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Twitter shows off new concepts for filtering and limiting replies



Twitter has been trying to limit the toxic replies you can get on its website by giving you tools that allow you to be more proactive in preventing them from going through. In the future, those tools could include a feature that lets you filter potentially offensive replies and another that lets you limit potentially unwelcome accounts from replying. Twitter Senior Product Designer Paula Barcante has released a sneak peek of the features, which are merely concepts at the moment, to seek input from users.

Barcante says Twitter will ask you if you’d like to switch on those controls if it detects potentially harmful replies to your tweets. If your reply filter is on, Twitter won’t show you or anyone else — except the user who wrote the response — the harmful tweets it detects. If you decide to limit unwelcome accounts, users who’ve recently shown patterns of breaking rules won’t be able to reply to your tweets at all. 

Since the process would be automated, Barcante admits that it may not be accurate all the time and may end up filtering out even respective, non-problematic responses. That’s why the company is also exploring the possibility of giving you the option to review filtered tweets and limited accounts. Of course, the final iterations of the tools might look vastly different from these previews if they do get released. 

When asked if toggling on the reply filter would filter out all tweets from an account or just the tweet the website has deemed potentially offensive, Barcante didn’t have an answer yet. She said what she showed was just an “early concept that requires testing and iteration” and that Twitter will provide more details if it decides to launch the tools.

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Gas price surges to a record high in Europe on supply concerns



Toader Andrei | EyeEm | Getty Images

LONDON — Natural gas contracts hit new highs in Europe on Tuesday, as soaring prices continue to put pressure on the region’s energy sector ahead of the winter period.

November contracts at the Dutch TTF hub — a European benchmark for natural gas — were trading at around 118 euros per megawatt hour (MWH) just after midday in London. The front-month contract was up almost 19% on the day, setting a new record high, and has risen almost 400% since the start of the year.

In the U.K. — which has been hit particularly hard by the surging cost of wholesale natural gas — prices for November rose 14% to £2.79 per therm on Tuesday. Meanwhile, British wholesale gas for immediate delivery rose by 23% to £2.50 per therm.

Soaring wholesale prices have partially been caused by a surge in demand, particularly from Asia, as economies emerge from Covid-19 induced lockdowns. A cold European winter and spring also meant supplies had already been heavily depleted by the summer.

Meanwhile, falling domestic production, adverse U.S. weather conditions and essential maintenance works have created a tight gas market and made restocking gas supplies ahead of the coming winter difficult across the region.

Stress tests for the energy sector?

Several British energy suppliers have collapsed amid the gas price crisis. September alone saw nine companies cease trading, according to reports.

In a normal year, between five and eight companies exit the U.K. market, according to U.K. Business Minister Kwasi Kwarteng.

Speaking to CNBC’s “Street Signs Europe” on Tuesday, Greg Jackson, CEO of Octopus Energy — which recently absorbed more than half a million customers from collapsed competitor Avro — said many companies had failed to weather the crisis because they were “buying short and selling long.”

“Octopus was able to hedge its supplies,” he said. “Today we’ve got over 3 million [customers], so you really can hedge up to scale. I think those [failed] companies were hoping that if prices fell, they could scoop up customers with a bargain, if they rose then they’d be able to batten down the hatches and see through the crisis. This crisis is so great no one could weather it if they weren’t hedged.”

Jackson suggested that the stress tests carried out in the banking sector ought to be applied in the energy sector to ensure companies were operating responsibly.

“What we’ve seen here is a need to prevent the [same] sort of turmoil,” he told CNBC. “We don’t need masses of regulation, just some lightweight stress tests. We don’t want to stall competition when competition is between companies behaving responsibly.”

Jackson added: “What we now need to do is make sure that competition is on the basis of companies being well run, having low costs because they’re being efficient and using technology, rather than because they’re gambling in the market.”

Britain vulnerable

Rising gas prices aren’t a problem unique to Britain. In recent weeks, governments in Spain, Italy, Greece, and France have taken drastic actions to minimize its impact on consumers.

French lawmakers are pushing for the EU to become less dependent on natural gas from external markets. Most of the bloc’s supplies come from Russia and Norway.

However, Britain is particularly vulnerable to the current price crisis because gas is crucial to the U.K.’s energy supply. It plays a significant role in heating, industry and power generation, and more than 22 million households are connected to the country’s gas grid.

