A two part series at Evergreen financial advisers analyses the market effects of the intensified push for “green” energy. Excerpts in italics with my bolds. The two posts are:
Green energy: A bubble in unrealistic expectations?
David Hay / October 8, 2021
As I have written in past EVAs, it amazes me how little of the intense inflation debate in 2021 centered on the inflationary implications of the Green Energy transition. Perhaps it is because there is a built-in assumption that using more renewables should lower energy costs since the sun and the wind provide “free power”.
Green Energy: A Bubble in Unrealistic Expectations, Part II
David Hay / October 15, 2021
This is part two of our discourse regarding green energy and its profound – and somewhat misunderstood – impact on the global economy. In this issue, we specifically home in on China and how that country’s immense power needs are affecting the energy ecosystem at large.
Part I Green Bubble Summary:
- BlackRock’s CEO recently admitted that, despite what many are opining, the green energy transition is nearly certain to be inflationary.
- Even though it’s early in the year, energy prices are already experiencing unprecedented spikes in Europe and Asia, but most Americans are unaware of the severity.
- To that point, many British residents being faced with the fact that they may need to ration heat and could be faced with the chilling reality that lives could be lost if this winter is as cold as forecasters are predicting.
- Because of the huge increase in energy prices, inflation in the eurozone recently hit a 13-year high, heavily driven by natural gas prices on the Continent that are the equivalent of $200 oil.
- It used to be that the cure for extreme prices was extreme prices, but these days I’m not so sure. Oil and gas producers are very wary of making long-term investments to develop new resources given the hostility to their industry and shareholder pressure to minimize outlays.
- I expect global supply to peak sometime next year and a major supply deficit looks inevitable as global demand returns to normal.
- In Norway, almost 2/3 of all new vehicle sales are of the electric variety (EVs) – a huge increase in just over a decade. Meanwhile, in the US, it’s only about 2%. Still, given Norway’s penchant for the plug-in auto, the demand for oil has not declined.
- China, despite being the largest market by far for electric vehicles, is still projected to consume an enormous and rising amount of oil in the future.
In fact, despite oil prices pushing toward $80, total US crude output now projected to actually decline this year. This is an unprecedented development. However, as the very pro-renewables Financial Times (the UK’s equivalent of the Wall Street Journal) explained in an August 11th, 2021, article: “Energy companies are in a bind. The old solution would be to invest more in raising gas production. But with most developed countries adopting plans to be ‘net zero’ on carbon emissions by 2050 or earlier, the appetite for throwing billions at long-term gas projects is diminished.”
Thus, if he’s right about rising demand, as I believe he is, there is quite a collision looming between that reality and the high probability of long-term constrained supplies. One of the most relevant and fascinating Wall Street research reports I read as I was researching the topic of what I have been referring to as “Greenflation” is from Morgan Stanley. Its title asked the provocative question: “With 64% of New Cars Now Electric, Why is Norway Still Using so Much Oil?”
Coincidentally, that’s been the experience of the overall developed world over the past 10 years, as well; petroleum consumption has largely flatlined. Where demand hasn’t gone horizontal is in the developing world which includes China. As you can see from the following Cornerstone Analytics chart, China’s oil demand has vaulted by about 6 million barrels per day (bpd) since 2010 while its domestic crude output has, if anything, slightly contracted.
Here’s a similar factoid that I ran in our December 4th EVA, “Totally Toxic”, in which I made a strong bullish case for energy stocks (the main energy ETF is up 35% from then, by the way): “(There was) a study by the UN and the US government based on the Model for the Assessment of Greenhouse Gasses Induced Climate Change (MAGICC). The model predicted that ‘the complete elimination of all fossil fuels in the US immediately would only restrict any increase in world temperature by less than one tenth of one degree Celsius by 2050, and by less than one fifth of one degree Celsius by 2100.’ Say again? If the world’s biggest carbon emitter on a per capita basis causes minimal improvement by going cold turkey on fossil fuels, are we making the right moves by allocating tens of trillions of dollars that we don’t have toward the currently in-vogue green energy solutions?”
