New York City bans new natural gas hookups in step toward all-electric future

New York City bans new natural gas hookups in step toward all-electric future

Enlarge (credit: Tim Graham/Getty Images)

The New York City Council voted today to ban natural gas in new buildings, putting the nation’s largest city at the vanguard of national efforts to eliminate the fossil fuel and potent greenhouse gas.

The bill prohibits natural gas hookups and oil-burning equipment in new buildings under seven stories starting in 2023 and all new buildings starting in 2027. Existing buildings are not affected by the measure, though significant renovations could require buildings to become all-electric. Hospitals, factories, laundromats, and commercial kitchens are also exempt. Mayor Bill de Blasio has said that he will sign the bill.

The city isn’t the first to attempt something like this. Other, smaller cities like Brookline, Massachusetts, and San Jose and Berkeley, California, have enacted similar bans on new hookups, but New York City is by far the largest to date. Some 40 percent of its greenhouse gas emissions come from boilers, furnaces, and hot water heaters.

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#climate-change, #electricity, #methane, #natural-gas, #new-york-city, #policy

Tesla’s solar and energy storage business rakes in $810M, finally exceeds cost of revenue

Tesla’s primary source of revenue comes from the sale of its electric vehicles, but its latest quarterly earnings report showed growth in its energy storage and solar business.

The demand picture will get even sunnier for the division if the company can access enough chips for its energy storage products, according to Tesla CEO Elon Musk.

Tesla on Monday reported $801 million in revenue from its energy generation and storage business — which includes three main products: solar, its Powerwall storage device for homes and businesses, and its utility storage unit Megapack — but that’s just a sliver of the nearly $12 billion in total revenue. Small as it is, the division is selling more energy storage and solar. Revenue from this division grew 62% from the previous quarter and more than 116% from the same quarter in 2020. Tesla doesn’t separate solar and energy storage revenue.

More importantly, the cost of revenue for its solar and energy storage business was $781 million, meaning that for the first time the total cost of producing and distributing these energy storage products was lower than the revenue it generated. That’s good news.

As one might expect, total deployments also rose. Tesla installed 1,274 megawatt-hours of energy storage in the second quarter of 2021, a 205% increase from the same period last year. Similarly, the amount of solar energy deployed in the second quarter of this year was 85 MWh, up 214% from Q2 2020. As a side note: Tesla’s total solar and energy storage deployments were essentially flat when comparing Q2 2019 and Q2 2020 numbers, likely due to the pandemic’s general halting of business.

The important nugget is revenue growth. In 2019, Tesla reported $369 million in revenue from solar and storage. Revenue was stagnant in Q2 2020, with $370 million from that business. This quarter was more than double what Tesla brought in during the same quarters of 2019 and 2020.

What changed? Besides COVID-19, Tesla points to several Megapack projects coming online and growing popularity in its combined solar and Powerwall product. (Tesla no longer allows customers to order Powerwall without a solar installation.) According to a configurator on Tesla’s website, one Megapack is about $1.2 million before taxes. In some states, Tesla says the earliest deliveries will be in 2023.

Tesla’s energy storage business is facing headwinds, however. Musk said demand for both the Megapack and the Powerwall both exceed supply, and a backlog is growing. The company is unable to meet that demand because of the global chip shortage, he said.

Tesla uses the same chips in its Powerwall as it does in its vehicles, and Musk said vehicles are the priority while supply is low.

“As that significant shortage is alleviated, then we can massively ramp up Powerwall production,” Musk said during an earnings call. “I think we have a chance of hitting an annualized rate of a million units of Powerwall next year — maybe, on the order of 20,000 a week. Again dependent on cell supply and semiconductors. … As the world transitions to a sustainable energy production, solar and wind are intermittent, and by their nature really need battery packs in order to provide a steady flow of electricity. And when you look at all the utilities in the world, this is a vast amount of backup batteries that are needed.”

Musk said in the long term, Tesla and other suppliers would need to produce a combined 1,000 to 2,000 gigawatt-hours per year in order to keep up with energy storage demands. Musk said the company has asked its cell suppliers to double their supply in 2022, a goal that Musk caveated would be dependent on supply chain issues. The company’s current strategy is to overshoot cell supply and route it outward to its energy storage products, but as in the case of chip shortages, vehicle production would be prioritized, according to Musk.

Battery cell plans

While much of the battery cell discussion focused on its 4680 cell that is in development, Musk also touched on Tesla’s intentions to power some of its products with cheaper lithium-iron-phosphate (LFP) batteries. Specifically, he said there’s a good chance that all stationary storage could move to iron-based batteries and away from nickel-manganese-cobalt (NMC) and nickel-cobalt-aluminum batteries.

“I think probably will see a shift, my guess is probably to two-thirds iron, one-third nickel,” Musk said of Tesla’s plans. “And this is actually good because there’s quite a bit of iron in the world, an insane amount of iron. But there’s much less nickel and there’s way less cobalt.”

The one-third of batteries that will remain nickel-based will be used for its longer-range electric vehicles. All of its other EVs would also move to LFP batteries, which is already the case in its vehicles assembled in China.

#cars, #electricity, #elon-musk, #energy, #energy-storage, #lithium-ion-batteries, #solar-energy, #tc, #tesla-model-s

Brazilian HR startup Flash raises $22M in a Tiger Global-led Series B round of funding

Flash, a startup that has developed a flexible benefits platform for Brazilian companies and employees, has raised $22 million in a Series B round of funding led by Tiger Global Management.

Monashees (which led Flash’s Series A), Global Founders Capital (who backed Flash’s seed round), Citius and Kauffman Fellows also participated in the financing.

Founded in 2019 by childhood friends Ricardo Salem, Guilherme Lane and Pedro Lane, Flash is out to revamp what it views as an antiquated way of offering benefits to employees in South America’s largest country.

The São Paulo-based company has built a flexible benefit management app provided with a Mastercard in an effort to replace what has historically been provided in the form of “outdated, commoditized and mandatory” meal/food and transportation “vouchers.”

“Our first product was a reinvention of the voucher that by Brazilian labor law, was something of a mandatory benefit for all companies to give as part of compensation,” Salem said. “There are four traditional incumbents, owned by the banks, that held 95% of the market with very outdated products and fat margins, and exploitation all over.”

Beyond that, Flash took its offering a step further by giving companies a way to configure their benefits offering so employees can “choose and manage their benefits as they want” via Flash’s app marketplace and card, noted Salem.

The company must be doing something right.

Since its inception, Flash has grown its customer base to 4,000 companies, ranging from startups and SMEs to enterprises.

Last year, Flash grew “10x” by all metrics. It went from 10,000 employees to 100,000 using its platform. So far, this year that number has already swelled to 250,000. While the company declined to reveal hard revenue figures, Lane said the growth in customers is reflected in the company’s GMV. Flash has also grown from about 50 to 200 employees over the past 8 months.

Image Credits: Flash

At the beginning of the pandemic when companies were sending employees home and wanting to help them pay bills for electricity and utilities, there wasn’t any instrument to help them do so, Salem said.

“So we built one in our app, which leverages our wallet and it was able to read the bar or QR code of the utility provider,” he added. “It became a very popular benefit.”

Within that same wallet, Flash has built another product — an incentive and rewards platform..

Even with all its early success, Flash has just a 1% market share so believes “there’s plenty of room to grow.” And, it views itself as “much more of a horizontal play than a geographical play.”

“We’re solving other pain points for companies in Brazil now, and that’s our plan for the short term,” Lane said.

“In the beginning, we saw this as a very cool thing very modern tech companies wanted,” Salem said. “But last year proved that this is not just a midsize tech company product. This is for every employee from tech employees to blue collar workers to CEOs Everyone has a flexible benefit need and different lifestyles and need a product adapted to all of those.”

Global Founders Capital’s Fabricio Pettena led Flash’s seed round back in 2019. He said he had been searching for disruption in the space for “a long time.”

“Since it is a big market in Brazil due to regulation, the incumbents really rip off restaurants and others,” Pettena told TechCrunch.

He said he knew immediately he wanted to invest in Flash.

“Flash’s team actually took an active role in the regulation change that allowed for flexible benefits, instead of just playing passive,” he said. “When we first met, within 15 minutes, it was clear that, apart from a couple of details, we already shared a common vision for how this disruption would take place.”

#brazil, #computing, #electricity, #employee-benefits, #flash, #global-founders-capital, #sao-paulo, #south-america, #tc, #tiger-global

Widespread electrification requires us to rethink battery technology

The global economy’s transition to widespread electrification has increased the demand for longer-lasting and faster-charging batteries across industries including transportation, consumer electronics, medical devices and residential energy storage. While the benefits of this transition are well understood, the reality is that battery innovation hasn’t kept pace with society’s ambitions.

With reports forecasting a 40% chance that the world’s temperature will rise over the next five years beyond the limit of 1.5 degrees Celsius laid out in the Paris climate agreement, it is clear that there’s little time to waste when it comes to creating next-generation batteries, which can easily take another 10 years to fully commercialize.

To meet the increasing pressures to electrify, a completely novel approach to building batteries is the only way to scale rechargeable batteries quickly enough to curb greenhouse-gas emissions globally and avoid the worst-case scenario for the climate crisis.

