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OPEC, Unconventional Oil and Climate Change

OPEC, Unconventional Oil and Climate Change

OPEC, Unconventional Oil and Climate Change – On the importance of the order of extraction by Benchekroun, Hassan, Gerard van der Meijden, and Cees Withagen. Published by the Journal of Environmental Economics and Management is a long-awaited reflection on what could be the most important topic of the century. The abstract and part of the introduction are republished below, and the whole text could be found in the original referred to document.

OPEC, Unconventional Oil and Climate Change-On the importance of the order of extraction

OPEC, Unconventional Oil and Climate Change

We show that OPEC’s market power contributes to climate change by enabling producers of relatively expensive and dirty oil to start producing before OPEC reserves are depleted. We examine the importance of this extraction sequence effect by calibrating and simulating a cartel-fringe model of the global oil market. While welfare net of climate damage under the cartel-fringe equilibrium can be significantly lower than under a first-best outcome, almost the entire welfare loss is due to the sequence effect of OPEC’s market power. In our benchmark calibration, the cost of the sequence effect amounts to 15 trillion US$, which corresponds to 97 percent of the welfare loss. Moreover, we find that an increase in non-OPEC oil reserves decreases global welfare. In a counterfactual world without non-OPEC oil, global welfare would be 13 trillion US$ higher, 10 trillion US$ of which is due to lower climate damages.

Introduction

What is the impact of imperfect competition in the oil market on climate change? This question is relevant given the sizable carbon footprint of oil and the prominent size of OPEC. Oil is responsible for close to a quarter of anthropogenic carbon emissions (IEA, 2016)1 and, with OPEC producing 40 percent of global oil supply and owning 70 percent of world oil reserves (EIA, 2019b), it is not realistic to assume that OPEC is a price taker in the market of oil.

An old adage says that “the monopolist is the conservationist’s best friend” (e.g., Dasgupta and Heal, 1979, p. 329). Indeed, we know from non-renewable resource economics that market power typically leads to higher initial resource prices and slower resource depletion. However, in the case of oil, the consequences of imperfect competition for the Earth’s climate are more complex because different types of oil reserves with varying carbon contents are exploited. The reason is that imperfect competition does not only affect the speed, but also the order of extraction of different reserves of oil (cf. Benchekroun et al., 200920102019). Conventional OPEC oil is cheaper and its extraction is less carbon intensive than unconventional oil owned by relatively small oil producers (Malins et al., 2014Fischer and Salant, 2017OCI, 2019). Technically recoverable reserves and production of unconventional types of oil by non-OPEC countries have grown significantly over the last decade. The supply of oil sands from Canada has more than doubled, and shale oil production in the US has increased more than tenfold since 2007 (CAPP, 2017bEIA, 2019b). Current recoverable reserves of Canadian oil sands and of US shale oil amount to 165 and 78.2 billion barrels, respectively (CAPP, 2017aEIA, 2019c). In this paper, we take into account that when OPEC exercises market power it does not only slow down its rate of extraction—which tends to be good for the climate—but it also opens the door for earlier production by the fringe. As a result, OPEC’s relatively cheaper and cleaner oil is extracted later, while the fringe’s costlier and dirtier oil is extracted earlier. This ‘sequence effect’ leads to higher discounted extraction costs and climate damage.


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

Is the private sector fit for the energy transition?

Is the private sector fit for the energy transition?

Electrifying has a question: Is the private sector fit tor the energy transition? On October 1, 2020, it is of actuality. The rush towards all renewables although very commendable could nevertheless prove messy. But let us read on :

Is the private sector fit tor the energy transition?

Following our post on government initiatives of selected countries with regards to renewable energy subsidies, targets and ambitions, we have researched the private sector to obtain a more in-depth look into the big players and their plans for the renewable revolution. 

Following media, LinkedIn and press releases of those big fish one might think the move from fossil energy resources to renewable energy will be a walk in the park. But are the measures set, enough to force a clean energy transition and are we on track to complete all the ambitious goals?

