The changing geopolitics of energy
America’s domination of oil and gas will not cow China
Being an importer of fossil fuels and an exporter of renewable technology is not so bad
“THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA is now the number-one energy superpower anywhere in the world,” President Donald Trump told oilmen in Midland, Texas this summer, from a stage decorated with gleaming black barrels. The sheer volume of hydrocarbons that such American oilmen have released from the shale beneath Midland and previously unforthcoming geology elsewhere gives substance to his boast (see chart 1). Over the past decade America’s oil output has more than doubled and its gas production increased by over 50%. America is now the world’s top producer of both fuels.
unforthcoming：not characterized by openness, candidness, or forthrightness
Had they heard Mr Trump say that “We will never again be reliant on hostile foreign suppliers,” presidents from Franklin Roosevelt on might have nodded in envious approval. After the second world war America’s unmatched ability to consume oil outstripped its unmatched ability to produce it. Ensuring supplies from elsewhere became an overriding priority. The oil shock of the 1970s had a profound effect both on the economy and on geopolitics, driving much of America’s subsequent involvement in the Middle East. The surge in domestic supply in the 2010s both boosted the economy and opened up new geopolitical opportunities. America can apply sanctions to petrostates such as Iran, Venezuela and Russia with relative impunity.
approval : an act or instance of approving something
impunity:exemption or freedom from punishment, harm, or loss，免于处罚
But what it might mean to be an energy superpower is changing, thanks to three linked global shifts. First, fears about fossil-fuel scarcity have given way to an acknowledgment of their abundance. Not least because of what has been achieved in America, the energy industry now knows that it will be lack of demand, not lack of supply, which will cause production of oil, coal and, later, gas to dwindle. In its latest “World Energy Outlook”, published on September 14th, BP, an oil company which has recently said it plans to go carbon neutral, argues that demand for oil may already have peaked, and could go into steep decline (see chart 2 ).
This is because of the second shift: an acknowledgment by most countries that, for the sake of the climate, reliance on fossil fuels needs to come to an end. And that leads to the third shift: electrification. Fossil fuels provide heat that is mostly used to move things, be they vehicles or electric generators. Solar panels and wind turbines provide energy as electricity straight off. Maximising their emissions-free benefits means processes and devices that now rely on combustion must in future use currents and batteries instead. The BP analysis argues that in a world going all out for decarbonisation the share of energy used in the form of electricity would rise from about a fifth in 2018 to just over half in 2050.
combustion ：an act or instance of burning
Falling demand for fossil fuels will tilt the balance of power away from producers and towards consumers—though there will doubtless be reversals now and then along the way. And in a world which needs to generate much more fossil-free electricity, mass production of the means whereby to do so will become crucial, as will government backing and know-how in deployment. Being a mighty pumper of oil will do a lot less for America under such conditions than once it might have done. But China, the world’s biggest fossil-fuel importer as well as its leading exponent of renewable energy at gigawatt scales, will have the wind, as it were, at its back.
tilt：to point or thrust in or as if in a tilt
exponent：one that champions, practices, or exemplifies，倡导者
The covid-19 pandemic has provided a dramatic preview of a world in which demand for oil falls instead of rising. When the globe stopped spinning in March, its thirst for oil suddenly subsided. Petrostates dependent on pricey oil for their spending now face gaping deficits. Investors have fallen out of love with oil companies. For all Mr Trump’s grateful boosterism, the value of America’s shale sector has fallen by more than 50% since January. ExxonMobil, an oil company included in the Dow Jones Industrial Average since 1928, has been kicked off it. With a market capitalisation of $155bn it is worth considerably less than Nike, a shoemaker with a swoosh.