The challenges to battery innovation

Over the last few decades, battery experts, automakers, Tier 1 suppliers, investors and others looking to electrify have spent billions of dollars globally on creating next-generation batteries by focusing predominantly on battery chemistry. Yet the industry is still grappling with two major fundamental technical challenges that are stunting the proliferation of batteries:

  1. Energy/power tradeoff: All batteries manufactured today face an energy-to-power tradeoff. Batteries can store more energy or they can charge/discharge more quickly. In terms of electric vehicles, this means no single battery can provide both long range and fast charging.
  2. Anode-cathode mismatch: Today’s most promising battery technologies maximize the energy density of anodes, the negative electrode of the pair of electrodes that make up every lithium-ion battery cell. However, anodes already have greater energy density than their positive counterpart, the cathode. Cathode energy density needs to eventually match that of the anode in order to get the most energy storage capacity out of a certain battery size. Without breakthroughs in increasing cathode energy density, many of today’s most exciting battery technologies will not be able to deliver on their full potential. As it currently stands, the most commonly used lithium-ion battery cannot meet the needs of the wide-ranging applications of an all-electric future. Many companies have tried to address these demands through new battery chemistries to optimize the high-power-to-energy-density ratio to varying degrees of success, but very few are close to achieving the performance metrics required for mass scale and commercialization.

Ultimately, the winning technologies in the race toward total electrification will be the ones that have the most significant impact on performance, lowered costs and compatibility with existing manufacturing infrastructure.

Are solid-state batteries the holy grail?

Battery researchers have championed the solid-state battery as the holy grail of battery technology due to its ability to achieve high energy density and increased safety. However, until recently, the technology has fallen short in practice.

Solid-state batteries have significantly higher energy density and are potentially safer because they do not use flammable liquid electrolytes. However, the technology is still nascent and has a long way to go to achieve commercialization. The manufacturing process for solid-state batteries has to be improved to lower costs, especially for an automotive industry that aims to achieve aggressive cost reductions as low as $50/kWh in the coming years.

The other substantial challenge to implementing solid-state technology is the limitation of total energy density that can be stored in the cathodes per unit of volume. The obvious solution to this dilemma would be to have batteries with thicker cathodes. However, a thicker cathode would reduce the mechanical and thermal stability of the battery. That instability leads to delamination (a mode of failure where a material fractures into layers), cracks and separation — all of which cause premature battery failure. In addition, thicker cathodes limit diffusion and decrease power. The result is that there is a practical limit to the thickness of cathodes, which restricts the power of anodes.

New takes on materials with silicon

In most cases, companies that are developing silicon-based batteries are mixing up to 30% silicon with graphite to boost energy density. The batteries made by Sila Nanotechnologies are an illustrative example of using a silicon mix to increase energy density. Another approach is to use 100% pure silicon anodes, which are limited by very thin electrodes and high production costs, to generate even higher energy density, like Amprius’ approach.

While silicon provides considerably greater energy density, there is a significant drawback that has limited its adoption until now: The material undergoes volume expansion and shrinkage while charging and discharging, limiting battery life and performance. This leads to degradation issues that manufacturers need to solve before commercial adoption. Despite those challenges, some silicon-based batteries are already being deployed commercially, including in the automotive sector, where Tesla leads in silicon adoption for EVs.

The imperative for electrification requires a new focus on battery design

Advances to battery architecture and cell design show significant promise for unlocking improvements with existing and emerging battery chemistries.

Probably the most notable from a mainstream perspective is Tesla’s “biscuit tin” battery cell that the company unveiled at its 2020 Battery Day. It’s still using lithium-ion chemistry, but the company removed the tabs in the cell that act as the positive and negative connection points between the anode and cathode and the battery casing, and instead use a shingled design within the cell. This change in design helps reduce manufacturing costs while boosting driving range and removes many of the thermal barriers that a cell can encounter when fast-charging with DC electricity.

Transitioning away from a traditional 2D electrode structure to a 3D structure is another approach that is gaining traction in the industry. The 3D structure yields high energy and high power performance in both the anode and cathode for every battery chemistry.

Although still in the R&D and testing phases, 3D electrodes have achieved two times higher accessible capacity, 50% less charging time and 150% longer lifetime for high-performance products at market-competitive prices. Therefore, in order to advance battery capabilities to unlock the full potential of energy storage for a range of applications, it is critical to develop solutions that emphasize altering the physical structure of batteries.

Winning the battery race

It’s not just performance improvements that will win the battery race, but perfecting production and cost reduction as well. To capture a considerable share of the ballooning battery market that is projected to reach $279.7 billion by 2027, countries around the world must find ways to achieve low-cost battery manufacturing at scale. Prioritizing “drop-in” solutions and innovative production methods that can be incorporated with existing assembly lines and materials will be key.

The Biden administration’s American Jobs Plan highlights the importance of domestic battery production to the country’s goal of being a leader in electrification while meeting ambitious carbon reduction targets. Commitments like these will play a key role in establishing who can maintain a critical competitive edge in the battery space and take the largest share of the $162 billion global EV market.

Ultimately, the winning technologies in the race toward total electrification will be the ones that have the most significant impact on performance, lowered costs and compatibility with existing manufacturing infrastructure. By taking a holistic approach and focusing more on innovating cell design while also fine-tuning leading chemistries, we can achieve the next steps in battery performance and rapid commercialization that the world desperately needs.

#biden-administration, #column, #electric-vehicles, #electricity, #energy-storage, #evs, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #lithium-ion-batteries, #opinion, #rechargeable-batteries, #tc, #transportation

The energy ecosystem should move to make the ‘energy internet’ a reality

As vice president of Innovation at National Grid Partners, I’m responsible for developing initiatives that not only benefit National Grid’s current business but also have the potential to become stand-alone businesses. So I obviously have strong views about the future of the energy industry.

But I don’t have a crystal ball; no one does. To be a good steward of our innovation portfolio, my job isn’t to guess what the right “basket” is for our “eggs.” It’s to optimally allocate our finite eggs across multiple baskets with the greatest collective upside.

Put another way, global and regional trends make it clear that the Next Big Thing isn’t any single thing at all. Instead, the future is about open innovation and integration of elements across the entire energy supply chain. Only with such an open energy ecosystem can we adapt to the highly volatile — some might even say unpredictable — market conditions we face in the energy industry.

Just as the digital internet rewards innovation wherever it serves the market — whether you build a better app or design a cooler smartphone — so too will the energy internet offer greater opportunities across the energy supply chain.

I like to think of this open, innovation-enabling approach as the “energy internet,” and I believe it represents the most important opportunity in the energy sector today.

The internet analogy

Here’s why I find the concept of the energy internet helpful. Before the digital internet (a term I’m using here to encompass all the hardware, software and standards that comprise it), we had multiple silos of technology such as mainframes, PCs, databases, desktop applications and private networks.

As the digital internet evolved, however, the walls between these silos disappeared. You can now utilize any platform on the back end of your digital services, including mainframes, commodity server hardware and virtual machines in the cloud.

You can transport digital payloads across networks that connect to any customer, supplier or partner on the planet with whatever combination of speed, security, capacity and cost you deem most appropriate. That payload can be data, sound or video, and your endpoint can be a desktop browser, smartphone, IoT sensor, security camera or retail kiosk.

This mix-and-match internet created an open digital supply chain that has driven an epochal boom in online innovation. Entrepreneurs and inventors can focus on specific value propositions anywhere across that supply chain rather than having to continually reinvent the supply chain itself.

The energy sector must move in the same direction. We need to be able to treat our various generation modalities like server platforms. We need our transmission grids to be as accessible as our data networks, and we need to be able to deliver energy to any consumption endpoint just as flexibly. We need to encourage innovation at those endpoints, too — just as the tech sector did.

Just as the digital internet rewards innovation wherever it serves the market — whether you build a better app or design a cooler smartphone — so too will the energy internet offer greater opportunities across the energy supply chain.

The 5D future

So what is the energy internet? As a foundation, let’s start with a model that takes the existing industry talk of digitalization, decentralization and decarbonization a few steps further:

Digitalization: Innovation depends on information about demand, supply, efficiency, trends and events. That data must be accurate, complete, timely and sharable. Digitalization efforts such as IoE, open energy, and what many refer to as the “smart grid” are instrumental because they ensure innovators have the insights they need to continuously improve the physics, logistics and economics of energy delivery.

Decentralization: The internet changed the world in part because it took the power of computing out of a few centralized data centers and distributed it wherever it made sense. The energy internet will do likewise. Digitalization supports decentralization by letting assets be integrated into an open energy supply chain. But decentralization is much more than just the integration of existing assets — it’s the proliferation of new assets wherever they’re needed.

Decarbonization: Decarbonization is, of course, the whole point of the exercise. We must move to greener supply chains built on decentralized infrastructure that leverage energy supply everywhere to meet energy demand anywhere. The market is demanding it and regulators are requiring it. The energy internet is therefore more than just an investment opportunity — it’s an existential imperative.

Democratization: Much of the innovation associated with the internet arose from the fact that, in addition to decentralizing technology physically, it also democratized technology demographically. Democratization is about putting power (literally, in this case) into the hands of the people. Vastly increasing the number of minds and hands tackling the energy industry’s challenges will also accelerate innovation and enhance our ability to respond to market dynamics.

Diversity: As I asserted above, no one has a crystal ball. So anyone investing in innovation at scale should diversify — not just to mitigate risk and optimize returns, but as an enablement strategy. After all, if we truly believe the energy internet (or Grid 2.0, if you prefer that term) will require that all the elements of the energy supply chain work together, we must diversify our innovation initiatives across those elements to promote interoperability and integration.

