IEA: Coronavirus ‘accelerating closure’ of ageing fossil-fuelled power plants

IEA: Coronavirus ‘accelerating closure’ of ageing fossil-fuelled power plants

Josh Gabbatiss, Carbon Brief, 27 May 2020

***

This year will see the largest ever drop globally in both investment and consumer spending on energy as the coronavirus pandemic hits every major sector, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

The crisis is accelerating the shutdown of older fossil-fuelled power plants and refineries, with the agency saying it could provide an opportunity to push the global energy sector onto a “more resilient, secure and sustainable path”.

In the latest edition of the World Energy Investment report, which Carbon Brief has covered in previous years, the IEA has gone beyond its usual remit of reviewing annual trends. 

Its analysis looks ahead to the coming year and estimates the impact of this year’s economic turmoil on energy investment, which was expected to grow by around 2% prior to Covid-19. It is now expected to drop by 20%, or almost $400bn.

Meanwhile, as demand and prices collapse, consumer spending on oil is expected to drop by more than $1tn, prompting a “historic switch” as spending on electricity exceeds oil for the first time.

Here, Carbon Brief has picked out some key charts to illustrate the economic repercussions of the pandemic across the energy sector.

Energy investment will drop by a fifth

The “baseline expectation” for 2020 is a global recession resulting from widespread lockdowns, according to the IEA. Last month, the agency estimated this will also lead to CO2 emissions dropping by 8% this year in the largest decline ever recorded.

Based on the latest investment data and project information, announcements from companies and governments, interviews with industry figures and its own analysis, the IEA concludes such a recession will see energy investment drop by a fifth. This can be seen in the chart below.

Energy investment is set to fall by a fifth in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. Fuel supply (red) includes all investments associated with the production and provision of fuels to consumers, consisting mainly of oil, gas and coal investments. Power sector (blue) includes spending on power-generation technologies, grids and storage. Energy end use and efficiency (yellow) includes the investment in efficiency improvements across all end-use sectors. Source: IEA
Energy investment is set to fall by a fifth in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. Fuel supply (red) includes all investments associated with the production and provision of fuels to consumers, consisting mainly of oil, gas and coal investments. Power sector (blue) includes spending on power-generation technologies, grids and storage. Energy end use and efficiency (yellow) includes the investment in efficiency improvements across all end-use sectors. Source: IEA

These estimates are based on assumptions about the duration of lockdowns and coronavirus recovery trajectories.

The IEA notes that “almost all” investment activity has been disrupted by these measures, as a result of restrictions to the movement of people, goods and equipment. 

However, the largest impacts are the result of declines in revenues due to falling demand and prices, with the clearest example coming from the oil sector. Analysis of daily data until mid-April suggests countries in full lockdown have seen energy demand drop by a quarter.

As a result, the agency also estimates that these factors, combined with a rise in cases of people not paying their energy bills, will see revenues going to both governments and industry fall by over $1tn this year.

Crisis ‘accelerating’ shift from low-efficiency technologies

Every year energy infrastructure is retired and replaced with new equipment. Typically, the replacement technologies will be cleaner and more efficient, although this is not always the case. 

The coronavirus crisis is expected to have an impact on this rate of turnover and, indeed, it is already contributing to the retirement of some older power plants and facilities, as the chart below illustrates.

The Covid-19 crisis is hastening the retirement (light blue) of some older plants and facilities, but also impacting consumer spending on new and more efficient technologies (dark blue), with the potential for a net decrease (yellow dot) in upstream oil-and-gas facilities. Source: IEA.
The Covid-19 crisis is hastening the retirement (light blue) of some older plants and facilities, but also impacting consumer spending on new and more efficient technologies (dark blue), with the potential for a net decrease (yellow dot) in upstream oil-and-gas facilities. Source: IEA.

The economic downturn and “surfeit of productive capacity in some areas” as overall demand plummets is already “accelerating” the closure and idling or inefficient technologies, including refineries and some coal-fired power plants.

However, the IEA warns that equally governments might respond to the pandemic by underinvesting in new technologies and remaining reliant on inefficient, older technology. The agency estimates efficiency investment could drop by 10-15% as spending is cut back.

The report warns that policymakers should keep these elements in mind and “combine economic recovery with energy and climate goals”. Dr Fatih Birol, executive director of the IEA, said in a statement that while the pandemic has brought lower emissions it has been “for all the wrong reasons”:

“The response of policymakers – and the extent to which energy and sustainability concerns are integrated into their recovery strategies – will be critical.”

Clean energy spending ‘relatively resilient’

The share of global energy spending going towards clean energy, including renewables as well as nuclear and efficiency improvements, has been flat-lining at around one-third for the past few years.

As the chart below shows, this is likely to change this year as clean energy’s share edges closer to two-fifths of overall spending.

Breakdown of clean energy investment by sector in USD (left x-axis), with the % overall share (right x-axis) of spending indicated by a grey line. Source: IEA.

Clean energy investment is expected to remain “relatively resilient” this year, with spending on renewable projects falling by a comparatively small 10%. 

However, according to the IEA, the main reason for clean energy increasing its share is that fossil fuels are set to take such a “heavy hit”. In absolute terms, spending on these technologies is “far below levels” required to accelerate energy transitions.

The agency notes that investment trends have long been “poorly aligned” with the world’s needs and are still set to fall short of the future it has outlined in its benchmark Sustainable Development Scenario (SDS).

Last year’s edition of the World Energy Investment report concluded that investment in low-carbon energy sources must more than double by 2030 if the world is to meet its Paris Agreement targets.

While the slowdown in clean energy spending is less significant, it still “risks undermining the much-needed transition to more resilient and sustainable energy systems,” according to Birol.

Power sector hit hard

International power investment is set to drop by 10% as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to the agency. 

Virtually every component of the sector is expected to see a decline in investment, with hydro the only exception, as the chart below demonstrates.

Global investment in the power sector by technology, with figures from the previous three years and estimates for 2020 (yellow). Source: IEA.
Global investment in the power sector by technology, with figures from the previous three years and estimates for 2020 (yellow). Source: IEA.

Increases in residential electricity demand around the world during lockdown are being “far outweighed” by reductions in commercial and industrial operations, the agency reports. A 9% decline in spending on electricity networks this year is also expected.

The IEA says some parts of power investment are more exposed, specifically fossil fuel-based generation. 

Meanwhile, higher shares of renewables are being dispatched due to low operating costs and priority access to networks. Nevertheless, renewables are still taking a hit, particularly distributed solar photovoltaics (PV) as households and companies cut back on spending.

Technologies with a longer lead time, notably offshore wind and hydropower, are expected to do better despite some delays.

Electricity spending pulls ahead of oil

Oil accounts for most of the decline in revenues expected this year. Furthermore, in a “historic switch” consumer spending on electricity could exceed spending on oil for the first time ever. 

While power-sector revenues are expected to fall by $180bn, oil spending will likely drop by at least $1tn. This can be seen in the chart on the left below. Taken together, investment in oil and gas is expected to fall by almost a third in 2020. 

Both global end-use spending by consumers on energy (left) and estimated 2020 investment compared to 2019 show oil is expected to see the biggest decline in investment activity this year. Source: IEA.

The decline in aviation and road transport, which represent nearly 60% of oil demand, are responsible for this disproportionate decline.

Meanwhile, the impact on gas has so far been more moderate, but could fall further due to reduced demand in power and industry settings.

The report also highlights the global shale sector, which was already under pressure, as being particularly vulnerable. 

With investor confidence and access to capital in decline, the IEA predicts shale investment will halve in 2020 and notes the outlook for “highly leveraged shale players in the US” is now “bleak”.

Coal decline given a ‘floor’ by China

Coal is estimated to be the fuel hardest hit by the crisis after oil. Coal demand could drop by 8% this year, investment in coal supply is set to fall by a quarter and spending on new coal-fired plants is set to fall by around 11%.

However, any decline in coal’s fortunes may be curtailed by the recovery of demand for the fossil fuel in China. According to the IEA, investment activity there “may put a floor” under further reductions in coal-power investment this year.

The nation’s focus on coal is illustrated in the chart below, which shows final investment decisions (FIDs) dropping to their lowest levels in a decade, but China providing virtually all of them in the year so far.

Coal-fired power generation capacity (GW) subject to a final investment decision (FID), with China coloured in green. Source: IEA.
Coal-fired power generation capacity (GW) subject to a final investment decision (FID), with China coloured in green. Source: IEA.

Using data available so far, the IEA notes that approvals for new coal plants in the first quarter of 2020, were “running at twice the rate observed over 2019 as a whole”, primarily in China.

Electric vehicle sales rising as overall market contracts

Last year was a difficult time for the car industry, with total sales growth slowing in all major regions and turning negative in China and the US.

However, this “turbulent” period for the industry is “likely to appear mild” in comparison with 2020, according to the IEA. 

Lockdowns have already severely impacted sales and, across the year, the agency estimates a drop of around 15% – dramatic even compared to the 10% drop that followed the 2008 financial crisis. Negative trends in overall car sales can be seen in the right-hand chart below.

Global sales of electric passenger vehicles – cars, vans and small trucks – and market share, indicated by a red line (left chart). Total light-duty vehicle sales (right). Source: IEA.
Global sales of electric passenger vehicles – cars, vans and small trucks – and market share, indicated by a red line (left chart). Total light-duty vehicle sales (right). Source: IEA.

However, even though electric vehicle sales followed wider patterns and stalled in 2019 largely due to declining Chinese purchases, their overall market share continued to climb. 

This can be seen in the chart on the left, which shows that electric cars are expected to go against the broader trend in 2020. The IEA estimates that owing to policy support, particularly in Europe, electric vehicle sales will increase this year, as will their share of the market (indicated by the red line).

Battery storage spending fell as prices dropped

Investment in battery storage fell for the first time last year, as the chart below shows. Overall, spending on grid-scale and behind-the-meter batteries fell by 15%, with overall investment just above $4bn.

