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Feb 8, 2021

Axios Generate

Welcome back! Today's Smart Brevity count is 1,256 words, 4.7 minutes.

🛢️ Brent crude oil rose above $60-per-barrel today for the first time in over a year, showing traders' optimism about a tightening market as demand recovers from the pandemic.

🥁 An even bigger milestone: This week marks 40 years since Rush released the album "Moving Pictures," which provides today's intro tune...

1 big thing: EV owners drive them much less than gas-powered cars

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Electric vehicle owners in California drive them less than half as many miles annually as the average gasoline-powered car in the U.S., a new analysis shows.

Why it matters: The finding "raises important questions about the potential for the technology to replace a vast majority of trips currently using gasoline," the working paper concludes.

  • The estimates are important for assessing the climate and pollution-cutting benefits of EVs, and have implications for investment decisions about power distribution equipment, it states.

How it works: The paper syncs data from a big sample of residential meters in the Pacific Gas & Electric service area with addresses of EV registrations in 2014-2017.

  • Study authors with the University of Chicago and the University of California explored how much home electricity use changes after the EV purchase.
  • They then used this data to estimate how much these EVs were being driven, factoring in estimates of out-of-home charging.

By the numbers: Power consumption growth is about 2.9 kWh per day, which is a 16% rise over average daily usage in the PG&E meter sample.

That's less than what would be expected if EVs were used in a way akin to traditional cars.

  • "Given the fleet of EVs in our sample...this translates to approximately 5,300 electric vehicle miles traveled (eVMT) per year," the paper finds.
  • The power use is much less than prior estimates by California regulators, the working paper notes.

The big picture: California officials and President Biden plan to implement policies aimed at greatly accelerating EV deployment to fight climate change and cut pollution.

What we don't know: That's why, exactly, EVs seem to be driven much less than their internal-combustion counterparts. But the paper says future research should explore possibilities including:

  • EVs may be complementing gas-powered cars instead of replacing them.
  • EV buyers to date don't represent the "broader vehicle-owning population."
  • A combo of too few public charging stations, "range anxiety" and other aspects of EV ownership.

The bottom line: Getting a handle on the relatively low usage is important because "the vision of transportation electrification rests on EVs leading to a substitution of [vehicle miles traveled] away from conventional cars," it states.

“The takeaway here is not that EVs should never or will never be our future, but rather that policymakers may be underestimating the costs of going fully electric," said co-author Fiona Burlig, a University of Chicago economist.

Bonus: Projecting the future of EV growth

Speaking of EVs, Wood Mackenzie is out this morning with new projections about their future growth.

By numbers: The consultancy sees yearly sales topping 7 million combined in China, Europe and the U.S. by 2025.

  • "Improved EV costs will propel sales and double EV numbers to a combined 15 million a year in those three regions by 2030," they note.
  • They see EVs outselling internal-combustion vehicles shortly before midcentury.

Yes, but: "Despite the growing dominance of EVs, global oil demand from light-duty vehicles is projected to reduce by only 24% over the next 30 years," Woodmac analyst Ram Chandrasekaran said.

  • "Slow erosion of [internal combustion engine] stock and an increased demand from emerging economies are the main reasons for this lethargic drop," Chandrasekaran said.
2. Elon Musk funds $100 million carbon removal contest

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Axios' Bryan Walsh reports that Elon Musk is funding a $100 million innovation contest to identify effective and economical ways to remove and store carbon dioxide.

Why it matters: A contest with a nine-figure award could help encourage the development of new ways to approach what scientists increasingly agree is one of the most vital ways to address climate change.

Driving the news: This morning XPRIZE, a nonprofit that runs incentive contests meant to solve humanity's biggest challenges, announced the launch of a competition for innovators and teams around the world to demonstrate the ability to draw and store carbon dioxide from the atmosphere or oceans.

The $100 million prize — by far the largest in XPRIZE's history — is sponsored by Elon Musk and the Musk Foundation.

Details: The contest officially launches on April 22, Earth Day. It will run for four years and it's open to individuals and teams from academia and business.

  • Teams will be judged on their ability to produce a working prototype that can remove at least 1 ton per day, with the ability to economically scale to the gigaton level.
  • The main criteria will be fully considered cost per ton of removal, with added considerations for environmental benefit and permanence.
  • Judges will look at how long carbon can be safely considered removed, with a minimum goal set at 100 years.
  • The winner will take home $50 million, with a $20 million second prize and a $10 million third prize.
3. Top union official hits Biden on Keystone XL

Photo courtesy of "Axios on HBO."

AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka told Jonathan Swan in an interview for "Axios on HBO" that he wished President Biden hadn't canceled the Keystone XL pipeline his first day in office — because it will cost some good-paying union jobs.

Here's more via Jonathan...

Why it matters: Organized labor is crucial to the Biden coalition. But there are significant tensions among environmentalists, the president's team addressing climate change and some parts of the labor movement.

  • The Laborers' International Union of North America said the Keystone decision will cost 1,000 existing union jobs and 10,000 projected construction jobs.
  • "The Laborers' International was right," said Trumka.

Between the lines: Trumka said he thought Biden had learned a lesson from his Keystone announcement.

He hopes the president will pair any future decisions that would kill union jobs with simultaneous and specific announcements about how those jobs would be replaced.

  • "If you destroy 100 jobs in Greene County, Pennsylvania, where I grew up, and you create 100 jobs in California, it doesn't do those 100 families much good," Trumka said.
  • "If you're looking at a pipeline and you're saying we're going to put it down, now what are you going to do to create the same good-paying jobs in that area?"

Go deeper

📺 And more via "Axios on HBO": Trump’s World Bank head speaks out on climate change, inequality

4. The ethanol mandate's post-Trump future

Axios' Linh Ta reports...With President Biden at the helm, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) is focusing on protecting the Renewable Fuel Standard — a law that had its ups and downs under the Trump administration.

  • "I hope it will be easier than [with] the Trump administration to protect ethanol and biofuels," Grassley told Axios.

Why it matters: The ethanol mandate boosts the price of corn and establishes a floor price for Iowa's most popular crop.

  • RFS requires oil refineries to annually blend 15 billion gallons of ethanol into the U.S. fuel supply.
  • Drops in fuel sales due to the COVID-19 pandemic already hurt farmers' pockets in 2020, and the EPA's unpredictable commitment to RFS under former director Andrew Wheeler didn't help.

His focus: In 2022, the 15-billion-gallon requirement will sunset and could leave Iowa farmers with too much corn, resulting in lower revenue.

  • Grassley said he has urged Biden's EPA nominee, Michael Regan, to quickly issue a rule and commit to the current volume.

🗞️ Linh has more in the new Axios Des Moines newsletter, designed to help readers get smarter, faster on the most consequential news unfolding in their own backyard.

5. Catch up fast: Big Oil, VC, Apple, in memoriam

Offshore wind: "Oil majors paid a hefty premium to develop the next generation of major British offshore wind farms after BP Plc and Total SE won contracts in an auction ahead of many of the utilities that have dominated the space until now." (Bloomberg)

Finance: "Energy storage startup Powin Energy has raised more than $100 million in equity investment to compete with better-funded rivals in the large-scale grid battery market." (Greentech Media)

Electric cars: "South Korea’s Hyundai Motor Co said on Monday it is not now in talks with Apple Inc on autonomous electric cars, just a month after it confirmed early-stage talks with the tech giant, sending the automaker’s shares skidding." (Reuters)

RIP: George Shultz, a former Secretary of State in the Reagan administration, died on Sunday at age 100.

In recent years, Shultz advocated for a proposal to tax CO2 emissions and distribute revenue to the public.