Frankly, we have become a bit sceptical during the lockdown when the total amount of energy used has fallen (temporarily, at least) by about 20%, and a mass of posts and articles on all available platforms ringing in the age of renewable energy sources. However, those voices seem to have been silenced recently as the energy hunger is rising again, and renewable energy resources don’t provide enough power to cope with the demand. 

A look behind the facades by analyzing the plans and forecast of energy supply enterprises should provide some more detail on how our power will be produced in future. 

Olichange International recently released a discussion paper called ‘—Big Oil— Reality Check: Assessing Oil and Gas Company Climate Plans. They summed up their overview table with a devastating headline: ‘Failure across the Board’. 

The table below outlines all the available climate strategies and pledges of the selected corporations by comparing them against the Paris Agreement. The outcome is, frankly, pretty obvious. None of the investigated companies comes anywhere near the 1.5 Celsius target. To reach that target, they should stop new fossil exploration and phase out existing reserves, which clearly isn’t the case. 

We have taken BP, which emerges as the best performing company within the selected lot, to analyze its climate strategy. 

Scrolling through their homepage offers the impression of a company striving towards net-zero emissions with ambitious climate goals by living up to their new strategy and business model to convert from an oil company to an integrated energy company. However, as of now, most of these measures are time-intensive papers and not reality.

Admittedly, BP is investing vast amounts of capital towards the development of renewable energy assets and has set itself ambitious goals. How come, them, this still isn’t enough? 

In our opinion, the answer can also be found on their homepage‘Renewables are the fastest-growing energy source, contributing half of the growth in global energy…’ This statement sums up the situation we are in pretty precisely. Renewable energy is not replacing fossil energy but covering about 50% of the rising demand. 

Does this mean that if even one of the most ambitious energy companies isn’t able to budget and forecast with targets according to the Paris Agreement, we won’t get rid of dirty fuels in the foreseeable future? 

Bernard Looney, CEO of BP, states that: ‘By following this strategy, we expect bp to be a very different energy company by 2030.’

This statement is not satisfying as indeed renewables have proven to be competitive already. What’s more, as an energy company, this form of energy supply is hard to ignore in going forward. On the other hand, it may be a statement not promising too much of a change rather than telling everyone what they want to hear and failing that hussar ride. 

Anyway, we acknowledge BP to be an innovator and thought leader among all oil companies and would appreciate the same ambition of their competitors as well. 

However, having researched the companies shaping our energy future, we start to think that another massive push is needed towards reaching the Paris Agreement and maximum warming of 1.5 degrees.   

The push might come from major renewable energy companies like Siemens, Vestas, GE Energy, NextEra Energy, Inc., Suzlon, Berkshire Hathaway Energy, Avangrid Renewables, EDF Energy, NEXT Energy Capital, European Energy, Obton, Orstedt, Luxcara, and Green Investment Group, all leading the way forward.

We would love to see such companies teaming up with oil companies for know-how sharing and collaboration towards a more sustainable future.

To close this blog, we would like to cite another statement of Bernard Looney which is meant to describe BP’s situation but also outlines the global circumstances within these odd times very well:  

We are operating in an environment of greater uncertainty than at any time most will recall. But we are in action. Not just to weather the storm. But to emerge transformed and stronger for the opportunities ahead in the energy transition and our net-zero ambition.

Fossil fuel demand to take a historic knock

Fossil fuel demand to take a historic knock

Fossil fuel demand to take historic knock amid COVID-19 scars per British Petroleum (BP) by Reuters is yet another confirmation of the on-goig energy world trends.

By Ron Bousso

LONDON, Sept 14 (Reuters) – Fossil fuel consumption is set to shrink for the first time in modern history as climate policies boost renewable energy while the coronavirus epidemic leaves a lasting effect on global energy demand, BP said in a forecast.

BP’s 2020 benchmark Energy Outlook underpins Chief Executive Bernard Looney’s new strategy to “reinvent” the 111-year old oil and gas company by shifting renewables and power.

