Israel and Lebanon have been at war since 1948, but the countries are close to an agreement that could increase production of natural gas, helping energy-starved Europe.
Officials from the two countries have said they are close to resolving long-running disputes over their maritime borders, which would allow energy companies to extract more fossil fuels from offshore fields in the Mediterranean Sea.
The increased production won’t make up for the gas that Europe is no longer getting from Russia. But energy experts say an Israel-Lebanon agreement should give a vital push to efforts to produce more gas in that part of the world. Over the last four years, energy production in the eastern Mediterranean has been growing as Israel, Egypt, Jordan and Cyprus have worked together to take advantage of oil and gas buried under the sea.
“This is a very important step for the region to come into its own,” said Charif Souki, the Lebanese-American executive chairman of Tellurian, a liquefied natural gas company based in Houston. “Players are finally realizing that it’s better to cooperate than to continuously fight.”
The Israel-Lebanon negotiations will most directly affect the Karish field, which is set to produce gas for Israel’s domestic use. That fuel is expected to displace gas produced from other fields, which can then be exported. The new field is also expected to produce a small amount of oil.
Chevron, the second-largest U.S. oil and gas company, and several smaller businesses are already producing gas from two larger fields off Israel’s coast. That fuel has increasingly replaced coal in the country’s power plants and factories. Israel now has so much gas that it has become a net exporter of energy, sending fuel to neighbors like Jordan and Egypt. Some of that gas has also found its way to Europe and other parts of the world from L.N.G. export terminals in Egypt.
The U.S. government, across several administrations, has encouraged the growth of the gas trade in the region by helping to negotiate deals between countries that have long had tense relations. The Ukraine crisis has accelerated efforts to explore and produce natural gas because of the soaring cost of the fuel in Europe, where countries are desperate to end their dependence on Russian gas.
Chevron and its Israeli partners are discussing the possibility of building a floating liquefied natural gas platform in the Leviathan gas field, Israel’s largest. The companies are expected to make a decision on the project in a few months.
But getting the gas out of the region will not be easy. Floating export terminals are vulnerable to terrorist attack. And, even if they could be adequately secured, the terminals will not be able to process as much gas as the larger coastal facilities used in major gas producers like the United States, Qatar and Australia. Building terminals on land can take several years, if not often longer, because of opposition from environmental and other groups.
“Energy infrastructure offshore is very volatile and vulnerable,” said Gal Luft, a former Israeli military officer who is the co-director of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security in Washington. “You have to manage risk.”
Theoretically, transporting gas by pipelines would be easier than liquefying natural gas for export before converting it back into gas at its destination. But building long-distance pipelines is expensive and difficult. A long-running conflict between Turkey, Cyprus and Greece, for example, has made constructing a pipeline from Israel to southern Europe incredibly challenging, if not impossible.
Even an Israel-Lebanon border agreement faces risks. Hezbollah has threatened to attack the Karish field, and it sent unarmed drones over it in July; Israeli officials said they had shot down the aircraft.
Still, Israeli and Lebanese officials have said in recent days that they are pressing on with the negotiations, with officials from the Biden administration acting as a go-between, and are close to a deal. The talks gathered momentum during the United Nations General Assembly last week.
Prime Minister Najib Mikati of Lebanon said on Thursday at the United Nations that he was confident about reaching an agreement with Israel. “Lebanon is well aware of the importance of the promising energy market in the eastern Mediterranean for the prosperity of all countries in the region,” he said, “but also to meet the needs of importing nations.”
U.S. and other Western oil companies have long shied away from Israel, in part because they do not want to alienate Arab countries. But, as relations between Israel and countries like Egypt, Jordan and, more recently, the United Arab Emirates have improved more companies have expressed interest in the eastern Mediterranean.
An agreement between Israel and Lebanon could accelerate that trend.
“I think it will appease many minds,” said Leslie Palti-Guzman, chief executive of Gas Vista, a consulting firm. “Companies that have been reluctant to invest could be more incentivized to develop additional projects.”
Gas fields in the Mediterranean are one of several new suppliers that Europe will need as it seeks a long-term replacement for Russian gas. Other suppliers include energy companies operating in the United States, Qatar, Africa, the Caspian Sea and the North Sea.
“There is no silver bullet,” said Paddy Blewer, spokesman for Energean, a London-based exploration company that hopes to begin producing gas in the Karish field. “The East Mediterranean is one of a series of marginal gains that Europe has to look at.”
Energean plans to begin production in the next few weeks, and has said it expects to produce up to 8 billion cubic meters of gas a year by 2025. If it is successful, the company could significantly add to Israel’s output. The country will produce roughly 22 billion cubic meters this year. Once an importer of almost all of its energy, Israel increased gas production by 22 percent in the first half of the year compared with the same period in 2021. It exported roughly 40 percent of its gas, earning the government royalties of $250 million.