That’s how the digital internet was built. Standards bodies played an important role, but those standards and their implementations were driven by industry players like Microsoft and Cisco — as well as top VCs — who ensured the ecosystem’s success by driving integration across the supply chain.

We must take the same approach with the energy internet. Those with the power and influence to do so must help ensure we aggressively advance integration across the energy supply chain as a whole, even as we improve the individual elements. To this end, National Grid last year kicked off a new industry group called the NextGrid Alliance, which includes senior executives from more than 60 utilities across the world.

Finally, we believe it’s essential to diversify thinking within the energy ecosystem as well. National Grid has sounded alarms about the serious underrepresentation of women in the energy industry and of female undergraduates in STEM programs. On the flip side, research by Deloitte has found diverse teams are 20% more innovative. More than 60% of my own team at NGP are women, and that breadth of perspective has helped National Grid capture powerful insights into companywide innovation efforts.

More winning, less predicting

The concept of the energy internet isn’t some abstract future ideal. We’re already seeing specific examples of how it will transform the market:

Green transnationalism: The energy internet is on its way to becoming as global as the digital internet. The U.K., for instance, is now receiving wind-generated power from Norway and Denmark. This ability to leverage decentralized energy supply across borders will have significant benefits for national economies and create new opportunities for energy arbitrage.

EV charging models: Pumping electricity isn’t like pumping gas, nor should it be. With the right combination of innovation in smart metering and fast-charging end-point design, the energy internet will create new opportunities at office buildings, residential complexes and other places where cars plus convenience can equal cash.

Disaster mitigation: Recent events in Texas have highlighted the negative consequences of not having an energy internet. Responsible utilities and government agencies must embrace digitization and interoperability to more effectively troubleshoot infrastructure and better safeguard communities.

These are just a few of the myriad ways in which an open, any-to-any energy internet will promote innovation, stimulate competition and generate big wins. No one can predict exactly what those big wins will be, but there will surely be many, and they will accrue to the benefit of all.

That’s why even without a crystal ball, we should all commit ourselves to digitalization, decentralization, decarbonization, democratization and diversity. In so doing, we’ll build the energy internet together, and enable a fair, affordable and clean energy future.

#column, #electricity, #emerging-technologies, #energy, #energy-industry, #greentech, #internet-of-things, #national-grid-partners, #opinion, #smart-grid, #tc

Solar roof-tile and energy startup SunRoof closes €4.5M led by Inovo Venture Partners

SunRoof is a European startup that has come up with a clever idea. It has its own roof-tile technology which generates solar power. It then links up those houses, creating a sort of virtual power plant, allowing homeowners to sell surplus energy back to the grid.

It’s now closed a €4.5 million round (Seed extension) led by Inovo Venture Partners, with participation from SMOK Ventures (€2m of which came in the form of convertible notes). Other investors include LT Capital, EIT InnoEnergy, FD Growth Capital and KnowledgeHub. 

Sweden-based SunRoof’s approach is reminiscent of Tesla Energy, with its solar roof tiles, but whereas Tesla runs a closed energy ecosystem, SunRoof plans to work with multiple energy partners.

To achieve this virtual power company, SunRoof CEO and serial entrepreneur Lech Kaniuk (formerly of Delivery Hero, PizzaPortal, and iTaxi), acquired the renewable energy system, Redlogger, in 2020.

SunRoof’s platform consists of 2-in-1 solar roofs and façades that generate electricity without needing traditional photovoltaic modules. Instead, they use monocrystalline solar cells sandwiched between two large sheets of glass which measure 1.7 sq meters. Because the surface area is large and the connections fewer, the roofs are cheaper and faster to build. 

SunRoof give homeowners an energy app to manage the solar, based on Redlogger’s infrastructure

Tesla’s Autobidder is a trading platform that manages the energy from roofs but is a closed ecosystem. SunRoof, by contrast, works with multiple partners.

Kaniuk said: “SunRoof was founded to make the move to renewable energy not only easy, but highly cost-effective without ever having to sacrifice on features or design. We’ve already grown more than 500% year-on-year and will use the latest funding to double down on growth.” 

Michal Rokosz, Partner at Inovo Venture Partners, commented: “The market of solar energy is booming, estimated to reach $334 billion by 2026. Technology of integrated solar roofs is past the inflection point. It is an economical no-brainer for consumers to build new homes using solar solutions. With a more elegant and efficient substitute to a traditional hybrid of rooftops and solar panels, SunRoof clearly stands out and has a chance to be the brand for solar roofs, making clean-tech more appealing to a wider customer-base.”

The team includes co-founder Marek Zmysłowski (ex-(Jumia Travel and HotelOnline.co), former Google executive, Rafal Plutecki, and former Tesla Channel Sales Manager, Robert Bruchner.

There are rollout plans for Sweden, Germany, Poland, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, and the US.

#automotive-industry, #co-founder, #delivery-hero, #electricity, #energy, #europe, #executive, #germany, #google, #italy, #partner, #poland, #renewable-energy, #smok-ventures, #solar-cell, #solar-energy, #spain, #sweden, #switzerland, #tc, #united-states

General Motors leads $139 million investment into lithium-metal battery developer, SES

General Motors is joining the list of big automakers picking their horses in the race to develop better batteries for electric vehicles with its lead of a $139 million investment into the lithium-metal battery developer, SES.

Volkswagen has QuantumScape; Ford has invested in SolidPower (along with Hyundai and BMW); and now with SES’ big backing from General Motors most of the big American and European automakers have placed their bets.

“We are beyond R&D development,” said SES chief executive Hu Qichao in an interview with TechCrunch. “The main purposes of this funding is to, one, mprove the key material, this lithium metal electrolyte on the anode side and the cathode side, and, two, to improve the scale of the current cell from the iPhone battery size to the size that can be used in cars.”

There’s a third component to the financing as well, Hu said, which is to increase the company’s algorithmic capabilities to monitor and manage cell performance. “It’s something that we and our OEM partners care about,” said Hu.

The investment from GM s the culmination of nearly six years of work with the big automaker, said Hu. “We started working with them in 2015. For the next three years we will go through the standard automation approval processes. Going from ‘A’ sample to ‘B’ sample all the way through ‘D’ sample,” which is the final testing phase before commercial availability of SES’ batteries in cars.

While Tesla, the current leader in electric vehicle sales in America, is looking to improve the form factors of its batteries to make them more powerful and more efficient, Hu said that the chemistry isn’t that different. Solid state batteries represent a step change in battery technology that makes batteries more powerful, easier to recycle, and potentially more stable.

As Mark Harris wrote in TechCrunch earlier earlier this year:

There are many different kinds of SSB but they all lack a liquid electrolyte for moving electrons (electricity) between the battery’s positive (cathode) and negative (anode) electrodes. The liquid electrolytes in lithium-ion batteries limit the materials the electrodes can be made from, and the shape and size of the battery. Because liquid electrolytes are usually flammable, lithium-ion batteries are also prone to runaway heating and even explosion. SSBs are much less flammable and can use metal electrodes or complex internal designs to store more energy and move it faster — giving higher power and faster charging.

What SES is doing has brought the company attention not just from General Motors, but from previous investors including the battery giant SK Innovation; the Singapore-based, government-backed investment firm, Temasek; the venture capital arm of semiconductor manufacturer, Applied Materials, Applied Ventures; the Chinese automaking giant, Shanghai Auto; and investment firm, Vertex.

“GM has been rapidly driving down battery cell costs and improving energy density, and our work with SES technology has incredible potential to deliver even better EV performance for customers who want more range at a lower cost,” said Matt Tsien, GM executive vice president and chief technology officer and president, GM Ventures. “This investment by GM and others will allow SES to accelerate their work and scale up their business.”

  

#america, #applied-materials, #applied-ventures, #battery-technology, #electricity, #energy, #ford, #general-motors, #gm-ventures, #hyundai, #iphone, #lithium, #lithium-ion-batteries, #ontology, #semiconductor, #ses, #solid-state-batteries, #tc, #temasek, #tesla, #volkswagen

Startups have about $1 trillion worth of reasons to love the Biden infrastructure plan

The sweeping infrastructure package put forward today by President Joe Biden comes with a price tag of roughly $2 trillion (and hefty tax hikes) but gives startups and the broader tech industry about $1 trillion worth of reasons to support it.

Tech companies have spent the past decade or more developing innovations that can be applied to old-world industries like agriculture, construction, energy, education, manufacturing and transportation and logistics. These are industries where structural impediments to technology adoption have only recently been broken down by the advent of incredibly powerful mobile devices.

Now, these industries are at the heart of the President’s plan to build back better, and the hundreds of billions of dollars that are earmarked to make America great again will, either directly or indirectly, be a huge boost to a number of startups and large tech companies whose hardware and software services will enable much of the work the Biden administration wants done.

“The climate-oriented investment in Biden’s new plan would be roughly ten times what came through ARRA,” wrote Shayle Kann, a partner with the investment firm, Energy Impact Partners. “It would present a huge opportunity for a variety of climate tech sectors, ranging from clean electricity to carbon management to vehicle electrification.”

Much of this will look and feel like a Green New Deal, but sold under a package of infrastructure modernization and service upgrades that the country desperately needs.  Indeed, it’s hard to invest in infrastructure without supporting the kind of energy efficiency and renewable development plans that are at the core of the Green New Deal, since efficiency upgrades are just a part of the new way of building and making things.