London-based BP expects global economic activity to only partially recover from the epidemic over the next few years as travel restrictions ease. But some “scarring effects” such as work from home will lead to slower growth in energy consumption.

Fossil fuel demand to take historic knock

BP this year extended its outlook into 2050 to align it with the company’s strategy to slash the carbon emissions from its operations to net zero by the middle of the century.

It includes three scenarios that assume different levels of government policies aimed at meeting the 2015 Paris climate agreement to limit global warming to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels.

Under its central scenario, BP forecasts COVID-19 will knock around 3 million barrels per day (bpd) off by 2025 and 2 million bpd by 2050.

In its two aggressive scenarios, COVID-19 accelerates the slow down in oil consumption, leading to it peaking last year. In the third scenario, oil demand peaks at around 2030.

Fossil fuel demand to take historic knock

In the longer term, demand for coal, oil and natural gas is set to slow dramatically.

While the share of fuels has shrunk in the past as a percentage of the total energy pie, their consumption has never contracted in absolute terms, BP chief economist Spencer Dale told reporters.

“(The energy transition) would be an unprecedented event,” Dale said. “Never in modern history has the demand for any traded fuel declined in absolute terms.”

At the same time, “the share of renewable energy grows more quickly than any fuel ever seen in history.”

Under BP’s central Rapid scenario, non-fossil fuels account for the majority of global energy sources from the early 2040s onward, with the share of hydrocarbons falling by more than half over the next 30 years.

Even with energy demand set to expand on the back of growing population and emerging economies, the sources of energy will shift dramatically to renewable sources such as wind and solar, Dale said.

The share of fossil fuels is set to decline from 85% of total primary energy demand in 2018 to between 20% and 65% by 2050 in the three scenarios.

At the same time, the share of renewables is set to grow from 5% in 2018 to up to 60% by 2050.

In its forecast, BP said the growth in global economic activity slows “considerably” over the next 30 years from its past 20-year average, due in part to lasting effects of the epidemic as well as the worsening impact of climate change on economic activity, particularly in Africa and Latin America.

BP starts on Monday a three-day investor event where it will detail its energy transition strategy.

(Reporting by Ron Bousso; editing by David Evans and Jason Neely)

  • Oil demand may have peaked last year – BP
  • Renewable energy set to soar to up to 60% of primary energy
  • BP’s 2020 Energy Outlook underpins CEO transition strategy
  • GRAPHIC: Share of energy sources: https://tmsnrt.rs/3bVZ0aC (Adds graphic, detail)

The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

MENA’s oil boom is a perfect illustration of . . . .

MENA’s oil boom is a perfect illustration of . . . .

With oil, money comes to you in your sleep; with debt, money comes to you by crawling. With work, money comes to you by sweating.
MENA’s oil boom is a perfect illustration of the cohabitation between the permanence of endemic moral misery and the existence of abundant financial resources.