Investment in both grid-scale (left) and behind-the-meter battery storage (right). Source: IEA.
Investment in both grid-scale (left) and behind-the-meter battery storage (right). Source: IEA.

The IEA states this decline took place as costs for battery storage fell rapidly, a trend the agency attributes to maturing supply chains and markets, more efficient production and competition within the sector.

The report mentions fires at energy storage installations in South Korea and regulation uncertainty in China as some of the factors behind the decline in interest last year.

Declining behind-the-meter battery spending also reflects the distributed solar PV market, for which investment slowed last year in a trend expected to continue as consumer spending drops off due to coronavirus.

The agency notes that grid-scale battery investments are also expected to decline this year against the backdrop of a general decrease in power activity. 

However, it says this setback “is likely to be shortlived” due to the technology’s growing importance for system security and flexibility. 

***

IEA: Coronavirus ‘accelerating closure’ of ageing fossil-fuelled power plants

Josh Gabbatiss, Carbon Brief, 27 May 2020

Published under a CC license. Carbon Brief welcomes the reproduction of unadapted material in full for non-commercial use, credited ‘Carbon Brief’ with a link to the article.

art, the built environment, & the Bizot Green Protocol

Works of art. History. Cultural heritage. The market. Galleries. Art fairs. Museums. Private museums. Institutional and private collections. Fiduciary care. Value.

Let’s consider a pressing issue:

How collections are housed, managed, and cared for and the protection of works of art and tangible assets in an age of increasingly erratic weather, increasing sea-level rise, floods, fires, storms, … and pandemics – which in themselves and the response to which can be devastating.

Does one barricade the art behind flood walls and barriers? Insure the works of art? (Insurance is a good idea. Insurance does not, however, mitigate or prevent future damage. Insurance is used to protect the “value” of the art, not the work of art itself. It is used after damage occurs to recover value.)

Can we protect works of art while mitigating possible future damage?

Atmospheric CO2 is a key factor leading towards the storms, floods, and fires that can be so damaging to art and tangible assets. Is it possible to care for our collections while reducing emissions of CO2 into the air?

The Bizot Group of museum directors, or the International Group of Organizers of Large-scale Exhibitions, thinks so.

Max Hollein, now the Director of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, was Chairman of the Bizot Group in 2014. Richard Armstrong, Director of the Solomon R. Gugenheim Museum, and Glen Lowry, Director of the Museum of Modern Art, are members.

Wangechi Mutu (Kenyan, born Nairobi, 1972), “The Seated II” (bronze, 2019) situated in one of four niches in the facade of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Courtesy of the the artist, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels.


Wangechi Mutu (Kenyan, born Nairobi, 1972), “The Seated II” (bronze, 2019). Courtesy of the the artist, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels.

Axel Rüger, Director of the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam from 2006 until June of 2019 when he left the Van Gogh Museum to take up a new appointment as Chief Executive of London’s Royal Academy of Arts, is a member.

So are many others.

The Bizot Group agreed the Bizot Green Protocol in 2015:

The directors agree that museums can reduce the amount of CO2 emissions they are responsible for while recognizing their duty of care to collections:

1.  Guiding Principles
Museums should review policy and practice, particularly regarding loan requirements, storage and display conditions, and building design and air conditioning systems, with a view to reducing carbon footprints.

Museums need to find ways to reconcile the desirability of long-term preservation of collections with the need to reduce energy use.

Museums should apply whatever methodology or strategies best suit their collections, building and needs, and innovative approaches should be encouraged.

The care of objects is paramount. Subject to this,

environmental standards should become more intelligent and better tailored to specific needs. Blanket conditions should no longer apply. Instead conditions should be determined by the requirements of individual objects or groups of objects and the climate in the part of the world in which the museum is located;

where appropriate, care of collections should be achieved in a way that does not assume air conditioning or other high energy cost solutions. Passive methods, simple technology that is easy to maintain, and lower energy solutions should be considered;

natural and sustainable environmental controls should be explored and exploited fully;

when designing and constructing new buildings or renovating old ones, architects and engineers should be guided significantly to reduce the building’s carbon footprint as a key objective;

the design and build of exhibitions should be managed to mimimise waste and recycle where possible.

2.  Guidelines
For many classes of object containing hygroscopic material (such as canvas paintings, textiles, ethnographic objects or animal glue) a stable relative humidity (RH) is required in the range of 40 – 60% and a stable temperature in the range 16-25°C with fluctuations of no more than ±10% RH per 24 hours within this range. More sensitive objects will require specific and tighter RH control, depending on the materials, condition, and history of the work of art. A conservators evaluation is essential in establishing the appropriate environmental conditions for works of art requested for loan.

Environmental Sustainability – reducing museums’ carbon footprint,”National Museum Directors Council

See:

Environmental sustainability – reducing museums’ carbon footprint,” National Museum Directors Council

Wangechi Mutu: The NewOnes, will free us,” Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Facade Commission, 9 September 2019 – 9 June 2020

Wangechi Mutu, Gladstone Gallery

Axel Rϋger Appointed Chief Executive of London’s Royal Academy of Arts,” Artforum, 13 February 2019

Axel Rüger,” 40 Under 40 Europe 2018, Apollo Magazine, 3 September 2018

Groupe Bizot, Letter of 26 February 2014 to Mr. Mikhail Piotrovsky, Director, State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia

Daily global CO2 emissions ‘cut to 2006 levels’ during height of coronavirus crisis

Daily global CO2 emissions ‘cut to 2006 levels’ during height of coronavirus crisis

Simon Evans, Carbon Brief, 19 May 2020

***

The amount of CO2 being released by human activity each day fell by as much as 17% during the height of the coronavirus crisis in early April, a new study shows.

This means daily emissions temporarily fell to levels last seen in 2006, the study says. In the first four months of the year, it estimates that global emissions from burning fossil fuels and cement production were cut by 1,048m tonnes of CO2 (MtCO2), or 8.6%, compared with 2019 levels.

The research projects a decline of up to 2,729MtCO2 (7.5%) in 2020 as a whole, depending on how the crisis plays out. It is the first to have been through the peer-review process and is broadly in line with an early estimate for China published by Carbon Brief in February, as well as separate global estimates published last month by Carbon Brief and the International Energy Agency.

Today’s study also marks the first-ever attempt to quantify CO2 emissions on a daily basis, for the world and for 69 individual countries, in close to real time. Until now, annual CO2 emissions data has typically been published months or even years later.

A publicly available daily estimate of global or national CO2 emissions would be “incredibly useful, particularly for motivating policy action and pressure”, another researcher tells Carbon Brief.

Coronavirus crisis

The ongoing coronavirus crisis has claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people around the world and seen the introduction of severe restrictions on movement in many countries.

These lockdowns have included “stay at home” orders, border closures and other measures that have had direct effects on the use of energy and, consequently, on the release of CO2 emissions.

As the crisis has unfolded, so too have attempts to quantify its impact on CO2 emissions. These efforts have been challenging, however, because real-time CO2 emissions data does not exist.

The annual emissions inventories that countries submit to the UN take years to compile – and even these are estimates rather than direct measurements.

Greenhouse gas emissions are estimated using a variety of methods, often based on “activity data”. This might be the number of miles being driven, the amount of electricity generated or even – in the case of nitrous oxide, which is used as a propellant  – via cream consumption.

Today’s study, published in Nature Climate Change, combines activity data for six sectors with a “confinement index” of lockdown measures in each country or region over time.

This allows for an estimate of changes in daily global CO2 emissions in January-April 2020, relative to the 100MtCO2 released on an average day in 2019.

During peak confinement in individual countries, daily CO2 emissions fell by 26% on average, the paper says. However, the size of this effect is reduced at a global level, because not all countries were under the most severe type of lockdown at the same time.

At the peak of the crisis in early April, regions responsible for 89% of daily CO2 emissions were under some form of lockdown, the paper says. Daily global CO2 emissions fell to 83MtCO2 (-17%, with a range of -11 to -25%) on 7 April, equivalent to levels last seen in 2006.

In a press release, lead author Prof Corinne Le Quéré, professor of climate change science at the University of East Anglia’s Tyndall Centre (who will be a panelist at Carbon Brief’s webinar on 21 May), says:

“Population confinement has led to drastic changes in energy use and CO2 emissions. These extreme decreases are likely to be temporary, however, as they do not reflect structural changes in the economic, transport, or energy systems.”

Daily data

In order to estimate daily global CO2 emissions, the researchers use a novel approach that combines sectoral activity data with a country-by-country confinement index.

The paper looks at six sectors, shown in the chart below according to their share of global CO2 emissions from fossil fuels and cement. These are electricity and heat (44%); industry (22%); surface transport (20%); homes (6%); public buildings and commerce (4%); and aviation (3%).

Share of global CO2 emissions from fossil fuels and cement due to each of six sectors of the economy. Source: Le Queré et al. (2020). Chart by Carbon Brief.
Share of global CO2 emissions from fossil fuels and cement due to each of six sectors of the economy. Source: Le Queré et al. (2020). Chart by Carbon Brief.

Notably, this split highlights the limited potential for individual actions to radically reduce global emissions, in contrast to the societal choices that govern CO2 from electricity and industry.

The split in global CO2 emissions, shown above, is then broken down further for each of 69 countries, 50 US states and 30 Chinese provinces, which account for 97% of the global total. This gives industrial CO2 emissions in Italy, for example, on an average day in 2019.

The paper then uses 669 datasets, covering each of these sectors over time, and classified according to the level of confinement in place at each point. For example, this might be daily reports on mobility, traffic and congestion to measure “activity” for surface transport.

This daily data is then adjusted to remove effects unrelated to coronavirus, such as the mild northern hemisphere winter or the day of the week.

