The 4 things needed to reach Biden’s ambitious 2050 solar goal

A report on the future of solar energy from the Department of Energy paints a sunny picture, if you will, of the next three decades, at the end of which nearly half the country’s energy will be provided by the sun. But for that to happen, big pushes need to happen along four major lines: better photovoltaics, more energy storage, lower soft costs, and putting about a million people to work.

Here’s what the report says needs to happen in each of these sectors in order to meet the ambitious goals it sets out.

Better photovoltaics

The solar cells themselves will need to continue to improve in both cost and efficiency in order to achieve the kind of installation volumes hoped for by the DOE. For reference, 2020 saw 15 gigawatts worth of solar installed, the most ever — but we’re going to need to double that installation rate by 2025, then double it again by 2030.

If photovoltaics don’t improve in efficiency, that means these already ambitious numbers need to go even higher to account for that. And if they stay at today’s prices, the costs will be too high to achieve those volumes as well.

Photovoltaics have come a long way, but they also have a long way to go.

Fortunately efficiency is going up and cost is going down already. But it’s not like that just happens naturally. Companies and researchers across the globe have spent millions on new manufacturing processes, new materials, and other improvements, incremental individually but which add up over time. This basic research and advancement of the science and methods around solar must continue at or beyond the pace that they have over the last two decades.

The DOE suggests that research along the lines of making more exotic PVs cheaper, or stacking cells to minimize bandgap-related losses could be crucial. Flexible and tile- or shingle-like substrates or semi-transparent installations that pass light through to crops or building interiors may also figure. Altogether the plan calls for a reduction of the overall cost to drop by almost half from $1.30/watt today on average to $0.70 by 2030 and more after that.

Solar concentrators get their own heading in the report, and many companies are looking into these to replace industrial processes. These will not likely be used to support the grid at large but will nevertheless replace many fossil fuel based processes.

More energy storage

An unavoidable consequence of getting your energy from the sun is that at night you must rely on stored energy in some form or another, originally nuclear or coal but increasingly a form of storage that collects excess power collected during the daytime. With more of peak usage being covered by renewables, cities can safely transition away from carbon-based energy sources.

While we often think of energy storage in terms of batteries, and certainly they will be present, but the amount of energy that must be stored rules out something like lithium-ion batteries as the primary storage mechanism. Instead, the excess energy can be put towards powering energy-hungry renewable fuel production, like hydrogen fuel cells. This fuel can then be used to generate power when solar can’t meet demand.

The diagram shows how demand would normally go (purple) then how it would go with solar (orange) and how energy storage could mitigate that load (solid colors).

That’s just the “off the top of the head” answer. As the report states: “Thermal, chemical, and mechanical storage technologies are under various stages of development, including pumped thermal storage, liquid air energy storage, novel gravity-based technologies, and geological hydrogen storage.”

No doubt there will be a variety of new and old technologies working to provide the various levels of energy redundancy and storage duration needs of the country. These will go a long way towards making solar and other renewable energy sources capable of being relied on for a greater proportion of demand.

Lower soft costs

If we’re going to double and redouble the rate of solar cell deployment, the costs have to come down not just for the cells themselves, but the whole end-to-end process: assessment, accounting, labor, and of course the profit due to the companies that will be doing the actual work.

Lowering non-hardware costs is already the goal of many startups, like Aurora Solar, which clearly saw the writing on the wall and started making it as easy as possible to plan, visualize, and sell solar installations entirely online.

Right now the all-in cost of a solar roof might be twice the cost of the hardware or more. There are several contributors to this, from financing to regulations to markets, and each has its own intricacies beyond the scope of this article. Suffice it to say that if you can shave one percent off the cost of a solar installation by streamlining the time or cost involved in any of these areas, there will be more than enough volume to turn that one point into a major sum. It will take the combined efforts of many organizational and commercial minds to make this happen, just as it takes the efforts of many scientific ones to improve PVs.

A million jobs

Last but certainly not least, someone has to actually do all this work. That means a whole lot of labor — several times the quarter million people currently estimated to be attached to the solar industry in the country today.

Jobs in this sector will run the gamut, from skilled workers with construction experience to energy professionals who’ve managed grids to public-private partnership wizards who connect commerce to the government’s inevitable top-down incentives. The additional half a million to a million jobs will almost certainly comprise many brand new companies and sub-industries, but the general breakdown so far has been about 65 percent installation and project development, 25 percent sales and manufacturing, and the rest in miscellaneous roles.

It is worth noting, however, that energy concerns currently clinging with white knuckles to aging oil and coal infrastructure will need to do right by the tens of thousands they still employ, and the renewable energy sector is a perfect transition space. “Throughout the transition, certain fossil fuel companies may come under increasing financial distress,” the report reads, which is something of an understatement. The authors strongly suggest funding transition programs that cover training, relocation, and guarantees of existing financial benefits like pensions.

The report points out that the solar industry is overwhelmingly white and male, like a few others we could name, so it is probably worth putting in work on that front if the million hires are to be at all equitable.

You can browse the full study here.

#department-of-energy, #doe, #government, #greentech, #hardware, #renewables, #science, #solar, #solar-energy

Major ransomware attack cripples gas pipeline on US East Coast

Problems with Colonial Pipeline's distribution system tend to lead to gasoline runs and price increases across the US Southeast and Eastern seaboard. In this September 2016 photo, a man prepared to refuel his vehicle after a Colonial leak in Alabama.

Enlarge / Problems with Colonial Pipeline’s distribution system tend to lead to gasoline runs and price increases across the US Southeast and Eastern seaboard. In this September 2016 photo, a man prepared to refuel his vehicle after a Colonial leak in Alabama. (credit: Luke Sharrett via Getty Images)

On Friday, Colonial Pipeline took many of its systems offline in the wake of a ransomware attack. With systems offline to contain the threat, the company’s pipeline system is inoperative. The system delivers approximately 45 percent of the East Coast’s petroleum products, including gasoline, diesel fuel, and jet fuel.

Colonial Pipeline issued a statement Sunday saying that the US Department of Energy is leading the US federal government response to the attack. “[L]eading, third-party cybersecurity experts” engaged by Colonial Pipeline itself are also on the case. The company’s four main pipelines are still down, but it has begun restoring service to smaller lateral lines between terminals and delivery points as it determines how to safely restart its systems and restore full functionality.

Colonial Pipeline has not publicly said what was demanded of it or how the demand was made.

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Geothermal technology has enormous potential to power the planet and Fervo wants to tap it

Tapping the geothermal energy stored beneath the Earth’s surface as a way to generate renewable power is one of the new visions for the future that’s captured the attention of environmentalists and oil and gas engineers alike.

That’s because it’s not only a way to generate power that doesn’t rely on greenhouse gas emitting hydrocarbons, but because it uses the same skillsets and expertise that the oil and gas industry has been honing and refining for years.

At least that’s what drew former the former completion engineer (it’s not what it sounds like) Tim Latimer to the industry and to launch Fervo Energy, the Houston-based geothermal tech developer that’s picked up funding from none other than Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Ventures (that fund… is so busy) and former eBay executive, Jeff Skoll’s Capricorn Investment Group.