The high price of oil has structurally the perverse effect of perpetuating the systems put in place to infinity. Because of oil and gas, America has lost all moral sense. Through the grace of oil and gas, a typical MENA’s oil exporter no longer thinks, it spends. And it pays without counting. It does not need economists; those are holiday troublers; it prefers to deal with merry lurons.
It has a visceral desire to entertain the gallery. The public does not ask for so much. Money is flowing. And let the rentier industry live! An industry that does not need a strategy, seminars, speeches, no supply problems, no market problems. It runs at full capacity, and it can do without any government and parliament. It works on its own and is not accountable to anyone, not even to itself. It is royally free from the productive work and creative intelligence of Algerians, Libyans and GCC inhabitants. An industry that cradles illusions, those from the top and feeds the despair of others, those at the bottom.
Finally, an industry that works from, by and for abroad. An annuity that oil-consuming states compete for or share tax to finance their mesmerising democracy and producing countries cheaply to perpetuate the obsolete political regimes in place with high costs. The largest share goes to influential locals or foreigners.
Some were supporting each other, and vice versa. A society that does not think of itself is a society that is slowly but surely dying. The life of a nation ceases, it is said, when dreams turn into regrets. Oil has made institutions, pale copies of those of our illustrious Western thinkers, empty shells bloated and budgetivorous, without impact on society, intended to camouflage reality to view of the foreigner, but no one is fooled. The world today no longer believes in Santa Claus.
At the slightest drop in the price of a barrel of oil, they collapse like a house of cards. They serve only as a storefront in the eyes of international opinion. Non-hydrocarbon exports are insignificant. Yet only labor can oppose oil. But it is marginal. It has accounted for less than 2% of exports over the past several decades. Is this not the apparent sign of the failure of so-called public economic policies that have only the funds, carried out by successive elites and who today have converted into opposition or Islamism.
Democracy is a view of the mind in a rent economy dominated by politics. Any political opposition that relies on hard-working forces is doomed to failure. The weight of inertia is predominant; the living muscles are weak. Work has lost its credentials; it bows to the diktat of oil. It is access to petrodollars that guarantees wealth. Easy money fascinates.
On another register, who better do without the hen with the golden eggs? Of course not anyone. Would a prolonged and increasing decline in the price of hydrocarbons, reserves or markets be life-saving or lethal for the country? What did the natives live on before the discovery of oil in 1956 by the French?
The nation-state is a dupe market between a power and a nation, namely bread against freedom, security against obedience, order against anarchy, external recognition against internal legitimacy. The concept of the welfare state is a convenient fraud that the population believes that providence is at the top of the State and not in the Sahara desert subsoil. One of the criteria for immediately determining whether a nation belongs to the third world is corruption.
Wherever the representatives of the State, civil servants, or politicians, from the top to the bottom of the hierarchy are corrupt and where this practice is almost official, we are in a third world country. The membership of people in the third world is above all its political system. The Arab world is dominated by authoritarian or totalitarian powers, by political castes that manipulate words and institutions. This is why no one now believes in development; everyone sees the corruption of political power daily.
Governments have deliberately chosen economic growth from the accumulation of oil and gas revenues or to the absence of debt pledged on hypothetical reserves rather than on development and internal mobilisation based on training and employment of men. The States have carried out a vast salary generalisation whose overall social effect is the dependence in which a significant proportion of the working population is located about the income distributed by the State from the revenues export of hydrocarbons to retain an increasingly large and demanding customer base.
The essence of the economic and socio-political game is, therefore, to capture an ever-increasing share of this pension and to determine which groups will benefit from it. It gives the State the means to redistribute clientelist. It frees the State from any fiscal dependence on the population and allows the ruling elite to dispense with any need for popular legitimisation. It has the extraordinary turnaround capabilities stifling any attempt to challenge society.
The oil will be the engine of corruption in business and the fuel of social violence. It has the art of war and initiating peace. It is both fire and water. He sometimes acts as an arsonist, sometimes as a fireman. It is one thing, and its opposite; wealth and poverty, both are illusions.
And as with any illusion, there is a manipulator. We are our gravediggers. To get out of the hole we are sinking into, every day more, we have to stop digging because the solution is on dry land and not at the bottom of a hole. To do this, you have to raise your head, stand up straight, and look yourself in the eye, in all humility, without fear and reproach. You have to arm yourself with science and have faith in God. Science is the key to our problems, religion the ultimate goal of our brief existence.
Oil intoxicates us; gas pollutes us, easy money blinds us. It’s dirty money. Money that kills, corrupts, rots, destroys consciences. It is the petrodollars that run the country and give it its substance and stability. The institutions, empty shells, are only there as a garnish to make the “cake” appetising. “Oil is the devil’s excrement; it corrupts countries and perverts’ economic decisions” Juan Pablo Perez Alfonzo, the founding father of OPEC Venezuela 1970.

Author:  Dr. A. Boumezrag

OPEC prepares for an age of dwindling demand

OPEC prepares for an age of dwindling demand

An article of Reuters wonders whether it is End game for oil? As OPEC prepares for an age of dwindling demand at a time when the petroleum oil industry, impacted by the pandemic, it seems to be accepting and thus willing to adapt to a long talked about ‘energy transition’.