The agreement between Israel and Lebanon will also open the way to drilling in Lebanese waters by a consortium led by Eni of Italy and TotalEnergies of France. Lebanese officials view natural gas as a critical financial tool in its attempts to revive the country’s depressed economy. The government has wanted to drill offshore since at least 2014, but disputes with Israel over the border have delayed exploration.
“It’s not for sure Lebanon will find gas,” said Chakib Khelil, a former president of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries. “But, if they do, Lebanon will get a big boost.”
Tucked into the Inflation Reduction Act that President Biden signed last week is a major expansion of federal loan programs that could help the fight against climate change by channeling more money to clean energy and converting plants that run on fossil fuels to nuclear or renewable energy.
The law authorizes as much as $350 billion in additional federal loans and loan guarantees for energy and automotive projects and businesses. The money, which will be disbursed by the Energy Department, is in addition to the more well-known provisions of the law that offer incentives for the likes of electric cars, solar panels, batteries and heat pumps.
The aid could breathe life into futuristic technologies that banks might find too risky to lend to or into projects that are just short of the money they need to get going.
failure of Solyndra, a solar company that had borrowed about $500 million from the Energy Department, to criticize the Obama administration’s climate and energy policies.
Backers of the program have argued that despite defaults like Solyndra, the program has been sustainable overall. Of the $31 billion the department has disbursed, about 40 percent has been repaid and interest payments in the fiscal year that ended on Sept. 30, 2021, totaled $533 million — more money than the failed Solyndra loan.
The Energy Department’s loan programs began in 2005 under the George W. Bush administration but expanded significantly in the Obama era. The department provided a crucial loan that helped Tesla expand when it only sold expensive two-door electric sports cars; the company is now the world’s most valuable automaker.
Under the Trump administration, which played down the risks of climate change, the department’s loan office was much less active. The Biden team has been working to change that. Last month, the department said it planned to loan $2.5 billion to General Motors and LG Energy Solution to build electric-car battery factories in Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee.
complicate the qualification process.
Plug-In Hybrids: After falling behind all-electric cars, U.S. sales of plug-in hybrids have been surging. The high cost of electric cars and gasoline have given them an opening.
Car Crashes: Tesla and other automakers capture data from their vehicles to operate their products. Experts say the collected information could also improve road safety.
A Frustrating Hassle: The electric vehicle revolution is nearly here, but its arrival is being slowed by a fundamental problem: The chargers where people refuel these cars are often broken.
One beneficiary of the new loan money could be the Palisades Power Plant, a nuclear facility on Lake Michigan near Kalamazoo, Mich., that closed in May. The plant had struggled to compete in the PJM energy market, which serves homes and businesses in 13 states, including Michigan, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C.
The Biden administration has made nuclear power a focal point of its efforts to eliminate carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector by 2035. The administration has offered billions of dollars to help existing facilities like the Diablo Canyon Power Plant — a nuclear operation on California’s coast that is set to close by the end of 2025 — stay open longer. It is also backing new technologies like small modular reactors that the industry has long said would be cheaper, safer and easier to build than conventional large nuclear reactors.
The owner of the Palisades facility, Holtec International, said it was reviewing the loan program and other opportunities for its own small reactors as well as bringing the shuttered plant back online.
“There are a number of hurdles to restarting the facility that would need to be bridged,” the company said in a statement, “but we will work with the state, federal government, and a yet to be identified third-party operator to see if this is a viable option.”
Rye Development, a company based in West Palm Beach, Fla., that is working on several projects in the Pacific Northwest.
geothermal power; old coal power plants as sites for large batteries; and old coal mines for solar farms. Such conversions could reduce the need to build projects on undeveloped land, which often takes longer because they require extensive environmental review and can face significant local opposition.
“We’re in a heap of trouble in siting the many millions of acres of solar we need,” Mr. Reicher said. “It’s six to 10 million acres of land we’ve got to find to site the projected build out of utility scale solar in the United States. That’s huge.”
Other developers are hoping the government will help finance technologies and business plans that are still in their infancy.
Timothy Latimer is the chief executive and co-founder of Fervo Energy, a Houston company that uses the same horizontal drilling techniques as oil and gas producers to develop geothermal energy. He said that his firm can produce clean energy 24 hours a day or produce more or less energy over the course of a day to balance out the intermittent nature of wind and solar power and spikes in demand.
Mr. Latimer claims that the techniques his firm has developed will lower the cost for geothermal power, which in many cases is more expensive than electricity generated from natural gas or solar panels. He has projects under development in Nevada, Utah, Idaho and California and said that the new loan authority could help the geothermal business expand much more quickly.