With the new $28 million cash in hand Fervo’s planning on ramping up its projects which Latimer said would “bring on hundreds of megawatts of power in the next few years.”

Latimer got his first exposure to the environmental impact of power generation as a kid growing up in a small town outside of Waco, Texas near the Sandy Creek coal power plant, one of the last coal-powered plants to be built in the U.S.

Like many Texas kids, Latimer came from an oil family and got his first jobs in the oil and gas industry before realizing that the world was going to be switching to renewables and the oil industry — along with the friends and family he knew — could be left high and dry.

It’s one reason why he started working on Fervo, the entrepreneur said.

“What’s most important, from my perspective, since I started my career in the oil and gas industry is providing folks that are part of the energy transition on the fossil fuel side to work in the clean energy future,” Latimer said. “I’ve been able to go in and hire contractors and support folks that have been out of work or challenged because of the oil price crash… And I put them to work on our rigs.”

Fervo Energy chief executive, Tim Latimer, pictured in a hardhat at one fo the company’s development sites. Image Credit: Fervo Energy

When the Biden administration talks about finding jobs for employees in the hydrocarbon industry as part of the energy transition, this is exactly what they’re talking about.

And geothermal power is no longer as constrained by geography, so there’s a lot of abundant resources to tap and the potential for high paying jobs in areas that are already dependent on geological services work, Latimer said (late last year, Vox published a good overview of the history and opportunity presented by the technology).

“A large percentage of the world’s population actually lives next to good geothermal resources,” Latimer said. “25 countries today that have geothermal installed and producing and another 25 where geothermal is going to grow.” 

Geothermal power production actually has a long history in the Western U.S. and in parts of Africa where naturally occurring geysers and steam jets pouring from the earth have been obvious indicators of good geothermal resources, Latimer said.

Fervo’s technology unlocks a new class of geothermal resource that is ready for large-scale deployment. Fervo’s geothermal systems use novel techniques, including horizontal drilling, distributed fiber optic sensing, and advanced computational modelling, to deliver more repeatable and cost effective geothermal electricity,” Latimer wrote in an email. “Fervo’s technology combines with the latest advancements in Organic Rankine Cycle generation systems to deliver flexible, 24/7 carbon-free electricity.”

Initially developed with a grant from the TomKat Center at Stanford University and a fellowship funded by Activate.org at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab’s Cyclotron Road division, Fervo has gone on to score funding from the DOE’s Geothermal Technology Office and ARPA-E to continue work with partners like Schlumberger, Rice University and the Berkeley Lab.

The combination of new and old technology is opening vast geographies to the company to potentially develop new projects.

Other companies are also looking to tap geothermal power to drive a renewable power generation development business. Those are startups like Eavor, which has the backing of energy majors like bp Ventures, Chevron Technology Ventures, Temasek, BDC Capital, Eversource and Vickers Venture Partners; and other players including GreenFire Energy, and Sage Geosystems.

Demand for geothermal projects is skyrocketing, opening up big markets for startups that can nail the cost issue for geothermal development. As Latimer noted, from 2016 to 2019 there was only one major geothermal contract, but in 2020 there were ten new major power purchase agreements signed by the industry. 

For all of these projects, cost remains a factor. Contracts that are being signed for geothermal that are in the $65 to $75 per megawatt range, according to Latimer. By comparison, solar plants are now coming in somewhere between $35 and $55 per megawatt, as The Verge reported last year

But Latimer said the stability and predictability of geothermal power made the cost differential palatable for utilities and businesses that need the assurance of uninterruptible power supplies. As a current Houston resident, the issue is something that Latimer has an intimate experience with from this year’s winter freeze, which left him without power for five days.

Indeed, geothermal’s ability to provide always-on clean power makes it an incredibly attractive option. In a recent Department of Energy study, geothermal could meet as much as 16% of the U.S. electricity demand, and other estimates put geothermal’s contribution at nearly 20% of a fully decarbonized grid.

“We’ve long been believers in geothermal energy but have waited until we’ve seen the right technology and team to drive innovation in the sector,” said Ion Yadigaroglu of Capricorn Investment Group, in a statement.  “Fervo’s technology capabilities and the partnerships they’ve created with leading research organizations make them the clear leader in the new wave of geothermal.”

Fervo Energy drilling site. Image Credit: Fervo Energy

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Claiming a landmark in fusion energy, TAE Technologies sees commercialization by 2030

In a small industrial park located nearly halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego, one company is claiming to have hit a milestone in the development of a new technology for generating power from nuclear fusion.

The twenty year old fusion energy technology developer TAE Technologies said its reactors could be operating at commercial scale by the end of the decade, thanks to its newfound ability to produce stable plasma at temperatures over 50 million degrees (nearly twice as hot as the sun), .

The promise of fusion energy, a near limitless energy source with few emissions and no carbon footprint, has been ten years out for the nearly seventy years since humanity first harnessed the power of nuclear energy.  But a slew of companies including TAE, General Fusion, Commonwealth Fusion Systems and a host of others across North America and around the world are making rapid advancements that look to bring the technology from the realm of science fiction into the real world.

For TAE Technologies, the achievement serves as a validation of the life’s work of Norman Rostoker, one of the company’s co-founders who had devoted his life to fusion energy research and died before he could see the company he helped create reach its latest milestone.

“This is an incredibly rewarding milestone and an apt tribute to the vision of my late mentor, Norman Rostoker,” said TAE’s current chief executive officer, Michl Binderbauer, in a statement announcing the company’s achievement. “Norman and I wrote a paper in the 1990s theorizing that a certain plasma dominated by highly energetic particles should become increasingly better confined and stable as temperatures increase. We have now been able to demonstrate this plasma behavior with overwhelming evidence. It is a powerful validation of our work over the last three decades, and a very critical milestone for TAE that proves the laws of physics are on our side.”

Rostoker’s legacy lives on inside TAE through the company’s technology platform, called, appropriately, “Norman”. In the last 18 months that technology has demonstrated consistent performance, reaching over 50 million degrees in several hundred test cycles.

Six years ago, the company had proved that its reactor design could sustain plasma indefinitely — meaning that once the switch is flipped on a reaction, that fusion reaction can continue indefinitely. Now, the company said, it has achieved the necessary temperatures to make its reactors commercially viable.

It’s with these milestones behind it that TAE was able to raise an additional $280 million in financing, bringing its total up to $880 million and making it one of the best financed private nuclear fusion endeavors in the world.

“The Norman milestone gives us a high degree of confidence that our unique approach brings fusion within grasp technologically and, more important, economically,” Binderbauer said. “As we shift out of the scientific validation phase into engineering commercial-scale solutions for both our fusion and power management technologies, TAE will become a significant contributor in modernizing the entire energy grid.”

The company isn’t generating energy yet, and won’t for the foreseeable future. The next goal for the company, according to Binderbauer, is to develop the technology to the point where it can create the conditions necessary for making energy from a fusion reaction.

“The energy is super tiny. It’s immaterial. It’s a needle in the haystack,” Binderbauer said. “In terms of its energy discernability, we can use it for diagnostics.”