End game for oil? OPEC prepares for an age of dwindling demand

By Alex Lawler

LONDON (Reuters) – The coronavirus crisis may have triggered the long-anticipated tipping point in oil demand and it is focusing minds in OPEC.

The pandemic drove down daily crude consumption by as much as a third earlier this year, at a time when the rise of electric vehicles and a shift to renewable energy sources were already prompting downward revisions in forecasts for long-term oil demand.

It has prompted some officials in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, oil’s most powerful proponent since it was founded 60 years ago, to ask whether this year’s dramatic demand destruction heralds a permanent shift and how best to manage supplies if the age of oil is drawing to a close.

“People are waking up to a new reality and trying to work their heads around it all,” an industry source close to OPEC told Reuters, adding the “possibility exists in the minds of all the key players” that consumption might never fully recover.

© Reuters/Angus Mordant FILE PHOTO: The sun sets behind a crude oil pump jack on a drill pad in the Permian Basin in Loving County

Reuters interviewed seven current and former officials or other sources involved in OPEC, most of whom asked not to be named. They said this year’s crisis that sent oil below $16 a barrel had prompted OPEC and its 13 members to question long-held views on the demand growth outlook.

© Reuters/Leonhard Foeger FILE PHOTO: A person passes the OPEC logo in front of its headquarters in Vienna

Just 12 years ago, OPEC states were flush with cash when oil peaked above $145 a barrel as demand surged.

Now it faces a dramatic adjustment if consumption starts a permanent decline. The group will need to manage even more closely its cooperation with other producers, such as Russia, to maximise falling revenues and will have to work to ensure relations inside the group are not frayed by any fratricidal dash to defend market share in a shrinking businesses.

“OPEC’s job will be harder in the future because of lower demand and rising non-OPEC production,” said Hasan Qabazard, OPEC’s head of research from 2006 to 2013 whose work now includes advising hedge funds and investment banks on OPEC policy.

One official, who works in energy studies in the oil ministry of a major OPEC member, said shocks to oil demand had in the past led to permanent changes in consumer behaviour. He said this time was unlikely to be different.

“The demand does not return to pre-crisis levels or it takes time for this to happen,” he said. “The main concern is that oil demand will peak in the next few years due to rapid technological advances, especially in car batteries.”

© Reuters/Essam Al Sudani FILE PHOTO: Flames emerge from flare stacks at Nahr Bin Umar oil field, as a man is seen wearing a protective face mask , following the outbreak of the coronavirus, north of Basra

In 2019, the world consumed 99.7 million barrels per day (bpd) – and OPEC was forecasting a rise to 101 million bpd in 2020.

But global lockdowns this year that grounded planes and took traffic off the streets, prompted OPEC to slash the 2020 figure to 91 million bpd, with 2021 demand still seen below 2019 levels.

PREDICTING THE PEAK

Producing nations, energy analysts and oil companies have long tried to work out when the world would reach “peak oil”, the point after which consumption starts permanently falling. But demand has climbed steadily each year, with occasional exceptions amid economic downturns.

Nevertheless, OPEC has been scaling back expectations. In 2007, it forecast world demand would hit 118 million bpd in 2030. By last year, its 2030 forecast had dropped to 108.3 million bpd. Its November report is expected to show another downward revision, one OPEC source says.

OPEC officials declined to comment on its demand outlook or policy for this article. But officials have said history shows OPEC’s ability to adapt to changes in the market.

Consumption forecasts vary outside OPEC. Oil companies have cut long-term crude price outlooks as demand prospects fade – slashing the value of their assets as a result.

Global consultancy DNV GL believes demand probably peaked in 2019.

Oil’s percentage share of the global energy mix has steadily fallen in recent decades, from about 40% of energy used in 1994 to 33% in 2019, even as volumes consumed rose with more cars on the roads, rising air travel and a petrochemical industry that makes ever more plastics and other products.

