Essays, Blogs, and Stories
It’s time for states that grew rich from oil, gas and coal to figure out what’s next
Payne Institute Fellow Brad Handler, Matt Henry, and Morgan Bazilian write about the very challenging times for U.S. fossil fuel-producing states, such as Wyoming, Alaska and North Dakota. The COVID-19 economic downturn has reduced energy demand, with uncertain prospects for the extent of its recovery. Meanwhile, rising concern about climate change and the declining cost of renewable energy are precipitating a sharp decline in demand for coal in particular. September 23, 2020.
Beware of climate delay, masquerading as climate action
Payne Institute Senior Research Associate Sara Hastings-Simon writes an opinion piece about the slow-walking action on climate has almost the same impact as outright denial. As political leaders face growing calls for climate action, we must be careful to understand where investments in technological development are, in fact, a form of climate delay, masquerading as action. September 10, 2020.
The oil-sands fundamentals are dire and stark – and Canada shouldn’t spend to revive a dying dream 8/29/2020
The oil-sands fundamentals are dire and stark – and Canada shouldn’t spend to revive a dying dream
Payne Institute Senior Research Associate Sara Hastings-Simon, David Keith, and Ed Whittingham write an opinion piece on Alberta’s potential move to build a greener industry with a major public investment in decarbonizing oil production. There is widespread support for this approach. After all, many of Alberta’s oil producers are in the high-cost, high-carbon quadrant, and for them to follow the world in moving to low-carbon energy, the public needs to help with the Herculean adjustment effort. August 29, 2020.
Crisis Breeds Change: COVID and Heatwaves Spur Citizens to Environmental Action
Payne Institute Senior Research Associate Greer Gosnell writes about the brutal heatwaves in California and the rolling blackouts. Crisis—along with a stark break in routine—appeared to refocus people’s attention on their everyday actions, and a bigger picture. August 21, 2020.
Can Distributed Nuclear Power Address Energy Resilience and Energy Poverty?
Payne Institute Fellow Alex Gilbert and Morgan Bazilian write about the three major energy challenges that are driving national and international energy decision making. First, the need to mitigate and adapt to climate change. Second, despite recent progress, many communities in both developed and developing countries remain in energy poverty or lack reliable, low-cost energy services. Finally, due to climate-amplified natural disasters and other threats, the reliability and resilience of energy systems is an increasing public concern. Existing distributed energy resources (DERs), especially solar photovoltaics and battery storage, are attempting to address each of these issues. However, more and faster progress is needed. Recent innovations in advanced nuclear designs could make nuclear power a distributed energy solution for the first time. As a dispatchable and resilient energy source, distributed nuclear could complement and accelerate the ongoing distributed energy revolution. August 19, 2020.
California power outages underscore challenge of maintaining reliability during climate change, the energy transition 8/19/2020
California power outages underscore challenge of maintaining reliability during climate change, the energy transition
Payne Fellow Alex Gilbert and Director Morgan Bazilian write an opinion piece about a severe heat wave that brought high electric prices and rolling electricity outages to California last week, with as many as two million customers suffering a loss of power. Already, some are trying to politicize the blackouts, blaming renewables and California’s aggressive energy transition. However, the situation is considerably more complex than this simplistic narrative. August 19, 2020.
WE SHOULD LOOK BEYOND THE SAVINGS IN THE HERITAGE FUND
Payne Institute Senior Research Associate Sara Hastings-Simon writes an opinion piece on the recent discussion of Alberta’s current state and the missed opportunity to save past resource wealth has focused on the balance of the Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund and the contrast to Norway’s trillion-dollar account. But as commentators have rightly pointed out, there are important differences between the two regions that call into question the use of Norway’s bank account as a yardstick for the past or plan for the future. August 15, 2020.
FALL IN US GAS FLARING GIVES CAUSE FOR OPTIMISM
Payne Institute Senior Research Associate Jordy Lee, Director Morgan Bazilian, and Jamie Webster write about how in the past 12 months, gas flaring in the US has actually declined by 70 per cent, according to numbers provided by the Earth Observation Group.This decline was not driven by policy, Covid-19, or suddenly improved operations, but rather as the result of investors demanding greater capital discipline from a sector that had earned a reputation for prioritising growth over all other concerns. These demands have reduced activity, particularly from smaller operators that have often found it financially difficult to spend capital to improve environmental outcomes. August 11, 2020.
ON OILSANDS, ALBERTA IS STILL TRYING TO FIX YESTERDAY’S PROBLEMS
Payne Institute Senior Research Associate Sara Hastings-Simon opinion piece regarding the decision by French energy giant Total highlights need to focus on today’s real challenges, and their reasons for the recently announced writedown of Canadian oilsands assets and the decision to halt all future investments in new capacity. While the decision was framed within Total’s broader carbon neutrality goal, the fundamental challenge cited was not the carbon footprint of production from the oilsands, but rather that in a world that is responding to the threat of climate change, oil production will decline, leaving the expansion of higher cost, larger, and longer lifetime Alberta resources uncompetitive. August 5, 2020.
Is the Texas Tesla factory a tipping point? Linking mining to electric vehicle manufacturing will bring jobs to South 8/5/2020
IS THE TEXAS TESLA FACTORY A TIPPING POINT? LINKING MINING TO ELECTRIC VEHICLE MANUFACTURING WILL BRING JOBS TO THE SOUTH
Payne Institute Fellow Emily Hersh and Jesse Edmondson write an opinion piece about Tesla’s announcement to build a new manufacturing hub in Austin for the production of the Cybertruck, Semi and the Model Y is the latest and greatest in what has been a growing trend to bring the electric vehicle supply chain to the southern United States. This represents of billions of dollars in investment that will create thousands of jobs. States traditionally dominated by conservative politics have an opportunity to embrace the future of American green energy. August 5, 2020.
Three Ways Policymakers in Emerging Economies can Encourage Low-Carbon Road Transport Decisions – that Aren’t Subsidies 7/20/2020
THREE WAYS POLICYMAKERS IN EMERGING ECONOMIES CAN ENCOURAGE LOW-CARBON ROAD TRANSPORT DECISIONS – THAT AREN’T SUBSIDIES
Payne Institute Senior Research Associate Greer Gosnell argues that policymakers must pay more attention to car buyers’ considerations of social status if they wish to address climate change. Given targets for halting global temperature rise to 1.5oC, the forces underlying the decisions of current and prospective car buyers in these nascent markets will be incredibly consequential. COVID-19 may present a rare opportunity for policymakers in emerging economies—where citizens now more clearly value the benefits of a future characterized by clean air and blue skies—to set themselves on a different path from that of the U.S. and other industrialized economies. July 20, 2020.
ARCTIC SECURITY AND DIALOGUE: ASSURANCE THROUGH DEFENCE DIPLOMACY
Payne Institute Fellow Michael Young writes about how key stakeholders have been confident that the Arctic Council was the appropriate forum for discussing most non-military Arctic issues. At the same time, UNCLOS, IMO and various international legal agreements, along with numerous forums, helped to manage a significant portion of the remaining challenges. Today, security concerns are heightening with new Arctic players and the days of a stable Arctic region, free from intervening security concerns, may be facing headwinds as military activity and rhetoric have increased over the past few years. July 11, 2020.
WE COULD BE WITNESSING A TURNING POINT IN THE OILSANDS INDUSTRY
Payne Institute Senior Research Associate Sara Hastings-Simon writes an opinion piece that rather than focus on a reduction of emissions, Suncor is looking at diversification. Recently, the CEO of Suncor, Mark Little, along with Alberta Innovates CEO Laura Killcrease wrote a call to action for oil companies in Canada. The piece was notable compared with previous statements for two reasons: both its acknowledgement of the potential for significant disruption to the energy system in a timeline that is “not-too distant,” as well as putting forward a proposal for the future that is fundamentally different from the goal to produce oil with a net zero upstream footprint. June 30, 2020.
STEEL, HYDROGEN AND RENEWABLES: STRANGE BEDFELLOWS? MAYBE NOT…
Payne Institute Fellow Dolf Gielen and Advisory Board member Kenneth Medlock write that as firms and nations increasingly adopt “net zero” carbon ambitions, some sectors of the economy stand out as more difficult in meeting those goals, particularly industrial activities that require very high temperatures and/or generate process emissions associated with chemical transformations. While these sectors present challenges towards deep decarbonization, new opportunities are emerging rapidly. A future low-carbon energy system will likely be more material-intensive than the current one, and in virtually any vision of a net-zero carbon future there is a massive need for new infrastructure. May 15, 2020.
THE GEOSTRATEGIC IMPORTANCE OF OUTER SPACE RESOURCES
Payne Institute Fellow Alex Gilbert and Morgan Bazilian look at space mining, and if it is the final frontier? The world may be heading towards the greatest mining rush in history—in outer space. Falling costs and greater access to space launch services, coupled with new technologies, are leading to the establishment of numerous companies in this nascent industry. May 15, 2020.
