Feb 3, 2021

Axios Generate

Good morning. Today's Smart Brevity count is 1,169 words, 4.4 minutes.

🚨 Heads up: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is expected to speak on the Senate floor this morning about the next steps toward climate legislation, an aide tells Axios.

🗞️ Axios Local's virtual event series is here! Tomorrow at 12:30pm ET, Axios Tampa Bay reporters Selene San Felice and Ben Montgomery host a conversation on Tampa's hospitality industry and economic recovery with Tampa Mayor Jane Castor.

🎶 And at this moment in 1977, Stevie Wonder was #1 on Billboard's R&B charts (and fresh off a stint atop the Hot 100) with today's intro tune...

1 big thing: Waiting to cut emissions is expensive
Adapted from an Energy Innovation report; Chart: Axios Visuals

Putting U.S. carbon emissions on a steep downward path would cost plenty of money. But waiting to act is way more expensive, a new analysis out this morning concludes.

Driving the news: The research firm Energy Innovation modeled two policy scenarios for reaching net-zero emissions by 2050, a common target for limiting the amount of future warming.

  • One scenario starts aggressive efforts now, the other that waits until 2030.
  • "The longer we wait, the more drastic the [emissions] cuts — and associated costs — will be," the firm notes.

How it works: The analysis looks at changes in capital and operational costs in the country's energy system, as well as fuel spending, as a way to represent the costs of policy packages.

  • Their metric aims to capture net expenditures by government, consumers and industry in areas including power infrastructure, vehicle purchases, heat equipment and more.
  • The two scenarios explored spending and policy costs in areas like fuel economy and zero-carbon power standards, battery deployment, building efficiency, industrial fuel changes and more.

The big picture: The cumulative costs of the 2030 scenario are 72% higher on a net present value basis.

  • "In addition to accumulating higher costs, delaying climate action requires astounding rates of clean energy deployment and buildout of manufacturing capacity."
  • Other costs stem from "stranded assets," the report finds. Continued build-out of fossil fuel-powered industrial plants and equipment, followed by a seismic shift starting in 2030, means "we will need to retire much more polluting equipment before the end of its functional life. And that isn’t cheap."

What we're watching: The Biden administration plans to ask Congress for lots of money to boost the deployment of low-carbon energy and climate-friendly infrastructure.

It is also planning a suite of new executive regulations aimed at cutting emissions.

Of note: The analysis and chart above is only about costs. It does not consider benefits from speeding up the energy transition, such as the health effects of air pollution abatement.

2. DOE pick Granholm signals support for LNG exports

Jennifer Granholm, President Biden's nominee for energy secretary, is hinting that the new administration will be supportive of U.S. liquefied natural gas exports — but wants the gas sector to get cleaner too.

Driving the news: Her position is spelled out in newly available answers to written questions from lawmakers on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

  • "I believe U.S. LNG exports can have an important role to play in reducing international consumption of fuels that have greater contribution to greenhouse gas emissions," she writes.
  • "If confirmed as Secretary, I also look forward to working with U.S. industry in ways to reduce emissions associated with this commodity," added Granholm in her response to GOP Sen. John Barrasso.

Why it matters: The new administration's approach to U.S. LNG exports, which have soared over the last half-decade, has been rather unclear. For more on that, see this detailed piece in Energy Monitor.

  • Brookings Institution analyst Samantha Gross, in the article, notes that it's a "big pickle" for the Biden administration, given the importance of the U.S. gas industry and his push for tough climate policies.
  • "The administration will be facing opposing forces with respect to gas policy and I am not sure which way they will go," she said.

What's next: The Senate committee is expected to vote in favor of Granholm's nomination later this morning, clearing the way for confirmation by the full Senate.

3. The coming demand for home EV charging

Wallbox's new Pulsar Plus can be mounted ourdoors, in the elements. Photo: Wallbox

Axios' Joann Muller reports that if electric vehicle sales are going to take off in the U.S. as expected, demand for home chargers will likely surge as well.

Why it matters: Even though President Biden has vowed to add 500,000 public EV charging stations across the country, the reality is most EV owners will be able to get all the power they need by plugging into a home charger overnight.

Driving the news: Sensing America's shifting momentum toward EVs, foreign charging companies are starting to market their wares to American buyers.

  • Spain's Wallbox, with 40,000 units deployed in 43 countries, launched its first smart charger for the North American market this week.
  • The Pulsar Plus is available in two configurations — a 40Amp version for $649 that plugs into any 240-volt outlet and a 48Amp version for $699 that needs to be hardwired into the home.
  • Most midrange EVs can be charged in 6-8 hours using the 40Amp box.
  • Charging can be controlled through a smartphone app or with voice commands via Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant, using either Bluetooth or a Wi-Fi connection.

The big picture: Installing a home charger can seem like a pain, but the benefit is never having to go to the gas station again.

  • The choices can be overwhelming. But most EV companies, partnering with an agency like Qmerit, will help customers find a certified installer and steer them to government incentives, too.
  • Most are available for a federal tax credit for up to 30% of total equipment and installation costs up to $1,000.
4. Duke Energy's new EV business

I ran out of space for this yesterday but it's interesting: The huge utility Duke Energy created a new subsidiary to work with cities and big corporations on fleet vehicle electrification.

Duke said its new eTransEnergy unit would provide a bunch of services ranging from financing to electric infrastructure support.

Why it matters: EVs will bring new grid management challenges, but also open up new markets for the power sector via electricity sales, charging services and more.

A 2019 Accenture analysis found that U.S. utilities could play a "pivotal role in the customer EV journey and stake their claim in the US$700 billion eMobility market."

5. Protecting the Amazon from space

Deforestation as seen from space. Photo: Planet Labs Inc.; Analysis: MAAP

Axios' Miriam Kramer reports that near real-time satellite images of the Amazon are revealing deforestation and helping to combat illegal gold mining operations in the rainforest.

The big picture: As satellite data and analysis advances, researchers and companies on Earth have found new ways to make use of it — from helping to regulate the fishing industry to monitoring farming.

Forest clearing also contributes to climate change by releasing stored carbon, so preventing it is important.

What's happening: Over the course of the last year, deforestation related to gold mining in six sites in the Peruvian Amazon decreased by about 78%, and 90% in La Pampa, Peru, which is considered a critical area.

  • That reduction has been aided by the Amazon Conservation's Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project (MAAP), which uses data from Planet's fleet of satellites and others to spot deforestation from space.
  • "Just having that near-daily imagery availabilities has been a huge game-changer in terms of quickly getting eyes on these alerts," MAAP's director Matt Finer told Axios.

How it works: The MAAP team starts off with Landsat data in pixel form, showing possible areas of concern, where deforestation may be happening.

  • From there, the team can zoom in on an area using Planet data that will show changes from day to day and month to month, allowing Finer and his team to pick out where deforestation is expanding.
6. Catch up fast: Oil markets, EVs, climate

Crude: "Oil hit an 11-month high on Wednesday, boosted by a draw in U.S. crude and gasoline stocks, which fuelled demand recovery hopes as OPEC+ has forecast that the market will be in deficit in 2021." (Reuters)

Stocks: "Kia Motors Corp. jumped as much as 14.5% after a local media report that Apple Inc. will invest 4 trillion won ($3.6 billion) as part of a collaboration with the South Korean carmaker on making electric vehicles." (Bloomberg)

Cities: "When U.S. cities self-report emissions, they reportedly miss nearly 20 percent of the greenhouse gases spewed into the air on average, according to a new study." (The Hill)