The largest single source of gas in the country is the U.K. Continental Shelf, which made up around 48% of total supply last year. However, the UCS is a mature source, meaning it must be supplemented with gas imported from international markets.

In September, the U.K.’s Kwarteng told Sky News that the government was considering “a lot of options” to protect suppliers from elevated wholesale prices, including potential state-backed loans. However, he suggested that not every energy supplier would be eligible to benefit from such a scheme.

The U.K. has limits on how much suppliers are able to charge consumers for energy, with price caps reviewed by the government every six months. Some are expecting the current cap to be lifted when it is reviewed by ministers in April, meaning British households will absorb some of the increased wholesale cost.

Analysts have warned that the rise in gas prices is likely to translate to high levels of inflation. In a report on its September monetary policy decision, the Bank of England said the inflation rate was likely to climb to “slightly above” 4% this year, double its target level.

— CNBC’s Silvia Amaro contributed to this report.

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The U.S. was right — Europe has become a ‘hostage’ to Russia over energy, analysts warn



Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin back in 2011.


LONDON – After Russia rode to Europe’s rescue and offered to increase gas supplies to the region amid soaring prices, experts said one thing had become abundantly clear: Europe is now largely at Russia’s mercy when it comes to energy, just as the U.S. had warned.

Natural gas contracts hit new highs in Europe this week — and regional benchmark prices are up almost 500% so far this year — with heightened demand and a squeeze in supply putting pressure on the energy sector as the weather turns colder.

Prices seesawed on Wednesday, hitting new highs before retreating after Russian President Vladimir Putin stepped in, offering an increase in Russia’s gas supplies to Europe.

Market analysts said the move showed that Europe was increasingly vulnerable to Russia, which is waiting for Germany to certify the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project which will bring more Russian gas to Europe via the Baltic Sea.

The $11 billion pipeline has now been completed much to the annoyance of the U.S. which has long-opposed the project, warning for years during its construction that it compromises Europe’s energy security and that Russia could seek to use energy supplies as leverage over the region.

The Obama and Trump administrations galvanized bipartisan opinion against the pipeline and President Joe Biden too announced sanctions against companies involved in the project, but these were waived in May in what was seen as an attempt by the U.S. to rebuild ties with Germany.

‘Energy blackmail’

“Europe has now left itself hostage to Russia over energy supplies,” said Timothy Ash, emerging markets senior sovereign strategist at Bluebay Asset Management, in a research note Wednesday, calling the situation “unbelievable.”

“[It’s] crystal clear that Russia has Europe (the EU and U.K.) in an energy headlock, and Europe (and the U.K.) are too weak to call it out and do anything about it,” he said, calling it a form of “energy blackmail.”

“Europe is cowering as it fears [that] as it heads into winter Russia will further turn the screws (of energy pipelines off) and allow it to freeze until it gets its way and NS2 is certified.”

Putin used a televised government meeting on Wednesday to offer an increase in supplies to Europe. He also chided the region for canceling many of its long-term gas contracts in exchange for spot deals, saying the Kremlin was ready to negotiate new long-term contracts for gas sales.

Many experts believe that Russia has withheld gas supplies to Europe on purpose, in a bid to speed up Germany’s certification of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. Russia has refuted this, however, with Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov denying on Wednesday that Russia has had any role in Europe’s energy crisis.

Nonetheless, Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak noted on Wednesday that the expected German certification of the controversial pipeline could help cool prices.

Specialists pose for a picture after welding the last pipe of the Nord Stream 2 gas subsea pipeline onboard the laybarge Fortuna in German waters in the Baltic Sea, September 6, 2021.

Axel Schmidt | Nord Stream 2 | via Reuters

Seeking a speedy certification for Nord Stream 2, Ash believed, had been “Moscow’s game plan all along” adding that “markets are really naive if they think Moscow will do anything to ease the European gas crisis anytime before NS2 is certified.”

Germany’s energy regulator shows no sign of certifying the pipeline just yet, saying on Tuesday that the pipeline must show it would not break competition rules by limiting which suppliers used it, according to Reuters, and fines could be dealt out if it started pumping Russian gas to Germany without securing necessary approvals.

Mike Fulwood, senior research fellow at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, agreed that any decision to supply more gas to Europe by Russia was “political” and tied to the certification of the pipeline.

