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Sustainable Investing

Grantham, Part 2

Grantham, Part 2

This video is part two of five from GMO’s Jeremy Grantham’s address at the 2018 Morningstar Investment Conference. You can also watch parts one, three, four, and five.

Jeremy Gratham: Now, for the data. Climate change damage accelerates. This is the famous chart you saw if you did with Al Gore. It shows that 180 parts to 300 parts per million of carbon dioxide. At the bottom there at 180 up from 0, we had ice ages in the popular parlance where New York 20,000 years ago was about a thousand feet deep in ice, larger, taller than the biggest building they have there today. At 300 parts or 280, we had the interglacials, four of them where we had an agreeable existence as we have today. Just for the record 75% to 80% of the time within the icy ages and only 15, 20% also were in the interglacials.

In 1950 when we were pretty much at the top of the range and ready perhaps to slide into a new ice age, this is what we did. Bang, we added another 120 parts per million. We have added the same amount that separates the bottom of an Ice Age to the interglacial and we've added it in 70 years. It is a dramatic, reckless experiment. The best word to describe it is feckless. We are in this regard utterly lacking in feck. And we are going to add another 120 parts per million, I give you my personal guarantee. By the time we finish, we will have tripled the difference between an ice age and an interglacial. I'm proud to say I did this exhibit about four and a half years ago because the scientists would not use the word accelerate. Scientists are pretty chicken, they like to protect the dignity of science, they don't want to be caught out exaggerating so they underestimate.

But it was clear from the data that the temperature was not just increasing but accelerating. This is the 50 years, the beginning of the last century, 0.007 degrees per year increase. And in the second half, it had doubled to 15 bits per year. And between the two El Ninos that create a surge in heat like lining up the top of bull markets, it was going up at 25 degrees, 25 bits. This is what it looks like color coded from 1850 to 2017. And it just serves to remind you all this talk about pauses that 1998 was the top of the warming. Red, it goes up to 0.6 degrees centigrade, dark blue to minus 0.6. And that is a wonderful diagram of, yes, there's a little variability but my oh my, the dark red is all on the right. A famous politician, former chancellor of the exchequer, one of the loonie lords, Lord Lawson in Britain, said on a channel 4 TB in England in the spring that the last 10 years had not had any warming.

The last 10 years were 10 of the hottest 11 years in history and contained the three hottest years ever. Why these people say stuff like that, please explain to me if anyone knows. I have no idea, perhaps they hate their grandchildren. This is the ocean temperature, it's accelerating even more than air temperature. The oceans absorb 93% of all the heat, the rest being spread between the Earth and the air. The dark blue line there is down to from zero to 2,000 meters. From 1950, the other day to 1990, it warmed at 37 heat units a year. And from 1990 to 2016, it almost tripled to 99 units. There's a concept about acceleration in something this dangerous that should make the hair at the back of your neck prickle a bit, it does mine. Ice is melting even faster than any of the above. This is a view of a famous place here in the Alps, it is accurate, it has just vaporized in 65 years.

And the most dependable feature as I mentioned is downpours, and these are the three inches a day downpours in the U.S. This does not include Houston last year. Houston had 10 inches in a day followed by 10 inches, followed by 10 inches. You try to put that on a gauge, it doesn't compute. Perhaps a one in a thousand-year event, perhaps almost impossible given the former distribution. And it turns out that in the prior five years, in fact 18 months, they had had a 200-year event. And within 18 months before that, a 50- to a 100-year event. The numbers are no longer computing. Here's a quick survey, the number of floods from 1950 up by 15 times, the number of droughts by 10 times, the number of wildfires by 7 times, the extreme temperature events by 20 times.

A bit of good news, the greener technologies are also accelerating. This puts me in a very interesting position, I deal with technologists, green technologies. They have no idea how bad the situation is for the environment. Then I deal with environmentalists, who I must say are a gloomy lot, they have no idea how rapidly the science is moving in this area. This is the key boring exhibit, but it's absolutely vital. This is from the boss of the largest utility company in America, this is not one of our greens. This is a guy from the dark side you might say who is just telling it like it is. Florida Power and Light, he controls and the largest trader of wind and solar; he knows what he's talking about. And he says without incentives, wind is going to be $0.02 to $0.03 per kilowatt hour early in the next decade and battery storage for a few hours to take it into the evening surge will be another penny. What that means is that wind and solar are going to be cheaper than the operating costs of coal and nuclear, the best coal and the best nuclear, and he claims to have the best nuclear plant in America.

