In the last week, global crude oil price benchmarks have leapt up by some US$5/b. Brent is now in the US$66/b range, while WTI maintains its preferred US$10/b discount at US$56/b. On the surface, it would seem that the new OPEC+ supply deal – scheduled to last until April – is working. But the drivers pushing on the current rally are a bit more complicated.
Pledges by OPEC members are the main force behind the rise. After displaying some reticence over the timeline of cuts, Russia has now promised to ‘speed up cuts’ to its oil production in line with other key members of OPEC. Saudi Arabia, along with main allies the UAE and Kuwait, have been at the forefront of this – having made deeper-than-promised cuts in January with plans to go a bit further in February. After looking a bit shaky – a joint Saudi Arabia-Russia meeting was called off at the recent World Economic Forum in Davos in January – the bromance of world’s two oil superpowers looks to have resumed. And with it, confidence in the OPEC+ club’s abilities.
Russia and Saudi Arabia both making new pledges on supply cuts comes despite supply issues elsewhere in OPEC, which could have provided some cushion for smaller cuts. Iranian production remains constrained by new American sanctions; targeted waivers have provided some relief – and indeed Iranian crude exports have grown slightly over January and February – but the waivers expire in May and there is uncertainty over their extension. Meanwhile, the implosion in Venezuela continues, with the USA slapping new sanctions on the Venezuelan crude complex in hopes of spurring regime change. The situation in Libya – with the Sharara field swinging between closure and operation due to ongoing militant action – is dicey. And in Saudi Arabia, a damaged power repair cable has curbed output at the giant 1.2 mmb/d Safaniuyah field.
So the supply situation is supportive of a rally, from both planned and unplanned actions. But crude prices are also reacting to developments in the wider geopolitical world. The USA and China are still locked in an impasse over trade, with a March 1 deadline looming, after which doubled US tariffs on US$200 billion worth of Chinese imports would kick in. Continued escalation in the trade war could lead to a global recession, or at least a severe slowdown. But the market is taking relief that an agreement could be made. First, US President Donald Trump alluded to the possibility of pushing the deadline by 2 months to allow for more talks. And now, chatter suggests that despite reservations, American and Chinese negotiators are now ‘approaching a consensus’. The threat of the R-word – recession – could be avoided and this is pumping some confidence back in the market. But there are more risks on the horizon. The UK is set to exit the European Union at the end of March, and there is still no deal in sight. A measured Brexit would be messy, but a no-deal Brexit would be chaotic – and that chaos would have a knock-on effect on global economies and markets.
But for now, the market assumes that there must be progress in US-China trade talks and the UK must fall in line with an orderly Brexit. If that holds – and if OPEC’s supply commitments stand – the rally in crude prices will continue. And it must. Because the alternative is frightening for all.
Factors driving the current crude rally:
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Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Electric Power Monthly
Renewable generation provided a new record of 742 million megawatthours (MWh) of electricity in 2018, nearly double the 382 million MWh produced in 2008. Renewables provided 17.6% of electricity generation in the United States in 2018.
Nearly 90% of the increase in U.S. renewable electricity between 2008 and 2018 came from wind and solar generation. Wind generation rose from 55 million MWh in 2008 to 275 million MWh in 2018 (6.5% of total electricity generation), exceeded only by conventional hydroelectric at 292 million MWh (6.9% of total generation).
U.S. solar generation has increased from 2 million MWh in 2008 to 96 million MWh in 2018. Solar generation accounted for 2.3% of electricity generation in 2018. Solar generation is generally categorized as small-scale (customer-sited or rooftop) solar installations or utility-scale installations. In 2018, 69% of solar generation, or 67 million MWh, was utility-scale solar.
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Electric Power Monthly
Increases in U.S. wind and solar generation are driven largely by capacity additions. In 2008, the United States had 25 gigawatts (GW) of wind generating capacity. By the end of 2018, 94 GW of wind generating capacity was operating on the electric grid. Almost all of this capacity is onshore; one offshore wind plant, located on Block Island, off the coast of Rhode Island, has a capacity of 30 megawatts. Similarly, installed solar capacity grew from an estimated less than 1 GW in 2008 to 51 GW in 2018. In 2018, 1.8 GW of this solar capacity was solar thermal, 30 GW was utility-scale solar photovoltaics (PV), and the remaining 20 GW was small-scale solar PV.
Growth in renewable technologies in the United States, particularly in wind and solar, has been driven by federal and state policies and declining costs. Federal policies such as the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act of 2009 and the Production Tax Credit and Investment Tax Credits for wind and solar have spurred project development.
In addition, state-level policies, such as renewable portfolio standards, which require a certain share of electricity to come from renewable sources, have increasing targets over time. As more wind and solar projects have come online, economies of scale have led to more efficient project development and financing mechanisms, which has led to continued cost declines.
Conventional hydroelectric capacity has remained relatively unchanged in the United States, increasing by 2% since 2008. Changes in hydroelectric generation year-over-year typically reflect changes in precipitation and drought conditions. Between 2008 and 2018, annual U.S. hydroelectric generation was as low as 249 million MWh and as high as 319 million MWh, with hydroelectric generation in 2018 totaling 292 million MWh. Generation from other renewable resources, including biomass and geothermal, increased from 70 million MWh to 79 million MWh in the United States between 2008 and 2018, and it collectively represented 1.9% of total generation in 2018.
Headline crude prices for the week beginning 11 March 2019 – Brent: US$66/b; WTI: US$56/b
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