People want to electrify their lives. These Google Trends prove it.
Good day, fellow climate people. Your Protocol Climate team is here to share the latest good news. Yes, today we’re feeling downright positive. Is it the sunny weather and perfect 70-degree days in New York? Who can say. But what we can tell you is that in addition to nice weather, we’re looking at trends in home electrification (good), the future of EV charging (great) and all the hot climate news fit to print (excellent, mostly).
I wish they all could be all-electric homes
Please take a minute to sing that section header to the tune of “California Girls” before we continue. Thanks.
Back to our regularly scheduled programming. Feeling cynical about the state of the climate? Well, it’s hardly a guarantee of a livable climate, but we took a peek at Google Trends this week, and it provided some small measure of fortitude. And now we pass that good news on to you: People can’t stop searching for how to electrify their homes and vehicles.
Interest in home electrification, especially in the kitchen, is on the rise. While individuals alone can’t solve climate change — that’s mainly on governments and corporations — shifts in public tastes can bring about policy changes fast. Especially if they shift rapidly (see: outdoor dining in major cities; marriage equality).
- Take induction stoves, a type of electric cooktop that transfers heat directly to a pan via electromagnetism. They’re wildly efficient at heating things up, putting your gas stove to shame. And they’re electric, which means installing one can help the climate and ensure that you’re not piping explosive methane gas into your house. Seems like a win-win, even before you consider the indoor air quality benefits.
- While induction stoves remain more expensive than gas ranges and relatively niche — searches for both “electric stove” and “gas stove” far outstrip those for “induction stove” — interest has built steadily in recent years, peaking in November 2021. (Amusingly, tends to jump annually in November, perhaps reflecting interest in properly cooking a Thanksgiving turkey — or Tofurkey — and considering the switch.)
- With a growing number of cities passing gas bans, though, induction stoves are likely to be on the rise. We’ll keep an eye on whether search interest follows suit.
It’s not just electric home cooking. People also want electric heating. Specifically, they want heat pumps. Interest in the still-obscure but mighty alternative to traditional energy-intensive HVAC systems has built as well.
- There have been sharp spikes around the time of major storms and heat-related power outages. A January 2018 outbreak of the polar vortex and the February 2021 cold snap in Texas that fried the grid both correlated with search interest.
- But even outside these sudden bursts of interest, search interest in heat pumps has risen slowly but steadily over the past five years.
- Switching U.S. homes away from gas furnaces and central AC to heat pumps would cut carbon emissions by an estimated 142 million metric tons per year, according to an analysis released last year by electrification research firm Carbon Switch. Not too shabby!
The masses are even more interested in an electric driving — and biking — future. This speaks in part to the fact that people tend to look into new cars and new bikes more regularly than major household appliances, as well as to the fact that EVs suddenly seem to be everywhere. You can’t turn on a TV without hearing about EVs, whether it’s Super Bowl commercials or President Joe Biden’s speeches.
- Electric bikes saw a major jump in search interest around the time that the coronavirus pandemic began in March 2020; it eventually leveled off, but then continued to build throughout the last year, peaking last fall. TBD on if summer will bring a renewed interest as people contemplate riding to the beach, a watermelon snugly secured in their e-bike basket. (Surely it’s not just me.)
- And the terms “home EV charging” and “EV for sale” have also popped up more in recent years, with a pronounced rise starting in roughly January 2021. These have paralleled a surge of new EV models, buoyed by a Biden administration that has been vocal about electrifying transit and backed it up with billions of dollars.
This all has taken place against a backdrop of surging energy prices. Google saw a rush of searches for “electricity price” during last year’s Texas storm, and another for “gas price” in March of this year as fuel prices soared following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
While Google Trends is an imperfect metric, it still gives us a rough sense of what the people want. And what they want are more electric options amid worries about rising energy prices. Now, it’s on companies and policymakers to deliver.— Lisa Martine Jenkins (email | twitter)
The EV charging world to come
The good news newsletter continues. (Sadly, you probably shouldn’t get used to it.) For a touch more optimism, consider that electric vehicle charging networks are expanding at roughly the same pace as the EV market itself — and the trend is likely to continue despite some immediate supply chain hiccups, according to ChargePoint CEO Pasquale Romano.
When Romano took the helm at the EV charging company over a decade ago, he believed in his bones that demand for a charging network would continue to build, even at a time when EVs were a rarity on the road. While that increase in demand has mostly come to pass — at least if “EV for sale” searches are any gauge — building out the charging network is still in beta mode. That’s set to change this decade, though.