You can give them a nuclear plant and just the cost of operating it is higher than the cost of building a modern solar plant or a modern wind farm. This is a done deal. And just a few months later, four months later than that comment, XL Corp in Colorado wanted to close a couple of coal plants early and ask for bids, and were swamped by an amazing 850 bids. And the median bid, the one in the middle below which half a cheaper was 2.1 pennies for wind including storage. In June, we were all shocked when the previous guy said it would be two to three pennies plus a penny for storage. And four or five months later, it's 2.1 pennies including storage. And the penny he talked about from Florida Power and Light, the penny for storage became in this 0.3 for wind and 0.7 for solar.

And even solar, which was unexpectedly higher than wind came in at 3.7 pennies with storage, the operating costs of a new coal plot and way, way below the levelized cost including capital of a coal plant. This is the rate they declined from 2009. Look at that, solar from 400 screaming down to 55 and now down to 25 or 30. And onshore wind also admirable with the median coal plant already outflanked. No one had this as a gleam in their eye 10 years ago. A word about wind, which I assume you will not know that much, but a two megawatt wind on the right, which I call a toy, a two megawatt wind is kind of the biggest wind tower you will bump into in your daily life. If you're cycling through Holland, they will be two megawatt wind towers. Today, it says here the monster is 10 megawatts. But since this exhibit was drawn up, GE actually offered, for delivery in 2022, a 12 megawatt.

Let me tell you about a 12 megawatt wind tower. It stands 216 meters, 300 yards high. The single blade is 107 meters long. When the blade is on its upswing, it towers over the Eiffel Tower, where my wife and I had lunch sitting at the top last fall. I tell you, that is a high place. It is unimaginable to have a wind tower over that. Let me tell you something else about a windmill. The power goes up by the swept area, which means Pi R squared. When you take a 10-foot blade and make it 20, you do not get twice as much power, you get 4 times as much. And as you go up toward the top of the Eiffel Tower, you pick up more wind. Actually, it's a rather disappointing fraction, but you pick up about 20% more wind. But this is the key, the wind factor is cubed. A hurricane at 140 miles per hour does not have a modest amount, more damage effect than one at 120. You cube 14 versus cubing 12, it is 60% more powerful. And that's why everyone dreads the 140 mile per hour ones.

And this is the same here, that 20% higher wind at the top of the Eiffel Tower will become 60% more powerful and the blades will square. And when you build 20 megawatts and 25 megawatts as they will with new materials in the North Sea and the North Atlantic, they will be quite possibly in the next 20, 30 years the cheapest electricity on the planet.

Battery costs were always the disappointing factor. And indeed, they had only been lowering in cost by about 5, 6, 7% a year for 50 years. And no sooner did that become a cliche, than this happened. In 2010, Tesla was looking at $1,000 a kilowatt hour. This year, the insiders say 150. It's dropped 85% in eight years, faster than solar panels, wind, and everything else. Quite remarkable. And this is not the end of the game. When we're building 40 million cars, sheer engineering and scale will take 165 to half the price or 80 odd. And when they introduce the next generation, it will halve it again.

I'm very pleased to say the Grantham Foundation invest in a solid-state lithium-ion cell, which has been delivered two months ago for testing to a major European car factory. It is half the weight, half the volume, half the materials and therefore at scale, half the price per unit of energy. And it does not burst into flame, and it charges in five minutes. If we don't get there first, there are a hotshot group in Tufts and a hotshot group at MIT who (Go Boston by the way), who are closing in. And Mr. Dyson of the hand dryer and vacuum cleaner is also making progress in the U.K. This will happen, this will make electric cars much cheaper to build as well as they are today already much cheaper to run and maintain with 15% of the moving parts.

You take all this optimistic stuff, this is the hands of a Norwegian consulting firm, been around for 100 years. It’s considered arm’s length. It puts all together its aggressive targets, which are similar to mine. And this is the bad news, by 2050, although the renewables in green are surging, over 50% is still fossil fuel, 51%. What that means is even if fossil fuels were to peak in a couple of years, and they will probably peak by 2030, the carbon emissions continue to rise and rise guaranteeing more or less this: We have no hope of 1.5, we will reach our 2 degrees centigrade target by 2050, and we will be fighting tooth and nail with any luck and carbon taxes and improved attitude to keep it below 3 degrees in 2100 if we are lucky and if we are improved. The cost of doing this is epic, already way over $300 billion. And by the way, $300 billion of damage last year, $330 billion from climate damage in a single year. We will need by 2050 amounts equaling $2 trillion to put in the transmission lines, the storage facilities and everything that is needed to completely decarbonize our society.

The author or authors do not own shares in any securities mentioned in this article. Find out about Morningstar’s editorial policies.

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