TAE Technologies Michl Binderbauer standing next to the company’s novel fusion reactor. Image Credit: TAE Technologies

Follow the sun

It took $150 million and five iterations for TAE Technologies to get to Norman, its national laboratory scale fusion device. The company said it conducted over 25,000 fully-integrated fusion reactor core experiments, optimized using machine learning programs developed in collaboration with Google and processing power from the Department of Energy’s INCITE program, which leverages exascale-level computing, TAE Technologies said.

The new machine was first fired up in the summer of 2017. Before it could even be constructed TAE Technologies went through a decade of experimentation to even begin approaching the construction of a physical prototype. By 2008, the first construction began on integrated experiments to make a plasma core and infuse it with some energetic particles. The feeder technology and beams alone cost $100 million, Binderbauer said. Then the company needed to develop other technologies like vacuum conditioning. Power control mechanisms also needed to be put in place to ensure that the company’s 3 megawatt power supply could be stored in enough containment systems to power a 750 megawatt energy reaction.

Finally, machine learning capabilities needed to be tapped from companies like Google and compute power from the Department of Energy had to be harnessed to manage computations that could take what had been the theorems that defined Rostoker’s life’s work, and prove that they could be made real.

“By the time Norman became an operating machine we had four generations of devices preceding it. Out of those there were two fully integrated ones and two generations of incremental machines that could do some of it but not all of it.”

Fusion energy’s burning problems

While fusion has a lot of promise as a zero-carbon source of energy, it’s not without some serious limitations, as Andy Jassby, the former principal physicist at the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab noted in a 2017 Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists article.

Jassby wrote:

Earth-bound fusion reactors that burn neutron-rich isotopes have byproducts that are anything but harmless: Energetic neutron streams comprise 80 percent of the fusion energy output of deuterium-tritium reactions and 35 percent of deuterium-deuterium reactions.

Now, an energy source consisting of 80 percent energetic neutron streams may be the perfect neutron source, but it’s truly bizarre that it would ever be hailed as the ideal electrical energy source. In fact, these neutron streams lead directly to four regrettable problems with nuclear energy: radiation damage to structures; radioactive waste; the need for biological shielding; and the potential for the production of weapons-grade plutonium 239—thus adding to the threat of nuclear weapons proliferation, not lessening it, as fusion proponents would have it.

In addition, if fusion reactors are indeed feasible—as assumed here—they would share some of the other serious problems that plague fission reactors, including tritium release, daunting coolant demands, and high operating costs. There will also be additional drawbacks that are unique to fusion devices: the use of a fuel (tritium) that is not found in nature and must be replenished by the reactor itself; and unavoidable on-site power drains that drastically reduce the electric power available for sale.

TAE Technologies is aware of the problems, according to a spokesperson for the firm, and the company has noted the issues Jassby raised in its product development, the spokesperson said.

“All the callouts to tritium is exactly why TAE has been focused on pB-11 as its feedstock from the very beginning (early 90’s).  TAE will reach D-T conditions as a natural stepping stone to pB-11, cause it cooks at ‘only’ 100M c, whereas pB-11 is upwards of 1M c,” the spokesperson wrote in a response. “It would seem like a much harder accomplishment to then scale to 1M, but what this milestone proves is the ‘Scaling law’ for the kind of fusion TAE is generating – in an FRC (the linear design of “Norman”, unlike the donut Tokamaks) the hotter the plasma, the more stable it becomes. It’s the opposite of a [Tokamak].  The milestone gives them scientific confidence they can increase temps beyond DT to pB11 and realize fusion with boron — cheap, aneutronic, abundant — the ideal terrestrial feedstock (let’s not get into mining the moon for helium-3!).”

As for power concerns, the TAE fusion reactor can convert a 2MW grid feed into 750MW shots on the machine without taking down Orange County’s grid (and needing to prove it to SCE), and scale power demand in microseconds to mold and course-correct plasmas in real-time, the spokesperson wrote.

In fact, TAE is going to spin off its power management technology into a separate business focused on peak shaving, energy storage and battery management on the grid and in electric vehicles.

A “safer” fusion technology?

The Hydrogen-Boron, or p-B11, fuel cycle is, according to the company, the most abundant fuel source on earth, and will be the ultimate feedstock for TAE Technologies’ reactor, according to the company. But initially, TAE, like most of the other companies currently developing fusion technologies will be working with Deuterium-Tritium as its fuel source.

The demonstration facility “Copernicus” which will be built using some of the new capital the company has announced raising, will start off on the D-T fuel cycle and eventually make the switch. Over time, TAE hopes to license the D-T technology while building up to its ultimate goal.

Funding the company’s “money by milestone” approach are some fo the world’s wealthiest families, firms, and companies. Vulcan, Venrock, NEA, Wellcome Trust, Google, and the Kuwait Investment Authority are all backers. So too, are the family offices of Addison Fischer, Art Samberg, and Charls Schwab.

“TAE is providing the miracles the 21st century needs,” said Addison Fischer, TAE Board Director and longtime investor who has been involved with conservation and environmental issues for decades. Fischer also founded VeriSign and is a pioneer in defining and implementing security technology underlying modern electronic commerce. “TAE’s most recent funding positions the company to undertake their penultimate step in implementing sustainable aneutronic nuclear fusion and power management solutions that will benefit the planet.”

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Swedish battery manufacturer Northvolt receives a $14 billion order from VW

Northvolt, the Swedish battery manufacturer which raised $1 billion in financing from investors led by Goldman Sachs and Volkswagen back in 2019, has signed a massive $14 billion battery order with VW for the next 10 years.

The big buy clears up some questions about where Volkswagen will be getting the batteries for its huge push into electric vehicles, which will see the automaker reach production capacity of 1.5 million electric vehicles by 2025.

The deal will not only see Northvolt become the strategic lead supplier for battery cells for Volkswagen Group in Europe, but will also involve the German automaker increasing its equity ownership of Northvolt.

As part of the partnership agreement, Northvolt’s gigafactory in Sweden will be expanded and Northvolt agreed to sell its joint venture share in Salzgitter, Germany to Volkswagen as the car maker looks to build up its battery manufacturing efforts across Europe, the companies said.

The agreement between Northvolt and VW brings the Swedish battery maker’s total contracts to $27 billion in the two years since it raised its big $1 billion cash haul.

“Volkswagen is a key investor, customer and partner on the journey ahead and we will continue to work hard with the goal of providing them with the greenest battery on the planet as they rapidly expand their fleet of electric vehicles,” said Peter Carlsson, the co-founder and chief executive of Northvolt, in a statement.

Northvolt’s other partners and customers include ABB, BMW Group, Scania, Siemens, Vattenfall, and Vestas. Together these firms comprise some of the largest manufacturers in Europe.

Back in 2019, the company said that its cell manufacturing capacity could hit 16 Gigawatt hours and that it had sold its capacity to the tune of $13 billion through 2030. That means that the Volkswagen deal will eat up a significant portion of expanded product lines.