I spoke with Romano recently about the future of electrified transit. We dug into whether an EV adoption tipping point is imminent, and whether charging networks will grow quickly enough to accommodate a surge of new demand.
This excerpt of our conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Do you think we’re approaching a tipping point when it comes to EV adoption?
What's actually happening is a demand shock, not a supply shock. A long time ago, we defined the EV tipping point as the threshold where we have electric choices as consumers, regardless of what kind of car we drive. Do you drive a pickup, a compact car, a luxury sedan or an SUV? How much did it cost? When we have electric choices that cover not all but most of what consumers drive, then we will have a prayer of penetrating the mass market. And I think we’re there.
But auto manufacturers have had to pick up production capacity: They have to buy factory equipment and the materials to make these things. Production capacity doesn’t grow on trees. So they make a fixed number of cars per year, and they want to transform some percentage of those to electric and then every year increase that share until they aren’t making gas cars anymore. That’s a multiyear planning cycle. I don’t think auto manufacturers expected demand to flip this hard.
Do you anticipate that the expansion of ChargePoint’s network will happen at roughly the same pace as purchases of EVs?
When you zoom way back, there isn't a whole lot of surging that's going to happen. When you look at a vertical within EV charging, you might get a policy that could cause the network to grow more quickly. So you might have a policy campaign like the NEVI program that will affect the build ahead or other things that can cause some ebb and flow. But in totality, the network will be built at the same pace as cars, generally. And it has been for 15 years. You might have a year where something bursts ahead a little bit, but if you average over just a few years, the network will pretty much grow with cars. And it doesn't need to go any faster.
Want to hear more from Romano? Stay tuned for the whole interview — and details on the company’s predictions — on Protocol later today.
— Lisa Martine Jenkins
A MESSAGE FROM TRUSTED FUTURE
Innovators across the country are unlocking new technological frontiers using AI, 5G, IoT and the cloud to create opportunities never before possible that fundamentally expand our ability to solve important problems —technologies that can improve health outcomes, cut greenhouse gasses and make factories more competitive.
One big number: 28% of climate research funding has gone to cleaner energy
Ever wondered where climate research dollars go? (Really, who hasn’t?) Well, wonder no more.
A new University of Sussex study analyzed funding for climate and energy research from 1990 to 2020, and found that 36% has gone toward climate adaptation, while another 28% went to studying how to clean up the energy system. Transport and mobility (13%), geoengineering (12%) and industrial decarbonization (11%) each represented significant shares as well. The bulk of the funding has gone to researchers in wealthy, Western countries, which are less likely to suffer the first and worst effects of climate change.
The researchers also found that fledgling climate technologies — specifically those that involve solar geoengineering, which aim to control how much of the sun’s energy reaches the planet’s surface — have the potential to be transformative but are “hugely underfunded” despite having received some serious Bill Gates money.—Lisa Martine Jenkins
One weird trick could help clean up bitcoin. Just kidding, there’s no one trick. But a new tool to evaluate renewable energy credits could show which miners are serious about their carbon footprint and which are pretenders.
The new climate denial sounds different, but the goals are the same. “Energy independence” is the latest misinformation to propagate on Facebook, largely free of fact-checking.
Tesla is helping employees with abortion-related travel. The company has offered reimbursements since 2021.
Uh, hope you weren’t counting on electricity always being available. The U.S. is facing a growing risk of blackouts due to extreme weather and retiring power plants.
If only you had bought a few tons of lithium in 2020: You’d be ready to retire (ah, the dream). Lithium prices have increased nearly an order of magnitude since then, from $8,000 per metric ton to $75,000.
Somehow the U.S. is still importing Russian uranium. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said we should probably not be doing that, and that the Biden administration is making a plan to ensure American nuclear power plants keep running sans Russian fuel.
Rock-hard ice cream pints, begone. Ben & Jerry’s owner Unilever is researching the effects of slightly higher temperatures in its ice cream freezers in a bid to save energy and reduce emissions. Finally, the borderline runny ice cream consistency your Protocol Climate editor loves will be the norm.
A MESSAGE FROM TRUSTED FUTURE
The most important element for building trust in the digital ecosystem is to have producers of products and services dedicate themselves to infusing trust into the lifecycle of their products and services. Only with trust can we maintain a global information infrastructure and obtain the full benefits of technology into the future.
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