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5 things to watch on the global energy front in 2018

Trends in electric buses, fewer cars and US oil exports in 2017 could tell us a lot about the future.

Five events from 2017 hold clues to what lies ahead for energy, technology and finance:

Electric buses just keep on going: The southern Chinese city of Shenzhen has amassed a total of 16 359 electric buses, making its fleet bigger than the six largest North American combustion-bus fleets.

Cities keep a close eye on their vehicle fleets: The Lion City has always tightly controlled the number of cars on its roads, taxing them stiffly enough to make an Audi A4 cost more than $160 000. After holding the growth rate for passenger vehicles and motorbikes to a scant 0.25% for two years, the city’s Land Transport Authority set 2018’s growth rate at zero.

Worth noting: The city’s total vehicle fleet hit its peak in 2013. Back then, there were just under a million vehicles on Singapore’s roads, more than at the end of 2016.  

Coal mining is still dangerous: In 2010, 48 people died while mining US coal, including 29 in a coal dust explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia. It was the deadliest coal mine accident in more than 40 years, and thankfully, mining fatalities since fell, bottoming out at eight in 2016.

Last year, though, the number rose to 15, including eight deaths in West Virginia.

At the same time, US coal production rose only 9.1% — to a level on par with those of the early 1980s.

US energy companies keep raising money: US oil and gas exploration and production companies, pipeline operators and liquefied natural gas firms have a knack for raising new money in the capital markets. For most of the past decade, that money has split fairly evenly between equity and high-yield bonds, with a few exceptions. But in 2016, energy companies raised money in equity almost entirely and then, in 2017, turned to debt. Last year, in a record 12 months for new capital, they raised 80% of their money — more than $50 billion — through debt.

The US exports more oil: Until the middle of 2014, the US exported a negligible amount of oil. But by the end of last year, exports briefly topped 2 million barrels per day. The US is far from being energy-independent (or energy-dominant, for that matter), but it is now capable of exporting as much oil per day as Norway produced in 2017. 

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

© 2018 Bloomberg L.P

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