Founded Carlsson, a former executive at Tesla, Northvolt’s battery business was intended to leapfrog the European Union into direct competition with Asia’s largest battery manufacturers — Samsung, LG Chem, and CATL.

Back when the company first announced its $1 billion investment round, Carlsson had said that Northvolt would need to build up to150 gigawatt hours of capacity to hit targets for. 2030 electric vehicle sales.

The plant in Sweden is expected to hit at least 32 gigawatt hours of production thanks, in part to backing by the Swedish pension fund firms AMF and Folksam and IKEA-linked IMAS Foundation, in addition to the big financial partners Volkswagen and Goldman Sachs.

Northvolt has had a busy few months. Earlier in March the company announced the acquisition of the Silicon Valley-based startup company Cuberg.

That acquisition gave Northvolt a foothold in the U.S. and established the company’s advanced technology center.

The acquisition also gives Northvolt a window into the newest battery chemistry that’s being touted as a savior for the industry — lithium metal batteries.

Cuberg spun out of Stanford University back in 2015 to commercialize what the company called its next-generation battery combining a liquid electrolyte with a lithium metal anode. The company’s customers include Boeing, BETA Technologies, Ampaire, and VoltAero and it was backed by Boeing HorizonX Ventures, Activate.org, the California Energy Commission, the Department of Energy and the TomKat Center at Stanford.

Cuberg’s cells deliver 70 percent increased range and capacity versus comparable lithium ion cells designed for electric aviation applications. The two companies hope that they can apply the technology to Northvolt’s automotive and industrial product portfolio with the ambition to industrialize cells in 2025 that exceed 1,000 Wh/L, while meeting the full spectrum of automotive customer requirements, according to a statement.

“The Cuberg team has shown exceptional ability to develop world-class technology, proven results and an outstanding customer base in a lean and efficient organization,” said Peter Carlsson, CEO and Co-Founder, Northvolt in a statement. “Combining these strengths with the capabilities and technology of Northvolt allows us to make significant improvements in both performance and safety while driving down cost even further for next-generation battery cells. This is critical for accelerating the shift to fully electric vehicles and responding to the needs of the leading automotive companies within a relevant time frame.”

 

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Bringing jobs and health benefits, BlocPower unlocks energy efficiency retrofits for low income communities

Retrofitting buildings to make them more energy efficient and better at withstanding climate change induced extreme weather is going to be a big, multi-billion dollar business. But it’s one that’s been hard for low-income communities to tap, thanks to obstacles ranging faulty incentive structures to an inability to adequately plan for which upgrades will be most effective in which buildings.

Enter BlocPower, a New York-based startup founded by a longtime advocate for energy efficiency and the job creation that comes with it, which has a novel solution for identifying, developing and profiting off of building upgrades in low income communities — all while supporting high-paying jobs for workers in the communities the company hopes to serve.

The company also has managed to raise $63 million in equity and debt financing to support its mission. That money is split between an $8 million investment from some of the country’s top venture firms and a $55 million debt facility structured in part by Goldman Sachs to finance the redevelopment projects that BlocPower is creating.

These capital commitments aren’t charity. Government dollars are coming for the industry and private companies from healthcare providers, to utility companies, to real estate developers and property managers all have a vested interest in seeing this market succeed.

There’s going to be over $1 billion carved out for weatherization and building upgrades in the stimulus package that’s still making its way through Congress

For BlocPower’s founder, Donnel Baird, the issue of seeing buildings revitalized and good high-paying jobs coming into local communities isn’t academic. Baird was born in Brooklyn’s Bedford Stuyvesant neighborhood and witnessed firsthand the violence and joblessness that was ripping the fabric of that rich and vibrant community apart during the crack epidemic and economic decline of the 1980s and early 90s.

Seeing that violence firsthand, including a shooting on his way to school, instilled in Baird a desire to “create jobs for disconnected Black and brown people” so they would never feel the hopelessness and lack of opportunity that fosters cycles of violence.

Some time after the shooting, Baird’s family relocated from Brooklyn to Stone Mountain, Georgia, and after graduating from Duke University, Baird became a climate activist and community organizer, with a focus on green jobs. That led to a role in the presidential campaign for Barack Obama and an offer to work in Washington on Obama’s staff.

Baird declined the opportunity, but did take on a role reaching out to communities and unions to help implement the first stimulus package that Obama and Biden put together to promote green jobs.

And it was while watching the benefits of that stimulus collapse under the weight of a fragmented building industry that Baird came up with the idea for BlocPower.

“It was all about the implementation challenges that we ran into,” Baird said. “If you have ten buildings on a block in Oakland and they were all built by the same developer at the same time. If you rebuild those buildings and you retrofit all of those buildings, in five of those buildings you’re going to trap carbon monoxide in and kill everybody and in the other five buildings you’re going to have a reduction in emissions and energy savings.”

Before conducting any retrofits to capture energy savings (and health savings, but more on that later), Baird says developers need to figure out the potential for asbestos contamination in the building; understand the current heating, ventilation, and cooling systems that the building uses; and get an assessment of what actually needs to be done.

That’s the core problem that Baird says BlocPower solves. The company has developed software to analyze a building’s construction by creating a virtual twin based on blueprints and public records. Using that digital twin the company can identify what upgrades a building needs. Then the company taps lines of credit to work with building owners to manage the retrofits and capture the value of the energy savings and carbon offsets associated with the building upgrades.

For BlocPower to work, the financing piece is just as important as the software. Without getting banks to sign off on loans to make the upgrades, all of those dollars from the federal government remain locked up. “That’s why the $7 billion earmarked for investment in green buildings did not work,” Baird said. “At BlocPower our view is that we could build software to simulate using government records… we could simulate enough about the mechanicals, electrical, and plumbing across buildings in NYC so that we could avoid that cost.”

Along with co-founder Morris Cox, Baird built BlocPower while at Columbia University’s business school so that he could solve the technical problems and overcome the hurdles for community financing of renewable retrofit projects.

Right before his graduation, in 2014, the company had applied for a contract to do energy efficiency retrofits and was set to receive financing from the Department of Energy. The finalists had to go down to the White House and pitch the President. That pitch was scheduled for the same day as a key final exam for one of Baird’s Columbia classes, which the professor said was mandatory. Baird skipped the test and won the pitch, but failed the class.

After that it was off to Silicon Valley to pitch the business. Baird met with 200 or more investors who rejected his pitch. Many of these investors had been burned in the first cleantech bubble or had witnessed the fiery conflagrations that engulfed firms that did back cleantech businesses and swore they’d never make the same mistakes.

That was the initial position at Andreessen Horowitz when Baird pitched them, he said. “When I went to Andreessen Horowitz, they said ‘Our policy is no cleantech whatsoever. You need to figure out how software is going to eat up this energy efficiency market’,” Baird recalled.

Working with Mitch Kapor, an investor and advisor, Baird worked on the pitch and got Kapor to talk to Ben Horowitz. Both men agreed to invest and BlocPower was off to the races.

The company has completed retrofits in over 1,000 buildings since its launch, Baird said, mainly to prove out its thesis. Now, with the revolving credit facility in hand, BlocPower can take bigger bites out of the market. That includes a contract with utility companies in New York that will pay $30 million if the company can complete its retrofits and verify the energy savings from that work.