covid-19大流行病提供了一个戏剧性的预览，说明世界上石油需求下降而不是上升。当地球的商业活动在三月份因新冠疫情停摆时，对石油的渴求突然消退了。依靠昂贵的石油消费的石油国家现在面临巨大的赤字。投资者已经对石油公司没有了兴趣。自1月份以来，美国页岩气行业的价值已经下跌了50%以上。埃克森美孚（ExxonMobil）是一家石油公司，自1928年起就被纳入道琼斯工业平均指数（Dow Jones Industrial Average），它已被移出道琼斯工业平均指数。它的市值为1550亿美元，其价值远低于耐克（Nike）。
In the face of this turmoil China’s demand for oil imports, already the largest in the world, continues to grow—providing some welcome stability. The country’s independent refiners—the “teapots”—have become large enough that they help set oil’s price floor. “They are essentially the vacuum cleaner of the crude market,” says Per Magnus Nysveen of Rystad Energy, a consultancy. Michal Meidan, who leads China energy studies at Oxford University, points out that the trading arms of state-owned oil giants SINOPEC and China National Petroleum Corporation are now two of the three largest traders of crude cargoes priced on the Platts Dubai futures contract, which means they influence the price of crude bound for Asia. Low prices also allow China to build up its strategic reserves.
面对这种动荡，中国对石油进口的需求已经是世界上最大的需求，并继续增长，从而提供了一些可喜的稳定。该国的独立炼油厂（“茶壶”）已经足够大，可以帮助设定石油的价格底线。咨询公司 Rystad Energy 的 Per Magnus Nysveen 说：“它们本质上是原油市场的真空吸尘器。”牛津大学中国能源研究负责人米查尔·梅丹（Michal Meidan）指出，国有石油巨头中石化和中国石油天然气集团公司的交易部门现在是按普氏迪拜期货合约定价的三大原油交易者中的两个。意味着它们会影响运往亚洲的原油价格。低廉的价格也使中国得以建立战略储备。
Big finds off the coasts of Brazil and Guyana and the development of Australia’s liquefied natural gas (LNG) capacity, along with America’s shale boom, add to China’s opportunities; a buyers’ market is a good place to be the biggest buyer, notes Kevin Tu of Columbia and Beijing Normal Universities. There are plenty of bullish oilmen who think that, BP to the contrary, peak demand has yet to be reached. But even they recognise that the supply of oil below ground outstrips the thirst above it, and that competition for customers is likely to heat up.
巴西和圭亚那沿海的大型发现，澳大利亚的液化天然气（LNG）能力的发展和美国的页岩气繁荣，为中国增加了机遇。哥伦比亚大学和北京师范大学的 Kevin Tu 指出，买家市场是成为最大买家的好地方。有很多看涨的石油商认为，英国石油公司尚未达到需求峰值。但即使他们也意识到，石油供应超过了需求，争抢客户的竞争可能会加剧。
In some instances competition for Chinese demand may be straightforward. When it embarked on a price war with Russia this spring, Saudi Arabia slashed prices on shipments bound for China. The country’s biggest refiners are mulling a plan for a buying consortium to strengthen their negotiating power with the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries. China will probably also flex its financial muscle as petrostates buckle under debt. It has issued oil-backed loans to crude-rich countries such as Angola and Brazil for more than a decade.
在某些情况下，对中国需求的竞争可能是直接的。今年春天，当沙特阿拉伯与俄罗斯展开价格战时，它削减了运往中国的货物的价格。该国最大的炼油厂正在考虑一项收购财团的计划，以加强其与石油输出国组织（Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries）的谈判能力。随着石油国陷入债务危机，中国可能还会发挥经济实力。十多年来，它已向安哥拉和巴西等原油资源丰富的国家提供了石油贷款。
China’s position as a buyer also allows it to undercut America’s attempts to squeeze oil exporters. Chinese buyers long continued to import Iranian and Venezuelan crude. Its energy alliance with Russia is particularly important.
As energy expert Daniel Yergin points out in “The New Map” ， Vladimir Putin realised the significance of energy relations with China early on; but the pivot to China became more urgent after the financial crisis of 2007-09. In 2009 the China Development Bank lent two state-controlled Russian companies, Rosneft, an oil producer, and Transneft, a pipeline builder and operator, $25bn in exchange for developing new fields and building a pipeline which would supply China with 300,000 barrels of oil a day.