“It’s been the talk of the geothermal industry,” Mr. Latimer said. “I don’t think we were expecting good news a month ago, but we’re getting more ready for prime time. We have barely scratched the surface with the amount of geothermal that we can develop in the United States.”
For all the potential of the new law, critics say that a significant expansion of government loans and loan guarantees could invite more waste and fraud. In addition to Solyndra, the Energy Department has acknowledged that several solar projects that received its loans or loan guarantees have failed or never got off the ground.
A large nuclear plant under construction in Georgia, Vogtle, has also received $11.5 billion in federal loan guarantees. The plant has been widely criticized for years of delays and billions of dollars in cost overruns.
“Many of these projects are funded based on political whim rather than project quality,” said Gary Ackerman, founder and former executive director of the Western Power Trading Forum, a coalition of more than 100 utilities and other businesses that trade in energy markets. “That leads to many stranded assets that never live up to their promises and become examples of government waste.”
But Jamie Carlson, who was a senior adviser to the energy secretary during the Obama administration, said the department learned from its mistakes and developed a better approach to reviewing and approving loan applications. It also worked more closely with businesses seeking money to ensure that they were successful.
“It used to be this black box,” said Ms. Carlson, who is now an executive at SoftBank Energy. “You just sat in purgatory for like 18 months and sometimes up to two years.”
Ms. Carlson said the department’s loans serve a vital function because they can help technologies and companies that have demonstrated some commercial success but need more money to become financially viable. “It’s there to finance technologies that are proven but perhaps to banks that are perceived as more risky,” she said.
Energy executives said they were excited because more federal loans and loan guarantees could turbocharge their plans.
“The projects that can be done will go faster,” said William W. Funderburk Jr., a former commissioner at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power who now runs a water and energy company. “This is a tectonic plate shift for the industry — in a good way.”
In a thickly forested park bordered by apartment blocks and a playground, a dozen workers were busy on a recent day with chain saws and axes, felling trees, cutting logs and chopping them into firewood to be stashed in concealed sheds around Lviv, the largest city in western Ukraine.
Ironworkers at a nearby forge are working overtime to produce wood-burning stoves to be stored in strategic locations. In municipal depots, room is being made to stockpile reserves of coal.
The activity in Lviv is being played out in towns and cities across Ukraine, part of a nationwide effort to amass emergency arsenals of backup fuel and critical provisions as Russia tightens its chokehold on energy supplies across Europe.
curtailed gas supplies to Europe last week, leading the European Union to announce that it will reduce imports of Russian gas so as not to be held hostage. Russia turned off the gas taps to Latvia on Saturday, after the government there announced additional military assistance for Ukraine, the latest in a string of European countries to do so.
Ukraine buys its natural gas from European neighbors, so the restriction of deliveries to Europe threatens its access to energy, too.
ordered to evacuate this past weekend after months of relentless Russian bombardment destroyed the infrastructure needed to deliver heat and electricity.
Our Coverage of the Russia-Ukraine War
“We understand that the Russians may continue targeting critical energy infrastructure before and during the winter,” said Oleksiy Chernyshov, Ukraine’s minister for communities and territories development, in an interview.
“They’ve demolished central heating stations in big cities, and physical devastation is still happening nationwide,” he said. “We are working to repair damage, but it doesn’t mean we won’t have more.”
Far from Ukraine’s embattled southeastern front, the campaign is being waged in forests and in steel forges, at gas storage sites and electrical stations, and even in basement boiler rooms, as the government mobilizes regions to activate a blueprint for amassing fuel and shelter.
disconnect Ukraine’s energy grid from Russia and Belarus and link it directly to the European Union’s. Last month, Ukraine began exporting small amounts of electricity to Romania, with hopes of eventually supplying European companies that have been hit by Russian natural gas cuts, a potential source of valuable income.
But Ukrainian officials say the ability to supply electricity at home, especially over the coming winter, when temperatures can fall far below freezing, is increasingly threatened as Russia intensifies a campaign of targeting the infrastructure that delivers energy.
Russian shelling has hit thermal power plants around the country and over 200 gas-fired boiler plants used for centralized heating. Around 5,000 kilometers of gas pipelines have been damaged, along with 3,800 gas distribution centers, according to an analysis by the Woodrow Wilson International Center’s Kennan Institute, a think tank focused on Russia.
Gas is especially critical for Ukraine because it is used to warm thousands of high-rise apartment complexes, schools, post offices and municipal buildings that rely on centralized heating systems.
largest gas reserves in Europe and has 11 billion cubic meters in storage. Andrii Zakrevskyi, head of the Ukrainian oil and gas association, said Monday that was enough to meet Ukraine’s needs before the war — but the level is roughly half what the government would like it to be.
racing to secure new energy sources, the pain circles back to Ukraine, which imports gas from Europe after halting direct imports from Russia after the 2014 annexation of Crimea. Russia’s squeeze has pushed European gas futures prices to record levels, making imports more expensive at a time when the government in Kyiv is facing a budget crisis.
