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The Climate 202

Renewables are on track to satiate the world's appetite for electricity

The Climate 202

Good morning and welcome to The Climate 202! Today we’re chugging coffee after staying up late to watch the State of the Union and then rewatching a couple of Veep episodes as a palate cleanser. (We forgot that a climate-related plot line in the first season is putting an “oil guy” on the “clean jobs” task force. 😅)

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In today’s edition, we’ll cover President Biden’s comments about climate change in his State of the Union speech and Minnesota’s move to require 100 percent clean electricity by 2040. But first:

Renewables will help meet the world’s insatiable appetite for electricity, report says

Renewable energy and nuclear power will meet almost all of the growth in global demand for electricity over the next three years, according to a report released today by the International Energy Agency.

The findings are good news for the climate: They suggest that low-emission sources will help satisfy humanity’s growing appetite for electricity to power air conditioners, charge electric vehicles and perform other activities essential to modern life.

Electricity has a crucial role to play in the fight against climate change, as countries ditch fossil fuels and embrace electric vehicles, heat pumps and other cleaner appliances. But so far, renewable sources of electricity — as opposed to power plants that burn coal or natural gas — haven’t kept up.

That is changing as the global power sector approaches a “tipping point,” IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol said in a statement.

“The world’s growing demand for electricity is set to accelerate, adding more than double Japan’s current electricity consumption over the next three years,” Birol said. “The good news is that renewables and nuclear power are growing quickly enough to meet almost all this additional appetite, suggesting we are close to a tipping point for power sector emissions.”

While the report’s findings are a big deal, they’re also wonkish and technical. Here’s a quick overview of the report and why it matters, along with a couple of caveats:

The details

Despite the energy crisis spurred by the war in Ukraine, global electricity demand rose by almost 2 percent in 2022, and it’s expected to grow by an average of 3 percent over the next three years, the IEA said.

Renewable energy and nuclear power will together meet more than 90 percent of this additional electricity demand through 2025, according to the report.

  • Renewables’ share of the global power generation mix is forecast to rise from 29 percent in 2022 to 35 percent in 2025. 
  • China will account for more than 45 percent of the growth in renewables, followed by the European Union with 15 percent and the United States with 6 percent.
  • Nuclear output will also increase as France completes scheduled maintenance on its nuclear fleet, while new plants come online in Asia.
  • At the same time, global electricity generation from both natural gas and coal is expected to remain flat over the next three years.
  • Still, while coal generation is expected to decline in Europe and the Americas, growth in Asia could partially offset this drop.

“We really are reaching a tipping point when low-carbon sources, including renewables and nuclear, will meet more electricity demand, depressing fossil fuel generation and causing carbon emissions from the power sector to start declining globally,” Eren Cam, an energy analyst for electricity at IEA and the lead author of the report, told The Climate 202. 

“We are not there yet,” he said. “But we’re seeing that low-carbon sources are increasingly covering demand, and we’re seeing quite strong growth in renewables in various regions.”

The caveats

Still, Cam said the report comes with a couple of big caveats, a sentiment echoed by outside experts.

For example, Cam said “significant uncertainties” remain over trends in China as its economy emerges from strict covid restrictions. If China’s economy comes roaring back to life, it could lead to an initial uptick in the use of coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel.

In addition, the report’s authors could not predict extreme weather events over the next three years. In the event of a cold snap or heat wave, electricity demand would surge as more people heated and cooled their homes and buildings.

Antoine Halff, the co-founder of the environmental geo-analytics firm Kayrros and the former head of oil analysis at the IEA, pointed to other uncertainties.

Halff noted in an email that “serious bottleneck issues” are preventing clean-energy projects from connecting to the grid in the United States, while the war in Ukraine has prompted Germany to reactivate old coal power plants even as it races toward renewables.

“For many years the IEA earned the reputation of vastly underestimating renewable energy growth,” he said, “so there might be a tendency to bend over backwards and err on the side of exuberant optimism.”

Pressure points

Biden touts climate wins at State of the Union

Last night President Biden used his State of the Union speech to tout the Inflation Reduction Act as one of his signature achievements, even as some House Republicans push to repeal the landmark climate and health-care law. 