Under the highest level of confinement, surface transport “activity” fell by 50% on average, the paper finds. This is shown in green in the chart, below, where each dot represents a single data point, open circles show the average and the horizontal lines show the variability between datasets. The chart also shows changes in activity for electricity, industry, homes and aviation.

Change in sectoral “activity” under the highest level of coronavirus confinement, percent, relative to an average day in 2019. Each dot represents a single datapoint and open circles show the average. Reading from left to right, the chart shows activity changes in the power sector (purple), industry (yellow), surface transport (green), homes (blue) and aviation (pink). Source: Le Queré et al. (2020).
Change in sectoral “activity” under the highest level of coronavirus confinement, percent, relative to an average day in 2019. Each dot represents a single datapoint and open circles show the average. Reading from left to right, the chart shows activity changes in the power sector (purple), industry (yellow), surface transport (green), homes (blue) and aviation (pink). Source: Le Queré et al. (2020).

For electricity, the paper looks at total daily demand in Europe, the US and India, finding an average 15% reduction in demand under strict lockdown. In industry, the paper looks at daily coal use in China reported by Carbon Brief and weekly reports on steel production in the US.

For homes, the paper draws on figures from UK smart meters. And for aviation – the most strongly affected sector – it uses data on domestic and international departures around the world.

As the chart above shows, the analysis relies on relatively sparse information for industry, whereas activity levels in transport draw on a wider range of datasets.

Emissions estimates

The team then uses the average change in activity, for each sector and level of confinement, to build up an estimate of daily CO2 emissions around the world.

For example, on days when Turkey is under the strictest lockdown, the analysis assumes that its power-sector CO2 emissions would fall by 15% compared with the average in 2019 – and those from surface transport by 50%.

When Turkey shifts from “confinement index three”, the strictest controls, down to level two, its power-sector emissions would be 5% below usual levels and transport 40% lower. For each confinement level, the same percentage reductions are assumed to apply to all countries.

This approach means that the team only needed to know when each country, state or province changed its coronavirus lockdown from one “confinement level” to another, as well as the daily average level of CO2 emissions from each sector in 2019.

Putting all of these countries and lockdown levels together, the paper finds that the cut in daily global CO2 emissions peaked at -17% on 7 April, shown in the figure, below. Across the first four months of 2020, emissions fell by 1,048MtCO2 (8.6%), compared with 2019 levels.

Estimated daily global CO2 emissions from fossil fuels and cement, million tonnes (MtCO2 per day). The left panel shows emissions from 1970-2020 and the right panel shows the first four months of 2020. Source: Le Queré et al. (2020).
Estimated daily global CO2 emissions from fossil fuels and cement, million tonnes (MtCO2 per day). The left panel shows emissions from 1970-2020 and the right panel shows the first four months of 2020. Source: Le Queré et al. (2020).

Within this global total, the largest impacts were in China, where emissions fell by an estimated 242MtCO2 in the first four months of the year, followed by the US (-207MtCO2), Europe (-123MtCO2) and India (-98MtCO2).

Dr Glen Peters, research director at Norwegian climate institute Cicero and one of the study authors, tells Carbon Brief that while the approach was designed around the current crisis, the team has gathered the “raw material” to make daily CO2 estimates on an ongoing basis. He says:

“We have discussed more ‘real-time’ estimates for sometime and there are many advantages. We are illustrating one advantage with our paper to see the consequences of particular policy interventions in near real time.”

But Peters notes that some of the daily data they used – the urban congestion index series from satnav maker TomTom, for example – is only being made publicly available during the current crisis and might be made private again in the future. He also asks whether daily data is truly needed, or whether weekly or even monthly estimates might be sufficient for scientists and policymakers.

Dr Hannah Ritchie, head of research at website Our World in Data and one of the reviewers of the new study, tells Carbon Brief:

“I think daily CO2 estimates would be incredibly useful, particularly for motivating policy action and pressure…Climate change already has the classic long-termism problem, but this is exacerbated by the fact that we get a figure on CO2 emissions published once a year, as a marker of how each country is doing.”

If daily CO2 estimates were publicly available for all countries, it would become possible to actively track progress, she says, adding: “You can have a counter on the news, or an app or dashboard on your phone – just like we do with other metrics like stock markets.”

Alternative analyses

Today’s research is not the first to analyse the CO2 impacts of the coronavirus crisis, although it is the first to have completed its passage through peer review.

Another paper, which is currently in review, also attempts to estimate daily global CO2 emissions in close to real time. This work finds the coronavirus crisis cut global emissions by -542MtCO2 below 2019 levels in the first quarter of 2020, similar to the -530MtCO2 figure from today’s paper.

In mid-February, Carbon Brief published an analysis showing that emissions in China were temporarily cut by 200MtCO2 (25%) over a four-week period, during the height of the restrictions. The new study finds that the cut in Chinese emissions peaked at 24%.

Today’s research also includes estimates of the emissions impact in 2020 as a whole, based on three scenarios for the length of lockdowns around the world. These entail CO2 emissions falling by between -4% and -8%, depending on how the crisis plays out. This range is consistent with estimates published in April byCarbon Brief (-6%) and the International Energy Agency (-8%).

***

Daily global CO2 emissions ‘cut to 2006 levels’ during height of coronavirus crisis

Simon Evans, Carbon Brief, 19 May 2020

Published under a CC license. You are welcome to reproduce unadapted material in full for non-commercial use, credited ‘Carbon Brief’ with a link to the article. 

inflection point? · oil major tears up the industry’s financial playbook

In August 2014 Simon Evans of Carbon Brief, reporting on a white paper, “Fossil fuel divestment: a $5 trillion challenge,” published days earlier by Bloomberg New Energy Finance, noted that “‘fossil fuels are investor favourites for a reason’….fossil fuel investments have a history of strong performance.

BNEF looked at seven alternative trillion-dollar sectors and found that only shares in real estate firms have paid higher dividends in recent years than fossil fuel firms.”

(Simon Evans, “Why fossil fuel divestment won’t be easy,” Carbon Brief, 27 August 2014)

Fast forward to today. Due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, global energy demand in the first quarter of 2020 was 3.8% lower than in the same quarter of 2019. The IEA expects global energy demand for 2020 to decline by 6% year-on-year, a decline not seen for decades.

Annual rate of change in primary energy demand, %, since 1900, with key events impacting demand highlighted. Source: Josh Gabbatiss, “IEA: Coronavirus impact on CO2 emissions six times larger than 2008 financial crisis,” Carbon Brief, 30 April 2020; IEA Global Energy Review

The fossil fuel sector, consistently a source of large dividends over the years, is suddenly under market stress and scrutiny from investors.

While “most analysts expected the world’s largest Western super majors … to defend their dividend at almost any cost given how important the payouts are to North American investors” (Kevin Crowley, Exxon Freezes Dividend for First Time in 13 years Amid Crash, Bloomberg, 29 April 2020), Royal Dutch Shell, Europe’s largest oil company, shocked the investing world.

Shell both reduced its dividend, the first time it has done so since World War II, for Q1 2020 and, observing that it would be neither “wise” nor “prudent” nor “responsible” to do so, announced it will not follow industry practice of borrowing against its balance sheet to finance the dividend payment.

The Board of Royal Dutch Shell plc (“RDS” or the “Company”) today announced an interim dividend in respect of the first quarter of 2020 of US$ 0.16 per A ordinary share (“A Share”) and B ordinary share (“B Share”), reduced from the US$ 0.47 dividend for the same quarter last year.

The pace and scale of the societal impact of COVID 19 and the resulting deterioration in the macroeconomic and commodity price outlook is unprecedented. The duration of these impacts remains unclear with the expectation that the weaker conditions will likely extend beyond 2020.

“In response, Shell has taken decisive actions to reduce our spending and position our businesses to compete in the current lower commodity price environment and uncertain demand outlook.

“The Board of Royal Dutch Shell has taken the decision to reset its dividend to provide financial resilience and further flexibility to manage the uncertainty. Shell is taking the steps necessary to ensure that we are well-positioned for the eventual economic recovery.

(“Royal Dutch Shell plc first quarter 2020 interim dividend,” 30 April 2020)

Not only did the dividend reduction, coupled with CEO Ben van Beurden’s further announcement that Shell would not take on debt to fund its dividend payment, shock investors, it also “tore up the industry’s playbook.”

When the boss of Royal Dutch Shell Plc slashed his dividend on Thursday, he didn’t just shock investors,” Laura Hurst of Bloomberg commented, “he tore up the industry’s financial playbook.

For decades Big Oil has used the strength of a large balance sheet to borrow money when the going gets tough and keeps investors sweet until the next upward cycle.

As the coronavirus pandemic potentially causes lasting damage to energy demand, Europe’s largest oil company asked whether this strategy is sustainable.

“’I would say no,’ said Shell Chief Executive Officer Ben van Beurden. ‘It’s also not wise and prudent, nor even responsible, to pay out a dividend if you know for sure you have to borrow for it.‘”

(Laura Hurst, “Shell’s Dividend Cut Shows This Time is Different for Big Oil,” Bloomberg, 30 April 2020)

Norwegian multinational energy company Equinor (OSE:EQNR,NYSE:EQNR; formerly Statoil) announced on 23 April a cash dividend of US$ 0.09 per share for the first quarter 2020, a reduction of 67% compared to the dividend proposed for the fourth quarter 2019.  

On 28 April, BP announced an interim dividend of 10.50 cents per ordinary share for the first quarter of 2020.

Gaurav Sharma, Senior Contributor at Forbes, observing that whilst first quarter profits at BP have decreased by 67% on lack of oil demand and the crude oil price crash, the company “sprung a surprise for the market by maintaining the company’s 10.5 U.S. cents per share dividend payment, hiked by 2.4% as recently as February.”

The move,” Mr. Sharma noted, “will come as a relief to beleaguered U.K. income funds that have seen over $18.6 billion in payouts cancelled or suspended over the last six weeks.