“Basically, [the situation for Russia is] if you approve Nord Stream 2, we’ll get some gas to send down Nord Stream 2 to show we were true to our word,” he told CNBC Thursday.

Bilal Hafeez, CEO and head of research at Macro Hive, told CNBC’s “Street Signs” on Thursday that he also believed Russia was using the situation to its advantage.

“I do think Russia has used this energy crisis to take advantage of the situation here and to try to force an acceleration in the use of the pipeline and in some ways there’s some evidence to suggest they might have held back supply through pipelines through Ukraine, in order for Germany and the EU to accelerate the use of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.”

EU wary

Soaring prices have placed the issue at the top of the EU agenda with leaders calling for more energy independence — given nearly 90% of the bloc’s supplies are imported, with Russia one of the primary sources of imports along with Norway, according to European Commission data.

The pipeline has critics in Europe, with Ukraine hurt and angry at the pipeline deal with Russia, as it means its own pipelines are bypassed and it will lose valuable gas transit fees as a result. Poland too, feeling vulnerable from a more assertive neighbor Russia, says the pipeline only serves to strengthen Russia.

In July, they issued a joint statement in which they slammed the pipeline, saying “the decision to build Nord Stream 2 made in 2015 mere months after Russia’s invasion and illegal annexation of Ukrainian territory, created security, credibility and political crisis in Europe.”

Europe’s gas supply has long been a thorny subject. It has often soured relations between the U.S. and EU, with the former chastising Germany (the EU’s largest importer of Russian gas, even before the NS2 pipeline) for signing up to the gas project with Russia.

Experts see the battle over Europe’s gas supply as something of a proxy war between the U.S. and Russia, with both vying to gain market share in the region with their supply of natural gas (Russia) and liquefied natural gas (the U.S.)

Experts agree that Europe needs to diversify its sources of energy away from Russia.

“The more Europe diversifies its supply the less risk there is,” Fulwood said, adding that there were attempts to source an increasing amount of LNG from the U.S. “We’ve seen in the last few years a big increase in liquefied natural gas imports in Europe, notably from the U.S. market,” he noted.

Commenting on the wider gas market and supply constraints affecting other gas producers around the world, Fulwood described the situation that gas markets were experiencing as “a perfect storm of demand recovery from Covid and a tight supply situation.”

“There’s been a temporary lack of supply and some of those logistics will start to ease but it won’t be ’til next year so for the next few months we’re really at the mercy of the weather,” he said.

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UAE receives praise and skepticism after revealing first net-zero pledge in the region



Workers photographed walking past a section of solar panels at the Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum Solar Park in Dubai on March 20, 2017.

STRINGER | AFP | Getty Images

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The United Arab Emirates will invest more than $160 billion to become the first Gulf state to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050, as part of a significant but detail-light climate initiative revealed Thursday. 

“We are committed to seize the opportunity to cement our leadership on climate change within our region… as we pivot our economy and nation to net zero,” said Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, vice president and prime minister of the UAE and ruler of Dubai.

The announcement, while lacking specifics, still makes the UAE the first Gulf state to commit to a national drive to eliminating carbon emissions. The 2050 target aligns the UAE with most major global climate commitment pledges, and comes ahead of the United Nations COP26 climate talks in November.

“Big step forward, major challenge,” tweeted Robin Mills, CEO of Qamar Energy, a UAE based energy consultancy. “Will face welcome, also some skepticism, ahead of COP26. But may be more doable than some expect,” he added.

The UAE initiative is in line with the Paris Agreement, which calls on countries to prepare long-term strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and limit the rise in global temperature by 1.5 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels. 

The decision will likely elevate the UAE’s standing as it seeks to distinguish itself as a global climate leader in a region still dominated by fossil fuels. The government has also been lobbying to host the COP28 global climate summit in Abu Dhabi in November 2023. 

“As the first net zero carbon commitment in the Gulf, this is an historic announcement,” tweeted Alok Sharma, President of COP26. “I look to others in the region to also announce ambitious climate action commitments,” he added. 

The regional first move will also likely add significant pressure on other major fossil fuels producers, such as Saudi Arabia, to raise domestic ambition to be part of the solution.

Competing priorities

Despite efforts to diversify and build its green credentials, oil and gas exports remain the lynchpin of the UAE economy, making up 30% of national gross domestic product.

