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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The rise of EVs and autonomous tech is in focus at the huge CERAWeek by IHS Markit conference.

The big picture: Major oil companies are boosting their investments in EV charging tech. The trajectory of EVs will also influence global oil demand growth (although they're just one of many factors like growth in petrochemicals, shipping, and aviation).

The intrigue: The long-term future of EV growth in the U.S. and worldwide is just soaked in uncertainty. There's huge divergence in forecasts for EV adoption rates. For instance, Bloomberg NEF sees electric vehicles accounting for 55% of global light-duty vehicle sales by 2040, while several other major projections are more modest, some of the considerably so.

The most bullish remarks I heard yesterday came from Ulrich Spiesshofer, CEO of the Swiss industrial and tech giant ABB, which has EV charging and power grid equipment lines.

  • "When you listen to people arguing about the EV space nowadays, I feel very strongly that the passenger car and the car industry is at a Kodak moment," he said onstage, referring to the fast transition to digital photography.
  • "I think the world will be surprised [by] what is happening with electric vehicles," Spiesshofer told me on the sidelines of the conference.

Another session here, on the EV battery supply chain, delved into real challenges for producing and procuring growing amounts of lithium, cobalt and other materials. But none of the panelists made the case that this would act as major brake on deployment.

  • "You could have some hiccups, starts and stops, I just don't see a full-blown crisis," Colorado School of Mines professor Morgan Bazilian told me after speaking at the event.

But, but, but: On a separate panel, Marianne Kah of Columbia University's Center on Global Energy Policy pointed to a suite of forces that can limit growth rates. Among them:

  • "There's an unrealism about timing based on how long it takes to turn over the fleet," she said, and as a related point, noted that when people get rid of internal combustion cars to switch to EVs, those cars are used elsewhere.
  • Another one, she said, is that as EVs do begin sapping gasoline demand, that will lower the price of the incumbent fuel. "That will actually make it harder for the electric vehicle to compete," she said.

One wildcard in the U.S. is the future of policy. Derek Kan, the U.S. under secretary of transportation for policy, was not shy about saying that the Trump administration is not pro-EV.

He touted the administration proposal to end EV purchase tax credits (my thought bubble: that's not going anywhere in Congress).

Kan also noted upcoming rules — which don't require Congress — that will jettison Obama-era fuel efficiency increases in the first half of the 2020s.

  • He said the Obama-era standards were a de-facto EV deployment policy. "We don't believe the federal government should be telling you 'Dan, you should be in a Tesla,'" Kan told conference host Dan Yergin onstage.

Go deeper: Climate chasm on display at Houston energy conference CERAWeek

Go deeper

3 hours ago - Health

Food banks feel the strain without holiday volunteers

People wait in line at Food Bank Community Kitchen on Nov. 25 in New York City. Photo: Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for Food Bank For New York City

America's food banks are sounding the alarm during this unprecedented holiday season.

The big picture: Soup kitchens and charities, usually brimming with holiday volunteers, are getting far less help.

5 hours ago - Health

AstraZeneca CEO: "We need to do an additional study" on COVID vaccine

Photo: Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot said on Thursday the company is likely to start a new global trial to measure how effective its coronavirus vaccine is, Bloomberg reports.

Why it matters: Following Phase 3 trials, Oxford and AstraZeneca said their vaccine was 90% effective in people who got a half dose followed by a full dose, and 62% effective in people who got two full doses.

Updated 7 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: Coronavirus cases rose 10% in the week before Thanksgiving.
  2. Politics: Supreme Court backs religious groups on New York coronavirus restrictions.
  3. World: Expert says COVID vaccine likely won't be available in Africa until Q2 of 2021 — Europeans extend lockdowns.
  4. Economy: The winners and losers of the COVID holiday season.
  5. Education: National standardized tests delayed until 2022.