Collectively, HSBC, GSK, Royal Dutch Shell, British American Tobacco and BP accounted for 40% of FTSE 100 dividend payouts in 2019. With BP promising to payout, HSBC holding back following regulatory pressure, GSK, BAT and Shell, which hasn’t failed to pay a dividend since the Second World War II, appear to be in the bag.”

(Gaurav Sharma, “Profits Slump 67% At BP But Oil Major Maintains Dividend Despite Coronavirus Downturn,” Forbes, 28 April 2020)

On 29 April, Exxon Mobil Corp., based in Irving, Texas and the largest oil company in the Western Hemisphere, announced that for the second quarter 2020 it will pay a dividend of 87 cents per share. This is the same amount that was paid per share for the first quarter of 2020.

For the first time in 13 years, ExxonMobil “froze” its second quarter dividend to the amount paid in the first quarter.

Kevin Crowley of Bloomberg notes “Before now, Exxon had an uninterrupted streak of April increases going back to 2007.”

Most analysts expected the world’s largest Western super majors, including Exxon, to defend their dividend at almost any cost given how important the payouts are to North American investors. Before today, Exxon was the third-largest dividend payer in the S&P 500 Index behind Microsoft Corp. and AT&T Inc., according to data compiled by Bloomberg.”

The freeze may not derail Exxon’s multi decade streak of annual increases,” Mr. Crowley continues. “Even if the company maintains quarterly payouts at the current level for the rest of 2020, the annual outlay will be $3.48 a share, or 1.5% above 2019.

“’It’s definitely a sign of the times and to be expected given the price environment,’ said Jennifer Rowland, an analyst at Edward D. Jones &Co. The payout is “secure” because the company has capacity to take on debt to fund it, she said. On an annualized basis, the dividend will cost Exxon almost $15 billion this year.”

(Kevin Crowley, Exxon Freezes Dividend for First Time in 13 years Amid Crash, Bloomberg, 29 April 2020)

See:

Josh Gabbatiss, “IEA: Coronavirus impact on CO2 emissions six times larger than 2008 financial crisis,” Carbon Brief, 30 April 2020

First Quarter 2020 Interim Dividend,” Royal Dutch Shell Plc, 30 April 2020

Laura Hurst, “Shell’s Dividend Cut Shows This Time is Different for Big Oil, ” Bloomberg, 30 April 2020

Dividend Information, ExxonMobil dividends per common share,” Exxon Mobil, 29 April 2020

Kevin Crowley, “Exxon Freezes Dividend for First Time in 13 years Amid Crash,” Bloomberg, 29 April 2020

BPp.l.c. Group results, First quarter 2020“, 28 April 2020

Gaurav Sharma, “Profits Slump 67% At BP But Oil Major Maintains DividendDespite Coronavirus Downturn,” Forbes, 28 April 2020

Equinor reducing quarterly cash dividend for first quarter 2020 by 67%,” Equinor, 23 April 2020

Mikael Holter, “Norway Oil Giant Slashes Dividend to Weather Oil-Market Crash,” Bloomberg, 23 April 2020

Financial Times, “Shell dividend cut puts Big Oil investment case in focus” 

Simon Evans, “Why fossil fuel divestment won’t be easy,” Carbon Brief, 27 August 2014

Nathaniel Bullard, “Fossil fuel divestment: a $5 trillion challenge,” White Paper, Bloomberg New Energy Finance, 25 August 2014

IEA: Coronavirus impact on CO2 emissions six times larger than 2008 financial crisis

IEA: Corona virus impact on CO2 emissions six times larger than 2008 financial crisis

Written by Josh Gabbatiss. Published on Carbon Brief, 30 April 2020.

The world’s CO2 emissions are expected to fall by 8% this year as the coronavirus pandemic shuts down much of the global economy, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

Such a drop would be the largest ever recorded in terms of tonnes of CO2, some six times greater than the impact of the 2008 financial crisis.

The agency’s new Global Energy Review is based on extensive data from the year so far and is intended to provide close to a real-time estimate of energy usage and emissions.

Its projections for the whole of 2020 are based on a series of assumptions including that the lockdowns, curfews and closure of schools and businesses currently in place are gradually eased over the coming months.

However, as the pandemic spreads and its devastating impacts continue to unfold, the agency makes clear that there are still “major uncertainties” about how it will play out.

The IEA’s central figure of 8% is even higher than previous estimates, including analysis conducted by Carbon Brief and published earlier this month, which was based on a less comprehensive dataset and less recent data.

An 8% cut is roughly equivalent to the annual emissions reductions needed to limit warming to less than 1.5C above pre-industrial temperatures. However, the stretch target laid out in the Paris Agreement would require similar reductions every year this decade.

The agency is clear that the expected decline in emissions due to a pandemic is “absolutely nothing to cheer”. Moreover, it emphasises the importance of prioritising clean energy in economic recovery plans in order to avoid a sharp rebound in emissions.

Unprecedented shock

Describing the pandemic as a “a macroeconomic shock that is unprecedented in peacetime”, the IEA draws comparisons with the impact that wars and other recent crises have had on the global energy system. Some of these events can be seen in the figure below.

The report compares the covid-19 pandemic with the last financial crisis, when growth in China and India “was able to largely offset reductions elsewhere”. This time around, both nations are also feeling the effects of the disease and such an offset is unlikely.

Global energy-related emissions (top) and annual change (bottom) in GtCO2, with projected 2020 levels highlighted in red. Other major events are indicated to a give a sense of scale. Source: IEA Global Energy Review.

As it spreads to virtually every nation on the planet, the impact of coronavirus is being felt in all walks of life, but different sectors are being affected in very different ways.

Energy use for residential gas heating or electricity use for server farms and digital equipment may even show a significant increase in the coming months, the IEA says, whereas other sectors such as aviation have collapsed.

Global energy demand was 3.8% lower in the first quarter of 2020 than last year, the IEA says, and it expects the annual total to drop by 6% year-on-year in 2020. 

Such a decline has not been seen for decades, as the chart below shows, and will effectively wipe out five years of demand growth.

Annual rate of change in primary energy demand, %, since 1900, with key events impacting demand highlighted. Source: IEA Global Energy Review.

CO2 emissions are expected to fall to 30.6bn tonnes of CO2 (GtCO2) this year, an 8% drop from last year, with declining coal use the most significant factor.

The drop in coal combustion is being driven mainly by the power sector, the IEA says, together with competition from cheap natural gas and industrial slowdown. Coal demand is expected to fall 8%, but as China’s industrial sector starts up again, it is expected to go some way to offsetting larger declines.

Demand (left) and annual change in demand (right) for the total quantity of coal used globally (dark) and coal in the power sector alone (light), measured in million tonnes of coal equivalent (Mtce). The change in demand for the first quarter of 2020 (Q1) is shown in red while the projection for the full year is shown in pink. Source: IEA Global Energy Review

Due to the global lockdown’s impact on transport, illustrated in the charts below, demand for oil has fallen at an “unprecedented scale” in the first four months of the year.

Change in road transport activity and flight numbers as a % in 2020 so far compared to the previous year, for selected countries (solid lines) and the whole world (dashed line). Source: IEA Global Energy Review

This is particularly true for fuels used in passenger transport, namely petrol and kerosene. Meanwhile demand for diesel, a substantial portion of which is used to power vehicles that transport goods, is expected to remain stronger. Overall, oil demand is expected to drop by 9% across the year after a 29% drop in the month of April.

As a side-effect of declining transport activity, car sales are expected to decline. In March, EU sales were 55% lower than 2019 levels, and if this trend plays out in nations with fuel economy standards in place, improvements in energy efficiency will be slower, the IEA notes.

Gas demand is expected to fall less than oil or coal as it is less vulnerable to changes in transportation demand, although the IEA says it could still fall by 5%. Gas will be particularly susceptible if countries in the Middle East and North Africa enter long lockdowns, the agency says, due to their reliance on the fuel for power.

In general, nuclear power is expected to fare better than fossil fuels, with lockdowns expected to reduce global output by 3% due to falling demand and disrupted construction. Already, delays have been announced to projects in China and Finland, and more are expected in the UK, US and France.

As the figure below shows, lockdowns in recent months have pushed down electricity demand significantly, with the strongest impacts found in nations with service-based economies and the strictest lockdowns, such as Italy.

Weather-corrected change in electricity demand, %, in selected countries implementing full (solid lines) or partial lockdowns (dashed lines), by number of days since their lockdowns began. Source: IEA Global Energy Review

It is worth noting that as pointed out in Carbon Brief’s recent analysis, it is difficult to assign effects specifically to coronavirus as many other factors will influence energy demand and emissions over the course of the year.

As an example, the IEA points to “milder than average” weather throughout most of the northern hemisphere in the first quarter of the year, which played a part in pushing down energy demand due to less gas being used for heating.

Renewables ascend

As fossil fuel use sank in the first few months of 2020, renewables remained stable, as in general they are given priority access to electricity grids and are not required to adjust their output based on demand. 

Combined with rising capacity as new wind and solar facilities are built, this means that renewable electricity generation rose by almost 3% in the first quarter of the year.

As a result, renewables achieved record-high hourly shares in Belgium, Italy, Germany, Hungary and parts of the US. Analysis just published by Carbon Brief shows a similar trend, with wind and solar reaching a record-high share of generation across Europe over the past 30 days.

These records reflect a rising renewable share of the electricity mix of countries around the world – where demand has declined during lockdowns – as shown in the chart, below.

Changes in the electricity mixes of key emitters in 2020 so far, with the implementation of lockdown strategies indicated by grey shading. Source: IEAGlobal Energy Review

In fact, renewables are also the only energy sources expected to grow this year “regardless of the length of lockdown or strength of recovery”, the report states. This can be seen in the figure below.