正如能源专家丹尼尔·耶尔金（Daniel Yergin）在“新地图”中指出的那样，弗拉基米尔·普京很早就意识到了与中国建立能源关系的重要性。但是在2007-09年金融危机之后，进入中国变得更加紧迫。2009年，国家开发银行向俄罗斯的两家国有控股公司-石油生产商 Rosneft 和管道建设运营商 Transneft——提供了250亿美元的贷款，以换取开发新油田和建设向中国日供应30万桶石油的管道。
In 2014 Western sanctions over Crimea inspired Gazprom, another Russian energy giant, to commit to a long-haggled-over gas pipeline, the Power of Siberia, which opened last December. Tying in Chinese custom gives Russia a large market unmoved by calls for sanctions at a time when European demand is faltering. But as Erica Downs of Columbia University points out, “As soon as a pipeline is built, the balance of power shifts from supplier to buyer.” After the first oil pipeline was built, China refused to pay the agreed price.
2014年，西方对克里米亚的制裁激发了俄罗斯另一家能源巨头俄罗斯天然气工业股份公司（Gazprom）致力于建设一条天然气管道，西伯利亚力量（Power of Siberia），这条管道于去年12月开始投用。在欧洲需求动荡之际，以中国风俗习惯给俄罗斯提供了一个庞大的市场，而这一市场并未受到要求制裁的影响。但是正如哥伦比亚大学的埃里卡·唐斯（Erica Downs）指出的那样，“一旦管道建成，电力的平衡就会从供应商转移到买方。”在第一条输油管道建成后，中国拒绝支付商定的价格。
All this power in the market, though, cannot mask the geopolitical downside of relying on imports. Being a large importer may give you more power than being a smaller one; but it still leaves you vulnerable. China is acutely aware that much of its oil comes through the straits of Hormuz and Malacca, which could be closed by third-party conflicts or, in extremis, the US Navy. In recent months China’s concern about energy security has risen as relations with America have declined, notes Ms Meidan—for all the current talk of decoupling, China has been buying lots of LNG from America, as well as crude for its stockpiles. Communist Party documents for China’s new five-year plan emphasise the need for a more flexible, reliable energy system.
What China lacks in oil and gas supplies it makes up for with industrial policy, which it has long been using to support domestic coal production and nuclear power as well as what is now by far the world’s largest renewables sector. Chinese companies have invested in mines from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to Chile and Australia, securing access to the minerals needed for solar panels, electric vehicles and the like. Unable to be a petrostate, it is becoming what one might call an electrostate, investing strategically all along the chain from mine to meter.
This is not in itself anything like a triumph for climate action. China has more than 1,000 gigawatts (GW) of coal-fired generating capacity. This installed base, with which it generates 49% of the world’s coal-fired electricity, makes it the world’s biggest carbon-dioxide emitter. And its coal use is set to expand in the years to come.
Its wind and solar capacity of 445GW, vast though it is by most standards, is less than half coal’s total, and those renewables typically run at a much smaller fraction of their capacity than coal plants do. But China also has 356GW of hydropower capacity, more than the next four countries combined. It has been building nuclear power plants faster than any other country—the average age of the 48 reactors in its fleet is less than a decade—and intends to go on doing so; nuclear, which now produces less than 5% of the country’s electricity, is set to produce more than 15% by 2050.
The evolution of China’s nuclear, wind, solar and battery sectors varies somewhat, but the basic formula remains the same: learn from foreigners and then use massive investment and authoritarian dictat to support deployment on a very large scale. Subsidies at home and abroad have helped. Support for renewables in Europe in the 2000s created a demand for solar panels only Chinese firms, liberally aided by the state, could meet. Chinese battery giants, led by CATL, benefited from a policy that subsidised electric vehicles only if they used batteries from domestic suppliers.