All of which has gotten the country mobilized in a hurry.
Swiatoslaw and Zoriana Bielinski recently stocked the cellar of their modest Lviv home with wood. The couple has purchased scores of batteries and several battery-operated lamps in case the lights go out, and they were preparing to buy gas bottles for cooking.
“We have to start thinking about this,” said Alicja Bielinska, Mr. Bielinski’s sister, who had helped the couple stock up. “Ultimately, we can survive without light and gas, but we won’t be able to survive if the invaders take over.”
Officials responsible for city planning have stockpiled on a much grander scale, collecting thousands of tons of wood and a large stash of coal in the last week alone. Mr. Sadovyi, Lviv’s mayor, said more supplies were on the way and has ordered thermostats to be lowered to 15 degrees Celsius (59 degrees Fahrenheit) when winter sets in.
On a recent day, Mr. Sadovyi buzzed around the city hall courtyard, greeting locals who had gathered for now-regular demonstrations on how to prepare for heat and electricity cuts — or worse. Two emergency workers showed residents how to put on a chemical suit in case of an attack: gas mask firmly in place, the suit sealed tight over the head.
Forges have shifted some production to put a priority on making tens of thousands wood-burning stoves, some emblazoned with the Ukrainian coat of arms. Town halls in over 200 cities are building stockpiles, along with tents that can house up to 50 people apiece in the event that multifamily apartment buildings are left without gas needed to heat them.
The tents can be moved quickly to sites without electricity or heat, providing emergency shelter and stoves for boiling water and cooking, said Mr. Chernyshov, the development minister.
“We hope we won’t have to use them,” said Iryna Dzhuryk, an administrative director in Lviv. “But this is an absolutely unusual situation. We are shocked by what we’re facing and worried about making sure we have enough to keep people warm.”
Nearby, sheds recently built to stock firewood have been camouflaged by locals. Additional wood is expected to arrive in the coming weeks, hewn from groves of trees inside the city and from the vast forests of western Ukraine.
One hour’s drive north of Lviv, in a dense wood streaked with yellow sunlight, forestry service workers labored to generate enough firewood to supply a beleaguered nation. On a recent weekday, they cut into a grove of weathered oak trees and trucked them to a sawmill, where a lumberyard half the size of a football field was stacked a meter high with freshly hewn logs.
Firewood sales have doubled from a year ago, and prices have nearly tripled as the country stocks up, said Yuriy Hromyak, vice director of the Lviv Regional Department of Forestry.
Even the forest isn’t sheltered from Russian attacks, he added. Ukrainian forces recently shot down a rocket fired from Belarus on a nearby oil storage facility. The tanks — which were empty — weren’t damaged, but the blast blew out all the windows in a wood storage warehouse and in parts of the sawmill.
“The Russians will do anything to try to destroy us,” he said. “But no one has managed to unite us as much as Putin has.”
AUGSBURG, Germany — Wolfgang Hübschle went into city government expecting a simple life, planning things like traditional festivals replete with lederhosen.
Instead, these days he has the unpopular task of calculating which traffic lights to shut off, how to lower temperatures in offices and swimming pools — and perhaps, if it comes to it, pulling the plug on Bavarians’ beloved but energy-intensive breweries.
Municipal officials like Mr. Hübschle, the economic adviser to the provincial Bavarian city of Augsburg, sit on the front line of a geopolitical struggle with Russia since European Union leaders agreed this week to try to reduce natural gas consumption by 15 percent, fearing that President Vladimir V. Putin could cut exports in retaliation for Europe’s support for Ukraine.
a second pipeline from Russia, until the war forced the project to be suspended.
underlined the threat this week when it reduced flows through Nord Stream 1 into Germany to just 20 percent, citing, unconvincingly for many, problems with its German-made turbines.
Europe’s Shift Away From Fossil Fuels
The European Union has begun a transition to greener forms of energy. But financial and geopolitical considerations could complicate the efforts.
Roughly half of all homes in Germany are heated with gas, while a third of the country’s gas is used by industry. If the coming winter is particularly cold, a cutoff would be brutal.
reopening coal-fired power plants to replace those that burn gas and rapidly expanding infrastructure for liquefied natural gas, along with securing contracts for deliveries from Qatar and the United States.
In a recent social media post, Mr. Habeck admonished people to change their daily habits as part of the effort to reach the country’s goal of saving 20 percent.
