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The gas-powered Valley Generating Station in the San Fernando Valley on March 10, 2017. Photo: David McNew/Getty Images

A major Princeton University-led analysis concludes there's a range of economically beneficial and technologically feasible options for reaching "net-zero" U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 — but big investments and supportive policies would need to begin now.

The big picture: President-elect Joe Biden has embedded that 2050 target in his plan, and a number of states and major corporations share that goal or similar ones. More broadly, net-zero emissions by midcentury is considered a global goal for avoiding some of the most damaging effects of climate change.

Why it matters: Setting top-line targets, which is very popular these days, is very different from actually creating viable ways to meet them.

  • The study offers highly granular analysis of the technologies and deployment pathways that could transform top-line targets to on-the-ground changes to the U.S. energy system in different regions.

How it works: The researchers modeled a range of pathways that involve varying levels of renewable power increases, building and vehicle electrification, bioenergy, carbon capture and storage, nuclear energy, enhanced carbon "land sinks" via better forest and farm practices, and more.

  • They conclude that all of the pathways result in net energy-sector employment increases and benefit public health by cutting air pollution.

Yes, but: None of this is easy at all. The study notes it would require unprecedented rates of deployment of a slew of technologies.

  • The analysis envisions $2.5 trillion in "additional capital investment into energy supply, industry, buildings, and vehicles over the next decade relative to business as usual."
  • However, the researchers find that "total annualized U.S. energy expenditures would increase by less than 3% over 2021-2030."

What's next: While the options ultimately involve a range of technology mixes, the study finds common near-term — and ambitious — "priority actions" between now and 2030 that would help regardless of the ultimate trajectory.

They include:

  • 50 million electric vehicles on U.S. roads and several million public charging stations nationwide.
  • More than doubling the share of electric heat pumps in homes to reach around 23%, and tripling their use in commercial buildings.
  • Huge growth in wind and solar-generating capacity, accompanied by a roughly 60% expansion of high-voltage transmission capacity.
  • Begin building out a nationwide CO2 transportation and underground storage basins.
  • Investing in a suite of less mature technologies that could be significantly scaled up after 2030, such as CO2 capture in a range of industries, hydrogen and synthetic fuel production from clean power sources, next-wave bioenergy crops, direct air capture and more.

The bottom line: The 2050 target is achievable and affordable with "proactive policy and action," said Princeton University assistant professor Jesse Jenkins, a co-author of the study.

  • Jenkins said that in the 2020s alone, it would save tens of thousands of lives and create at least a half-million new jobs.
  • The study sees hundreds of thousands of premature deaths potentially being avoided over the next 30 years thanks to reductions in air pollution, including fine particulate matter.

Go deeper

Updated Jan 22, 2021 - Axios Events

Watch: The future of sustainable vehicles

On Friday, January 22, Axios' Joann Muller hosted a conversation on the future of electric vehicles in the U.S., featuring Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and SAFE founder and CEO Robbie Diamond.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow discussed legislation focusing on electric vehicle infrastructure, from charging stations across the country, to investing in the development of electric heavy-duty trucks and larger vehicles.

  • On the Biden administration's focus on electrification: "I'm very excited about the Biden administration's major push on electric charging stations...So people [can] feel comfortable that they can not only drive around town but can drive across the country and have the [infrastructural] support for that."
  • On how the government can learn from the private sector on spurring growth for electric vehicles: "Companies on their own are putting together incentives and support for folks who are doing grants or tax credits or supporting folks that are putting in the capacity to charge at home. I think we have to just get over this sense that this is hard. This is not hard."

Robbie Diamond unpacked the manufacturing supply chain in electric vehicle development and stressed the importance of diversifying sources for battery materials.

  • Why electricity is a flexible fuel source: "We had recommended that we diversify the fuel sources into our transportation sector. And one of the best ways to do that is through electric vehicles...because we produce electricity using so many different fuel sources."
  • On investment in electric vehicles as a part of international security: "When you begin to look at this, the control that China has over batteries and the supply chain of electric vehicles is way bigger than Saudi Arabia ever had or OPEC when it came to oil."

Axios Chief Revenue Officer Fabricio Drummond hosted a View from the Top segment with Ford Motor Company Americas and International Markets Group President Kumar Galhotra discussing the future of electric cars in the U.S. and the importance of the public and private sectors working together.

  • "This is the fuel of the future. And we don't want to get left behind because Europe and China already have very clearly articulated strategies for electrification [and] electric vehicles that we don't have yet. So it is very important for us, both the government, this administration, and automakers to accelerate electrification plans."

Thank you Ford Motor Company for sponsoring this event.

Fed chair says low interest rates aren't driving stock market prices

Jerome Powell. Photo: ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS / Getty Images

Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell told reporters on Wednesday that rock-bottom interest rates aren't playing a role in driving stock prices higher, while noting that vulnerabilities to the financial system are "moderate."

Why it matters: The statement comes amid unshakeable stock prices and a Reddit-fueled market frenzy — prompting widespread fears of a bubble and the role monetary policy has played in that.

2 hours ago - World

Biden freezes U.S. arms deals with Saudi Arabia and UAE

Trump struck several large arms deals with Mohammed bin Salman (L) and Saudi Arabia. Photo: Kevin Dietsch-Pool/Getty Images

The Biden administration has put on hold two big arms deals with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates which were approved in the final weeks of the Trump administration, a State Department official tells Axios.

Why it matters: The sales of F-35 jets and attack drones to the UAE and a large supply of munitions to Saudi Arabia will be paused pending a review. That signals a major policy shift from the Trump era, and may herald sharp tensions with both Gulf countries.