There are also early projects underway in Oakland and Chicago, Baird said.

Building retrofits do more than just provide energy savings, as Goldman Sachs managing director Margaret Anadu noted in a statement.

“BlocPower is proving that it is possible to have commercial solutions that improve public health in underserved communities, create quality jobs and lower carbon emissions,” Anadu said. “We are so proud to have supported Donnel and his team…through both equity and debt capital to further expand their reach.”

These benefits also have potential additional revenue streams associated with them that BlocPower can also capture, according to investor and director, Mitch Kapor.

“There are significant linkages that are known between buildings and pollution that are a public health issue. In a number of geographies community hospitals are under a mandate to improve health outcomes and BlocPower can get paid from health outcomes associated with the reduction in carbon. That could be a new revenue stream and a financing mechanism,” Kapor said. “There’s a lot of work to be done in essentially taking the value creation engine they have and figuring out where to bring it and which other engines they need to have to have the maximum social impact.”

Social impact is something that both Kapor and Baird talk about extensively and Baird sees the creation of green jobs as an engine for social justice — and one that can reunite a lot of working class voters whose alliances were fractured by the previous administration. Baird also believes that putting people to work is the best argument for climate change policies that have met with resistance among many union workers.

“We will not be able to pass shit unless workers and people of color are on board to force the U.S. senate to pass climate change policy,” Baird said. “We have to pass the legislation that’s going to facilitate green infrastructure in a massive way.”

He pointed to the project in Oakland as an example of how climate policies can create jobs and incentivize political action.

“In Oakland we’re doing a pilot project in 12 low income buildings in oakland. I sent them $20K to train these workers from local people of color in Oakland… they are being put to work in Oakland,” Baird said. “That’s the model for how this gets built. So now we need them to call Chuck Shumer to push him to the left on green building legislation.” 

 

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Volta Energy Technologies raises over $90M of a targeted $150M fund to back energy storage startups

Volta Energy Technologies, the energy investment and advisory services firm backed by some of the biggest names in energy and energy storage materials, has closed on nearly $90 million of a targeted $150 million investment fund, according to people familiar with the group’s plans.

The venture investment vehicle compliments an $180 million existing commitment from Volta’s four corporate backers — Equinor, Albermarle, Epsilon, and Hanon Systems — and comes at a time when interest in energy storage technologies couldn’t be stronger. 

As the transition away from internal combustion engines and hydrocarbon fuels begins in earnest companies are scrambling to drive down costs and improve performance of battery technologies that will be necessary to power millions of electric cars and store massive amounts of renewable energy that still needs to be developed.

“Capital markets have noticed the enormity of the opportunity in transitioning away from carbon,” said Jeff Chamberlain, Volta’s founder and chief executive.

Born of an idea that that began in 2012 when Chamberlain began talking with the head of the Department of Energy under the Obama Administration back in 2014. What began when Chamberlain was at Argonne National Lab leading the development of JCESR, the lead lab in the US government’s battery research consortium, evolved into Volta Energy as Chamberlain pitched a private sector investment partner that could leverage the best research from National Laboratories and the work being done by private industry to find the best technology.

Support for the Volta project remained strong through both public and private institutions, according to Chamberlain. Even under the Trump Administration, Volta’s initiative was able to thrive and wrangle some of the biggest names in the chemicals, utility, oil and gas and industrial thermal management to invest in a $180 million fund that could be evergreen, Chamberlain said.

According to people with knowledge of the organizations plans, the new investment fund which is targeting $150 million but has hard cap of $225 million would compliment the existing investment vehicle to give the firm more firepower as additional capital floods into the battery industry.

Chamberlain declined to comment specifically on the fund, given restrictions, but did say that his firm had a mandate to invest in technology that is battery and storage related and that “enables the ubiquitous adoption of electric vehicles and the ubiquitous adoption of solar and wind.”

Back during the first cleantech boom the brains behind Volta witnessed a lot of good money getting poured into bad ideas and vaporware that would never amount to commercial success, said Chamberlain. Volta was formed to educate investors on the real opportunities that scientists were tracking in energy storage and back those companies with dollars.

“We knew that investors were throwing money into a dumpster fire. We knew it could have a negative impact on this transition to carbon,” Chamberlain said. “Our whole objective was to help guide individuals deploying massive amounts of their personal wealth and move it from putting money into an ongoing dumpster fire.”

That mission has become even more important as more money floods into the battery market, Chamberlain said.

The SPAC craze set off by Nikola’s public offering in electric vehicles and continuing through QuantumScape’s battery SPAC through a slew of other electric vehicle offerings and into EV charging and battery companies has made the stakes higher for everyone, he said.

Chamberlain thinks of Volta’s mission as finding the best emerging technologies that are coming to market across the battery and power management supply chain and ensure that as manufacturing capacity comes online, the technology is ready to meet growing demand.

“Investors who do not truly understand the energy storage ecosystem and its underlying technology challenges are at a distinct disadvantage,” said Goldman Sachs veteran and early Volta investor Randy Rochman, in a statement. “It has become abundantly clear to me that nothing happens in the world of energy storage without Volta’s knowledge. I can think of no better team to identify energy storage investment opportunities and avoid pitfalls.”  

The new fund from Volta has already backed a number of new energy storage and enabling technologies including: Natron, which develops high-power, fire-safe Sodium-ion batteries using Prussian blue chemistry for applications that demand a quick discharge of power; Smart Wires, which develops hardware that acts as a router for electricity to travel across underutilized power lines to optimize the integration of renewable power and energy storage on the grid; and Ionic Materials, which makes solid lithium batteries for both transportation and grid applications. Ionic Materials’ platform technology also enables breakthrough advancements in other growing markets, such as 5G mobile, and rechargeable alkaline batteries. 

 

#chemicals, #department-of-energy, #electric-car, #electric-vehicle, #energy, #energy-storage, #head, #lithium-ion-battery, #nikola, #oil-and-gas, #renewable-energy, #tc, #transport, #trump-administration, #united-states, #us-government

LanzaJet inks deal with British Airways for 7500 tons of fuel low emission fuel additive per year

LanzaJet, the renewable jet fuel startup spun out from the longtime renewable and synthetic fuel manufacturer, LanzaTech, has inked a supply agreement with British Airways to supply the company with at least 7500 tons of fuel additive per yer.

The deal marks the second agreement between the UK-based airline and a renewable jet fuels manufacturer following an August 2019 agreement with the British company Velocys. It’s also LanzaJet’s second offtake agreement. The company announced itself with a partnership between the renewable fuels manufacturer and the Japanese airline ANA.

Through the deal, British Airways will invest an undisclosed amount in LanzaJet’s first commercial scale facility in Georgia. The fuel will being powering flights by the end of 2022 the companies said.

It’s part of a broader expansion effort that could see LanzaJet establish a commercial facility for the UK airline in its home country in the coming years.

Back in the U.S. the plan is to begin construction on the Georgia facility later this year which will convert ethanol into a jet fuel additive using a chemical process.