The country also has one of the highest per capita carbon emission rates, despite investing over $40 billion in clean energy sectors in recent years in anticipation of the energy transition. 

With oil set to remain critical for the future of its economy, policymakers will be pressed for details on how the plan can realistically be achieved. The Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, known as ADNOC, still plans to invest heavily to increase oil production capacity to 5 million barrels a day in the coming years. 

Becoming carbon net zero while expanding oil production may well fall within the UN rules, which only factor in emissions generated within a country’s borders.

Nawal Al-Hosany, the UAE’s permanent representative to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), pointed to the $40 billion that she said her country has already invested in domestic clean energy projects, as well as contributions to renewable energy projects in 70 other countries. 

“We cannot, however, be content to rest on our laurels,” Al-Hosany told CNBC. “Now is the time to up the ante. While we strive to reach net zero emissions by mid-century at home in the UAE, we must also, as a responsible member of the international community, constantly seek novel, innovative and collaborative ways to make clean energy more accessible especially for climate-vulnerable communities.”

“Today’s announcement of the UAE Net Zero by 2050 strategic initiative epitomizes the vision and foresight of our wise leadership and continues the UAE’s tradition to contribute progressive solutions to global problems,” said Sultan Al Jaber on Thursday, minister of industry and advanced technology and special envoy for climate who also serves as chief executive of ADNOC.

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Why Tesla’s solar business has not yet taken off as Elon Musk promised



It’s been five years since Tesla acquired SolarCity for around $2.6 billion.

To convince shareholders to approve the deal, Elon Musk hosted a splashy event in Hollywood, where he held up a shiny roof shingle, which he said was a miniaturized solar panel.

SolarCity was founded in 2006 by Musk’s cousins, Peter and Lyndon Rive. It was backed by Musk who served as chairman of the board at both Tesla and SolarCity. Musk’s aerospace company, SpaceX, had also purchased tens of millions of dollars worth of solar bonds from SolarCity.

Elon Musk speaks at SolarCity’s Inside Energy Summit in New York.

Rashid Umar Abbasi | Reuters

“The goal is to make solar roofs that look better than a normal roof, generate electricity, last longer, have better insulation, and actually have an installed cost that is less than a normal roof plus the cost of electricity. Why would you buy anything else?” Musk said at the event in October 2016.

The roof tiles were going to be the next big thing in residential solar, according to Musk, and once Tesla and SolarCity combined, the product would juice the company’s growth while delivering clean energy to homeowners.

After the deal went through, however, new installations by Tesla-SolarCity plummeted.

In the fourth quarter of 2017, Tesla reported a 43% drop in solar deployments compared with when it purchased SolarCity. The company ended up losing its market-leading position in 2018 and now hovers around 2% of the residential solar market, according to Wood Mackenzie. In the first and second quarters of 2021, Tesla installed 92 and 85 megawatts of solar, respectively. That’s less than half of what SolarCity was installing per quarter before the acquisition.

Tesla moved some solar employees to work on building the company’s electric cars and batteries, fired other solar employees, and moved others who had been doing new installations to work on repairs and remediation.

Some of the solar rooftops the company installed caught fire. One employee who raised fire safety concerns internally and filed whistleblower complaints to federal government offices sued Tesla saying it wrongfully terminated him as an act of retaliation.

Read more about clean energy from CNBC Pro

Shareholders also sued, saying the acquisition amounted to a bailout for Musk and his family’s other businesses.

While the judge won’t deliver his verdict in the derivative shareholder lawsuit until early next year, Musk testified the SolarCity deal was essential to achieve Tesla’s vision. He denied SolarCity had been in dire financial straits before Tesla acquired the business.

Today, there’s growing demand and fresh government support for residential and commercial solar throughout the United States.

But Tesla still isn’t mass producing and installing large numbers of the Solar Roof tiles. Most of the growth in its Energy division has come from its energy storage systems — from backup batteries for homes to big batteries for utility-scale projects. Most of its residential solar revenue comes from installations of traditional panels.

CNBC interviewed industry experts and recent Tesla solar customers, to find out how the company is delivering on its solar promises. Their experiences were mixed, with customers in Washington, New York and California bemoaning poor customer service and unexpected issues with the installation of their solar panels, and others praising Tesla for making cars and systems that enable them to run on sunshine.

Tesla did not respond to multiple requests for comment on this story.

Watch the video to hear their stories in full.

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