Projected % change in primary energy demand by fuel type in 2020 compared to the previous year, with renewables (green) showing the only positive change. Source: IEA Global Energy Review

The chart below shows how a pandemic recovery, in which restrictions are gradually loosened over the course of the year, is expected to push low-carbon electricity sources to 40% of power generation in 2020, extending the slight lead on coal achieved last year. This would be the highest level on record, albeit due in part to a 5% dip in total electricity demand.

Global generation % shares from coal (red line) and low-carbon sources (shaded area), including nuclear (yellow) and all renewables (different shades of green). Source: IEA Global Energy Review

New projects coming online this year are expected to increase wind and solar’s share of global electricity generation up to 9%, twice as high as levels seen just five years ago.

The IEA estimates total renewable energy use, including for heat and transport, will rise by about 1% in 2020, and there will still be an increase even if economic recovery is slow. 

However, despite being more resilient than other industries, the renewable sector has still faced challenges. The end of 2020 marks an important deadline for new wind projects in the US and China to receive tax credits and subsidies, but progress on these projects is now highly uncertain.

In a recent blog post, IEA analyst Heymi Bahar writes that what was meant to be “an outstanding year for renewables” has been hindered by supply chain and labour disruptions linked to the pandemic.

Wind turbine manufacture has been hit particularly hard due to a very global supply chain compared with solar panels, which are largely manufactured in China.

Methods and discrepancies

When Carbon Brief attempted to calculate a figure for total CO2 emissions decline this year due to coronavirus, it reached a slightly more modest figure of  5.5%, compared to the IEA’s 8%.

This analysis was based on five key datasets that cover roughly three-quarters of the world’s annual CO2 emissions, with the expectation that the elements not covered would have added to the final total.

The IEA has access to a much larger array of detailed information, and its analysis was based on data available up until mid-April including country submissions to the IEA, other statistical releases from national administrations and estimates by the agency itself when official data was missing.

Published on Carbon Brief, 30 April 2020, under a CC license. Unadapted material may be reproduced in full for non-commercial use, credited ‘Carbon Brief’ with a link to the article.

art, philanthropy, energy: in transition (los angeles)

Clear water in Venice. Blue skies over Beijing. Air monitors in the city of Houston recording less ozone than normal. Clearer and crisper Austin skyline. The cleanest air ever recorded in Los Angeles.

“I think contemporary art changes how you look at the world. And that’s huge for everybody who comes into the situation.”

“Art as responsibility, art as a civic engagement, art has to be a force in society, art has to be courageous, unafraid, ecological, ecological. That was Joseph Beuys talking to my art teacher.”

“As a museum, you have a civic responsibility, you have a role in society, you have to be courageous, you have to open up your doors to allow for dialogue.”

“after 10 years of working for and with [MoMA PS1 board chair; president emerita & trustee, MoMA] Agnes Gund, I follow one very important principle in decision-making: ‘It’s not about you, it’s about the difference you can make.

・Klaus Biesenbach, Director, Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), Los Angeles (Deborah Vankin, “New MOCA director Klaus Biesenbach embarks on a’civic-minded’ mission to steady the museum,” Los Angeles Times, 8 November 2018)

The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), established in 1979, is the only artist-founded museum in Los Angeles. As of late 2018 its endowment amounted to more than $134 million.

Klaus Biesenbach is MOCA’s sixth director, beginning work with the museum on 23 October 2018. He “’loves fundraising’” and sees his role at MOCA “as strictly administrative, focused on fundraising and growing the museum’s attendance, programming, endowment and board.”

Larry Bell, “Bill and Coo at MOCA’s nest” (site-specific installation, laminated glass, 2019), in the collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. Accession number: 2019-19. Purchase with funds provided by Carol and David Appel.
Larry Bell, “Bill and Coo at MOCA’s Nest” (site specific installation, laminated glass, two parts, 2019), in the collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. Accession number: 2019-19. Purchase with funds provided by Carol and David Appel. Installation view, MOCA Grand Avenue. Image courtesy of The Museum of Contemporary Art. Photo by Zak Kelley.

Prior to moving to Los Angeles to take up the directorship of MOCA, Klaus Biesenbach lived for 23 years in Manhattan. In 1995 he moved to New York from Berlin where, in 1991, as an intern for the East German government, he established Berlin’s Kunst-Werke Institute for Contemporary Art in a vacant former margarine factory.

Biesenbach worked initially with what was then called the P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center in New York. The P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center was established in 1971 by Alanna Heiss as the Institute for Art and Urban Resources Inc., an organization devoted to organizing exhibitions in underutilized and abandoned spaces across New YorkCity.

The P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center became an affiliate of TheMuseum of Modern Art in 2000.

Biesenbach joined MoMA in 2004 with a concurrent role at MoMA PS1. He became director of MoMA PS1 in 2010, serving also as chief curator-at-large at MoMA.

Just weeks into his job at MOCA, Mr. Biesenbach described his view of the mission of museums: “’to be a resident among residents,’” “meant not only to display art but to support artists and greater civic life.”

“’“As a museum, you have a civic responsibility, you have a role in society, you have to be courageous, you have to open up your doors to allow for dialogue.’”

“’After 10 years of working for and with [MoMA PS1 board chair] Agnes Gund, I follow one very important principle in decision-making: ‘It’s not about you, it’s about the difference you can make.’”’”

He continues, a primary goal is now “’alignment. To develop a vision for the museum and then align the board and the staff and all the other constituencies. And vision doesn’t necessarily mean huge buildings or blockbusters. It could also be a much more modest vision: simply functioning.

“’I think contemporary art changes how you look at the world. And that’s huge for everybody who comes into the situation.’”

Growing up near Cologne, Germany, Mr. Biesenbach’s love for art began when he was in primary school. Joseph Beuys spoke through his art teacher, who had studied with him.

“Art as responsibility, art as a civic engagement, art has to be a force in society, art has to be courageous, unafraid, ecological, ecological. That was Joseph Beuys talking to my art teacher. We were like 8 or 9 years old!”

Full circle to today’s Los Angeles, and to today’s Houston, Beijing, Venice, and so many other cities.

Clear water in Venice. Blue skies over Beijing. Air monitors in the city of Houston recording less ozone than normal. Clearer and crisper Austin skyline. The cleanest air ever recorded, in March 2020, in Los Angeles.

Home not only to MOCA but also to The Broad (across the street from MOCA and founded by philanthropists Eli and Edythe Broad; Eli Broad was founding chairman of MOCA in 1979), the Hammer Museum (affiliated with UCLA), and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art amongst others, Los Angeles has seen a lifting of its “notorious L.A. Smog” due “to the fact that most Angelenos are driving less.”

“The notorious L.A. smog starts as a cloud of traffic emissions that’s spewed into the air during the morning rush hour. This layer of air pollution is then held in place by a combination of the Southland’s topography and its prevailing weather patterns, and baked for hours in SoCal’s warm ultraviolet rays, an effect that air-quality experts liken to a pot of soup heating on a stove.

“There’s no question that the drastic improvement in air quality‪—a combined measure of the particle pollution, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and ozone we breathe into our lungs—is due to the fact that most Angelenos are driving less and staying inside more.”

・Jason McGahan, “As Many Stay Home, L.A.’s Air Quality Is Better Than It’s Been in Decades,” Los Angeles Magazine, 6 April 2020

Better quality of air is observed also in Houston, home to numerous excellent museums including the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH).

“The primary reason, experts say, is fewer vehicles on the road, which means fewer emissions from the petroleum-based fuels on which so much of the Texas economy relies.” …

“In Houston, where the huge volumes of commuters and sprawl of industrial facilities often result in a lingering smog, emissions of nitrogen oxides, which combine with other pollutants in the atmosphere to form ozone, are already down 15 percent this month compared to last year.”

“The reduction in pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide and microscopic particulate matter, not to mention the carbon dioxide that is warming the planet, offers a temporary window on what the world might look like as governments worldwide move to cut greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by mid-century.”

・James Osborne, “As pollution abates and skies clear, coronavirus shutdown gives glimpse of life with less fossil fuel,” Houston Chronicle, 27 March 2020, updated 1 April 2020

“A question we should be asking is, how do we maintain the better air quality without the economic consequences of shutter in place orders?’” Michael Webber, energy resources professor at theUniversity of Texas, Austin.

・James Osborne, “As pollution abates and skies clear, coronavirus shutdown gives glimpse of life with less fossil fuel,” Houston Chronicle, 27 March 2020, updated 1 April 2020

The economic consequences of “shutter in place orders” are dire.

In response to the outbreak of the coronavirus, MOCA, for instance, has laid off all 97 part-time employees. Almost all 69 full-time employees are taking a full or partial furlough or a significant salary reduction.

In correspondence with Deborah Vankin of the Los Angeles Times, Mr. Biesenbach writes, “the coronavirus crisis is changing lives in unprecedented ways and that he couldn’t say ‘how long this slow-burning catastrophe will grow and when it will end.”

“’Given these uncertainties, we are taking significant measures to make sure MOCA’s unique legacy and collection, built through the creative hard work and contributions of so many will continue to be preserved and accessible for generations to come.”

More vulnerable than some other Los Angeles museums, MOCA does not enjoy the financial privilege of a wealthy benefactor behind it, as does the Broad (Eli Broad). Nor is the museum partially funded by a university, as is the Hammer Museum. Nor is it so directly connected to a government entity as is the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

“’MOCA,’” rather, Biesenbach observes, “’is supported independently, mostly by individuals, and we have to navigate this crisis in our own way.’”

・Deborah Vankin, “Hit by ‘slow-burning catastrophe,’ MOCA forced to furlough or cut pay for most staff,” Los Angeles Times, 1 April 2020

So how might we maintain the better air quality without the economic consequences of shutter in place orders?

A hint at forward direction might come from Cody A. Hill, Vice President, Energy Storage at LS Power.

LS Power is “a development, investment, and operating company focused on power generation, electric transmission and energy infrastructure. We partner with communities across North America to create lower-cost, cleaner energy solutions.”