Fuel from the plant will reduce the overall greenhouse emissions by 70 percent versus traditional jet fuel. It’s the equivalent of taking almost 27,000 gasoline or diesel-powered cars of the orad each year, according to the company.

The deal is the culmination of years of research and development work between LanzaJet’s parent company, LanzaTech and Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

Spun off in June 2020, LanzaJet was financed by an investment group including parent company LanzaTech, Mitsui, and Suncor Energy. British AIrways now joins the two other strategic investors as LanzaJet eyes an ambitious scale up program through 2025. The company plans to launch four large scale plants producing a pipeline of renewable fuels. 

“Low-cost, sustainable fuel options are critical for the future of the aviation sector  and the LanzaJet process offers the most flexible feedstock solution at scale, recycling wastes and  residues into SAF that allows us to keep fossil jet fuel in the ground. British Airways has long been a  champion of waste to fuels pathways especially with the UK Government,” said Jimmy Samartzis, the chief executive of LanzaJet. “With the right support for  waste-based fuels, the UK would be an ideal location for commercial scale LanzaJet plants. We look  forward to continuing the dialogue with BA and the UK Government in making this a reality, and to  continuing our support of bringing the Prime Minister’s Jet Zero vision to life.”  

The LanzaJet fuel is certified for commercial flight up to 50% blend with conventional kerosene. “Considering the aviation market is 90 billion gallons of jet fuel a year, having 50% or 45 billion of production capacity and reaching that max blend level will be a great problem to have,” said LanzaTech chief executive Jennifer Holmgren in an email.

LanzaJet’s manufacturing facility in Georgia is designed to produce zero-waste fuels, according to Holmgren, and British Airways will receive 7,500 tonnes of sustainable aviation fuel from LanzaJet’s biorefinery each year for the next 5 years.

The partnership between British Airways, Hangar 51, International Airlines Group’s accelerator and others.

In addition to its biofuel work, British Airways is also working with companies like ZeroAvia, the hydrogen fuels company that also received backing from Amazon, Shell, and Breakthrough Energy Ventures.

“For  the last 100 years we have connected Britain with the world and the world with Britain, and to  ensure our success for the next 100, we must do this sustainably,” said British Airways chief executive Sean Doyle. 

“Progressing the development and commercial deployment of sustainable aviation fuel is crucial to  decarbonising the aviation industry and this partnership with LanzaJet shows the progress British  Airways is making as we continue on our journey to net zero.”

 

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Nuclear fusion tech developer General Fusion now has Shopify and Amazon founders backing it

In a brief announcement today, the Canadian nuclear fusion technology developer General Fusion announced that the investment firm created by Shopify founder Tobias Lütke has joined the company’s cap table.

The size of the investment made by Lütke’s Thistledown Capital was not disclosed, but with the addition, General Fusion has the founders of the two biggest ecommerce companies in the Western world on its cap table.

Jeff Bezos, the founder and chief executive of Amazon, first invested in the company nearly a decade ago and General Fusion has been steadily raising cash since that time. In 2019, the company hauled in $100 million. That capital commitment is part of a haul totaling at least, $192 million, according to Crunchbase although the real figure is likely higher.

Indeed, General Fusion kept adding cash throughout 2020 as it looked to develop its demonstration fusion reactor.

General Fusion’s process is based on technology called Magnetized Target Fusion (MTF), first proposed by the US Naval Research Lab and developed in the 1970s.

The process involves creating a magnetically confined moderately warm plasma of around 100 eV (roughly 50 times the photon energy of visible light) in a flux conserver (a shell that preserves the magnetic field). By rapidly compressing the flux conserver and the magnetic field inside of it surrounding the plasma, the plasma is superheated to a temperature that can initiate a fast fusion burn, and create a fusion reaction, according to a 2017 description of the technology from General Fusion’s chief science officer and founder, Michael Laberge.

The company uses a roughly 3 meter sphere filled with molten lead-lithium that’s pumped to form a cavity. A pulse of magnetically confined plasma fuel is then injected into the cavity, then, around the spehere, pistons create pressure wave into the middle of the sphere, compressing the plasma to fusion conditions.

Neutrons escaping from the fusion reaction are captured in the liquid metal, and the heat from that metal generates electricity via a steam turbine. A heat exchanger steam turbine produces the power and the steam is recycled to run the pistons.

In recent years, both General Fusion and its main North American competitor Commonwealth Fusion Systems have made strides in getting their small-scale nuclear fusion technology ready for commercialization.

In the past, the wry joke about fusion technologies was that they were always ten years away, but now companies are looking at a four-year horizon to bring fusion to initial markets, if not the masses.

For its part, Commonwealth Fusion Systems is in the process of building a10-ton magnet that has the magnetic force equivalent to 20 MRI machines. “After we get the magnet to work, we’ll be building a machine that will generate more power than it takes to run. We see that as the Kitty Hawk moment [for fusion],” said Bob Mumgaard, the chief executive of Commonwealth Fusion in an interview last year.

Other startup companies are also racing to bring technologies to market and hit the 2025 timeline like the United Kingdom’s Tokamak Energy.

Like General Fusion, Commonwealth also has deep-pocketed backers including the Bill Gates-backed sustainable technology focused investor, Breakthrough Energy Ventures. In all, those investors have committed over $200 million to the company, which formally launched in 2018.

As these companies begin readying their technologies for market, governments are laying the groundwork to make it easier for them to commercialize.

At the end of last year, the Trump administration signed the COVID relief and omnibus appropriations bill that included an amendment to support the development of fusion energy in the US.

The new amendment directed the Department of Energy to carry out a fusion energy sciences research and development program; authorized DoE programs in inertial fusion energy and alternative concepts to find new ways forward for fusion power; reauthorized the INFUSE program to create public-private partnerships between national labs and fusion developers; and created a milestone-based development program to support companies not just through R&D, but into the construction of full-scale systems.

It’s this milestone program that was a cornerstone of the policy work that the Fusion Industry Association wanted to see in the US, according to a December statement from the organization.

By unlocking $325 million in financing over a five year period, the US government will actually double its research with matching contributions from the fusion industry. These demonstration facilities could go a long way toward accelerating the deployment of fusion technologies.

Founded in 2019, Thistledown Capital was formed to invest in tech that can decarbonize industry. The firm, based in Ottawa, has already backed CarbonCure, a technology that captures carbon dioxide from the air.

General Fusion has a strong record of attracting funding support from some of the world’s most influential technology leaders,” said Greg Twinney, CFO, General Fusion, in a statement. “Fusion is planet-saving technology, and we are proud to support the mission of Thistledown Capital in its pursuit for a greener tomorrow.”

#amazon, #breakthrough-energy-ventures, #department-of-energy, #fusion-power, #jeff-bezos, #nuclear-fusion, #plasma-physics, #shopify, #tc

Chris Krebs and Alex Stamos have started a cyber consulting firm

Former U.S. cybersecurity official Chris Krebs and former Facebook chief security officer Alex Stamos have founded a new cybersecurity consultancy firm, which already has its first client: SolarWinds .