Over $700 billion of the proposed budget will go to improving resiliency against natural disasters; upgrading critical water, power, and internet infrastructure; and rehabilitating and improving public housing, federal buildings, and aging commercial and residential real estate.

Additionally there’s another roughly $400 billion in spending earmarked for boosting domestic manufacturing of critical components like semiconductors; protecting against future pandemics; and creating regional innovation hubs to promote venture capital investment and startup development intended to “support the growth of entrepreneurship in communities of color and underserved communities.”

Climate resiliency 

Given the steady drumbeat of climate disasters that hit the U.S. over the course of 2020 (and their combined estimated price tag of nearly $100 billion), it’s not surprising that the Biden plan begins with a focus on resiliency.

The first big outlay of cash outlined in the Biden plan would call for $50 billion in financing to improve, protect and invest in underserved communities most at risk from climate disasters through programs from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Department of Housing and Urban Development, and new initiatives from the Department of Transportation. Most relevant to startups is the push to fund initiatives and technologies that can help prevent or protect against extreme wildfires; rising sea levels and hurricanes; new agriculture resource management; and “climate-smart” technologies.

As with most of Biden’s big infrastructure initiatives, there are startups tackling these issues. Companies like Cornea, Emergency Reporting, Zonehaven are trying to solve different facets of the fire problem; while flood prediction and weather monitoring startups are floating up their services too. Big data analytics, monitoring and sensing tools, and robotics are also becoming fixtures on the farm. For the President’s water efficiency and recycling programs, companies like Epic CleanTec, which has developed wastewater recycling technologies for residential and commercial buildings.

Fables of the reconstruction

Energy efficiency and building upgrades represent by far the biggest chunk of the Biden infrastructure package — totaling a whopping $400 billion of the spending package and all devoted to upgrading homes, offices, schools, veteran’s hospitals and federal buildings.

It gives extra credence to the thesis behind new climate-focused funds from Greensoil Proptech Ventures and Fifth Wall Ventures, which is raising a $200 million investment vehicle to focus on energy efficiency and climate tech solutions.

As Fifth Wall’s newest partner Greg Smithies noted last year, there’s a massive opportunity in building retrofits and startup technologies to improve efficiency.

“What excites me about this space is that there’s so much low-hanging fruit. And there’s $260 trillion worth of buildings,” Smithies said last year. “The vast majority of those are nowhere up to modern codes. We’re going to have a much bigger opportunity by focusing on some not-so-sexy stuff.”

Decarbonizing real estate can also make a huge difference in the fight against global climate change in addition to the its ability to improve quality of life and happiness for residents. “Real estate consumes 40% of all energy. The global economy happens indoors,” said Fifth Wall co-founder Brendan Wallace, in a statement. “Real estate will be the biggest spender on climate tech for no other reason than its contribution to the carbon problem.”

The Biden plan calls on Congress to enact new grant programs that award flexible funding to jurisdictions that take concrete steps to eliminate barriers to produce affordable housing. Part of that will include $40 billion to improve the infrastructure of the public housing in America.

It’s a project that startups like BlocPower are already deeply involved in supporting.

“Get the superhero masks and capes out. The Biden Harris Climate announcement is literally a plan to save the American economy and save the planet. This is Avengers Endgame in real life. We can’t undo the last five years… but we can make smart, massive investments in the climate infrastructure of the future,” wrote Donnel Baird, the chief executive and founder of BlocPower. “Committing to electrify 2 million American buildings, moving them entirely off of fossil fuels is exactly that — an investment in America leading theway towards creating a new industry creating American jobs that cannot be outsourced, and beginning to reduce the 30% of greenhouse gas emissiosn that come from buildings.”

As part of the package that directly impacts startups, there’s a proposal for a $27 billion Clean Energy and Sustainability Accelerator to mobilize private investment, according to the White House. The focus will be on distributed energy resources, retrofits of residential, commercial and municipal buildings; and clean transportation. A focus there will be on disadvantaged communities that haven’t had access to clean energy investments.

Financing the future startup nation

“From the invention of the semiconductor to the creation of the Internet, new engines of economic growth have emerged due to public investments that support research, commercialization, and strong supply chains,” the White House wrote. “President Biden is calling on Congress to make smart investments in research and development, manufacturing and regional economic development, and in workforce development to give our workers and companies the tools and training they need to compete on the global stage.”

To enable that, Biden is proposing another $480 billion in spending to boost research and development — including $50 billion for the National Science Foundation to focus on semiconductors and advanced communications technologies, energ technologies and biotechnology. Another $30 billion is designed to be targeted toward rural development; and finally the $40 billion in upgrading research infrastructure.

There’s also an initiative to create ARPA-C, a climate focused Advanced Research Projects Agency modeled on the DARPA program that gave birth to the Internet. There’s $20 billion heading toward funding climate-focused research and demonstration projects for energy storage, carbon capture and storage, hydrogen, advanced nuclear and rare earth  element separations, floating off shore wind, biofuel/bioproducts, quantum computing and electric vehicles.

The bulk of Biden’s efforts to pour money into manufacturing represents another $300 billion in potential government funding. That’s $30 billion tickets for biopreparedness and pandemic preparedness; another $50 billion in semiconductor manufacturing and research; $46 billion for federal buying power for new advanced nuclear reactors and fuel, cars, ports, pumps and clean materials.

Included in all of this is an emphasis on developing economies fairly and equally across the country — that means $20 billion in regional innovation hubs and a Community Revitalization Fund, which is designed to support innovative, community-led redevelopment efforts and $52 billion in investing in domestic manufacturers — promoting rural manufacturing and clean energy.

Finally for startups there’s a $31 billion available for programs that give small businesses access to credit, venture capital, and R&D dollars. Specifically, the proposal calls for funding for community-based small business incubators and innovation hubs to support growth in communities of color and underserved communites.

Water and power infrastructure 

America’s C- grade infrastructure has problems extending across the length and breadth of the country. It encompasses everything from crumbling roads and bridges to a lack of clean drinking water, failing sewage systems, inadequate recycling facilities, and increasing demands on power generation, transmission and distribution assets that the nation’s electricity grid is unable to meet.

“Across the country, pipes and treatment plants are aging and polluted drinking water is endangering public health. An estimated six to ten million homes still receive drinking water through lead pipes and service lines,” the White House wrote in a statement.

To address this issue, Biden’s calling for an infusion of $45 billion into the Environmental Protection Agency’s Drinking Water State Revolving Fund and Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act grants. While that kind of rip and replace project may not directly impact startups, another $66 billion earmarked for upgrades to drinking water, wastewater and stormwater systems and monitoring and managing the presence of contaminants in water will be a huge boon for the vast array of water sensing and filtration startups that have flooded the market in the past decade or more (there’s even an entire incubator dedicated to just water technologies).

The sad fact is that water infrastructure in America has largely failed to keep up in large swaths of the country, necessitating this kind of massive capital infusion.

And what’s true for water is also true increasingly true for power. Outages cost the U.S. economy upwards of $70 billion per year, according to the White House. So when analysts compare those economic losses to a potential $100 billion outlay, the math should be clear. For startups that math equals dollar signs.

Calls to build a more resilient transmission system should be music to the ears of companies like Veir, which is developing a novel technology for improving capacity on transmission lines (a project that the Biden administration explicitly calls out in its plan).

The Biden plan also includes more than money, calling for the creation of a new Grid Deployment Authority within the Department of Energy to better leverage rights-of-way along roads and railways and will support financing tools to develop new high-voltage transmission lines, the White House said.

The administration doesn’t stop there. Energy storage and renewable technologies are going to get a boost through a clutch of tax credits designed to accelerate their deployment. That includes a ten-year extension and phase down of direct-pay investment tax credits and production tax credits. The plan aslo calls for clean energy block grants and calls for the government to purchase nothing but renewable energy all day for federal buildings.

Complimenting this push for clean power and storage will be a surge in funding for waste remediation and cleanup, which is getting a $21 billion boost under Biden.

Companies like Renewell Energy, or various non-profits that are trying to plug abandoned oil wells, can play a role here. There’s also the potential to recover other mineral deposits or reuse the wastewater that comes from these wells. And here, too, investors can find early stage businesses looking for an angle. Part of the money frm the Biden plan will aim to redevelop brownfields and turn them into more sustainable businesses.

That’s where some of the indoor agriculture companies, like Plenty, Bowery Farms, AppHarvest could find additional pots of money to turn unused factory and warehouse space into working farms. Idled factories could also be transformed into hubs for energy storage and community based power generation and distribution facilities, given their position on the grid.

“President Biden’s plan also will spur targeted sustainable, economic development efforts through the Appalachian Regional Commission’s POWER grant program, Department of Energy retooling grants for idled factories (through the Section 132 program), and dedicated funding to support community-driven environmental justice efforts – such as capacity and project grants to address legacy pollution and the cumulative impacts experienced by frontline and fenceline communities,” the White House wrote.

Key to these redevelopment efforts will be the establishment of pioneer facilities that demonstrate carbon capture retrofits for large steel, cement, and chemical production facilities. But if the Biden Administration wanted to, its departments could go a step further to support lower emission manufacturing technologies like the kind companies including Heliogen, which is using solar power to generate energy for a massive mining operation, or Boston Metal, which is partnering with BMW on developing a lower emission manufacturing process for steel production.

Critical to ensuring that this money gets spent is a $25 billion commitment to finance pre-development activities, that could help smaller project developers, as Rob Day writes in Forbes.