Mr. Hill has an MS in Electrical and ComputerEngineering from the University of Texas at Austin and is now based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Sharing an “astounding chart from the EPA,” Mr. Hill (Twitter: @cody_a_hill) notes, in a tweet of 2 April 2020, that “Los Angeles had the cleanest air ever recorded there in March 2020.”

EPA, generated 2 April 2020, shared by Cody A. Hill, @cody_a_hill, via Twitter, 2 April 2020

Cody Hill continues in the same tweet, “This is mostly from reduced driving with the same vehicle fleet. It could be the new normal and ~13 million people living there would be healthier if we electrify transportation.”

See:

MoMA PS1 history

Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA)

Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation | MOCA

The Broad | About

Jason McGahan, “As Many Stay Home, L.A.’s Air Quality Is Better Than It’s Been in Decades,” Los Angeles Magazine, 6 April 2020

Cody A. Hill (@cody_a_hill), tweet of 2 April 2020

James Osborne, “As pollution abates and skies clear, coronavirus shutdown gives glimpse of life with less fossil fuel,” Houston Chronicle, 27 March 2020, updated 1 April 2020

Deborah Vankin, “Hit by ‘slow-burning catastrophe,’ MOCA forced to furloughor cut pay for most staff,” Los Angeles Times, 1 April 2020

Larry Bell, Bill and Coo at MOCA’s Nest (2019),” MOCA

Larry Bell, “Bill and Coo at MOCA’s Nest” (site-specific installation, laminated glass, 2019)

Larry Bell, represented by Hauser & Wirth, New York and Los Angeles, and Anthony Meier Fine Arts, San Francisco

Deborah Vankin, “New MOCA director Klaus Biesenbach embarks on a’civic-minded’ mission to steady the museum,” Los Angeles Times, 8 November 2018

art, philanthropy, energy: in transition

· renewable energy sources are set to account for nearly 21 percent of the electricity the United States uses for the first time this year, up from about 18 percent last year and 10 percent in 2010

· renewable energy provides 18% of total U.S. power generation, up from 10% in 2010

· corporate PPA’s for renewal energy accelerated from 0.1 GW in 2010 to33.6 GW by year-end 2019, with a record breaking 13.6 GW in 2019 alone.

· the carbon intensity of the power sector continues to decline. From 2010 to 2019, power sector emissions fell nearly 25%

· total U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions have fallen 4.1% over thepast decade, and now sit at roughly 12% below 2005 levels

2020 Sustainable Energy in America Factbook”, produced for the Business Council for Sustainable Energy by BloombergNEF

Art, philanthropy, energy. The relationships between them have history. As the way we generate energy evolves, the relationships between art, philanthropy, and energy will, in all likelihood, evolve as well.

Yves Tanguy (French, 1900-1955), “What” (oil on canvas, 1940), in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. The Joseph and Sylvia Slifka Collection. Object Number: 2004.146

“Houston,” observed Gary Tinterow, Director of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, in 2019, “is a cultural capital largely thanks to the discovery of oil.” (Houston Chronicle)

Yet, the energy economy is shifting in Texas. Renewable energy constitutes an ever increasing percentage of energy produced and used in Texas. 

Texas, a competitive rather than regulated energy market, is first in the United States in wind power capacity and near to having the second-most capacity for solar PV after California.

Solar energy has a significant (“marvelous”) cost advantage over gas-fired power plants: the marginal cost of solar is zero. Texas is on course to build a quarter of the record new industrial-scale solar capacity being installed across the United States in 2020.

As the energy economy evolves, how will the philanthropy that supports so many museums and cultural institutions evolve?

Let’s begin our quest for understanding by taking a look at relationships between art, philanthropy, and energy. We’ll start by looking to Texas.

The U.S. state of Texas consumes the most electricity in the United States. Demand for energy in Texas has grown over five percent over the past five years even as it has declined nationwide (EIA as reported in the FT).

Adding solar power through the incentives of a competitive electricity market, Texas is near to having the second-most capacity for solar PV after California. Texas, further, now ranks first in the United States in wind power capacity.

Texas is home to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH). The MFAH is one of the largest museums in the United States. As of late 2011 it had the third-largest museum endowment.

The permanent collection of the MFAH consists of nearly 70,000 works from throughout the world, from antiquity to the present day (MFAH) .

Gary Tinterow, Director of the MFAH, grew up in Houston. He worked at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art for 28 years, serving from 2008 until his departure for Houston as chairman of the department of 19th-century, modern and contemporary art. Mr. Tinterow’s appointment as Director of the MFAH was finalized by the museum’s board of trustees in late November 2011. He started his new position in early 2012.

Richard D. Kinder, co-founder (February 1997) and now Executive Chairman of Kinder Morgan, Inc., one of North America’s largest energy infrastructure companies, serves as Life Trustee of the museum and Chairman of the Board of Trustees. Mr. Kinder served as chairman of the museum’s search committee that identified Mr. Tinterow as a candidate for the directorship of the museum.

The business of Kinder Morgan is involved primarily with oil, gas, and petroleum products. Kinder Morgan “owns an interest in or operates 83,000 miles of pipelines and 147 terminals. The company’s pipelines transport primarily natural gas, refined petroleum products, CO2 and crude oil and its terminals store, transfer and handle such products as gasoline, ethanol, coal, petroleum coke and steel.” (Kinder Morgan)

Mr. Kinder commended Mr. Tinterow: “Gary’s passion for the job and his encyclopedic knowledge were what convinced us. He has so many good ideas, and there is so much potential to make this one of the outstanding museums of the world.” (NYTimes)

For his part, Mr. Tinterow explained, “As sorry as I will be to leave the Met after 28 years, I think I’ve landed the best job in the world. It’s a matchless combination: a committed board, a passionate audience, a fine collection and an institution with the third-largest endowment in the country.” (NYTimes)

Mr. Tinterow observed that the endowment of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston stood at $1 billion in December 2011 after the J. Paul Getty Trust in Los Angeles, which oversees the J. Paul Getty Museum (endowment: $4.8 billion) and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (endowment: $2.6 billion).

Asked in June 2019 after the relationship of the museum to energy companies and oil, Mr. Tinterow replied that he has “enormous respect for the energy industry.”

“Houston,” he continued, “is a cultural capital largely thanks to the discovery of oil.” (Houston Chronicle)

Indeed.

As of June 30, 2018, the Kinder Foundation had donated more than $50,000,000 to the Campaign for the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (“The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Annual Report 2017 – 2018,”p. 17). This followed $50+ million reported by the museum as donated by the Foundation to the capital campaign as of the years ending June 30, 2017, June 30, 2016, and June 30, 2015.

The Nancy and Rich Kinder Building, dedicated to art after 1900 from the MFAH collections, is scheduled to open in November 2020. Consisting of two floors and more than 100,000 square feet of exhibition space,the building will increase overall MFAH exhibition space by nearly 75%. (MFAH)

While the MFAH has benefited, and continues to benefit, from the business of oil, the mix of Texas energy is changing.

First in the United States in wind power capacity and near to having the second-most capacity for solar PV after California, Texas will build a quarter of the record new industrial-scale solar capacity being installed across the US in 2020 (EIA, FT).

The cost of solar has plummeted, with the average industrial-scale PV project just $0.80 per installed watt last year compared to $3.53/Win 2010, according to the “2020 Sustainable Energy in America Factbook”, produced for the Business Council for Sustainable Energy by BloombergNEF, that looks at the U.S. energy transition over the decade 2010 – 2020.

Solar has a significant cost advantage over gas-fired power plants. The marginal cost of solar is zero. “The key thing is they have a magnificent cost advantage over gas-fired power plants,” observes Edward Hirs, energy fellow at the University of Houston. “The marginal cost of solar is zero.” (FT)

Investors in renewable energy, with time horizons of more than a decade, moreover, like the stable returns of projects backed by long-term contracts. (FT)

Corporations are taking advantage of falling costs to sign long-term solar power purchase agreements. Of the record 13,600MW of clean energy deals that companies completed in the US in 2019, 5,500MW of deals were generated in Texas. The majority of the deals closed were based on solar energy according to the “2020 Sustainable Energy in America Factbook”.

Google, for instance, is committing to buy power from Texas solar plants.

Neha Palmer, Google’s director of operations and head of energy strategy, observes that “[Texas] is a large, deregulated market. Users of electricity have a choice in who they buy electricity from and the type of energy that they buy. I think that’s been another driver of the large uptake of renewables in the state.”

The solar energy travels from the Permian Basin in west Texas, where much of the investment in solar energy is taking place, to cities such as Dallas and Houston aided by special transmission lines. The state of Texas authorized the lines 15 years ago. Designed to handle wind power, they are now enabling the flow of solar also.

Largely disconnected from the interstate transmission networks to the east and west of Texas, the grid is exempted from federal oversight. It is operated by the non-profit body Ercot (Electric Reliability Council of Texas.

“The Ercot power market is designed to be the ultimate competitive market,” Mr Archer says. Chris Archer, head of Americas at Macquarie’s Green Investment Group, a solar and wind developer with projects in Texas.

“Generators are only paid for the energy that they sell, not for having capacity at the ready. Wholesale prices that average about $40 per megawatt-hour are allowed to climb as high as $9,000 per MWh when demand surges on the hottest afternoons, a potential windfall for generators. Solar farms’ output crests when the sun is highest, enabling them to participate in these sales.” (FT)

As renewables grow as a percentage of the energy mix in Texas, and elsewhere, we will follow the evolution of the relationship between art, philanthropy, and energy.