The two have been hired as consultants to help the Texas-based software maker recover from a devastating breach by suspected Russian hackers, which used the company’s software to set backdoors in thousands of organizations and to infiltrate at least 10 U.S. federal agencies and several Fortune 500 businesses.

At least the Treasury, State and the Department of Energy have been confirmed breached, in what has been described as likely the most significant espionage campaign against the U.S. government in years. And while the U.S. government has already pinned the blame on Russia, the scale of the intrusions are not likely to be known for some time.

Krebs was one of the most senior cybersecurity officials in the U.S. government, most recently serving as the director of Homeland Security’s CISA cybersecurity advisory agency from 2018, until he was fired by President Trump for his efforts to debunk false election claims — many of which came from the president himself. Stamos, meanwhile, joined the Stanford Internet Observatory after holding senior cybersecurity positions at Facebook and Yahoo. He also consulted for Zoom amid a spate of security problems.

In an interview with the Financial Times, which broke the story, Krebs said it could take years before the hackers are ejected from infiltrated systems.

SolarWinds chief executive Sudhakar Ramakrishna acknowledged in a blog post that it had brought on the consultants to help the embattled company to be “transparent with our customers, our government partners, and the general public in both the near-term and long-term about our security enhancements.”

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FBI, NSA say ongoing hacks at US federal agencies ‘likely Russian in origin’

The U.S. government says hackers “likely Russian in origin” are responsible for breaching the networks of at least 10 U.S. federal agencies and several major tech companies, including FireEye and Microsoft.

In a joint statement published Tuesday, the FBI, the NSA, and Homeland Security’s cybersecurity advisory unit, CISA, said that the government was “still working to understand the scope” of the breach, but that the breaches are likely an “intelligence gathering effort.”

The compromises are “ongoing,” the statement said.

The statement didn’t name the breached agencies, but the Treasury, State, and the Department of Energy are among those reported to be affected.

“This is a serious compromise that will require a sustained and dedicated effort to remediate,” the statement said. “The [joint agency effort] will continue taking every necessary action to investigate, remediate, and share information with our partners and the American people,”

News of the widespread espionage campaign emerged in early December after cybersecurity giant FireEye, normally the first company that cyberattack victims will call, discovered its own network had been breached. Soon after, it was reported that several government agencies had also been infiltrated.

All of the victims are customers of U.S. software firm SolarWinds, whose Orion network management tools are used across the U.S. government and Fortune 500 companies. FireEye said that hackers broke into SolarWinds’ network and pushed a tainted software update to its customers, allowing the hackers to easily break into any one of thousands of companies and agencies that installed the backdoored update.

Some 18,000 customers downloaded the backdoored software update, but the government’s joint statement said that it believes only a “much smaller number have been compromised by follow-on activity on their systems.”

Several news outlets have previously reported that the hacks were carried out by a Russian intelligence group known as APT 29, or Cozy Bear, which has been linked to several espionage-driven attacks, including attempting to steal coronavirus vaccine research.

Tuesday’s joint statement would be the first time the government acknowledged the likely culprit behind the campaign.

Russia had previously denied involvement with the hacks.

 

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With $84 million in new cash, Commonwealth Fusion is on track for a demonstration fusion reactor by 2025

Commonwealth Fusion Systems closed on its latest $84 million in new funding two weeks ago. The U.S. was still very much in the lockdown phase and getting a deal done, especially a multi-million dollar investment in a new technology aiming to make commercial nuclear fusion a reality after decades of hype, was “an interesting thing” in the words of Commonwealth’s chief executive, Bob Mumgaard. 

It was actually one time when the technical complexity of what Commonwealth Fusion is trying to achieve and the longterm horizon for the company’s first test technology was a benefit instead of an obstacle, Mumgaard said. 

We’re in a unique position where it’s still something that’s far enough in the future that any of the recovery models are not going to affect the underlying needs that the world still has a giant climate problem,” he said. 

Commonwealth Fusion Systems purports to be one solution to that problem. The company is using technology developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to leapfrog the current generation of nuclear fusion reactors currently under development (there are, in fact, several nuclear fusion reactors currently under development) and bring a waste-free energy source to industrial customers within the next ten years.

Commonwealth Fusion Systems core innovation was the development of a high power superconducting magnet that could theoretically be used to create the conditions necessary for a sustained fusion reaction. The reactor uses hydrogen isotopes that are kept under conditions of extreme pressure using these superconducting magnets to sustain the reaction and contain the energy that’s generated from the reaction. Designs for reactors require their hydrogen fuel source to be heated to tens of millions of degrees.

The design that Commonwealth is pursuing is akin to the massive, multi-decade International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) project that’s currently being completed in France. Begun under the Reagan Administration in the eighties, as a collaboration between the U.S., the Soviet Union, various European nations and Japan. Over the years, membership in the project expanded to include India, South Korea, and China.

While the ITER project also expects to flip the switch on its reactor in 2025, the cost has been dramatically higher — totaling well over $14 billion dollars. The project, which began construction in 2013, will also represent a much longer timeframe to completion compared with the schedule that Commonwealth has set for itself.

Picture taken on January 17, 2013 in Saint-Paul-les-Durance, southern France shows the model of the reactor of the future International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) . The International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (Iter), based at the French Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) research center of Cadarache in Saint-Paul-lès-Durance, was set up by the EU, which has a 45 percent share, China, India, South Korea, Japan, Russia and the US to research a clean and limitless alternative to dwindling fossil fuel reserves. AFP PHOTO / GERARD JULIEN (Photo credit should read GERARD JULIEN/AFP via Getty Images)

“We have set off to build what has been our big goal all along, which is to build the full scale demonstration magnet… we’re in the act of building that,” said Mumgaard. “We’ll turn that on next year.”

Upon completion, Commonwealth Fusion Systems will have built a ten-ton magnet that has the magnetic force equivalent to twenty MRI machines, said Mumgaard. “After we get the magnet to work, we’ll be building a machine that will generate more power than it takes to run. We see that as the Kitty Hawk moment,” for fusion, he said.

Other startup companies are also racing to bring technologies to market and hit the 2025 timeline. They include the Canadian company General Fusion and the United Kingdom’s Tokamak Energy.

Within the next six to eight months, Commonwealth Energy hopes to have a site selected for its first demonstration reactor.

Financing the company’s most recent developments are a slew of investors new and old who have committed over $200 million to the company, which formally launched in 2018.

The round was led by Temasek with participation from new investors Equinor, a multinational energy company, and Devonshire Investors, the private equity group affiliated with FMR LLC, the parent company of Fidelity Investments.

Current investors including the Bill Gates-backed Breakthrough Energy Ventures; MIT’s affiliated investment fund, The Engine; the Italian energy firm ENI Next LLC; and venture investors like Future Ventures, Khosla Ventures; Moore Strategic Ventures, Safar Partners LLC, Schooner Capital, and Starlight Ventures also participated. 

“We are investing in fusion and CFS because we believe in the technology and the company, and we remain committed to providing energy to the world, now and in a low carbon future,” said Sophie Hildebrand, Chief Technology Officer and Senior Vice President for Research and Technology at Equinor, in a statement.