“If you think, OK, swapping out the shower head, thawing out the freezer or turning down the heater, none of that makes a difference — you are deceiving yourself,” Mr. Habeck said. “It is an excuse to do nothing.”
Some officials have expressed concern that the government is stoking panic. And some are hoping incentives will encourage careful energy use.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz has pledged to increase housing subsidies and shield renters from evictions over unpaid heating bills. This week, Munich announced an “energy bonus” of 100 euros to households that cut their annual consumption by 20 percent, and its utility company launched an energy-saving competition for customers this autumn.
Germans seem to be responding. The Federal Association of Energy and Water said the country was using almost 15 percent less gas compared to the same period last year, a trend they partly attributed to the record price of energy. Costs will increase further by the beginning of October, when the government introduces a gas surcharge.
In response, space heaters and wood ovens are selling out in many cities, and there is a long wait for mini-solar-panel units to power some home devices.
Claudia Kemfert, an energy economist with the German Institute for Economic Research, said such savings were critical but worried the country had wasted several months with appeals to citizens instead of taking more robust action with business.
Companies have shown they can reduce their gas consumption when they are not given a choice. Automaker Mercedes-Benz said on Wednesday it had trimmed 10 percent of its gas usage, and could cut as much as 50 percent while maintaining full operations.
“There is a lot we can achieve through market-based approaches, we should exhaust every option we have on that front so that we can avoid an emergency situation,” Ms. Kemfert said.
Municipal officials say they will have no way to understand how much their efforts can help until they get more data.
In Munich, capital of the southern state of Bavaria and an epicenter of German industry, the deputy mayor, Katrin Habenschaden, is skeptical.
“I honestly don’t believe that this can be compensated for, as much as I appreciate it through our efforts now to save energy.” she said. “Rather, I believe that we simply need other options or other solutions.”
As the deputy responsible for managing economic affairs, she has been helping the city with a kind of economic triage — assessing what kind of rationing different companies could face. Businesses, big and small, are courting the city, to make their case for why they should be spared.
Bavaria is of particular concern because it is home to companies that are drivers of German industry, like BMW and Siemens. The conservative regional government’s reluctance to challenge its heavy dependence on gas and push forward on renewable energies has also left it particularly vulnerable, Ms. Habenschaden, a Green, argued.
In Augsburg and Munich, local officials have requested that every city employee send their suggestions. One Augsburg civil servant pointed out the city’s two data centers were a major energy drain. They are now considering whether they can rely on just one.
More quietly, many local leaders are pondering which energy-hungry German traditions may have to be put on the chopping block, should the country be forced into energy rationing: Beer making? Christmas markets?
Mr. Hübschle said he believes Bavaria should shut down its famous breweries before letting its chemical industry face gas shortages.
Meanwhile, Rosi Steinberger, a member of Bavaria’s regional parliament, now works in a dark office to cut her consumption, and is debating whether to provoke the inevitable ire of Munich by suggesting it cancel its world-famous Oktoberfest. It is scheduled to return this fall after a two-year pandemic pause.
“I haven’t asked yet,” she said, with a nervous laugh. “But I also think that when people say there should be no taboos in what we consider — well, that’s what you have to think about.”
Recognizing that reality, state officials in recent years have gone back to encouraging the use of small-scale energy systems. To manage the supply and demand of electricity, for example, Hawaii offers up to $4,250 to homeowners on Oahu, home to about 70 percent of the state’s population and Honolulu, to install home batteries with their solar systems, defraying as much as third of the cost of doing so. Utilities can tap those batteries for power between 6 and 8:30 p.m., when energy demand typically peaks.
“It’s a good example of a good policy pivot with utilities and regulators saying, ‘We need to change how we approach this,’” said Bryan White, a senior analyst at Wood Mackenzie, a research and consulting firm.
‘Oil is a finite resource.’
Unlike most of the country, Hawaii burns a lot of oil to generate electricity — a common approach on islands because the fuel is easier and cheaper to ship than natural gas.
“We’re unique in that we’re dependent on oil for more power generation than the rest of the U.S. mainland combined,” Marco Mangelsdorf, a lecturer at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who specializes in the politics of energy and has lived in Hawaii for much of his life.
Power plants fueled by oil supplied nearly two-thirds of Hawaii’s electricity last year, down from nearly three-quarters a decade earlier, according to the Energy Information Administration, a federal agency. Rooftop solar, by comparison, supplied about 14 percent, up from 6 percent in 2014, the earliest year for which the agency has that data.
The state had imported about 80 percent of its oil from Russia, Libya and Argentina, which offer a grade that Hawaii’s refinery can process. The remaining 20 percent came from Alaska.
However, the sudden surge in prices in early 2021 blindsided the company, which had not prepared for the possibility of a major jump in costs, according to a statement it released when it declared bankruptcy.