See:

Ivan Penn, “Oil Companies Are Collapsing, but Wind and Solar Energy Keep Growing,” The New York Times, 7 April 2020, updated 8 April 2020

Gregory Meyer, “Texas: how the home of US oil and gas fell in love with solar power,” Financial Times, 7 April 2020

2020, Sustainable Energy in America Factbook, Understanding the U.S. EnergyTransition,” the2020 edition of the Sustainable Energy in America Factbook – produced for the Business Council for Sustainable Energy by BloombergNEF

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Annual Report 2017 – 2018

Richard D. Kinder, Kinder Morgan

Erin Douglas, “Museum of Fine Arts Houston director putting final brushstrokes on $450 million expansion,” Houston Chronicle, 7 June 2019

Carol Vogel, “Met Veteran Named Director of Houston Art Museum,” TheNew York Times, 1 December 2011

Stephanie Cash, “Gary Tinterow leaves the Met for Houston,” artnews.com, 1December 2011

Business Council for Sustainable Energy

BloombergNEF (Bloomberg New Energy Finance)

coronavirus, climate change, the environment, & the arts: positive steps forward

“To my mind, one does not put oneself in place of the past; one only adds a new link.”

 Cy Twombly, quoted by Gagosian

“an elemental Dionysian force of madness rising, like a ‘fire that rises from the depths of the sea'”

Malcolm Bull, “Fire in the Water,” in Cy Twombly Bacchus Psilax Mainonmenos, exh. cat., New York, 2005, p. 55), quoted in Lot Essay, Cy Twombly (1928-2011), “Untitled” (acrylic on canvas, painted in 2005), Christie’s, Post-War & Contemporary Art Evening Sale, New York, 15 November 2017, Lot 15 B

Cy Twombly (1928-2011), “Untitled” (acrylic on canvas, painted in 2005). “Untitled” sold at the Christie’s Post-War & Contemporary Art Evening Sale of 15 November 2017 in New York realizing a price of US$ 46,437,500

Over ten feet high and sixteen feet in length, “Untitled” is the largest example from a group of giant-scaled paintings that Twombly created beginning in 2003 at age 75.

Twombly makes use of spirals of linear loops, culminating fifty years of regularly invoking scrawls, whirls, and writing/drawing.

In his catalogue essay, “Fire in the Water” that accompanied the first exhibition of Twombly’s Bacchus series in 2005, Malcolm Bull argued that the abiding theme of these paintings was that of an elemental Dionysian force of madness rising, like a “fire that rises from the depths of the sea” (M. Bull, “Fire in the Water,” in Cy Twombly Bacchus Psilax Mainonmenos, exh. cat., New York, 2005, p. 55).’ – Lot Essay

Like Dionysian forces of madness, we are all experiencing the dislocation caused by the current COVID-19 pandemic.  

Individuals, families, supply chains, industries, markets, businesses, nations – all are affected.

This pandemic, however terrible, unexpected, and unprepared for, may in part be an outcome of behaviors that we have, however unwittingly, engaged in over decades.

We are all – individuals, peoples, cultures, animals, plants, functional objects and works of art, buildings, systems of transportation, agriculture, and education, etc. etc. etc. – inextricably embedded in nature. We are part and parcel of and subject to the forces of physics. Part and parcel of and subject to the elements and interactions of chemistry. 

As living, breathing creatures, moreover, and complex systems of systems. we are part and parcel of and subject to the complex forces of biology.  We are calibrated precisely, over long periods of time, to our biosphere.

If and should we take our biosphere for granted, fundamentally alter the composition of our atmosphere, and tamper with our climate, the unexpected can occur. Mayhem may let loose,

And so it has.

Yet, in the arts we are global. We reach across time, across space, across borders, across cultures, across nations. We represent mind and passion, interests and preferences. We come from an abundance of backgrounds and industries. 

We may lead, each in our own place, taking steps to realize our ambitions anew.

Together we will have impact.

While we work in our many spheres of activity, what steps, however simple, might we take to realize our objectives while mitigating risks of future such dislocations?

If we want “to do something to prevent disease emergence, first of all we need to seriously reconsider how we do business with the biosphere.”

Q & A: A Harvard Expert on Environment and Health Discusses Possible Ties Between COVID and Climate,”

“We need to hear what nature is trying to tell us, which is clear: let’s be smarter about how we do business with the biosphere and stop disrupting the climate we depend on.” 

 Conversation on COVID-19 with Dr. Aaron Bernstein, Director of Harvard C-CHANGE

Two recently published articles are insightful. In them, Dr. Aaron Bernstein, MD, MPH, Director of The Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health (Harvard C-CHANGE) offers guidance.

Please take a few minutes to read them in full:

Neela Banerjee, “Q & A: A Harvard Expert on Environment and Health Discusses Possible Ties Between COVID and Climate,” Inside Climate News, 12 March 2020

A Conversation on COVID-19 with Dr. Aaron Bernstein, Director of Harvard C-CHANGE, ” Harvard C-CHANGE  

Excerpts follow, giving us some idea of what we probably already know but don’t always think about or consider in the decisions we make on a daily basis:

The bottom line here is that if you wanted to prevent the spread of pathogens, the emergence of pathogens, … you wouldn’t transform the climate.”

Q & A: A Harvard Expert on Environment and Health Discusses Possible Ties Between COVID and Climate,”

The separation of health and environmental policy is a dangerous delusion. Our health entirely depends on the climate and the other organisms we share the planet with.”

A Conversation on COVID-19 with Dr. Aaron Bernstein, Director of Harvard C-CHANGE

Simply put, “The likelihood is high that this [a next pandemic] will happen. This has happened through human history but the data we have shows that the pace is accelerating. That’s not terribly surprising. We’re living in highly dense urban places. Air travel is much more prevalent than it used to be. And climate is a part of what is fundamentally reshaping our relationship with the natural world.”

Q & A: A Harvard Expert on Environment and Health Discusses Possible Ties BetweenCOVID and Climate

You look at climate change, we have transformed the nature of the Earth. We have fundamentally changed the composition of the atmosphere, and, as such, we shouldn’t be surprised that that affects our health.”

If you look at the emerging infectious diseases that have moved into people from animals or other sources over the last several decades,the vast majority of those are coming from animals. And the majority of those are coming from wild animals. We have transformed life onEarth. We are having a massive effect on how the relationships between all life on Earth operate and also with ourselves. We shouldn’t be surprised that these emerging diseases pop up.

The principle is that we’re really changing how we relate to other species on Earth and that matters to our risk for infections.”

Q & A: A Harvard Expert on Environment and Health Discusses Possible Ties Between COVID and Climate”

Historically, we have grown as a species in partnership with the plants and animals we live with. So, when we change the rules of the game by drastically changing the climate and life on earth, we have to expect that it will affect our health.

A Conversation on COVID-19 with Dr. Aaron Bernstein, Director of Harvard C-CHANGE

How might we in our private and business capacities be smarter about how we do business with the biosphere and stop disrupting the climate we depend on?

First, think.

All industries, markets, and economies, including the arts, the art market, and the art economy, are interconnected and all are viable only within our shared biosphere.

“Art” is not self-existent. Art as a phenomenon, culture as a phenomenon, works of art, cultures, collections of works of art, collectors, and all parties to art are inextricably embedded in and dependent on nature.

Take time and steps to learn about and understand the biosphere. Take steps to reconsider how we, in every sphere of work and activity, do business with the biosphere.

We have an opportunity to consider ways to optimize connections, culture, art, the business of art, and the biosphere jointly.

Some simple steps that can be taken:

Minimize travel

Whether curator, museum director, staff, or trustee, collector, dealer, gallerist, advisor, interested party – vet travel requirements.

Minimize travel powered by combustion of hydrocarbons.

“We need to drastically decrease our greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas.”

A Conversation on COVID-19 with Dr. Aaron Bernstein, Director of Harvard C-CHANGE

It goes without saying that travel by foot or by bike is encouraged. Travel by electric-powered cars, buses, and trains – especially insofar as the electricity is generated from renewable, non-hydrocarbon sources – is also encouraged.

Amsterdam-based art dealer Jan Six XI, for instance, bikes to and from work, and across town to consult with experts. (Russell Shorto, “Rembrandt in the Blood: AnObsessive Aristocrat, Rediscovered,” The New York Times Magazine, 27 February 2019)

Work with local partners

We are all somewhere. We do not need to be everywhere.

If you need to do work or close a transaction somewhere else, research, identify, vet, and work with local partners.

Optimize resources and connections made available online

Information, images, and opportunities to meet and discuss face-to-face, even in groups, abound online. As we are now seeing in abundance, education and research can be conducted online. Relationships developed through written and verbal communications optimized online, by mail (even mail that goes through the post office), and by telephone.

As much activity is migrating online, vet also your online service partners and their delivery options.

This website, for instance, is hosted by AISO.net. AISO.net is powered 100% by solar energy generated on site. The company does not make use of carbon credits. Members of staff are knowledgeable, of course, very personable, and extraordinarily helpful. They are great to work with.

Reduce carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions from ongoing operations of physical plants

Galleries,museums, homes, businesses, offices, schools and universities, hotels,hospitals – all house works and collections of art.

Real-life steps can be taken to reduce use of hydrocarbon-based energy sources and achieve net-zero energy.

Expert and experienced stakeholders including architects, engineers, designers, builders, energy consultants, and sources of finance are able and ready to assist.

Information about service providers will follow.

Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum can serve as a model. The Van Gogh Museum operates 100% on renewable (wind)energy. (See Van Gogh Museum, sustainability, and accompanying infographic.)

Change habits of mind and behavior

Allow time for foot and bike travel. Schedule meetings and work requirements accordingly. 

Enjoy the great outdoors en route to work, home, meetings, and shopping.