The company said it would use the new financing to continue developing its technology which would offer fusion power plants, fusion engineering services, and HTS magnets to customers. Funding will also be used to support business development initiatives for other applications of the company’s proprietary HTS magnets, the key component to its SPARC reactor, which also has various other commercial uses, the company said. 

Helping the cause, and potentially accelerating the timelines for many fusion players is a new initiative from the federal government that could see government dollars go to support construction of new facilities. The Department of Energy recently released a request for information (RFI) on potential cost share programs for the development of nuclear fusion reactors in the U.S.

Modeled after the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program which brought the world SpaceX, Blue Origin, and other U.S. private space companies, a cost-sharing program for fusion development could accelerate the development of low-cost, pollution free fusion reactors across the U.S.

“The COTS program transitioned the space industry from ‘Here’s a government dictated space sector’ to a vibrant commercial launch industry,” said Mumgaard.

One investor who’s seen the value of public private partnerships to spur commercial innovation is Steve Jurvetson, the founder of Future Ventures, and a backer of Commonwealth Fusion Systems. Jurvetson acknowledged the necessity of fusion investment for the future of the energy industry.

“Fusion energy is an investment in our future that offers an important path toward combating climate change. Our continued investment in CFS fits strongly within our mission as we seek long-term solutions to address the world’s energy challenges,” said Steve Jurvetson, Managing Director and Founder, Future Ventures.

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An LA-led, public-private partnership pitches a $150B green infrastructure package to Congress

Representatives from the government and the utility managing the power of Los Angeles are proposing a sweeping infrastructure package worth roughly $150 billion centered on the broad electrification of transportation and industry.

Drafted by the Los Angeles-based public-private Transportation Electrification Partnership, a collaboration between the Office of Mayor Eric Garcetti, Southern California Edison, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator, the proposal lays out a number of initiatives based on work that’s already being done in Los Angeles to electrify the city’s infrastructure.

As the nation’s second-largest metropolitan area, boasting an over $1 trillion economy, decisions made in the city can have broad economic and social implications that ripple far beyond the Southern California region. Alongside New York, Los Angeles has set some of the nation’s most aggressive targets for the rollout of renewable and sustainable industries.

The proposal sets out four big initiatives, including zero-emissions vehicle manufacturing, assembly and adoption; zero-emissions infrastructure investments; commitments to public transit investments; workforce development; and job training. There’s also a relatively modest request (of only $4 billion) for funding devoted to pilot projects, startup companies, and public clean technology investment initiatives (like LACI).

The initiative reserves the largest cash pile for the development of electric charging infrastructure around the country, according to the proposal seen by TechCrunch and sent to House and Senate leadership including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

Image Credits: Monty Rakusen / Getty Images

Of the $85 billion set aside for the deployment of zero-emission vehicle infrastructure, the TEP proposal reserves roughly one-fourth for upgrades to the electricity grid. The funding would include $20 billion for utility upgrades. Of that, $10 billion will go toward solar and energy storage projects designed to make grids more resistant to climate-related catastrophes like extreme weather events, wildfires and other disasters. The remaining $10 billion would support commercial and residential vehicle charging, solar energy development and energy storage projects.

Another $15 billion is dedicated to medium- and heavy-duty vehicle charging that would be administered by state governments, transit agencies or regional agencies. New developments could be added to truck yards, truck stops and plazas, as well as strategic locations, such as ports and airports.

Funding of the scale proposed here could enable a transformation not only in the LA metropolitan area, but across the country, as well as provide opportunities where possible for local hire through community benefit agreements, which are an effective mechanism to ensure charging infrastructure projects include workers living local to a project, as well as other targeted hiring policies, such as US Veteran hiring, are achieved,” writes LACI chief executive, Matt Peterson.  

Light-duty charging infrastructure occupies another $10 billion of the suggested stimulus measures. The goal, is to get local, shovel-ready projects the financing they’d need to start the process of hiring workers immediately. One project that’s already being rolled out in Los Angeles is the development of curbside charging infrastructure on streetlight poles to serve drivers who don’t have access to charging infrastructure at home.

Finally under the infrastructure bucket, the proposal recommends that Congress set aside $11 billion for transit and school bus charging to be administered via states, transit agencies and school districts;  $5 billion for state and local government fleets; and $4 billion to support the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program.

The LIHEAP money is critical for the over 12 million Americans who have recently lost their job, the consortium argues and could also help finance the Department of Energy’s Weatherization program.

Popular programs like Opportunity Zones, New Market Tax Credits and Community Development Finance Institutions could be used to boost the government’s commitment with private capital, the plan’s authors argue.

Non-Electric vehicles fill a parking lot in Rosemead, California, where two Electric Vehicle charging stations are offered on September 12, 2018.

All of that charging infrastructure and grid upgrades are in part designed to help meet the increased power demands that the proposal expects to bring onto the grid through another $25 billion in government funding for electric vehicles of all types. The funds could be allocated through existing programs including the extension of the electric vehicle tax credit for automakers and new programs that would allow consumers to trade in older model vehicles for newer, preferably electric, vehicles.

An additional way the government could juice the auto industry — and specifically electric vehicles — is by providing point of sale rebates for all vehicles that could be issued through car dealerships, according to the proposal. “This will also help dealerships increase sales and bring needed sales tax revenues to local and state governments,” Peterson writes.

There’s $25 billion in money set aside for public transit and $12.5 billion set aside for workforce retraining and education.

For startups, the programs that could have the most impact — aside from the broad infrastructure package that could mean additional demand for new technologies — is a far smaller and more targeted proposal for roughly $4 billion that would allocate money directly to small and medium sized businesses and local incubation and corporate development programs.

“Startups and small businesses are the engine of every local and regional economy,” writes Peterson. “Targeting resources to this sector is critical to help entrepreneurs continue America’s leadership in technology innovation, restart small businesses, and help put people back to work.”

TEP is proposing a $1 billion grant for early stage research and development of cleantech and zero-emission mobility innovations and $1 billion for shovel ready pilot projects deployed by startups and small businesses via local governments.

Still more money would include $500 million in emergency loans and grants for cleantech startups and small businesses that are involved in solar installations, energy storage, and electric vehicle technology development. Revenues for these companies have dropped precipitously as consumer-facing demand has fallen off a cliff.

There’s also a $500 million pot targeted for startups and small businesses founded by women and people of color and $500 million for nonprofit cleantech and innovation incubators.

Alongside LACI, there are a few of these nonprofit investment programs which have cropped up across the Midwest that could be a boon to budding entrepreneurs.

Finally, the proposal advocates for at least $500 million in funding to train unemployed or underemployed would-be laborers along with veterans and the formerly incarcerated.

Some of these initiatives have been tried in the past, and despite partisan complaints, proved effective. The Obama-era loan program established to boost clean energy companies generated revenues for the government despite the much-publicized flameout of the solar startup, Solyndra. Even Tesla benefited from the program, paying back a $460 million loan from the program a decade ahead of schedule.

With increasing volatility in oil prices, the move to an increasingly electric infrastructure makes sense because it offers more stability for energy buyers, including consumers and businesses.

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