(Graphic – Shares of global primary energy consumption by fuel (%) Source: BP – https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/mkt/xegvbamllpq/Pasted%20image%201595601226490.png

That may now be changing, as more electric vehicles roll out of factories and airlines struggle to recover from the pandemic. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) does not expect air travel to reach 2019 levels until 2023 – at the earliest.

“Once aviation recovers by end-2023, demand will go back to normal — aside from the competition from other sources of energy,” said a second OPEC official involved in forecasting, highlighting the difficulty of making predictions amid a global trend towards using more renewables and other fuels.

© Reuters/Essam Al Sudani FILE PHOTO: Flames emerge from flare stacks at Nahr Bin Umar oil field, north of Basra

It leaves OPEC with a mounting challenge. Most members of the group, which sits on 80% of the world’s proven oil reserves, rely heavily on crude. Oil prices, now hovering above $40, are still well below the level most governments need to balance their budgets, including Saudi Arabia, OPEC’s de facto leader.

NEW STRESSES

OPEC, whose output accounts for about a third of world supplies, is no stranger to crises. It has managed supply shocks during Gulf conflicts in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s and found ways to cope when rival non-OPEC producers turn on the taps, like the U.S. shale oil industry in the past decade.

Most recently, when the coronavirus crisis pummelled demand, OPEC with Russia and other allies, a grouping known as OPEC+, agreed record output cuts of 9.7 million bpd, the equivalent of 10% of global supplies. Those deep cuts run to the end of July.

Yet, what comes next promises to be a new test of OPEC’s mettle. Instead of dealing with one-off shocks, OPEC must learn to live with long-term decline.

“This trend will put a stress on the cooperation between OPEC members, as well as between OPEC and Russia, as each strives to maintain its market share,” said Chakib Khelil, Algeria’s oil minister for a decade and twice OPEC’s president.

Some short-term challenges may come from within OPEC, as Iran and Venezuela, both hit by U.S. sanctions, seek to boost production or as output recovers in conflict-stricken Libya.

Others may come from outside, as the group tries to prevent U.S. shale production taking market share while OPEC seeks to curtail output in its efforts to support prices.

“Many challenges are ahead, and we have to adapt,” said one OPEC delegate, who said the group’s handling of past crises proved it was able to respond.

OPEC’s former research head, Qabazard, said the group might have a little more time to adjust before demand peaked. But he said the deadline for OPEC to adapt was approaching.

“I don’t think it will go higher than 110 million barrels per day by the 2040s,” he said, adding that fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic had changed consumer habits for good.

“This is permanent demand destruction.”

(Reporting by Alex Lawler; Editing by Edmund Blair)

Renewables Poised To Clean Up From Oil’s Price Spill

Renewables Poised To Clean Up From Oil’s Price Spill

Brentan Alexander, Contributor who says “I offer thoughts and insights on new energy technologies and trends,” writes that Renewables Poised To Clean Up From Oil’s Price Spill. Read on what is going on in these turbulent times.


Saudi Arabia abruptly altered its oil production strategy in early March and began to flood the market with cheap oil. Financial markets worldwide haemorrhaged value at the prospect of a protracted and painful price war, and American oil firms immediately cut back spending and dividend payments as the price for their primary product halved.  As of this morning, WTI Crude (a pricing benchmark tied to U.S. supply) was barely north of $20/bbl, prices not seen since 2002.  

This sudden tumult represents an opportunity for the renewable energy sector.  At first glance, this may sound counterintuitive. After all, oil prices seem largely unrelated to the prospects of wind, solar, and other renewables in the electricity generation sector, because in the United States the primary fossil source of electricity is natural gas.  Natural gas prices have been largely uncorrelated with the price of oil since 2007, when large-scale domestic shale-gas production began to come online (see chart). In other parts of the world, coal drives electricity generation, which is similarly decoupled. Virtually nobody uses oil as a primary electricity source, except in certain very specific locations, such as Hawaii, where the demands of unique geography and supply logistics align to make oil the best bet for power production.