Enjoy your locality

See:

Cy Twombly (1928 – 2011), “Untitled” (acrylic on canvas, painted in 2005), Christie’s, Post-War & Contemporary Art Evening Sale, New York, 15 November 2017, Lot 15 B 

Coronavirus, climate change, and the environment, A Conversation on COVID-19 with Dr. Aaron Bernstein, Director of Harvard C-CHANGE”, Harvard C-Change, 20 March 2020

Aaron Bernstein, MD, MPH, C-Change,Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

Neela Banerjee, “Q&A:A Harvard Expert on Environment and Health Discusses Possible TiesBetween COVID and Climate,” Inside Climate News, 12 March 2020

Russell Shorto, “Rembrandt in the Blood: An Obsessive Aristocrat,Rediscovered,” The New York Times Magazine, 27 February 2019

your money, your life, your choice ・ the painting that did not sell

The painting that did not sell.

While there may be a well-established “cartel of taste” (see Anna Louie Sussman’s article “Why You Can’t Always Buy a Work of Art Just Because You Have the Cash,” @artsy, 12 December 2018), market stakeholders can and sometimes do display independent judgment.

Gerhard Richter’s “Schädel” (oil on canvas), the first of a series of eight skull paintings painted in 1983, was held in the same collection for 30 years after a last public exhibition in 1988.

Based on a photograph taken by Richter himself, the painting demonstrates a “dialogue between painterly abstraction and photo-realist representation that had been simmering across separate stands of Richter’s practice for nearly two decades.”

This painting led the Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale held at Christie’s London on 4 October 2018.

With an unpublished estimate, the painting was expected to sell for between £12 and £18 million (US$15 – US$23 million).

Bidding reached £11.5 million. The painting was not allowed to change hands.

Note also the instance of Edward Hopper’s 1972 painting, “Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures)” that sold at Christie’s in New York on 15 November. It closed narrowly, at what may have been a precisely agreed threshold of $80 million – with what appeared to be Christie’s bidding against itself to reach the sales price.

See:

Why You Can’t Always Buy a Work of Art Just Because You Have the Cash,” Anna Louie Sussman, Artsy, 12 December 2018

Seen for the first time in 30 years: Gerhard Richter’s ‘Schädel’ (‘Skull’),” Christie’s

Gerhard Richter ‘Skull’ to Headline Christie’s Sale in London,” Fang Block, Barron’s, 4 September 2018

Rare Richter’s a Bust, but Christie’s Moves $25.9 M. Bacon, $21 M. Fontana at London Sales,” Judd Tully, Artnews, 4 October 2018

 

your money, your life, your choice | California, cars, CO2

California, in so many ways, could learn from the US Northeast. 

To reduce CO2 and and greenhouse gas emissions from cars, a continuing and increasing issue in California and elsewhere, cities need data—ways to accurately measure emissions, pinpoint sources, and monitor change over time; cities need to know how much CO2 they are producing and reducing.

A tool called ACES (Anthropogenic Carbon Emissions System) was developed in response to the requirement for data by researchers at Boston University and Harvard. ACES offers finely-grained maps of CO2 emissions, with a resolution of 1km2, totaled hourly.

As we know, per our atmosphere – the air, its particular mix of gaseous elements, and its temperatures, together vital to life, inclusive of human, animal, and plant – CO2 and other greenhouse gases are an issue, in many ways.

California has “targets” to meet by the year 2020 for limiting the greenhouse gases associated with the driving that people do on a daily basis. The approach to greenhouse gases associated with the driving that people do on a daily basis has a heightened level of complexity in California. Driving a car, rather than availing oneself of public transportation such as a subway, metro, or bus, is a norm that people are highly unwilling and actually afraid to examine and rethink. The many localities within the state have made limited investment in public transportation in significant part because taking such modes of transportation is largely considered to be beneath the dignity – whether personal, social, or professional – of and compromising to anybody with a sense of self esteem.

While the “hope” has been that climate emissions might be curbed largely by promoting regional planning of denser development along transit lines ( S.B. 375, the Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act, a landmark 2008 deal, with the California legislature recognizing the critical role of integrated transportation, land use, and housing decisions to meet state climate goals), the California Air Resources Board 2018 Progress Report released in November documents that driving of cars has skyrocketed statewide during the years following the recession of 2008 – 2009 through 2016.

A “key finding of this report is that California is not on track to meet the greenhouse gas reductions expected under SB 375 for 2020, with emissions from statewide passenger vehicle travel per capita increasing and going in the wrong direction” (page 4) and “emissions from the transportation sector continuing to rise despite increases in fuel efficiency and decreases in the carbon content of fuel” (page 5).

Top air quality officials in California state they currently have no way to fully assess whether regions from San Diego to Sacramento are on track to meet 2020 targets for reigning in greenhouse gases associated with daily driving. While “greenhouse gas emissions considered under the SB 375 program reflect carbon-dioxide (CO2) emissions only from light-duty passenger vehicles” (page 21, footnote 22), the California Air Resources Board 2018 Progress Report states, “SB 375 passenger vehicle greenhouse gas emissions reductions cannot be directly measured because greenhouse gas emissions come from many sources” (page 21).

Air board officials said that while they tracked the key metric of vehicle miles traveled, or VMT, available statewide through fuel sales, that same information wasn’t available regionally. Without that, officials say there is no consistent way to extrapolate greenhouse gas emissions from driving for each region.

There’s no unifying way to bring it all together and say ‘You’re at this particular performance metric,’” said Nicole Dolney, chief of the air board’s transportation planning branch. “Our hope was that we would have VMT data that we could rely on, but it wasn’t there.”

So what might California learn from ACES?

For cities to cut down CO2, they need to know how much they are producing and reducing. Most cities get rough estimates with “carbon calculators” that account for the size and population of a city, electricity used, and an estimate of how many cars zip (or crawl) through the city streets.

“The calculation would be fine except for all those cars. Cars are the hardest part of the emissions equation to quantify. They are moving all the time at different speeds, and there are different cars on the road at different times of day.”

“There are other factors to consider. There’s the make of the car, of course: a Toyota Prius gives off less CO2 than a Chevy Silverado. There’s also the speed; most cars give off the least CO2 when cruising in a “sweet spot” between 40 and 60 miles per hour.”

(Conor Gately, co-developer of ACES; PhD, Geography and Environment, Boston University, 2016; lead author on a study examining cities, traffic, and CO2, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) in April 2015.)

ACES (Anthropogenic Carbon Emissions System) has been developed by Lucy Hutyra of Boston University and Conor Gately, now a postdoctoral associate working jointly at Boston University and Harvard. A tool for measuring and mapping CO2 emissions, ACES offers finely-grained maps of CO2 emissions, with a resolution of 1km2, totaled hourly, is relevant and could be helpful to the cities and the state of California.

Cities have the political will to change emissions, and they have policy levers to pull,” says Lucy Hutyra, a Boston University College of Arts & Sciences (CAS) associate professor of Earth and environment. And because cities are responsible for 70 percent of greenhouse-gas emissions, according to the United Nations, their actions matter. But to take effective action, cities need data—ways to accurately measure emissions, pinpoint sources, and monitor change over time. And so Hutyra and her colleague Conor Gately have developed a tool called ACES, for Anthropogenic Carbon Emissions System, that offers the finest-grained maps of CO2 emissions in the Northeastern US to date, with a resolution of 1km2, totaled hourly. The tool, funded by NASA’s Carbon Monitoring System and detailed in the October 12, 2017, issue of the Journal of Geophysical Research—Atmospheres, could provide valuable data to cities nationwide.

‘The goal was to take the finest grained, most local data possible and build a ‘bottom-up’ inventory,” says Gately. The research team started by divvying up the sources of emissions on a giant whiteboard. “We did every sector of emissions of CO2,” he says. “Roads, residential buildings, commercial buildings, industrial facilities, power plants, airports, marine ports, shipping, and railway.” The group searched for data from 2011, scouring every source they could find: city and country records, household fuel estimates, EPA databases, hundreds of traffic sensors located around New England. All of these data, when combined with the amount of fossil fuels consumed in the region (gasoline, diesel, home heating oil, coal and natural gas for power generation), allowed the team to calculate CO2 emissions for all of the major sources. The team then calculated emissions for every hour of the year.

Gately, working with a three-year, $1.5 million grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is now expanding ACES to cover the entire continental United States and meeting with government, scientific, and policy stakeholders to help create a core set of methods and data products.”

DARTE might also be helpful. DARTE, the Database of Road Transportation Emissions (Conor Gately, Lucy Hutyra, Ian Sue Wing) is available for free download from the Harvard Dataverse

Funded by grants from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the Department of Energy (DOE), Gately has developed a more precise way to tally CO2 emissions from vehicles. He used 33 years of traffic data to build the Database of Road Transportation Emissions (DARTE), which displays CO2 data for the contiguous US on a finer scale than ever before—a one-kilometer grid. (He hopes to add Alaska and Hawaii later.) Available for free download, DARTE could change the way cities and states measure greenhouse gas emissions.

The science is coming together to bring us very fine measurements in a way never possible before,” says Lucy Hutyra, an assistant professor of earth and environment and a coauthor on the PNAS study. Hutyra says that DARTE complements NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory 2, which is collecting global data on atmospheric carbon dioxide. “We need good bottom-up data to match what we’re measuring looking down from space. That’s what we need to really advance greenhouse gas policies.”

See:

2018 Progress Report: California’s Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act,” California Air Resources Board, November 2018

Regions across California likely off the hook for 2020 caps on greenhouse-gas emissions from driving,” Joshua Emerson Smith, The San Diego Union-Tribune, 27 November 2018

Poor forest management: Trump oversimplifies state’s fire problem,” Readers React, The San Diego Union-Tribune, 20 November 2018

A Fine-Tuned Map for CO2,” Barbara Moran, Boston University Research, 26 October 2017

A New Map for Greenhouse Gas,” Barbara Moran, Boston University Research, 10 April 2015

Gately, Conor, K.; Hutyra, Lucy, R.; Sue Wing, Ian, 2015, “Cities, traffic, and CO2: A multi-decadal assessment of trends, drivers, and scaling relationships“, https://doi.org/10.7910/DVN/28999, Harvard Dataverse, V6