THE CORONAVIRUS REAFFIRMS THE IMPORTANCE OF SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT IN MINING
Payne Research Associate Jordy Lee and Morgan Bazilian explain why disruptions from COVID-19 can have larger implications for developing nations that are dependent on the mining industry. Without an overt focus on sustainable development, many counties will continue to suffer from market fluctuations and price volatility. May 13, 2020.
COVID-19 has tested governments around the world – here’s what that means for the energy transition 5/13/2020
COVID-19 HAS TESTED GOVERNMENTS AROUND THE WORLD – HERE’S WHAT THAT MEANS FOR THE ENERGY TRANSITION
Payne Institute Advisory Board member David Victor and Payne Director Morgan Bazilian write about how the world is ensconced in a global public health crisis due to the rapid spread of the COVID-19 virus, and the related economic crisis and oil market crash, the path to a low-carbon future has become more uncertain. It is more critical than ever to look at countries’ readiness for the energy transition. May 13, 2020.
DEMAND DOUBTS DAMPEN INVESTOR SENTIMENT
Payne Institute Fellow Brad Handler and Morgan Bazilian write about concerns over the long-term future of oil exercise US investors’ thinking. The European financial community has harboured growing concern over the longer-term prospects for oil demand for a few years. But the collapse in US oil and gas (O&G) share prices is testament to a shift there too, with investors no longer bullish on robust long-term demand—particularly given the increasing prominence of the transition to lower carbon energy. This change in sentiment implies relatively less US oil development activity and threatens to shrink the industry permanently. May 11, 2020.
ALL THOSE PARKED 747S HERALD PEAK OIL DEMAND
Payne Fellow Liam Denning writes how jet-fuel demand has declined more in percentage terms than any other petroleum product, according to the International Energy Agency’s initial assessment of the impact of Covid-19, released Thursday. That’s both for the first quarter and, under current estimates, 2020 as a whole. April 30, 2020.
THE DEFENSE PRODUCTION ACT, COVID-19 AND CRITICAL MATERIALS
As the Coronavirus continues to demonstrate the fragility of commodity supply-chains, further use of the Defense Production Act (DPA) could allow for the United States to develop its domestic critical mineral sources. Mining and processing locations across the world are being disrupted and highlight the United States’ heavy reliance on imported critical minerals. April 30, 2020.
WHAT COULD A “JUST TRANSITION” LOOK LIKE FOR FOSSIL FUEL DEPENDENT REGIONS?
Payne Institute Fellow Hisham Zerriffi, and collaborators write about how climate action presents special challenges for communities, and countries, that produce fossil fuels consumed elsewhere. As an exporter of relatively emissions-intensive and high-cost oil, Canada is especially vulnerable to price declines that will result from climate action. The challenge of climate change mitigation for fossil fuel producing regions has been brought to the fore by the COVID-19 crisis, which has depressed global demand and driven already-low global oil prices still lower. Although economic recovery will follow, the prospect of delayed recovery and national economic stimulus packages tied to clean energy transition may hasten a moment of reckoning. In that context, it is especially timely to consider the call for “just transition” plans, which seek to ensure fossil fuel-dependent communities and workers are not left behind. April 17, 2020.
CARBON CAPTURE, UTILIZATION, AND STORAGE UNDER THE PARIS AGREEMENT
Payne Fellow Kipp Coddington writes that almost every international climate change scenario under the 2015 Paris Agreement shows the need for an enormous ramp-up of carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) technologies to meet global goals. Timing matters, not just scale. CCUS technology must be deployed at scale sooner rather than later if the agreement’s objective of holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 degrees centigrade above pre-industrial levels is to be achieved. Additionally, CCUS uniquely holds promise as a “negative” emissions technology — removing carbon dioxide from the air. April 15, 2020.
MINING THE ENERGY TRANSITION
Jordy Lee and Morgan Bazilian explain why supply chain disruptions from COVID-19 are indicative of larger problems withing the mining industry. Without holding mining Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) reports to a higher standard, the developmental changes and supply chain transparency required for a low-carbon future are unnecessarily constrained. April 2, 2020.
HOW TO MAKE THE ECONOMIC STIMULUS GREAT
The current COVID-19 pandemic has both public health and economic dimensions and the two are deeply interconnected. Some consensus on various key policy stages are emerging from initial lock-downs, from ensuring massive testing and mobilization of manufacturing for items like ventilators and personal protection equipment, to emergency stabilization, and economic stimulus. March 24, 2020.
COVID-19 IS A REMINDER THAT INTERCONNECTIVITY IS UNAVOIDABLE
The spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has been a disaster for the economy, shown weaknesses in public health systems, and killed several thousand people worldwide. It has also made clear how interconnected the modern world has become. Walls are futile for preventing the rapid movement of the virus around the globe. March 12, 2020.