Prices for oil and natural gas since 1997, and U.S. shale gas production.
Data from U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA.gov) BRENTAN ALEXANDER

Oil’s link to renewables instead comes through competition in the financing marketplace.  As new projects are developed and financing is sought, the infrastructure funds that provide capital to enable these developments naturally prefer projects that promise the most attractive financial returns.  With relatively high prices over the last decade and unmatched value as a transportation fuel, oil exploration has beaten out renewable project development on the financial metrics time after time.Today In: Energy

The oil shocks over the last weeks could dramatically alter that calculus.  Revenues for potential oil projects have suddenly dropped by over 50%, and futures contracts currently show only a modest improvement in prices by year’s end.  The market is already pricing in the expectation that oil prices remain below $40/bbl for the foreseeable future, a dramatic change from the $55+/bbl that has been the norm for the last few years.  

Even if prices do recover, the sudden volatility will still weigh on the minds of project investors.  Oil markets haven’t resembled a purely competitive market since the mid-1960s, and since that time prices have been regularly impacted by sudden and unforeseen changes in supply by OPEC producers, primarily Saudi Arabia.  The rise in shale-oil in the U.S. in the last decade has effectively put a cap on prices and provided a counterweight to OPEC’s pricing power. But the muscle being flexed now shows that the OPEC nations and Russia still maintain substantial influence over the fate of American oil producers.  This ‘stroke of the pen’ risk, now that it has again bared its head, maybe unlikely to be forgotten in the near future.  

Image result for renewables vs oil and gas by forbes
Forbes
More Energy Giants Moving Toward A Renewable Energy Future

Renewables, by contrast, have no supply risk whatsoever, and are primarily exposed to fluctuations in the price of electricity.  Insomuch as this relates to the price of natural gas, investors in the U.S. will take comfort knowing gas is essentially a local market, with U.S. prices driven by supply and demand within North America; there is little ability to arbitrage against global markets due to limited export capacity. Therefore, as oil prices come down, project financiers should start to turn more of their attention to the new safe bets that offer more durable returns: wind, solar, and the like. 

This isn’t to say that renewables don’t face headwinds in the current environment.  Cheap oil also competes with renewables in the transportation sector. Electric Vehicles will be less competitive with their gasoline-powered cousins as the price for gasoline at the pump drops, lowering demand for new grid capacity and forcing renewables to wait for retirements of current assets.  The price for natural gas in the U.S. is dropping as well, driven primarily by the sudden decrease in demand due to the shuttering of entire industries. These drops make fossil power from natural gas more competitive with their renewable counterparts.  

Futures markets, however, are currently pricing in a full rebound of natural gas prices by year’s end, with the futures contract for Henry Hub for December 2020 currently priced above market levels at the end of 2019.  This suggests that the drop in prices of natural gas will be temporary, and investors making long-term bets do not view the current situation as durable.  Further, natural gas prices are just one component of the price paid by utilities to power producers, and so a drop in natural gas prices doesn’t necessarily imply a similar fall in the rates negotiated in new power purchase agreements. So the drop in natural gas prices evident in the market now looks to be temporary, and unlikely to dramatically alter the widespread conclusion that renewables are now the cheapest power source to build.  

Altogether, the oil market has changed dramatically in the last three weeks, in ways unforeseen just a few short months ago.  But despite the headlines and worrying drops across financial markets, opportunity lies in these disruptions. Renewables are well positioned to capitalize.

Brentan Alexander‘s words: I am the Chief Science Officer and Chief Commercial Officer at New Energy Risk, where I lead the detailed diligence of novel technologies and business models across the energy landscape. I have devoted my career to advancing solutions to the climate crisis and use my experience to help technology companies assemble everything they need to reach the market faster. I hold a PhD in Mechanical Engineering from Stanford University, where I studied gasification, thermochemistry, and electrochemistry, and Masters and Bachelors degrees in Mechanical Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. When I’m not in the office, you can find me hiking the hills outside Oakland, California, or turning wood in the shop. All of my articles reflect my personal views and not those of my employer nor the volunteer initiatives that I am involved in. You can find out more about me via my website (brentanalexander.com) or follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn