Week In Review

Markets run in cycles; we are all at the mercy of ups and downs in the macro and micro. Commodities markets, including those for energy, are often held to the dictates of “supercycles.” Infrastructure for commodities is so expensive, development timelines are so lengthy and the underlying shifts in demand and supply occur over such long phases that energy prices and resulting investments rise and fall over decades, not months.

The modern energy economy was born in one great supercycle around the middle of the twentieth century, and we are still its heirs. In the wake of a privately-sponsored boom in energy technology development and deployment in the 1920s, the US government responded to the inequities of the Great Depression of the 1930s by investing in huge electrification projects, choosing technologies, firms and energy types by fiat as it went. Keep reading →

Debates that have preoccupied and in some cases paralyzed growth in the US energy sector could be overshadowed by the development of a single megatrend at the heart of the global economy: the transition to electric drives in machines of all kinds.

While electric vehicles are the most visible aspect of that change, and with roughly 250 million cars on the road any switch from gasoline to electric is significant, the switch from motors driven by their own internal combustion devices to significantly more efficient electric systems is already occurring in many parts of the economy where the infrastructure and the focus on cost reduction already exists. Keep reading →

With renewables tax incentives set to expire, market liquidity seemingly harder than ever to find, a supercommittee fail and EPA regulations pending, many in the energy industry may have a hard time being grateful this year.

But the industry is also at an inflection point, where the dying of old ways is opening possibilities for new beginnings. Keep reading →

The last few years have already seen a dramatic change in discourse on energy issues in the US and globally. But a complex present is laying the groundwork for a new, potentially cleaner, energy future.

Congressional deadlock is allowing two game-changing Environmental Protection Agency rules to pass into law, the Mercury & Air Toxics Standards (known as the Utility Maximum Achievable Control Technology, or MACT, rule) and the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, CSAPR, which together will cost utilities and ratepayers billions of dollars. Keep reading →

Has the deregulation of the energy industry gone into reverse?

Energy deregulation was a central theme of the 1990s, a trend that swept the developed world as ways to liberate markets were sought out in the wake of seemingly-successful deregulation efforts elsewhere in the economy in the preceding decade. No longer would customers pay out regulated, regular rates to monopoly corporations with lengthy planning timelines and no incentive to cut costs or employees. Creative destruction was the name of the game, and politicians and power regulators got roughly half-way through rewriting the rules of power markets before the implosion of Enron put the brakes on efforts at further deregulation, which have been halting and piecemeal. Keep reading →

The Earth’s human population reached 7 billion this week, according to the United Nations Population Fund, shining the spotlight on the world’s infrastructure, water, and energy problems.

To complicate matters further, the UN estimates that by 2050, the population will reach 9 billion. Keep reading →

The energy sector has turned upbeat in recent weeks despite still-strong economic headwinds and widespread complaints about political and regulatory uncertainty.

Surviving the financial crisis largely intact has bred a sense of having passed through the worst among the power companies, fuel providers and service firms that keep the energy sector ticking. Although there was widespread acknowledgment this week–at energy industry events in Florida and New York–among bankers, analysts and operators that the business cycle remains stuck at a low, the stress was on fundamental support for new investment and new deals to support continued consolidation. Keep reading →

Every few years a word comes along that means more in the context of the day than it usually does in the dictionary; it becomes the catch-all term that encompasses and typifies a cultural moment, and business leaders and regulators find themselves using it constantly as a kind of shorthand.

In the media business that word has been “social,” in the internet business it has been “cloud” and in the financial business it has been “securitization.” Each speaks to an underlying set of assumptions and practices that force change in industries and reflect shifts in the broader world’s understanding of an organization’s role and purpose. Keep reading →

The energy business increasingly operates in a world of “black swans.”

In one year, earthquakes, floods, financial chaos and political deadlock all at enormous scale have rocked the energy industry. While most firms remain functioning, or even prosperous, and regulators have responded with speed, the analysts charged with finding logic in data are scrambling to figure out how to price and plan for a new future filled with “unusual” events. Keep reading →

The roles of government and business in driving energy investment are areas of continual debate, but this week brought the turmoil to a new high.

The Department of Energy and the Obama Administration went on the offensive to defend their renewable energy and clean tech programs, many of them funded or arranged under previous administrations but implemented and promoted by current leaders. Keep reading →

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