Part II Green Bubble Summary:
- About 70% of China’s electricity is generated by coal, which has major environmental ramifications in regards to electric vehicles.
- Because of enormous energy demand in China this year, coal prices have experienced a massive boom. Its usage was up 15% in the first half of this year, and the Chinese government has instructed power providers to obtain all baseload energy sources, regardless of cost.
- The massive migration to electric vehicles – and the fact that they use six times the amount of critical minerals as their gasoline-powered counterparts –means demand for these precious resources is expected to skyrocket.
- This extreme need for rare minerals, combined with rapid demand growth, is a recipe for a major spike in prices.
- Massively expanding the US electrical grid has several daunting challenges– chief among them the fact that the American public is extremely reluctant to have new transmission lines installed in their area.
- The state of California continues to blaze the trail for green energy in terms of both scope and speed. How the rest of the country responds to their aggressive take on renewables remains to be seen.
- It appears we are entering a very odd reality: governments are expending resources they do not have on weakly concentrated energy. And the result may be very detrimental for today’s modern economy.
- If the trend in energy continues, what looks nearly certain to be the Third Energy crisis of the last half-century may linger for years.
Lest you think I’m being hyperbolic, please be aware the IEA (International Energy Agency) has estimated it will cost the planet $5 trillion per year to achieve Net Zero emissions. This is compared to global GDP of roughly $85 trillion. According to BloombergNEF, the price tag over 30 years, could be as high as $173 trillion. Frankly, based on the history of gigantic cost overruns on most government-sponsored major infrastructure projects, I’m inclined to take the over—way over—on these estimates.
Moreover, energy consulting firm T2 and Associates, has guesstimated electrifying just the US to the extent necessary to eliminate the direct consumption of fuel (i.e., gasoline, natural gas, coal, etc.) would cost between $18 trillion and $29 trillion. Again, taking into account how these ambitious efforts have played out in the past, I suspect $29 trillion is light. Regardless, even $18 trillion is a stunner, despite the reality we have all gotten numb to numbers with trillions attached to them. For perspective, the total, already terrifying, level of US federal debt is $28 trillion.
Regardless, as noted last week, the probabilities of the Great Green Energy Transition happening are extremely high. Relatedly, I believe the likelihood of the Great Greenflation is right up there with them.
Further, one of my other big fears is that the West is engaging in unilateral energy disarmament. Russia and China are likely the major beneficiaries of this dangerous scenario. Per my earlier comment about a stealth combatant in the war on fossil fuels, it may surprise you that a past NATO Secretary General* has accused Russian intelligence of avidly supporting the anti-fracking movements in Western Europe. Russian TV has railed against fracking for years, even comparing it to pedophilia (certainly, a most bizarre analogy!).
Solutions include fast-tracking small modular nuclear plants; encouraging the further switch from burning coal to natural gas (a trend that is, unfortunately, going the other way now, as noted above); utilizing and enhancing carbon and methane capture at the point of emission (including improving tail pipe effluent-reduction technology); enhancing pipeline integrity to inhibit methane leaks; among many other mitigation techniques that recognize the reality the global economy will be reliant on fossil fuels for many years, if not decades, to come.
If the climate change movement fails to recognize the essential nature of fossil fuels, it will almost certainly trigger a backlash that will undermine the positive change it is trying to bring about. This is similar to what it did via its relentless assault on nuclear power which produced a frenzy of coal plant construction in the 1980s and 1990s. On this point, it’s interesting to see how quickly Europe is re-embracing coal power to alleviate the energy poverty and rationing occurring over there right now—even before winter sets in.
When the choice is between supporting climate change initiatives on one hand and being able to heat your home and provide for your family on the other, is there really any doubt about which option the majority of voters will select?