A RETROSPECTIVE ANALYSIS OF ENERGY ACCESS WITH A FOCUS ON THE ROLE OF MINI-GRIDS
Achieving universal access to electricity by 2030 is a key part of the Agenda for Sustainable Development, and has its own Sustainable Development Goal, SDG 7.1. This is because electricity services are required for almost all aspects of a modern economy, from the cooling of vaccines to irrigation pumping, to manufacturing and running a business. The achievement of SDG 7.1 will require a thoughtful mix of policy, finance, and technology to be designed and implemented at scale. February 27, 2020.
CONNECTING THE CONTINENTS – A GLOBAL POWER GRID
Payne Fellow Paul Deane writes about the dream of a globally connected power grid that was once the stuff of science fiction. But today with powerful computer software, open data and international collaboration the concept of a global grid is moving one step closer to reality. February 25, 2020.
PART 2: HOW AUCTIONS HELPED SOLAR BECOME THE CHEAPEST ELECTRICITY IN THE WORLD
This article is the second installment in a two-part series. Unit-cost solar electricity for less than two US cents per kilowatt hour (kWh) is the cheapest electricity in the world, but most of the recent ultra-low bids in the global solar market likely required the stars to align to breach this barrier. Using very high efficiency or bifacial modules in some of the sunniest parts of the world, combined with aggressive forward module pricing and system cost assumptions, a transparent and supportive national policy environment, and access to concessional terms for finance, taxes, land, or labor, has driven capital expenditures down significantly. February 25, 2020.
PART 1: HOW AUCTIONS HELPED SOLAR BECOME THE CHEAPEST ELECTRICITY IN THE WORLD
This article is the first installment in a two-part series. The global energy transition has reached an inflection point. In numerous markets, the declining cost of solar photovoltaics (PV) has already beaten the cost of new-build coal and natural gas and is now chasing down operating costs of existing thermal power plants, forcing a growing crowd of thermal generation assets into early retirement. Perfect comparability between dispatchable and non-dispatchable resources invites debate, but the cost declines in solar PV are irrefutable: the global average unit cost of competitively-procured solar electricity declined by 83 percent from 2010 to 2018. February 24, 2020.
ANALYTICAL APPROACHES TO BLENDING POLITICAL SCIENCE WITH THE STUDY OF ENERGY MARKETS February 18, 2020
ANALYTICAL APPROACHES TO BLENDING POLITICAL SCIENCE WITH THE STUDY OF ENERGY MARKETS
The Payne Institute co-hosted a workshop with KAPSARC to encourage new research that examines the relationships between energy markets and geopolitical phenomena such as sanctions, diplomatic activity, and cross-border disputes. February 18, 2020.
GEOPOLITICAL RAMIFICATIONS OF ENERGY TRANSITION HARD TO EXAGGERATE: EXPERTS
The geopolitical landscape is likely to be significantly modified by the energy transition from fossil fuels to renewable and low-carbon resources, both on the global and sub-national level, experts said during the University of Texas Energy Week’s second day of sessions. February 18, 2020.
GOVERNMENTS HAVEN’T MANAGED TO REDUCE GREENHOUSE GASES. HERE’S WHO’S TAKING CHARGE IN THE NEXT PHASE. February 17, 2020
GOVERNMENTS HAVEN’T MANAGED TO REDUCE GREENHOUSE GASES. HERE’S WHO’S TAKING CHARGE IN THE NEXT PHASE.
Payne Institute Fellow Jeff Colgan writes about an uncertain climate future that makes investors nervous. Multiple events in the past few months indicate that we’re in a new phase in the global effort to address climate change. The action is happening largely outside the United Nations’ negotiations. What changed, and what are the consequences? February 17, 2020.
IS THERE AN ENERGY PARTISAN DIVIDE?
Payne Institute Faculty Fellow Kathleen Hancock comments that the United States seems to be regressing when it comes to renewable energy with Republicans leading the way. But this picture is incomplete. There is strong evidence that the current White House antipathy toward renewables, and support for coal, is off-set by state-led initiatives, even in solidly Republican states. January 27, 2020.
THE WORLD’S NEXT ENERGY BONANZA
The Payne Institute Director co-authored an argument that tapping oceanic methane hydrates is the next big energy resource. The fracking of shale gas may have substantially shifted the global energy landscape, but another hydrocarbon resource—oceanic methane hydrates—has the possibility to do even more to change the picture, and upend the global energy landscape. January 9, 2020.