“As I’ve written about elsewhere, local project developers are key to getting sustainability projects built where they will actually do the most good — in the communities hit hardest by both local pollution and climate change impacts. These smaller project developers have lots of expenses they must pay just to get to the point where private-sector infrastructure construction investments can come in,” Day wrote. “Everyone in sustainability policy talks about supporting entrepreneurs, but in reality much of the support is aimed at technology innovators and not these smaller project developers who would be the ones to actually roll out those technology innovations. Infrastructure investors are typically much more reticent to provide capital before projects are construction-ready.”

Building a better Internet

“Broadband internet is the new electricity. It is necessary for Americans to do their jobs, to participate equally in school learning, health care, and to stay connected,” the White House wrote. “Yet, by one definition, more than 30 million Americans live in areas where there is no broadband infrastructure that provides minimally acceptable speeds. Americans in rural areas and on tribal lands particularly lack adequate access. And, in part because the United States has some of the highest broadband prices among OECD countries, millions of Americans can’t use broadband internet even if the infrastructure exists where they live.”

The $100 billion that the Biden Administration is earmarking for broadband infrastructure includes goals to meet 100 percent high-speed broadband coverage and prioritizes support for networks owned, operated, or faffiliated with local governments, non-profits and cooperatives.

Attendant with the new cash is a shift in regulatory policy that would open up opportunities for municipally-owned or affiliated providers and rural electric co-ops from competing with prive providers and requiring internet providers to be more transparent about their pricing. This increased competition is good for hardware vendors and ultimately could create new businesses for entrepreneurs who want to become ISPs of their own.

Wander is one-such service providing high speed wireless internet in Los Angeles.

“Americans pay too much for the internet – much more than people in many other countries – and the President is committed to working with Congress to find a solution to reduce internet prices for all Americans, increase adoption in both rural and urban areas, hold providers accountable, and save taxpayer money,” the White House wrote.

 

#agriculture, #america, #articles, #biden-administration, #biotechnology, #blocpower, #brendan-wallace, #broadband, #co-founder, #congress, #construction, #cornea, #department-of-transportation, #education, #electricity, #energy, #energy-impact-partners, #fifth-wall-ventures, #forbes, #greg-smithies, #infrastructure, #joe-biden, #kamala-harris, #los-angeles, #manufacturing, #mobile-devices, #national-science-foundation, #oecd, #plenty, #president, #quantum-computing, #real-estate, #semiconductor, #semiconductors, #steel, #supply-chains, #tc, #united-states, #venture-capital, #venture-capital-investment, #white-house

Arcadia steps in to Texas’ startup energy market with the acquisition of Real Simple Energy

On the third greatest television show of all time (sorry Rolling Stone), one of Texas’ most famous fictional football players once said, “When all the scared rats are leaving a sinking market, that’s when a real entrepreneur steps in — a true visionary.”

If that’s the case, then the startup renewable energy retail reseller Arcadia may be a true visionary. Even as energy startups servicing customers throughout the great state of Texas are forced to throw in the towel, the Washington-based, consumer-focused renewable energy power provider (based on renewable energy certificates purchased on the open market), is making an acquisition to enter the Texas market.

The company is buying Real Simple Energy, which not only marks the company’s availability in all 50 states, but gives Real Simple Energy customers access to both wind and solar power generating projects. The company said it  will leverage Real Simple Energy’s platform and expertise to secure the best rates for members, monitor for better savings, and provide a smarter yet simpler energy experience.

“Recent events in the Texas market prove that customers shouldn’t be exposed to wholesale or variable rates, and want an energy advocate to protect them,” said Kiran Bhatraju, CEO and Founder of Arcadia. “Both Arcadia and Real Simple Energy recognize the challenges Texas homeowners and renters have historically faced in the energy buying process, and we remain committed to removing these confusing barriers.”

Texans have consistently paid more for power than consumers that buy their energy from regulated market participants thanks to the state’s disastrously deregulated power markets. The combined companies are pitching fixed rate contracts to Texas consumers that won’t be vulnerable to bill spikes, but will offer average savings above the flat rates regulated utilities offer.

“The deregulated energy industry, especially in Texas, has underserved customers and as a result, most customers overpay for electricity and receive poor customer service. Using technology, we are helping customers realize the promise of deregulation and always get the best fixed rates available,” said Trent Crow, CEO of Real Simple Energy, in a statement. “As industry veterans, joining forces with Arcadia will allow us to get better deals for customers and enhance our customer experience.  We manage 100% of the energy experience and become a customer’s independent agent and advocate so they never have to worry about their electricity bill again.”

The deal is Arcadia’s first acquisition and follows the company’s launch of a community solar program all the way across the country in the great state of Maine.

#ceo, #electricity, #energy, #energy-industry, #entrepreneur, #fundings-exits, #maine, #renewable-energy, #startups, #tc, #texas, #washington

Three energy-innovation takeaways from Texas’ deep freeze

Individual solutions to the collective crisis of climate change abound: backup diesel generators, Tesla powerwalls, “prepper” shelters. However, the infrastructure that our modern civilization relies on is interconnected and interdependent — energy, transportation, food, water and waste systems are all vulnerable in climate-driven emergencies. No one solution alone and in isolation will be the salvation to our energy infrastructure crisis.

After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Superstorm Sandy in 2012, the California wildfires last year, and the recent deep freeze in Texas, the majority of the American public has not only realized how vulnerable infrastructure is, but also how critical it is to properly regulate it and invest in its resilience.

What is needed now is a mindset shift in how we think about infrastructure. Specifically, how we price risk, how we value maintenance, and how we make policy that is aligned with our climate reality. The extreme cold weather in Texas wreaked havoc on electric and gas infrastructure that was not prepared for unusually cold weather events. If we continue to operate without an urgent (bipartisan?) investment in infrastructure, especially as extreme weather becomes the norm, this tragic trend will only continue (with frontline communities bearing a disproportionately high burden).

A month after Texas’ record-breaking storm, attention is rightly focused on helping the millions of residents putting their lives back together. But as we look toward the near-term future and get a better picture of the electric mobility tipping point on the horizon, past-due action to reform our nation’s energy infrastructure and utilities must take precedence.

Emphasize energy storage

Seventy-five percent of Texas’ electricity is generated from fossil fuels and uranium, and about 80% of the power outages in Texas were caused by these systems. The state and the U.S. are overly dependent on outdated energy generation, transmission and distribution technologies. As the price of energy storage is expected to drop to $75/kWh by 2030, more emphasis needs to be placed on “demand-side management” and distributed energy resources that support the grid, rather than trying to supplant it. By pooling and aggregating small-scale clean energy generation sources and customer-sited storage, 2021 can be the year that “virtual power plants” realize their full potential.

Policymakers would do well to mandate new incentives and rebates to support new and emerging distributed energy resources installed on the customers’ side of the utility meter, such as California’s Self-Generation Incentive Program.

Invest in workforce development

For the energy transition to succeed, workforce development will need to be a central component. As we shift from coal, oil and gas to clean energy sources, businesses and governments — from the federal to the city level — should invest in retraining workers into well-paying jobs across emerging verticals, like solar, electric vehicles and battery storage. In energy efficiency (the lowest-hanging fruit of the energy transition), cities should seize the opportunity to tie equity-based workforce development programs to real estate energy benchmarking requirements.

These policies will not only boost the efficiency of our energy systems and the viability of our aging building stock, creating a more productive economy but will also lead to job growth and expertise in a growth industry of the 21st century. According to analysis from Rewiring America, an aggressive national commitment to decarbonization could yield 25 million good-paying jobs over the next 15 years.

Build microgrids for reliability

Microgrids can connect and disconnect from the grid. By operating on normal “blue-sky” operating days as well as during emergencies, microgrids provide uninterrupted power when the grid goes down — and reduce grid constraints and energy costs when grid-connected. Previously the sole domain of military bases and universities, microgrids are growing 15% annually, reaching an $18 billion market in the U.S. by 2022.

For grid resiliency and reliable power supply, there is no better solution than community-scale microgrids that connect critical infrastructure facilities with nearby residential and commercial loads. Funding feasibility studies and audit-grade designs — so that communities have zero-cost but high-quality pathways to constructable projects, as New York State did with the NY Prize initiative — is a proven way to involve communities in their energy planning and engage the private sector in building low-carbon resilient energy systems.

Unpredictability and complexity are quickening, and technology has its place, but not simply as an individual safeguard or false security blanket. Instead, technology should be used to better calculate risk, increase system resilience, improve infrastructure durability, and strengthen the bonds between people in a community both during and in between emergencies.

#column, #electrical-grid, #electricity, #energy, #energy-efficiency, #energy-storage, #greentech, #opinion, #tc, #texas

The Department of Defense is establishing a working group to focus on climate change

The U.S. Department of Defense is setting up a working group to focus on climate change.

The new group will be led by Joe Bryan, who was appointed as a Special Assistant to the Secretary of Defense focused on climate earlier this year.

The move is one of several steps that the Biden administration has taken to push an agenda that looks to address the dangers posed by global climate change.

Bryan, who previously served as Deputy Assistant to the Secretary of the Navy for Energy under the Obama administration, will oversee a group intended to coordinate the Department’s responses to Biden’s recent executive order and subsequent climate and energy-related directives and track implementation of climate and energy-related actions and progress, according to a statement.

