A weekly five-point roundup of critical events in the energy transition and the implications of climate change for business and finance.
Secrets of the Deep: Why Seabed Mining Is the Next Environmental Third Rail
What happened: We need a lot more precious metals to build a lot more batteries for things like cars and renewable energy storage. Getting those on land might not be enough. Seabed mining might offer a viable alternative. But right now we know almost nothing about what that mining does to the environment, and a whole host of large countries are asking a UN-affiliated body to either pause until we do or are pressuring it to start handing out permits now.
Why it matters: Everyone agrees that we need more metals like cobalt and nickel. No one seems to agree on who or where we should be allowed to mine for them. Further delay means we might become even more dependent on China, which seems to have fewer qualms about long-term environmental effects.
What’s next: The meetings will be over in two weeks and there will be some clarity on who gets to mine, who gets to profit, and what happens afterward. (By Todd Woody, Bloomberg)
How to Avoid Creating an OPEC for Minerals
What happened: A major mining trade association says urgent action is needed now to prevent the creation of producer-cartels for minerals.
Why it matters: The mining sector has a vested interest in avoiding going down the path taken by oil and gas, where a group of countries has almost complete control over a pivotal market. Bringing producer countries into the already-existing Minerals Security Partnership would undercut the argument that, once again, rich countries are coming to plunder natural resources and leave those producers the poorer for it.
What’s next: More countries getting MSP membership. And possibly the varied distribution of minerals, instead of a heavy concentration in a region like the middle east, keeping that OPEC-like entity from existing in the first place. (By Prashant Rao, Semafor)
Renewable Records Going to Waste in Texas
What happened: Texas is once again the focus after a heat wave coincided with the largest percentage use of renewable energy in the state’s history. A good milestone overshadowed by an infrastructure issue: curtailment.
Why it matters: Lots of energy is good. A lack of transmission lines to carry it is bad. That’s curtailment and “the economic burden on solar and wind industries could get worse before it gets better. In Texas, up to 5 percent of renewable generation is currently curtailed, according to a 2022 study by the Energy Systems Integration Group that used ERCOT’s own data analysis, but 20 to 28 percent could be curtailed by 2030.”
What’s next: Roughly $13 billion in federal funding for transmission projects. But in the meantime, dirtier, more expensive fuel used more often to cool more homes. (By Keaton Peters, Inside Climate News)
A Greener Gulf Could Be Within Sight, Despite Doubts
What happened: The Gulf States are starting to make the same sorts of broad, ambitious proclamations as other developed countries around the world that don’t rely almost exclusively on oil and gas for survival.
Why it matters: “The idea of Gulf states as clean energy leaders is an alluring prospect. It takes some pressure off the United States and Europe to coordinate, often uncomfortably, with China on clean energy targets, particularly in developing countries. But the appeal goes beyond that. If the Gulf states—unsentimental, pragmatic, and agnostic toward Western ideals such as democratic responsiveness—begin to pursue clean energy, that suggests a far greater range of actors such as corporations, fragile emerging markets, and nonaligned states could seek to pursue it, too.”
What’s next: Waiting for the deadlines to come due. Will Saudi Arabia really generate 50% of its national power from renewable sources by 2030? It’ll take seven years to know for sure, but given today’s figure (0.05%) it’s worth at least being a little skeptical. (By Karen Young, Foreign Affairs)
China Reminds Everyone Who’s Really In Control of the Green Revolution
What happened: Gallium and germanium don’t get quite the same press as cobalt, lithium, or iron. But the rare earth minerals received a lot more attention when China said it was restricting its exports of them, threatening a whole host of important industries but especially those, like solar panels, that are critical to the green energy infrastructure.
Why it matters: Because this might not be the end. “China’s hold over the world’s minerals gives it the power to potentially disrupt the West’s energy transition, chip manufacturing and defense industries as its great-power rivalry with the U.S. heats up. A Chinese move to restrict exports of, say, lithium or cobalt would hit non-Chinese automakers hard, throwing the production of electric-car batteries into disarray.”
What’s next: Diplomacy to keep the minerals flowing in the short term. A renewed push to mine domestically to avoid any future standoffs. (By Jon Emont, The Wall Street Journal)