Masaru Tagami, who is in charge of facilities procurement for the central Japanese city Hida, one of Hope Energy’s former clients, said it had been caught off guard by the company’s “sudden” collapse and the rise in costs as its business was handed to another firm.
The city’s annual electric bill is expected to rise 40 percent, he said, adding that the situation had played havoc with its budget. “I am seriously worried about how long these circumstances will continue,” he said.
Power companies hit hard by the pandemic-related spike expected that prices would abate by this March as the effects on supply chains wore off, said Junichi Ogasawara, a senior research fellow at the Institute of Energy Economics Japan.
“But with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the situation has changed to one where the current conditions will drag on,” he said.
Since then, the precariousness of Japan’s energy situation has only become clearer. In March, after an earthquake near Fukushima knocked out part of the electrical grid, a cold snap pushed Tokyo to the brink of rolling power outages. In the past, coal-fired power stations could have been called upon for cheap backup energy, but inefficient old plants have been taken offline.
In a disaster-prone country like Japan, “we’re still in a position where these kinds of things can happen again” unless the government fixes the issues introduced by deregulation and the patchwork shift to renewables, said Dan Shulman, the chief executive of Shulman Advisory, a firm analyzing Japan’s power industry.
LONDON — When Jakob Bitner was 7, he left Russia for Germany with his parents and sister. Twenty-eight years later, he is set on solving a vexing green-energy problem that could help Germany end its dependence on imported energy from Russia, or anywhere.
The problem: how to make wind and solar energy available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, even if the sun is not shining or the wind not blowing.
The company that Mr. Bitner co-founded in Munich in 2016, VoltStorage, found some success selling storage battery packs for solar power to homeowners in Europe. Now the company is developing much larger batteries — each about the size of a shipping container — based on a chemical process that can store and discharge electricity over days, not just hours like today’s most popular battery technology.
These ambitions to overcome the unreliable nature of renewable energy fit perfectly with Europe’s targets to reduce dependence on fossil fuels. But Mr. Bitner’s company is facing a frustrating reality that threatens to undercut Europe’s plans and poses a wider challenge in the global fight against climate change: a lack of money to finish the job.
plenty of capital available globally for the multitrillion-dollar task of funding this transition to greener energy.
Europe’s Shift Away From Fossil Fuels
The European Union has begun a transition to greener forms of energy. But financial and geopolitical considerations could complicate the efforts.
The war in Ukraine has made Europe’s energy transition even more urgent. The European Union has said it will cut imported Russian natural gas by two-thirds this year and completely by the end of the decade. While some of that supply will be made up by imports from other countries, such as the United States and Qatar, expanding domestic renewable energy capacity is a critical pillar to this plan.
But attracting investors to projects trying to move beyond mature technologies like solar and wind power is tough. Venture capitalists, once cheerleaders of green energy, are more infatuated with cryptocurrencies and start-ups that deliver groceries and beer within minutes. Many investors are put off by capital-intensive investments. And governments have further muddied the water with inconsistent policies that undermine their bold pledges to reduce carbon emissions.
Venture capitalists’ other interests
Tony Fadell, who spent most of his career trying to turn emerging technologies into mainstream products as an executive at Apple and founder of Nest, said that even as the world faced the risks of climate change, money was flooding into less urgent developments in cryptocurrency, the so-called metaverse and the digital art collections sold as NFTs. Last year, venture capitalists invested $11.9 billion in renewable energy globally, compared with $30.1 billion in cryptocurrency and blockchain, according to PitchBook.
Of the $106 billion invested by venture capitalists in European start-ups last year, just 4 percent went into energy investments, according to PitchBook.
“We need to get real,” said Mr. Fadell, who now lives in Paris and has proposed ideas on energy policy to the French government. “Too many people are investing in the things that are not going to fix our existential problems. They are just investing in fast money.”
It has not helped that the industry has been burned before by a green tech boom. About 15 years ago, environmentally conscious start-ups were seen as the next big thing in Silicon Valley. One of the premier venture capital firms, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, made former Vice President Al Gore a partner and pledged that clean energy would eventually make up at least a third of its total investments.Instead, Kleiner became a cautionary tale about the risks of investing in energy-related companies as the firm missed out on early backing of social media companies like Facebook and Twitter.
There is evidence that these old fears are receding. Two years ago 360 Capital, a venture capital firm based in Paris and Milan dealing in early-stage investment, introduced a dedicated fund investing in clean energy and sustainability companies. The firm is now planning to open up the fund to more investors, expanding it to €150 million from a €30 million fund.
