Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The pandemic and the presidential election are together putting a fresh spotlight onto the scope of residential energy demand and how to cut emissions from homes and buildings.

The big picture: Lockdowns and remote work are moving energy demand from offices and business to residences — and projections of working from home outlasting the pandemic suggest that some of that shift will persist.

Driving the news: A big peer-reviewed study of U.S. residential emissions, written pre-pandemic but even more relevant now, quantifies immense income-based differences in CO2.

  • "Wealthier Americans have per capita footprints ∼25% higher than those of lower-income residents, primarily due to larger homes," finds the study in the journal PNAS.
  • "In especially affluent suburbs, these emissions can be 15 times higher than nearby neighborhoods," University of Michigan researchers found in the analysis based on data from 93 million households.

Why it matters: Residential energy use accounts for roughly 20% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, and deeply cutting those emissions in line with the Paris Agreement will require a multipronged approach, they conclude.

  • An 80% emissions cut from the residential sector by 2050 could not be done by decarbonizing power generation alone "due to a growing housing stock and continued use of fossil fuels (natural gas, propane, and fuel oil) in homes."
  • "Meeting this target will also require deep energy retrofits and transitioning to distributed low-carbon energy sources, as well as reducing per capita floor space and zoning denser settlement patterns," the study finds.

What to watch: The 2020 elections could usher in new residential energy policies.

  • Joe Biden's energy plan calls for weatherizing 2 million homes over four years, as well as "direct cash rebates and low-cost financing to upgrade and electrify home appliances and install more efficient windows."
  • In addition, some of Biden's proposed infrastructure spending is aimed at spurring construction of 1.5 million "sustainable homes and housing units."

Quick take: The pandemic has driven down overall CO2 emissions this year, largely because of declines in oil-fueled travel (now bouncing back).

  • If remote work persists, stronger efforts to address residential emissions will be a way to lock in and complement some of those CO2 reductions.
Data: IEA; Chart: Sara Wise/Axios

What's next: The pandemic is driving a surge of interest in new appliances and electronics as more people work from home and and schools operate remotely, the International Energy Agency points out in a new commentary.

  • "It is vital that new appliances bought during and after the pandemic are as efficient as possible to outpace higher ownership patterns and avoid increased energy consumption levels after the crisis."

Go deeper

Ben Geman, author of Generate
Oct 21, 2020 - Energy & Environment

America leads global poll on divisions over natural gas

Reproduced from Pew Research Center; Chart: Axios Visuals

The U.S. is hardly the only country with a political split over natural gas, but it's particularly stark here.

Driving the news: A newly released Pew Research Center survey on global attitudes about the fossil fuels shows one takeaway how gas, coal and oil dominate the world's energy mix.

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Politics: Chris Christie: Wear a mask "or you may regret it — as I did" — Senate Democrats block vote on McConnell's targeted relief bill.
  2. Business: New state unemployment filings fall.
  3. Economy: Why the stimulus delay isn't a crisis (yet).
  4. Health: FDA approves Gilead's remdesivir as a coronavirus treatment How the pandemic might endMany U.S. deaths were avoidable.
  5. Education: Boston and Chicago send students back home for online learning.
  6. World: Spain and France exceed 1 million cases.

Early voting eclipses 2016 total with 12 days until election

People stand in line to vote early in Fairfax, Virginia in September. Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

Americans have cast more than 47.1 million ballots in the 2020 presidential election, surpassing the total early-vote count for 2016 with 12 days left until Election Day, according to a Washington Post analysis of voting data.

Why it matters: The election is already underway, as many states have expanded early and mail-in voting options because of the coronavirus pandemic.