The Department of Defense controls the purse strings for hundreds of billions of dollars in government spending and is a huge consumer of electricity, oil and gas, and industrial materials. Any steps it takes to improve the efficiency of its supply chain, reduce the emissions profile of its fleet of vehicles, and use renewable energy to power operations could make a huge contribution to the commercialization of renewable and sustainable technologies and a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

The Pentagon is already including security implications of climate change in its risk analyses, strategy development and planning guidance, according to the statement, and is including those risk analyses in its intallation planning, modeling, simulation and war gaming, and the National Defense Strategy.

“Whether it is increasing platform efficiency to improve freedom of action in contested logistics environments, or deploying new energy solutions to strengthen resilience of key capabilities at installations, our mission objectives are well aligned with our climate goals,” wrote Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, in a statement. “The Department will leverage that alignment to modernize the force, strengthen our supply chains, identify opportunities to work closely with allies and partners, and compete with China for the energy technologies that are essential to our future success.”

#articles, #biden, #biden-administration, #china, #climate-change, #electricity, #energy, #executive, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #navy, #oil-and-gas, #pentagon, #renewable-energy, #secretary, #simulation, #supply-chain, #tc

Mainspring Energy launches its flexible fuel generator with a $150 million NextEra Energy contract

Mainspring Energy, the developer of a new generator technology that use fuels like biogas and hydrogen, has unveiled its Mainspring Linear Generator, with a $150 million contract with NextEra Energy Resources.

The company’s technology represents a significant step in the transition to a zero-carbon power grid given its ability to shift between traditional natural gas sources and alternative fuel sources like biogas and hydrogen.

So far, the company’s generators are under contract with a national supermarket chain that’s using the company’s tech at 30 of its grocery stores. The company began shipping pilot units in June and will begin commerical statements in mid-2021 according to a statement.

The company’s tech was initially developed at a thermodynamics lab in Stanford University where co-founders Shannon Miller, Matt Svrcek and Adam Simpson were working. Its design enables the rollout of generators that can replace traditional diesel and be used to improve the resilience of industrial sites against natural disasters.

Their linear generator, which the company said differs from engines, microturbines, and fuel cells, is a device that converts motion along a straight line into electricity using heat or chemical energy. In Mainspring’s case, a low temperature reaction of air and fuel drives magnets through copper coils to produce electricity.

It’s the combination of the design and control software developed by the company that allows its equipment to produce high-efficiency, dispatchable power, without the nitrogen oxide emissions associated with other generators, the company said.

The technology caught the eye of investors like Bill Gates and Vinod Khosla’s eponymous investment firm Khosla Ventures, along with some oil and gas companies like Equinor and utilities like American Electric Power. To date, Mainspring, which used to go by the name Etagen, has raised well over $80 million in financing.

In its approach to energy generation without the need for more complex mechanical systems or catalysts, Mainspring is akin to other startups like the Robert Downey Jr. and Bill Gates-backed Turntide Technologies that are trying to provide more elegant, software enabled solutions to motors and generator technologies.

Mainspring’s generators achieve their low capital and maintenance costs through use of standard materials, only two moving parts, and an innovative air bearing system that eliminates the need for oil, the company said. It operates without the use of complex mechanical systems or expensive catalysts.

The company also touted its ability to spin up and spin down in response to conditions on the energy grid, which means that it can pair well with solar power or battery storage.

“One of our customers’ key drivers, in addition to carbon savings, is to save cost from their current grid prices,” said Miller, in a statement. “Our products can provide substantial savings to commercial customers on their electricity costs with a typical Energy Services Agreement. In this energy-as-a-service scenario, customers pay nothing up front and realize annual savings starting in the first year.”

Mainspring’s first commercial product is designed for a rated output of 250 kW and packaged in a standard 8′ x 20′ container, according to a statement. Those packages integrate two of the company’s125 kW linear generator cores, working in tandem, and combines UL-listed grid-tie inverters and auxiliaries into a turn-key package, the company said. Future configurations will provide higher power output to serve industrial businesses, data centers, hospitals, smart cities, and utility grid-level applications.

“Many commercial and industrial customers as well as utilities want clean, reliable power generation, with the capability to switch to 100% renewable fuels like biogas and hydrogen as they become available,” said NextEra Energy Resources President and CEO John Ketchum, in a statement. “Mainspring is able to integrate clean onsite generation with both renewables and the grid and we’re pleased to support bringing this innovative product to market.” 

#alternative-energy, #american-electric-power, #articles, #bill-gates, #biogas, #electrical-grid, #electricity, #energy, #energy-storage, #fuel-cells, #khosla-ventures, #oil, #oil-and-gas, #renewable-energy, #solar-power, #stanford-university, #tc, #turntide-technologies, #vinod-khosla

Firms backed by Robert Downey Jr. and Bill Gates have funded an electric motor company that slashes energy consumption

Sometimes the smallest innovations can have the biggest impacts on the world’s efforts to stop global climate change. Arguably, one of the biggest contributors in the fight against climate change to date has been the switch to the humble LED light, which has slashed hundreds of millions of tons of carbon dioxide emissions simply by reducing energy consumption in buildings.

And now firms backed by Robert Downey Jr. and Bill Gates are joining investors like Amazon and iPod inventor Tony Fadell to pour money into a company called Turntide Technologies that believes it has the next great innovation in the world’s efforts to slow global climate change — a better electric motor.

It’s not as flashy as an arc reactor, but like light bulbs, motors are a ubiquitous and wholly unglamorous technology that have been operating basically the same way since the nineteenth century. And, like the light bulb, they’re due for an upgrade.

“Turntide’s technology and approach to restoring  our planet will directly reduce energy consumption,” said Steve Levin, the co-founder (along with Downey Jr. ) of FootPrint Coalition Ventures

The operation of buildings is responsible for 40% of CO2 emissions worldwide, Turntide noted in a statement. And, according to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), one-third of energy used in commercial buildings is wasted. Smart building technology adds an intelligent layer to eliminate this waste and inefficiency by automatically controlling lighting, air conditioning, heating, ventilation and other essential systems and Turntide’s electric motors can add additional savings.

That’s why investors have put over $100 million into Turntide in just the last six months.

PARIS, FRANCE – JUNE 16: Tony Fadell Inventor of the iPod and Founder and former CEO of Nest attends a conference during Viva Technology at Parc des Expositions Porte de Versailles on June 16, 2017 in Paris, France. Viva Technology is a fair that brings together, for the second year, major groups and startups around all the themes of innovation. (Photo by Christophe Morin/IP3/Getty Images)

The company, led by chief executive and chairman Ryan Morris is commercializing technology that was developed initially at the Illinois Institute of Technology.

Turntide’s basic innovation is a software controlled motor, or switch reluctance motor, that uses precise pulses of energy instead of a constant flow of electricity. “In a conventional motor you are continuously driving current into the motor whatever speed you want to run it at,” Morris said. “We’re pulsing in precise amounts of current just at the times when you need the torque… It’s software defined hardware.” 

The technology spent eleven years under development, in part because the computing power didn’t exist to make the system work, according to Morris.

Morris was initially part of an investment firm called Meson Capital that acquired the technology back in 2013, and it was another four years of development before the motors were actually able to function in pilots, he said. The company spent the last three years developing the commercialization strategy and proving the value in its initial market — retrofitting the heating ventilation and cooling systems in buildings that are the main factor in the built environment’s 28% contribution to carbon dioxide emissions that are leading to global climate change.

“Our mission is to replace all of the motors in the world,” Morris said.

He estimates that the technology is applicable to 95% of where electric motors are used today, but the initial focus will be on smart buildings because it’s the easiest place to start and can have some of the largest immediate impact on energy usage. 

The carbon impact of what we’re doing is pretty massive,” Morris told me last year. “The average energy reduction [in buildings] has been a 64% reduction. If we can replace all the motors in buildings in the US that’s the carbon equivalent of adding over 300 million tons of carbon sequestration per year.”

That’s why Downey Jr.’s Footprint Coalition, and Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Ventures and the real estate and construction focused venture firm Fifth Wall Ventures have joined the Amazon Climate Fund, Tony Fadell’s Future Shape, BMW’s iVentures fund and a host of other investors in backing the company.

The company has raised roughly $180 million in financing including the disclosure today of an $80 million investment round, which closed in October.

Buildings are clearly the current focus for Turntide, which only yesterday announced the acquisition of a small Santa Barbara, Calif.-based building management software developer called Riptide IO. But there’s also an application in another massive industry — electric vehicles.

“Two years from now we will definitely be in electric vehicles,” Morris said. 

“Our technology has huge advantages for the electric vehicle industry. There’s no rare earth minerals. Every EV uses rare earth minerals to get better performance of their electric motors,” he continued. “They’re expensive, destructive to mine and China controls 95 percent of the global supply chain for them. We do not use any exotic materials, rare earth minerals or magnets.. We’re replacing that with very advanced software and computation. It’s the first time Moore’s law applies to the motor.”

#amazon, #articles, #bmw, #california, #carbon-footprint, #china, #co-founder, #computing, #electricity, #energy, #energy-consumption, #fifth-wall-ventures, #footprint-coalition, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #ipod, #real-estate, #tc, #tony-fadell, #u-s-department-of-energy, #united-states

Will the Texas winter disaster deter further tech migration?

Austin is known for its usually mild winters. But on February 12, a winter storm hit the state — leading to over a week of freezing temperatures. This has resulted in a statewide disaster with millions of Texas residents losing power or water, or both.

It’s too early to tell the exact toll this has all taken in loss of life, property damage and economic activity. But it’s clear that this disaster is, and will continue to be, devastating on many levels. Austin-area hospitals even lost water this week, as an indication of how bad things have been.