There are a growing number of dedicated funds for energy investments. But even then there is a tendency for the companies in them to be software developers, deemed less risky than builders of larger-scale energy projects. Four of the seven companies backed by 360 Capital’s new fund are artificial intelligence companies and software providers.
Still, the situation has changed completely since the company’s first major green-energy investment in 2008, Fausto Boni, the firm’s founder, said. “We see potentially lots of money coming into the sector, and so many of the issues we had 15 years ago are on their way to being overcome,” he said. But the availability of bigger investments needed to help companies expand in Europe still lags behind, he added.
The funding gap
Breakthrough Energy Catalyst, which is backed by Bill Gates, is trying to fill the gap. It was formed in late 2021 to help move promising technology from development to commercial use. In Europe, it is a $1 billion initiative with the European Commission and European Investment Bank to support four types of technologies — long-duration energy storage, clean hydrogen, sustainable aviation fuels and direct air capture of carbon dioxide — that it believes need to scale quickly.
In Europe, there are “significant difficulties with the scaling-up phase,” said Ann Mettler, the vice president for Europe at Breakthrough Energy and a former director general at the European Commission. There is money for start-ups, but when companies become reasonably successful and a bit larger, they are often acquired by American or Chinese companies, she said. This leaves fewer independent companies in Europe focused on the energy problems they set out to solve.
Companies that build complex — and often expensive — hardware, like Mr. Bitner’s batteries for long-duration energy storage, have an especially hard time finding investors willing to stomach the risks. After a few investment rounds, the companies are too big for early-stage investors but too small to appeal to institutional investors looking for safer places to park large amounts of cash.
“If you look at typical climate technologies, such as wind and solar and even the lithium-ion batteries, they took well over four decades to go from the early R&D to the large-scale commercialization and cost competitiveness,” Ms. Mettler said, referring to research and development. “Four decades — which obviously we don’t have.”
What investors want
There are some signs of improvement, including more funds focused on clean energy or sustainability and more companies securing larger investment rounds. But there is a sense of frustration as investors, companies and European governments agree that innovation and adoption of new technology need to happen much more quickly to reduce carbon emissions sharply by 2030.
“You won’t find a place in the world that is more attuned to what is needed than Europe,” Ms. Mettler said. “It’s not for lack of ambition or vision — it’s difficult.”
But investors say government policy can help them more. Despite climate pledges, the regulations and laws in place haven’t created strong enough incentives for investments in new technologies.
Industries like steel and concrete have to be forced to adopt greener methods of production, Mr. Boni, the 360 Capital founder, said.
For energy storage, hydrogen, nuclear power and other large-scale projects, the government should expedite permitting, cut taxes and provide matching funds, said Mr. Fadell, who has put his personal fortune into Future Shape, which backs start-ups addressing societal challenges.
“There are few investors willing to go all in to put up $200 million or $300 million,” Mr. Fadell said. “We need to know the government is on our side.”
It was the quintessential American company, a corporate behemoth whose ambition matched the country’s.
Formed in 1892, General Electric reached into nearly every home over the next century. It sold light bulbs, televisions and washing machines. Its jet engines opened up long-distance travel, its generators lit houses, and its medical equipment helped diagnose patients.
Now G.E. is making a final break with its storied past, splitting itself into three businesses, a victim of the lingering effects of the 2008 financial crisis and a fast-growing economy less hospitable to global conglomerates.
On Tuesday, the company said it would spin off its health care division in early 2023 and its energy businesses a year later. That would leave its aviation unit as its remaining business.
Mr. Welch also built up a huge finance arm at G.E. The assumption was that G.E.’s managers were the best in the world, and there was easy money to be made on Wall Street.
The buildup backfired when the financial crisis hit in 2008, putting G.E. in a credit crunch. Its chief executive at the time, Jeffrey R. Immelt, moved to drastically pare back the big finance unit, GE Capital.
Other businesses hit hard times because of the financial crisis as well, and some Wall Street firms collapsed. But few outside of Wall Street are still paying a price like G.E. As the company scrambled to shed many of its troubled financial assets, its overextended power-generation business became a drag on the operation.
dropped from the blue-chip index. By the fall of that year, Mr. Flannery had been forced out, replaced by Mr. Culp, a former chief executive of Danaher, a more compact conglomerate that makes scientific, medical and automotive equipment.
Under Mr. Culp, the company has paid hundreds of millions of dollars to settle with the Securities and Exchange Commission over claims that it misled investors before his arrival. He has also accelerated cost-cutting at the company. G.E., which had more than 300,000 employees worldwide in 2014, now has 161,000 workers.
Mr. Culp on Tuesday described the breakup of the company as being in step with the times, as other industry conglomerates have streamlined. In the last few years, G.E.’s big German rival Siemens has spun off its health care and energy businesses. And Honeywell International, another wide-ranging industrial company, has sold off some operations.
