Jun 30, 2021

Axios Generate

Welcome back! Today's Smart Brevity count is 1,142 words, 4.3 minutes.

📊 Data point of the day: Up to 90%. That's auto giant Renault's new target for electric models in its European sales mix by 2030. Reuters has more.

🎸 This week marks 25 years since Neil Young & Crazy Horse released "Broken Arrow," which provides today's overlooked gem of an intro tune...

1 big thing: White House signals "clean" standard push

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Exclusive...the White House hopes to use the filibuster-proof budget reconciliation process to mandate that power companies supply escalating amounts of zero-carbon electricity, a memo from two top aides obtained by Axios shows.

Why it matters: The policy, called a "clean energy standard," is a priority for environmentalists, and the memo comes as activists fear infrastructure talks will leave major climate measures on the cutting room floor.

  • President Biden has set a target of achieving 100% carbon-free U.S. power by 2035.
  • A CES would help meet that goal by requiring that growing percentages of power sales over time come from sources like renewables and nuclear power.

Driving the news: The memo promotes environmental pieces already in the bipartisan infrastructure outline, touting climate measures "embedded throughout" the framework. But it also lists other steps President Biden supports through the budget process.

  • That includes, per the memo from domestic climate chief Gina McCarthy and senior adviser Anita Dunn, "sending a market signal that brings additional private investment off the sidelines and into modernizing our electric grid through an Energy Efficiency and Clean Electricity Standard."
  • The memo also lists $10 billion for "mobilizing the next generation of conservation and resilience workers" and touts the idea of a "Civilian Climate Corps" to achieve it.
  • Another goal is expanded clean energy tax credits, which Biden has cited repeatedly as a priority for the reconciliation bill Democrats plan to craft.

Our thought bubble: The memo is the latest step in the delicate and uncertain push to build support for the bipartisan plan, while also appealing to climate-focused lawmakers and activists who want much more.

  • The sections touting grid, clean water and transit investments in the bipartisan outline mirror other sales pitches earlier this week.
  • Meanwhile, the pledges around the CES and other provisions could help reassure Biden's left flank.
  • The Civilian Climate Corps is a priority for the Sunrise Movement, but they're seeking much more funding than Biden has floated.
  • The memo also argues provisions in the bipartisan outline — like cleaning abandoned mines — and reconciliation ideas will boost union jobs.

Catch up fast: Biden recently abandoned threats to veto the bipartisan plan unless a much larger, Democrats-only reconciliation package moves too.

But both packages — which have yet to even be unveiled in legislative form — face extremely high political hurdles.

What we're watching: How a CES could fit within reconciliation, which is meant for spending- and revenue-related measures but not general policy ideas.

The groups Evergreen Action and Data for Progress released a proposal in February about CES designs consistent with that process.

The intrigue: The memo, while citing Biden's reconciliation goals, leaves wiggle room and doesn't appear to be a red line for the White House position in the talks.

  • It offers a commitment to pushing priorities outside the bipartisan plan "through additional congressional action, including budget reconciliation, to ensure we build back our economy and country better."
  • However, even corralling 51 Senate votes for those efforts is a challenge, let alone the 60 needed for traditional legislation.
2. The baking northwest portends the world's cooling needs

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Record-breaking Pacific Northwest heat offers a window into the global need for more air conditioning as climate change makes heat waves more extreme, Ben and Andrew write.

Driving the news: The recent extremes — which saw Portland, Oregon hit a staggering 116°F, and many other all-time records obliterated — caused a run on air-conditioning units in Seattle, Portland, British Columbia and other areas.

The big picture: The regional sales are small compared to the surge of global cooling equipment needed in the years ahead, in industrialized countries but especially the developing world.

  • That's driven by higher standards of living that enable more people to buy amenities widely available in richer nations.
  • But it's also matter of life or death as some regions see heat and humidity extremes that will teeter on the edge of what humans can survive.

Yes, but: Inefficient air conditioners use a lot of energy. Especially in places where electricity doesn't come from clean sources, it'll be a challenge to deal with the heat caused by global warming without adding even more greenhouse gas emissions.

By the numbers: Roughly 2 billion air-conditioning units are in operation worldwide, per a 2020 International Energy Agency report. The global number of units installed could rise by two-thirds by 2030, per IEA.

  • A 2017 study in Nature Climate Change found that 30% of the world’s population is currently exposed to climatic conditions exceeding a deadly threshold for at least 20 days a year.
  • By 2100, this percentage is projected to increase to about 48% even under a scenario with drastic cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.

What we're watching: How much of the world's growing global cooling needs will be met with highly efficient units, heat pumps, low-impact coolants, and systems plugged into grids with high amounts of zero-carbon power.

Read the whole story.

Bonus: Air-conditioning demand
Expand chart
Data: IEA; Chart: Sara Wise/Axios

This International Energy Agency projection, from a 2018 report, is a few years old but helps to show the immense increase expected in global air conditioning.

3. Visualizing Portland's unprecedented heat
Reproduced from Robert Rohde, lead scientist at Berkeley Earth; Chart: Axios Visuals

Temperatures from Saturday through Monday in Portland, Ore., exceeded anything previously recorded since data began there in the 19th century, Andrew writes.

Driving the news: This plot shows the range of temperatures since 1971, showing how unusual this three-day period was.

Of note:

  • If we were to chart other locations' heat wave data, it would show similar results, from Salem, Ore., north to Canada, which also saw unheard-of temperatures, including 121F at Lytton, British Columbia, a national record that’s more typical of Death Valley, Calif.
  • The heat even ended in an unprecedented way in Portland, as the city experienced its biggest overnight temperature drop on record of 52°F.
4. Catch up fast on policy: Pipelines, Congress, fires

SCOTUS: "The Supreme Court dealt a blow to New Jersey and other states seeking a way to oppose pipelines running through their land, siding with a pipeline company Tuesday in a dispute over New Jersey land needed for a natural gas pipeline." (Associated Press)

Republicans: "House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy announced the creation of a climate change task force on Tuesday tasked with devising a policy agenda to address global warming should Republicans capture the House in the 2022 midterm elections." (Washington Examiner)

White House: "In the midst of the worst heat wave in the history of the Pacific Northwest and an early start to the West's wildfire season, the Biden administration is moving to raise federal firefighters' pay while taking other steps to bolster wildfire preparedness." (Axios)

5. One tech thing: new money for efficient motors startup

Turntide Technologies, a startup that has developed highly efficient electric motors, this morning announced $225 million in new financing from a range of backers including the Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board and Bill Gates' Breakthrough Energy Ventures.

Why it matters: Electric motors are used in all kinds of things like HVAC systems and industrial applications, and collectively account for a huge amount of power consumption, so using less energy is important for global climate goals.

TechCrunch has more.