MINING’S HUMAN ELEMENTS: ANTHROPOLOGIST SEEKS TO BRIDGE DIVIDE BETWEEN INDUSTRY, SMALL-SCALE OPERATIONS January 2, 2020
MINING’S HUMAN ELEMENTS: ANTHROPOLOGIST SEEKS TO BRIDGE DIVIDE BETWEEN INDUSTRY, SMALL-SCALE OPERATIONS
Assistant Professor Nicole Smith is the only social scientist in Mines’ Mining Engineering Department, but that’s par for the course for any anthropologist worth his or her salt. “I’ve always been interested in why people do what they do and how it differs across the world,” said Smith, who earned a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from the University of Minnesota. January 2, 2020.
THE GREEN TRANSITION: WHO WILL BE THE GEOPOLITICAL WINNERS – AND LOSERS?
Beyond any doubt, the green transition will have consequences for geopolitics – international power relations and competition influenced by geography. But who stands to gain, or lose, the most – geopolitically speaking? December 2, 2019.
MINING PLASTIC: HARVESTING STORED ENERGY IN A RE-USE REVOLUTION
To spur action, the perception of discarded plastics must change from burdensome waste to a physical store of non-renewable resources. Major investment in developing catalysts, processes, and infrastructure for energetically efficient chemical recycling is critical. It is time for governments to commit to “mining” plastics. December 2, 2019.
THE SHIFTING ENERGY LANDSCAPE AND THE GULF ECONOMIES’ DIVERSIFICATION CHALLENGE
Payne Fellow Samantha Gross writes about the hydrocarbon-dependent countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) face challenges in adjusting to the new reality in energy markets. Growing oil and gas production in the United States and growing concern about climate change mean that their hydrocarbon revenues are likely to decline over the long run. At the same time, growing populations and a rentier social contract make declining revenues a challenge for governance and stability. December 2019.
NEW OIL FINDS COULD MEAN A TRIPLING OF GUYANA’S GDP
This year, ExxonMobil announced its 11th and 12th oil finds in the small South American country of Guyana. The estimates of recoverable crude in the country now stand at roughly 5 billion barrels. On a per capita basis, this would put Guyana among the top 10 oil producers in the world. Whether the people of Guyana see much benefit from the windfall could have much to say about the fate of the oil industry, which is facing an uncertain future during an ongoing energy transition. November 26, 2019.
NEW COALITION IN GULF MAY NOT FARE AS WELL AS OLD
Representatives from Australia, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, Albania and the United States opened a command center in Bahrain November 7, launching Operation Sentinel, a security initiative for protecting the Strait of Hormuz. The operation is a response to recent attacks on ships in the strait and Saudi facilities. Vessels watch chokepoints and maintain patrols in the strait that is 21 nautical miles wide and territorial waters for Iran and Oman, within their regulatory control under international law. “While such security coalitions have been successful in the past, applying the same approach in the Middle East may not improve conditions and may even exacerbate tensions,” explain Gregory Clough and Morgan D. Bazilian. November 21, 2019.
35 MINERALS THAT ARE CRITICAL TO OUR SOCIETY
Just like essential nutrients are necessary for a healthy body, critical minerals are necessary for a healthy economy. And a healthy national security. And a healthy educational system. Basically all aspects of an overall healthy society in these modern times. The United States Geological Survey Report on a Critical Mineral List discusses 35 mineral commodities that we are dependent on. November 19, 2019.
SAUDI ARAMCO JOINS INITIATIVES TO REDUCE FLARING TO ZERO BY 2030
Saudi Aramco said on Wednesday it was joining the World Bank’s initiative to reduce gas flaring to zero by 2030. The Payne Institute’s Earth Observation Group is proud to provide the flaring data that underlies this important initiative. November 6, 2019.
FOUR SCENARIOS OF THE ENERGY TRANSITION: DRIVERS, CONSEQUENCES, AND IMPLICATIONS FOR GEOPOLITICS November 3, 2019
FOUR SCENARIOS OF THE ENERGY TRANSITION: DRIVERS, CONSEQUENCES, AND IMPLICATIONS FOR GEOPOLITICS
This opinion article offers insights into the geopolitics of the ongoing global energy transition. In doing so, it draws heavily on a workshop in Berlin in late 2018, and a subsequent paper in the journal Nature. Four scenarios are presented. By comparing and contrasting the different scenarios, the article highlights the potential winners and losers of the different scenarios, and the geopolitical consequences. It also sketches the implications for policy, theory, and scenario thinking more broadly. November 3, 2019.
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DISCLAIMER: The opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints expressed are those of the author alone and do not reflect the opinions, beliefs, viewpoints, or official policies of the Payne Institute or Colorado School of Mines.