Fossil-fuel free as they are, these technologies still require raw materials. Wind and solar power need a lot more of some non-ferrous metals—notably, if unsurprisingly, copper—than systems which burn fossil fuels; batteries require niche materials in ways that fuel tanks do not. Generally, the world has plenty of these necessary commodities—but less capacity to get them to market than rapid decarbonisation requires. As Andy Leyland of Benchmark Minerals Intelligence, a research firm, puts it, “There’s no geological shortage. It’s a financing shortage.” Mines which frequently go over budget and are too often delayed, sited in countries prone to instability, are not overwhelmingly alluring to most Western investors.
prone: having a tendency or inclination : being likely
Chinese companies have helped fill the gap. Some of this is through domestic investment. China produces 60% of the world’s “rare earths”, which have properties that make them useful in electric motors, among other things. They are not, generally, rare in a geological sense, but they can be in short supply. (They are also often mined in ways that do great damage to the local environment.)
For other metals China mostly has to look further afield. Tianqi, a private company, has a minority stake in SQM, Chile’s biggest miner of the lithium on which batteries depend. Tsingshan has invested in battery-grade-nickel projects in Indonesia. The DRC’s copper and cobalt have attracted Chinese investors for over a decade, and mines owned by others often send their output to China anyway. China refines more than twice as much lithium and eight times as much cobalt as any other country, according to BloombergNEF, a research outfit (see chart 3).
Ivanhoe Mines, led by Robert Friedland, a veteran American miner, has had backing from two Chinese companies, CITIC and Zijin Mining, to build the world’s largest new copper mine in the DRC. Mr Friedland argues that Chinese investors look further into the fewer-fossil-fuels future than Western ones. “What do the batteries look like? Where is the supply chain?” These are questions, Mr Friedland says, where the Chinese “are probably ten years ahead”.
由美国资深矿商罗伯特弗里德兰（Robert Friedland）领导的艾芬豪矿业（Ivanhoe Mines）得到了中信和紫金矿业两家中国公司的支持，在刚果（金）建设了全球最大的新铜矿。弗里德兰认为，与西方国家相比，中国投资者对新能源的未来更为关注。“电池是什么样子的？供应链在哪里？这些都是问题，弗里德兰表示：中国人在这个领域领先十年”。
Politicians in America, Europe and Australia have expressed concern at Chinese control of minerals critical to not just energy but defence. A company backed by Bill Gates and other billionaires plans to search for cobalt in Quebec. America’s Development Finance Corporation is, for the first time, taking equity stakes in mining companies. One beneficiary is TechMet, which is betting that some investors will prefer mines independent of Chinese control. “It’s a very significant strategic issue for the United States and the West,” says Admiral Mike Mullen, a former chairman of America’s Joint Chiefs of Staff and now the head of TechMet’s advisory board. “I almost liken it to Huawei. We wake up and they’re in control of the world.”
China now produces more than 70% of the world’s solar modules. It is home to nearly half its manufacturing capacity for wind turbines. It dominates the supply chain for lithium-ion batteries, according to BloombergNEF, controlling 77% of cell capacity and 60% of component manufacturing. With its industries at such a scale, and support costs ballooning, subsidies for them have been cut. Last year China eased restrictions on foreign battery-makers, too
The rest of the world has benefited—the costs of solar panels and batteries have dropped by more than 85% in the past decade. “We will invest continuously in research to make sure we retain our leadership—in research and in mass production,” says Li Zhenguo, president of LONGi, a giant producer of solar modules. China is keen to set technical standards across a range of industries, hoping to shape the playing field for further innovation. For clean-energy technologies in particular, says Mr Tu, it has an edge.
Though it has successful and influential innovators such as Tesla (see article), in this part of the energy world Mr Trump’s superpower looks like an also-ran. His rival in this November’s election, Joe Biden, promises to get back in the race. Developed countries elsewhere are further along. Panasonic in Japan and LG Chem in South Korea are both making innovations in battery technology. Europe’s generous support has provided a big market for the world’s top wind turbine manufacturers, Siemens Gamesa, which has its headquarters in Spain, and Vestas of Denmark.