Since last Thursday, my own household lost power and got it back multiple times. On February 17, we lost water, with no idea of when it will be restored. I realize there are many worse off than me, so I’ll spare you the pity party, but it’s definitely been a humbling experience. Boiling snow/ice for toilet water and rationing the little bottled water we had left with fear of frozen/bursting pipes. At least we have been warm the past couple of days, as many still don’t have power.

Meanwhile, over the past few months (and years, really), Austin has been making headlines for other news — namely the fact that so many tech companies, founders (ahem, Elon) and investors are either moving their headquarters here (Oracle), building significant factories (Tesla) or offices (Apple, Google, Facebook) here, or are thinking about relocating entirely.

The lack of state income taxes has been a big draw, as well as the housing/land/office prices that are affordable when compared to those in the Bay Area. This is nothing new, but only accelerated as the pandemic has encouraged/forced more remote work.

Ironically, some of the very things that have led to the state being more attractive to companies have also contributed to the crisis: Fewer taxes means less money for infrastructure, for one.

But it goes beyond that. Many other states have had freezing cold temperatures without the loss of power and water that Texas is currently experiencing. As The Washington Post reported earlier this week, the state’s choice to deregulate electricity led to “a financial structure for power generation that offers no incentives to power plant operators to prepare for winter. In the name of deregulation and free markets, critics say, Texas has created an electric grid that puts an emphasis on cheap prices over reliable service.”

Even Elon shared his disappointment on Twitter:

It’s fair to say Texas has attracted widespread criticism of its handling of this new crisis — both in terms of its lack of preparation and mismanagement (Sen. Cruz, we’re looking at you). But are the events of the past week going to take away some of the shine on Austin as a potential relocation destination for tech and investors? Will this deter people from wanting to move here? Isn’t it also ironic that some folks who didn’t want to move here due to the scorching summer temperatures are now also slamming the city/state for the impacts of a major winter storm?

So I did what many other enterprising tech reporters might do in this situation, and took to Twitter. The results were pretty much as expected — varied and passionate on either side.

There were many tweets from Austinites who defended their city and praised how its residents have come together during crises:

Then there were some tweets from people who lived here but are disgusted and disappointed:

There were also some tweets from others who said they were so turned off they’d never contemplate moving to Texas or that they were dismayed by the lack of preparation:

And there were those who don’t live here but scoffed at the notion that this was enough to keep people away, while others pointed out that natural disasters happen all over:

Then there were those who joked that the disaster was engineered as a ploy to “keep California people away,” or at least might have that effect:

I have lived on all three coasts — East, West and Gulf. There are pluses and minuses to each. This likely is enough of a deterrent to keep people away. But I will say that the state could — and should — have been more prepared when it decided to deregulate electricity. I am heartbroken at all the suffering people in the city and state are dealing with and for now, just want to see things get back to “normal” as soon as possible so the only crisis we’re dealing with is the COVID-19 pandemic. Never thought we’d look back fondly on those days.

Here’s to hoping that migration of techies can build solutions that could maybe help prevent similar disasters in the future.

#austin, #california, #climate, #cruz, #electricity, #elon, #facebook, #infrastructure, #oracle, #silicon-valley, #tc, #texas

EV charging stations, biofuels, the hydrogen transition and chemicals are pillars of Shell’s climate plan

Royal Dutch Shell Group, one of the largest publicly traded oil producers in the world, just laid out its plan for how the company will survive in a zero-emission, climate conscious world.

It’s a plan that rests on five main pillars that include the massive rollout of electric vehicle charging stations; a greater emphasis on lubricants, chemicals, and biofuels; the development of a significantly larger renewable energy generation portfolio and carbon offset plan; and the continued development of hydrogen and natural gas assets while slashing oil production by 1% to 2% per year and investing heavily in carbon capture and storage.

These four large categories cut across the company’s business operations and represent one of the most comprehensive (if high level) plans from a major oil company on how to keep their industry from becoming the next victim of the transition to low emission (and eventually) zero emission energy and power sources (I’m looking at you, coal industry).

“Our accelerated strategy will drive down carbon emissions and will deliver value for our shareholders, our customers and wider society,” said Royal Dutch Shell Chief Executive Officer, Ben van Beurden, in a statement.

To keep those shareholders from abandoning ship, the company also committed to slashing costs and boosting its dividend per share by around 4% per year. That means giving money back to investors that might have been spent on expensive oil and gas exploration operations. The company also committed too pay down its debt and make its payouts to shareholders 20% to 30% of its cash flow from operations. That’s… very generous.

gas vs electric vehicles

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin

The Plan

Shell is a massive business with more than 1 million commercial and industrial customers and about 30 million customers coming to its 46,000 retail service stations daily, according to the company’s own estimates. The company organized its thinking around what it sees as growth opportunities, energy transition opportunities, and then the gradual obsolescence of its upstream drilling and petroleum production operations.

In what it sees as areas for growth, Shell intends to invest around $5 billion to $6 billion to its initiatives including the development of 500,000 electric vehicle charging locations by 2025 (up from 60,000 today) and an attendant boost in retail and service locations to facilitate charging.

The company also said it would be investing heavily in the expansion of biofuels and renewable energy generation and carbon offsets. The company wants to generate 560 terawatt hours a year by 2030, which is double the amount of electricity it generates today. Expect to see Shell operate as an independent power producer that will provide renewable energy generation as a service to an expected 15 million retail and commercial customers.

Finally the company sees the hydrogen economy as another area where it can grow.

In places where Shell already has assets that can be transitioned to the low carbon economy, the company’s going to be doubling down on its bets. That means zero emission natural gas production and a trebling down on chemicals manufacturing (watch out Dow and BASF). That means more recycling as well, as the company intends to process 1 million tons of plastic waste to produce circular chemicals.

Upstream, which was the heart of the oil and gas business for years, the company said it would “focus on value over volume” in a statement. What that means in practice is looking for easier, low cost wells to drill (something that points to the continued importance of the Middle East in the oil economy for the foreseeable future). The company expects to reduce its oil production by around 1% to 2% per year. And the company’s going to be investing in carbon capture and storage to the tune of 25 million tons per year through projects like the Quest CCS development in Canada, Norway’s Northern Lights project, and the Porthos project n the Netherlands.

“We must give our customers the products and services they want and need – products that have the lowest environmental impact,” van Beurden said in a statement.”At the same time, we will use our established strengths to build on our competitive portfolio as we make the transition to be a net-zero emissions business in step with society.”

Money or finance green pattern with dollar banknotes. Banking, cashback, payment, e-commerce. Vector background.

Money talk

For the company to survive in a world where revenues from its main business are cut, it’s also going to be keeping operating expenses down and will be looking to sell off big chunks of the business that no longer make sense.

That means expenses of no more than $35 billion per year and sales of around $4 billion per year to keep those dividends and cash to investors flowing.

“Over time the balance of capital spending will shift towards the businesses in the Growth pillar, attracting around half of the additional capital spend,” the company said. “Cash flow will follow the same trend and in the long term will become less exposed to oil and gas prices, with a stronger link to broader economic growth.”

Shell set targets for reducing its carbon intensity as part of the pay that’s going to all of the company’s staff and those targets are… eye opening. It’s looking at reductions in carbon intensity of 6-8% by 2023, 20% by 2030, 45% by 2035 and 100% by 2050, using a baseline of 2016 as its benchmark.

The company said that its own carbon emissions peaked in 2018 at 1.7 giga-tons per year and its oil production peaked in 2019.

The context

Shell’s not taking these steps because it wants to, necessarily. The writing is on the wall that unless something dramatic is done to stop fossil fuel pollution and climate change, the world faces serious consequences.

A study released earlier this week indicated that air pollution from fossil fuels killed 18% of the world’s population. That means burning fossil fuels is almost as deadly as cancer, according to the study from researchers led by Harvard University.

Beyond the human toll directly tied to fossil fuels, there’s the huge cost of climate change, which the U.S. estimated could cost $500 billion per year by 2090 unless steps are taken to reverse course.

#air-pollution, #articles, #basf, #biofuels, #canada, #chemicals, #chief-executive-officer, #e-commerce, #electricity, #energy, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #harvard-university, #middle-east, #netherlands, #norway, #oil, #oil-and-gas, #renewable-energy, #tc, #united-states

Trump’s Clean Power Plan replacement gets thrown out by a court

Image of a power plant.

Enlarge / DUNKIRK, NEW YORK, UNITED STATES – 2016/10/09: A NRG owned coal fired energy facility that plans to convert to a natural gas facility. (credit: John Greim / Getty Images)

Today, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia vacated the Trump administration’s attempt to take a minimalist approach to the regulation of carbon dioxide emissions. The ruling was a lopsided victory for the long list of groups opposing the Trump EPA’s approach, with the entire rule being vacated. Thus, the Biden administration will start unencumbered by its predecessors’ attempts to gut carbon dioxide regulations.

Here we go again

Some of the legal issues here date back to the Clinton administration, when states sued to force the EPA to regulate carbon emissions under the Clean Air Act. That issue was ultimately clarified by the Supreme Court, which, during the George W. Bush administration, ruled that carbon dioxide could be regulated as a pollutant as defined by the Clean Air Act. Early in the Obama administration, the EPA issued an endangerment finding for greenhouse gasses that provided the scientific rationale for regulations. Those regulations came in the form of the Clean Power Plan, issued during Obama’s second term.

