s possible to bring electricity to the last billion and cut emissions. Quartz pointed to mini-grids made up of solar panels and cheap batteries that are helping remote people in Africa and Asia access some of the features of modern life.
- According to the International Energy Agency, the world got nearly 25% of its electricity from renewables in 2017, and that number should jump to 30% within the next few years.
- In the energy industry, always-on transformation is rapidly becoming the default state. Few other industries contend with such a wide variety of shifting dynamics, including huge swings in the prices of natural resources, ever-changing government regulations, and new technologies that upend established models. In this environment, any company that wants to stay on top will have to continuously adapt its practices and portfolio to meet ever-shifting demands, claimed BCG.
- Less than 35 percent of the world’s electricity was generated from non-carbon sources, according to BP. In order for the world to produce all its electricity via renewables by 2050, the use of solar and wind power would have to increase massively each year between now and then.
- The share of global energy that came from renewables passed 10% in 2018.
- The oil price plunged on fears of slower global demand in 2019. The American oil price suffered its longest losing streak - 12 straight days - since 1984. The price of the global benchmark, Brent crude, fell by 7% on November 13th to just below $65 a barrel. Prices stabilisedafter reports that producers were planning to discuss cutting output, noted The Economist.
- Most energy projects have long lives, noted EY. They are favoured by pension funds and other investors interested in long-term and stable returns. But ask which energy sources will be the main fuel source 30 years from now, and you will not get a definitive answer. For energy companies to diversify into low-carbon and renewable technologies and spread the risks of their portfolios; for them to innovate and discover new energy sources; for them to transition from large and lumbering to lean and flexible, they need serious amounts of risk-friendly financing.
- Saudi Arabia extracted by the end of 2018 a historic high of 11.2 million barrels of crude per day. The Saudi crude surge has contributed to a recent drop in global oil prices.
- Quartz reported that the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development now says solar- and wind-power plants are cheaper to build than fossil-fuel plants, almost everywhere in the world, while the World Bank has vowed not to fund coal-power projects.
- Eni’s researchers are planning to eliminate the carbon dioxide produced by oil wells by transforming it into bio-oil (and then into vehicle fuel) using just solar energy and algae - read more.
- Further viewing:
- This summer, the United States became the world’s largest crude oil producer for the first time since 1973, according to the Energy Information Agency. EIA estimates that US crude oil production averaged 10.9 million barrels per day in August.
- Oil prices hit a four-year high. Brent crude continued its rise after crossing the $80 mark. The gains follow OPEC’s decision over the weekend to not increase production, as the oil market surged on fears of new US sanctions on Iran and continued production problems in Venezuela.
- The Kardashev scale, designed by astrophysicist Nikolai Kardashev, was created to assess how advanced a civilisation is by taking into consideration multiple factors, including population growth, technology, and energy demands. The idea is that the more advanced the people are, the higher and more complex their energy usage will be.
- While an international consensus on the need for a fast and orderly coal phase out is forming, exporters of coal and related technologies continue to hold hopes of a future market for coal in these countries. Chatham House warned that the risk is that despite the disruption that coal is facing in established markets, new coal supply and demand infrastructure continues to be developed, and that once in place, it will lock out cheaper and cleaner energy technologies.
- The Global Innovation Index 2018 focused on the theme of ‘Energising the World with Innovation’. Energy demand is reaching unprecedented levels as a result of a growing world population, rapid urbanisation, and industrialisation. Higher levels of technological and non-technological innovation are required to meet this demand, both on the production side of the energy equation (alternative sources, smart grids, and new advanced energy storage technologies) and on the consumption side (smart cities, homes, and buildings; energy-efficient industries; and transport and future mobility). Innovation plays key roles in addressing both sides of that equation.
The huge oversupply in photovoltaic modules could result in price declines of 34% this year.
Shaping Tomorrow noted that, since its robot's last look at energy futures in November 2017, oil prices have shifted upwards. The short-term, forward look contains a lot of energy -related uncertainties given increasing geopolitical and other national policy issues and these will have long-term effects too.
The World Bank’s 2017 State of Electricity Access report emphasised that UN Sustainable Development Goals like health, education, food security, and employment are all largely dependent on consistent, reliable access to energy. For rural communities in Africa that lack electrical grids, the belief was that, in time, American-style grids would be built. But thanks to the rise of renewable energy, grids may not end up being as necessary.
For rural communities in Africa that lack electrical grids, the belief was that, in time, American-style grids would be built. But thanks to the rise of renewable energy, grids may not end up being as necessary. Startups like Off Grid Electricand Black Star Energy have made a business out of installing solar panels on private homes.
- The way to reach the world’s climate goals is straightforward, believes Quartz: reduce our greenhouse-gas emissions to zero within the next few decades. But the energy technologies that can help us get there tend to need lots of money and long lead times to develop.
- The costs of energy-storage systems are dropping too fast for inefficient players to hide. The winners in this market will be those that aggressively pursue and achieve operational improvements, argued McKinsey.
- Global oil prices rose to nearly US$80/barrel in late May, up by almost 20% compared with the start of 2018. A number of factors are behind this rapid growth, including efforts by OPEC and its allies to rein in crude production and rising geopolitical risks. But how far are prices likely to rise, asked the EIU?
- Oil prices have risen 65% since last June, touching a four year high of $75 a barrel in April 2018. Three things are driving up prices, according to GZEROMedia: ongoing production restraint from Russia and Saudi Arabia, dwindling production in Venezuela and Libya, and the prospect that US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal will mean fresh sanctions on Iranian oil exports.
- In April 2016, Britain went 55 hours without burning any coal, a new record.
- Nearly 80% of our energy still comes from fossil fuels, a figure that hasn’t changed since the first Earth Day.
- In 2017-18, activist shareholders have forced fossil-fuel companies to reveal the risks to their investments from climate change.
- In the US, local governments have become stewards of the environment. The UK went 55 hours without burning coal, which hasn’t happened since before the Industrial Revolution, while Portugal produced more renewable energy in March than energy it consumed. Meanwhile, poor countries are investing billions more in renewable energy than rich ones.
- Forecasters keep revising electric-vehicles sales figures upwards. Even technologies that were considered fanciful, such as carbon capture, are making a comeback.
- The Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment report found that China, India and Brazil accounted for just over half of global investment in renewables excluding large hydro in 2017 with China alone representing 45%, up from 35% in 2016. Despite this, China bets heavily on coal abroad, with involvement in 240 coal-fired power projects in 25 countries of the Belt and Road. (Sources included Exponential View and Quartz.)