"The Inflation Reduction Act is also the most significant investment ever in [addressing] climate change," Biden said. "Lowering utility bills, creating American jobs [and] leading the world to a clean energy future."

The president’s comments came after Rep. Andy Ogles (R-Tenn.) last week introduced legislation to repeal the entire Inflation Reduction Act. Still other GOP lawmakers have unveiled bills to rescind specific climate programs established by the law. (More on that below.)

Biden made clear he would veto such proposals, which are unlikely to pass the Senate anyway.

Some members "are threatening to repeal the Inflation Reduction Act," the president said. "That's okay. That's fair. As my football coach used to say, lots of luck in your senior year."

While energy and the environment were not major themes of the speech, Biden also veered off-script at one point to note that “we’re still going to need oil and gas for a while," drawing applause from Republicans and boos from Democrats.

Meanwhile, Rep. Dan Goldman (D-N.Y.) on Tuesday wore a pin emblazoned with the “warming stripes” created by climate scientist Ed Hawkins.

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chair Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.) also wore a “warming stripes” pin to “celebrate the climate progress we’ve made and as a reminder that our work continues,” an aide said in a text message to The Climate 202.

On the Hill

House panel weighs bills to ax climate law’s programs

The House Energy and Commerce Committee on Tuesday marked up 17 energy bills and discussion drafts, including Republican bills aimed at repealing climate programs established by the Inflation Reduction Act and boosting the fossil fuel industry.

None of the bills are expected to pass the Democratic-controlled Senate, but as a messaging exercise, the measures signal that Republicans are taking aim at the climate law, even as it helps create jobs and economic revenue in their districts and states.

The bills included:

  • The Natural Gas Tax Repeal Act would eliminate the climate law’s Methane Emission Reduction Program, which imposes the first-ever federal fee on methane emissions from oil and gas operations.
  • A discussion draft of another bill, which has not yet been named, would repeal the climate law’s $27 billion Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund, which provides grants to national and local “green banks” to invest in projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
  • The Protecting American Energy Production Act would bar the president from declaring a national moratorium on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
  • The Promoting Cross-border Energy Infrastructure Act would require the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to approve natural gas pipelines to Canada or Mexico within 30 days.

The American Petroleum Institute, the powerful trade association representing the U.S. oil and gas industry, sent a letter to lawmakers urging them to support the bills. More than 70 advocacy organizations, including the Sierra Club, sent their own letter voicing opposition.

In the states

Minnesota to require 100% clean electricity by 2040, as lawsuit looms

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz (D) on Tuesday signed a law requiring utilities in the state to get 100 percent of their electricity from carbon-free sources by 2040, Steve Karnowski reports for the Associated Press.

The new law requires electric utilities to get 100 percent of the electricity they sell from carbon-free sources by 2040, including renewables and nuclear power, with interim targets of 80 percent by 2030 and 90 percent by 2035.

Already, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum (R) has threatened to sue over the requirements. Burgum argues the law violates the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution because it will prevent North Dakota utilities from exporting power from coal and gas plants to Minnesota.

Walz told reporters Tuesday that he is confident the law will survive in court, adding that it’s “unfortunate” that Burgum is ready to litigate instead of joining Minnesota and 21 other states that have established 100 percent clean electricity goals.

The Minnesota Senate passed the plan along party lines Thursday after the Minnesota House approved it the week before. Democrats were able to advance the plan without Republican support after winning control of both chambers last year.

Corporate commitments

BP dials back climate pledge amid soaring oil profits

British energy giant BP on Tuesday scaled back its climate goals as it reported a record $27.7 billion profit last year, casting fresh doubts on big oil companies’ promises to embrace clean energy, The Washington Post’s Evan Halper and Aaron Gregg report. 

The company pledged in 2020 to reduce carbon emissions 35 to 40 percent by the end of the decade, becoming the first oil “supermajor” to lay out a plan for its energy transition. But BP said Tuesday it is now aiming for a 20 to 30 percent reduction in carbon pollution by 2030. 

The decision comes as oil companies face criticism from Democratic lawmakers and the White House for earning record profits amid the war in Ukraine. Shell posted its highest-ever profit of $41.6 billion last year, while ExxonMobil announced a record profit of $55.7 billion.

In the atmosphere


On his way to electrify the Postal Service: 😻

Thanks for reading!