Trian, the activist shareholder firm led by Nelson Peltz, have pressured the company to spin out or sell various businesses, and they cheered the move on Tuesday.
“Trian enthusiastically supports this important step in the transformation of G.E.,” a spokeswoman for Trian said.
Shares of G.E. climbed about 3 percent in trading on Tuesday.
The three new stand-alone companies will be sizable. The jet engine business had revenue of $22 billion last year. There are 36,000 G.E. engines on commercial airliners worldwide and 26,000 engines on military aircraft.
Its health care business had $17 billion in revenue last year, with four million of its imaging and other machines in use at hospitals and clinics around the world.
The new energy and power company will include wind turbines and gas-fueled power generators that produce about one-third of the world’s electricity.
Each of those businesses faces challenges — the aviation unit is emerging from the pandemic falloff in air travel, and the power business must adapt to the shift to alternative energy sources.
But each one, Mr. Culp insisted, would be a strong competitor in its respective market, “a simpler, stronger and more focused company,” easier to manage and easier for investors to understand.
It is a message very different from the G.E. of old.
Last week, the Biden administration released 90 percent of the $3.75 billion in funds dedicated to the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which provided an average of $439 to more than five million families the year before the pandemic. It received $4.5 billion in additional emergency grants this year. Usually, funding for the program isn’t released until all budget items for the fiscal year are approved, but Congress recently made an exception as cold months approached and sparring over spending bills continued.
Mr. Wolfe’s group has urged Congress to include $5 billion more for the program in the social safety net package being negotiated in Washington.
The increase in home heating costs is sure to hover over economic debates in Washington about inflation. White House allies, fighting to push through the president’s sweeping agenda, assert that the current surge in consumer prices mostly reflects pandemic disruptions that will dissipate next year. Federal Reserve officials, who have been trying to put in place a policy framework less keenly sensitive to inflation, will be pushed to gauge whether that contention is well founded.
The latest outlook from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration suggests a decent chance of a milder-than-average winter. But according to projections by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, if winter is somewhat colder than usual, energy bills could rise 15 percent for households heated by electricity, 50 percent for those depending on natural gas and 59 percent for those that mostly use heating oil. Propane users would be in for the biggest blow — a 94 percent increase, or potentially hundreds of dollars over the six-month heating season.
As with other price shocks stemming from the pandemic, the pain will be particularly acute for those of limited means. Twenty-nine percent of those surveyed by the Census Bureau have reported reducing or forgoing household expenses to pay an energy bill in the last year.
Before the pandemic, Jamillia Grayson, 43, of Buffalo, had a successful event-planning business. Her work dried up, and even with unemployment insurance, she couldn’t meet household expenses while supporting her 8-year-old daughter, who has sickle cell anemia, as well as an older aunt, who depends on a home oxygen tank and lives with them.
Electricity and gas bills piled up throughout this year, and by the end of the summer, she owed $3,000, she said.
Kuwait announced last month that it planned to invest more than $6 billion in exploration over the next five years to increase production to four million barrels a day, from 2.4 million now.
This month, the United Arab Emirates, a major OPEC member that produces four million barrels of oil a day, became the first Persian Gulf state to pledge to a net zero carbon emissions target by 2050. But just last year ADNOC, the U.A.E.’s national oil company, announced it was investing $122 billion in new oil and gas projects.
Iraq, OPEC’s second-largest producer after Saudi Arabia, has invested heavily in recent years to boost oil output, aiming to raise production to eight million barrels a day by 2027, from five million now. The country is suffering from political turmoil, power shortages and inadequate ports, but the government has made several major deals with foreign oil companies to help the state-owned energy company develop new fields and improve production from old ones.
Even in Libya, where warring factions have hamstrung the oil industry for years, production is rising. In recent months, it has been churning out 1.3 million barrels a day, a nine-year high. The government aims to increase that total to 2.5 million within six years.
National oil companies in Brazil, Colombia and Argentina are also working to produce more oil and gas to raise revenue for their governments before demand for oil falls as richer countries cut fossil fuel use.
After years of frustrating disappointments, production in the Vaca Muerta, or Dead Cow, oil and gas field in Argentina has jumped this year. The field had never supplied more than 120,000 barrels of oil in a day but is now expected to end the year at 200,000 a day, according to Rystad Energy, a research and consulting firm. The government, which is considered a climate leader in Latin America, has proposed legislation that would encourage even more production.
“Argentina is concerned about climate change, but they don’t see it primarily as their responsibility,” said Lisa Viscidi, an energy expert at the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington research organization. Describing the Argentine view, she added, “The rest of the world globally needs to reduce oil production, but that doesn’t mean that we in particular need to change our behavior.”