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Data: EMBER; Chart: Axios Visuals

Global carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector have surged past pre-pandemic levels to reach new highs, a new report examining trends during the first half of 2021 finds.

Why it matters: The report from Ember, a London-based environmental think tank, shows that the energy transition that needs to happen to limit the severity and pace of global warming is not taking place fast enough.

  • Instead of renewables, the economic recovery is being powered largely by carbon-intensive coal in many countries, particularly in Asia, while clean energy is gaining ground elsewhere but not at the rates required to meet the Paris Agreement's temperature targets.

The big picture: Global power sector emissions bounced back strongly from lows seen during the first half of 2020 to reach about 5% higher than the first half of 2019, the report finds.

  • The data indicates that while 57% of the growth in electricity demand compared to 2019 has come from wind and solar power, a large fraction — 43% — has been met by firing up coal power plants, especially in China.
  • Growth in clean energy use in many countries failed to keep pace with the increased emissions coming from coal power plants in countries such as China, Bangladesh, India, Mongolia and Vietnam, the report states.
  • According to the report, not a single country out of the 63 nations analysts examined has achieved a so-called "green recovery" for their power sector, which would entail both higher electricity demand and lower emissions.

Context: When compared to the International Energy Agency's roadmap for bringing global emissions to net zero by 2050, global electricity demand would need to rise by 50% by 2030, while simultaneously cutting power sector emissions by 57%.

  • Most of the emissions cuts prior to 2030 in the IEA's modeling would come from ending coal power, the Ember report notes, bluntly stating: "Coal power is rising when it needs to be rapidly falling."
  • The U.S., Japan and Australia do not meet Ember's definition of a green recovery, with a simultaneous increase in energy demand and decrease in emissions, though temporary factors, such as heavy rains boosting hydropower production, helped put Norway and Russia on their way there for now.
  • Mongolia had the fastest growth in electricity demand of the 64 countries in Ember's analysis, and 77% of its 17% increase in demand being met with increased coal use.
  • China had a similar increase in electricity demand compared to 2019, with a 14% increase. This meant that even a large addition of clean energy couldn't keep pace, with more than two-thirds of the increase in demand met with coal power.

Threat level: By the end of the year, power sector carbon dioxide emissions could be even higher, given that such emissions were 7% higher in June 2021 compared to the same month in 2019, Ember found.

  • The report left out some countries that might add even more to power sector emissions, such as Indonesia and the Philippines.

Yes, but: There is some hope for those looking for signs of an increasingly robust renewables sector, and that is that for the first time, wind and solar produced more than a tenth of global electricity, overtaking nuclear power.

The bottom line: While wind and solar are on the way up, the increase simply isn't fast enough to get to net zero emissions by 2050, and have a better chance of meeting the Paris targets.

"We need to go hell for leather on the electricity sector and we're nowhere close at the moment," Dave Jones, Ember's global lead, told Axios in an interview.

Go deeper

Your electric car could become a virtual power plant

Illustration: Megan Robinson/Axios

That electric car parked in your driveway may soon be more than a fun, emissions-free ride. When lashed together in the cloud with other EVs in your neighborhood, it could help utilities manage electricity demand in your community.

Why it matters: Massive growth in electric vehicle adoption which is widely expected — means that more car owners will be plugging in at home, putting pressure on America's electric grid but creating power-sharing opportunities at the same time.

  • Emerging smart-charging technologies aim to build in more flexibility so grid upgrades aren't needed and EV owners will have all the juice they need.

What's happening: EV owners can earn rebates and cash rewards from smart-charging programs by letting utilities control when their car is charged based on overall electricity demand.

  • In Texas, for example, about 1,000 EV owners participate in a smart-charging project with the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT).
  • Together, those cars serve as a cloud-based "virtual power plant" that ERCOT can use to suck or store energy during demand peaks and valleys.
  • In Wisconsin, Madison Gas and Electric shifts charging times for 200 EVs to off-peak hours so they can soak up renewable energy generated overnight by wind farms.
  • Both utilities license the smart-charging technology from a London-based company called ev.energy, which has offices in Palo Alto.

The big picture: EV owners do more than 80% of their charging at home, according to a BloombergNEF analysis of ev.energy data from more than 1 million at-home charging sessions in the U.S., U.K. and Europe.

  • Most of them plug in after work, start charging right away, and stay plugged in overnight, often setting the departure time for their morning commute.

Yes, but: The typical charging session requires just a little top-off — 2.5 hours of charging — which means most EVs are drawing energy in the early evening when residential demand is at its peak and electricity rates are highest.

Smart-charging technology can delay charging until demand has gone down, and greener, cheaper energy is more readily available.

  • That lets utilities balance electricity demand while also maximizing the use of renewable energy and putting more money in EV owners' pockets.
  • An EV owner in California could save an estimated $600 per year charging at off-peak times, BNEF found.

How it works: EV owners plug in their car, set a departure time using ev.energy's app, and let the utility figure out the ideal charging time based on a 24-hour forecast of energy demand.

  • If necessary, the software will pause charging at the utility's request, then resume later.
  • Car owners' flexibility earns them rebates or cash rewards of $5 or $10 a month.

The utility will never drain the car's battery, says Joseph Vellone, head of North America for ev.energy. "Your departure time is the holy grail."

  • "The electricity system is incredibly complex. EV buyers can’t be bothered to immerse themselves in this complexity. We ask them one question: What time do you need your car charged by?"

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to show that Madison Gas and Electric shifts charging times for 200 EVs to off-peak hours for maximum efficiency, not 2,000 EVs. A partner company, ev.energy, reached out to say there was a numerical mistake in the report it shared with Axios.

Updated 27 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Virginia attorney general fires Jan. 6 investigator from university post

McIntire Amphitheater at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia. Photo: Robert Knopes/UCG/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The lead investigator for the Jan. 6 House select committee investigating the Capitol riot has been fired from his position as the University of Virginia's counsel by the state's new Republican attorney general, per the Washington Post.

Why it matters: Democrats say the removal of Tim Heaphy from his post after some three years while he's on leave from the university to investigate the insurrection is likely "retribution" for the House probe — an accusation strongly denied by the office of state Attorney General Jason Miyares (R).

5 hours ago - Sports

Gonzaga University revokes NBA great John Stockton's tickets over mask stance

Former Utah Jazz player John Stockton during a 2017 press conference in Salt Lake City. Photo: Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

Gonzaga University suspended the season tickets of notable alumni John Stockton after the NBA Hall of Famer failed to comply with the school's basketball games mask mandate, the Spokesman-Review first reported.

Driving the news: "Basically, it came down to, they were asking me to wear a mask to the games and being a public figure, someone a little bit more visible, I stuck out in the crowd a little bit," the former Utah Jazz point guard told the outlet in an interview Saturday.

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