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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

Updated Oct 28, 2020 - Axios Events

Watch: How the pandemic has changed the energy industry

On Wednesday, October 29 Axios' Amy Harder hosted a conversation on the pandemic's effects on the environment, the energy industry, and how these shifts will have a lasting impact on the private sector's approach to renewable energy. The conversation featured Sunrun co-founder and CEO Lynn Jurich and New York's deputy secretary for energy and environment Ali Zaidi.

Lynn Jurich discussed the shift to renewable energy and the technology making renewable energy cheaper than fossil fuels.

  • On the next biggest global challenge in renewable energy: "How do you decarbonize this energy industry globally?...I view this very much as an opportunity and something where the U.S. should really be just moving faster on this. And that's why I look to the Biden program to help us."
  • On new technologies in the energy space: "We're just scratching the surface of the existing lithium-ion battery technology. If we combine that technology with renewable energy, we can go a long way to decarbonizing our energy system."

Ali Zaidi unpacked Gov. Cuomo's statewide plans around renewable energy, from centering issues of race and equity, as well as New York state's initiative to get to 70% renewable electricity by 2030.

  • On the goals of New York's energy policy plans: "It's an opportunity to advance jobs. It's an opportunity to advance justice. And it's an opportunity to advance our climate ambitions. That's the playbook Gov. Cuomo has laid out."
  • How energy is an equity issue: "What we are seeing increasingly is the intersecting and interconnected challenges of race, of equity and of the environment. And what that reveals to us is a real opportunity. Coming out of this pandemic to build back better."

Axios Chief Revenue Officer Fabricio Drumond hosted a View from the Top segment with Cognite co-founder and CEO John Markus Lervik and discussed the role of technology in increasing usage of renewable energy.

  • "For renewables and renewable transformation, [it is] fully dependent on digital transformation. Technology is the single most important driver for more sustainable and environmentally friendly operations."

Thank you Cognite for sponsoring this event.

Amy Harder, author of Generate
Oct 30, 2020 - Energy & Environment

Oil group CEO on France blocking LNG deal: "We take great umbrage"

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

The CEO of the American Petroleum Institute criticized the French government’s move blocking a $7 billion deal to import U.S. liquefied natural gas over concerns about climate change.

Why it matters: The tension reflects intercontinental division over how aggressively governments and companies should tackle global warming, including the potent greenhouse gas methane that’s the primary component of gas.

Anti-abortion activists' Supreme Court dreams are coming true

Photo illustration: Annelise Capossela. Photos: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

This is the moment the conservative legal movement has been building toward for decades: The solidly conservative Supreme Court is about to hear two major abortion cases within a month of each other.

Why it matters: All of this is likely to end with significant new restrictions on abortion and a clear path for Republican-led states to win the next big abortion cases, too — the culmination of a long and bitter fight for control of the judiciary.