尽管美国拥有成功并且有影响力的创业者，比如 Tesla。在能源世界，特朗普的超级大国看起来像是一个失败者。乔·拜登（特朗普在今年11月大选中的竞争对手）承诺将重返新能源竞赛。其他发达国家则走得更远。日本的松下（Panasonic）和韩国的LG Chem都在电池技术方面进行创新。欧洲的慷慨支持为世界顶级风力涡轮机制造商西门子Gamesa（总部位于西班牙）和丹麦的维斯塔斯（Vestas）提供了一个巨大的市场。
promises to get back in the race:这里的 race 指新能源竞赛
And Europe’s green ambitions are growing. In her state-of-the-EU address on September 16th, Ursula van der Leyen said that the European Commission, of which she is president, will be pressing for carbon emissions 55% below those of 1990 by 2030. This means European utilities are expected to provide both a large increase in capacity and a near-zero-emissions future. To do so they will have to buy yet more hardware from China. But Europe’s aggressive strategy gives them an opportunity to take the lead in developing the systems which put that kit to work, both at home and abroad, as well as in technologies China has yet to master.
欧洲的绿色雄心也在增长。乌苏拉·范德莱恩（Ursula van der Leyen）在9月16日的欧盟国情咨文中说，她担任欧盟主席的欧盟委员会（European Commission）将要求到2030年碳排放量比1990年低55%。这意味着欧洲公用事业公司预计将大幅增加产能，并在未来实现近乎零排放。为此，他们将不得不从中国购买更多的硬件。但欧洲积极的战略让他们有机会在国内外以及中国尚未掌握的技术领域，率先开发出能让这套设备发挥作用的系统。
Visit a wind farm in America’s heartland and you may well find an office of Electricité de France (EDF) nestled among the corn. Enel, a utility which has its headquarters in Italy, is the single largest investor in wind and solar projects in developing countries, according to BloombergNEF, with France’s Engie and Spain’s Iberdrola not far behind. Orsted, a Danish firm, is the world’s top developer of offshore wind.
参观美国中心地带的一个风电场，你可能会发现法国电力公司（EDF）就坐落在玉米地里。根据BloombergNEF 的数据，总部设在意大利 Enel 公司是发展中国家风能和太阳能项目的最大投资方，法国的 Engie 公司和西班牙的 Iberdrola 公司紧随其后。丹麦公司Orsted是世界上最大的海上风电开发商。
China’s national champions have invested ambitiously in power projects abroad, too. Of the roughly $575bn invested or promised under China’s Belt and Road Initiative as of 2019, nearly half has gone to energy projects, according to the World Bank. But most of this has been on coal plants, nuclear reactors and dams. And nations wary of China’s influence and motives treat its advances with suspicion. Efforts by State Grid, the world’s biggest utility, to buy stakes in European electricity companies have been rebuffed. In Britain, state-owned China General Nuclear Power Group (CGN) has minority stakes in two nuclear plants being built by EDF, but a plant to be built by CGN itself is years away from approval which may not come at all.
Nevertheless Chinese companies are starting to invest more in wind and solar power abroad. China Three Gorges, a big power company, said in August that it would buy half a gigawatt of Spanish solar capacity from X-Elio, a developer based in Madrid. Last year CGN bought more than 1GW of wind and solar farms in Brazil.
尽管如此，中国企业开始加大对国外风能和太阳能的投资。大型电力公司中国三峡8月份表示，将从马德里的开发商 X-Elio 手中购买5亿瓦的西班牙太阳能发电能力。去年，中广核在巴西购买了超过1兆瓦的风能和太阳能发电厂。
To maximise its electrostate power China needs to combine its renewable, and possibly nuclear, manufacturing muscle with deals that let its companies supply electricity in a large number of countries. The International Renewable Energy Agency has suggested that such “infrastructure diplomacy” might prove as important to Chinese power in the 21st century as the protection of sea lanes was to American power in the 20th. If it uses it deftly, the energy transition could bring it advantages beyond any achievable with rigs, derricks and pipelines.
为了最大化 electrostate power，中国需要联合可再生能源（可能是核能）制造业的力量。国际可再生能源署（International Renewable Energy Agency）表示，在21世纪，这种“基础设施外交”对中国的重要性与20世纪保护海上航道对美国一样重要。如果能巧妙地利用，能源转换将带来比钻机、井架和管道更大的优势。