While the Clean Power Plan completed the federal rule-making process, it was held up by lawsuits when President Obama left office. Trump issued an executive order that directed the EPA to replace the Clean Power Plan. The EPA’s eventual replacement, the Affordable Clean Energy rule (ACE), went well beyond simply ending or limiting the Clean Power Plan. Instead, ACE attempted to narrow the regulation allowed under the Clean Air Act by having states regulate each individual source of emissions, rather than regulating the state’s total emissions. As an added bonus, it also stretched out the timeline for states to bring their emissions into compliance.

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#clean-air-act, #climate-change, #electricity, #environment, #epa, #greenhouse-gasses, #law, #policy, #power-grid, #science

Looking to decarbonize the metal industry, Bill Gates-backed Boston Metal raises $50 million

Steel production accounts for roughly 8 percent of the emissions that contribute to global climate change. It is one of the industries that sits at the foundation of the modern economy and is one of the most resistant to decarbonization.

As nations around the world race to reduce their environmental footprint and embrace more sustainable methods of production, finding a way to remove carbon from the metals business will be one of the most important contributions to that effort.

One startup that’s developing a new technology to address the issue is Boston Metal. Previously backed by the Bill Gates financed Breakthrough Energy Ventures fund, the new company has just raised roughly $50 million of an approximately $60 million financing round to expand its operations, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The global steel industry may find approximately 14 percent of its potential value at risk if the business can’t reduce its environmental impact, according to studies cited by the consulting firm McKinsey & Co.

Boston Metal, which previously raised $20 million back in 2019, uses a process called molten oxide electrolysis (“MOE”) to make steel alloys — and eventually emissions-free steel. The first close of the funding actually came in December 2018 — two years before the most recent financing round, according to chief executive Tadeu Carneiro, the company’s chief executive.

Over the years since the company raised its last round, Boston Metal has grown from 8 employees to a staff that now numbers close to 50. The Woburn, Mass.-based company has also been able to continuously operate its three pilot lines producing metal alloys for over a month at a time.

And while the steel program remains the ultimate goal, the company is quickly approaching commercialization with its alloy program, because it isn’t as reliant on traditional infrastructure and sunk costs according to Carneiro.

Boston Metal’s technology radically reimagines an industry whose technology hasn’t changed all that much since the dawn of the Iron Age in 1200 BCE, Carneiro said.

Ultimately the goal is to serve as a technology developer licensing its technology and selling components to steel manufacturers or engineering companies who will ultimate make the steel.

For Boston Metal, the next steps on the product roadmap are clear. The company wil look to have a semi-industrial cell line operating in Woburn, Mass. by the end of 2022, and by 2024 or 2025 hopes to have its first demonstration plant up and running. “At that point we will be able to commercialize the technology,” Carneiro said.

The company’s previous investors include Breakthrough Energy Ventures, Prelude Ventures, and the MIT-backed “hard-tech” investment firm, The Engine. All of them came back to invest in the latest infusion of cash into the company along with Devonshire Investors, the private investment firm affiliated with FMR, the parent company of financial services giant, Fidelity, which co-led the deal alongside Piva Capital and another, undisclosed investor.

As a result of its investment, Shyam Kamadolli will take a seat on the company’s board, according to the filing with the SEC.

MOE takes metals in their raw oxide form and transforms them into molten metal products. Invented at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and based on research from MIT Professor Donald Sadoway, Boston Metal makes molten oxides that are tailored for a specific feedstock and product. Electrons are used to melt the soup and selectively reduce the target oxide. The purified metal pools at the bottom of a cell and is tapped by drilling into the cell using a process adapted from a blast furnace. The tap hole is plugged and the process then continues.

One of the benefits of the technology, according to the company, is its scalability. As producers need to make more alloys, they can increase production capacity.

“Molten oxide electrolysis is a platform technology that can produce a wide array of metals and alloys, but our first industrial deployments will target the ferroalloys on the path to our ultimate goal of steel,” said Carneiro, the company’s chief executive, in a statement announcing the company’s $20 million financing back in 2019. “Steel is and will remain one of the staples of modern society, but the production of steel today produces over two gigatons of CO2. The same fundamental method for producing steel has been used for millennia, but Boston Metal is breaking that paradigm by replacing coal with electrons.”

No less a tech luminary than Bill Gates himself underlined the importance of the decarbonization of the metal business.

Boston Metal is working on a way to make steel using electricity instead of coal, and to make it just as strong and cheap,” Gates wrote in his blog, GatesNotes. Although Gates did have a caveat. “Of course, electrification only helps reduce emissions if it uses clean power, which is another reason why it’s so important to get zero-carbon electricity,” he wrote.

#bill-gates, #boston-metal, #breakthrough-energy-ventures, #electricity, #massachusetts-institute-of-technology, #mckinsey-co, #metal, #recent-funding, #securities-and-exchange-commission, #startups, #steel, #tc

SunCulture wants to turn Africa into the world’s next bread basket, one solar water pump at a time

The world’s food supply must double by the year 2050 to meet the demands from a growing population, according to a report from the United Nations. And as pressure mounts to find new crop land to support the growth, the world’s eyes are increasingly turning to the African continent as the next potential global breadbasket.

While Africa has 65% of the world’s remaining uncultivated arable land, according to the African Development Bank, the countries on the continent face significant obstacles as they look to boost the productivity of their agricultural industries.

On the continent, 80% of families depend on agriculture for their livelihoods, but only 4% use irrigation. Many families also lack access to reliable and affordable electricity. It’s these twin problems that Samir Ibrahim and his co-founder at SunCulture, Charlie Nichols, have spent the last eight years trying to solve.

Armed with a new financing model and purpose-built small solar power generators and water pumps, Nichols and Ibrahim, have already built a network of customers using their equipment to increase incomes by anywhere from five to ten times their previous levels by growing higher-value cash crops, cultivating more land and raising more livestock.

The company also has just closed on $14 million in funding to expand its business across Africa.

“We have to double the amount of food we have to create by 2050, and if you look at where there are enough resources to grow food and a lot of point — all signs point to Africa. You have a lot of farmers and a lot of land, and a lot of resources,” Ibrahim said.

African small farmers face two big problems as they look to increase productivity, Ibrahim said. One is access to markets, which alone is a huge source of food waste, and the other is food security because of a lack of stable growing conditions exacerbated by climate change.

As one small farmer told The Economist earlier this year, ““The rainy season is not predictable. When it is supposed to rain it doesn’t, then it all comes at once.”

Ibrahim, who graduated from New York University in 2011, had long been drawn to the African continent. His father was born in Tanzania and his mother grew up in Kenya and they eventually found their way to the U.S. But growing up, Ibrahim was told stories about East Africa.

While pursuing a business degree at NYU Ibrahim met Nichols, who had been working on large scale solar projects in the U.S., at an event for budding entrepreneurs in New York.

The two began a friendship and discussed potential business opportunities stemming from a paper Nichols had read about renewable energy applications in the agriculture industry.

After winning second place in a business plan competition sponsored by NYU, the two men decided to prove that they should have won first. They booked tickets to Kenya and tried to launch a pilot program for their business selling solar-powered water pumps and generators.

Conceptually solar water pumping systems have been around for decades. But as the costs of solar equipment and energy storage have declined the systems that leverage those components have become more accessible to a broader swath of the global population.

That timing is part of what has enabled SunCulture to succeed where other companies have stumbled. “We moved here at a time when [solar] reached grid parity in a lot of markets. It was at a time when a lot of development financiers were funding the nexus between agriculture and energy,” said Ibrahim.

Initially, the company sold its integrated energy generation and water pumping systems to the middle income farmers who hold jobs in cities like Nairobi and cultivate crops on land they own in rural areas. These “telephone farmers” were willing to spend the $5000 required to install SunCulture’s initial systems.

Now, the cost of a system is somewhere between $500 and $1000 and is more accessible for the 570 million farming households across the word — with the company’s “pay-as-you-grow” model.

It’s a spin on what’s become a popular business model for the distribution of solar systems of all types across Africa. Investors have poured nearly $1 billion into the development of off-grid solar energy and retail technology companies like M-kopa, Greenlight Planet, d.light design, ZOLA Electric, and SolarHome, according to Ibrahim. In some ways, SunCulture just extends that model to agricultural applications.

“We have had to bundle services and financing. The reason this particularly works is because our customers are increasing their incomes four or five times,” said Ibrahim. “Most of the money has been going to consuming power. This is the first time there has been productive power.”

 SunCulture’s hardware consists of 300 watt solar panels and a 440 watt-hour battery system. The batteries can support up to four lights, two phones and a plug-in submersible water pump. 

The company’s best selling product line can support irrigation for a two-and-a-half acre farm, Ibrahim said. “We see ourselves as an entry point for other types of appliances. We’re growing to be the largest solar company for Africa.”

With the $14 million in funding, from investors including Energy Access Ventures (EAV), Électricité de France (EDF), Acumen Capital Partners (ACP), and Dream Project Incubators (DPI), SunCulture will expand its footprint in Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, Zambia, Senegal, Togo, and Cote D’Ivoire, the company said. 

Ekta Partners acted as the financial advisor for the deal, while CrossBoundary provided additional advisory support, including an analysis on the market opportunity and competitive landscape, under the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)’s Kenya Investment Mechanism Program

#africa, #agriculture, #alternative-energy, #articles, #co-founder, #east-africa, #economist, #electricity, #energy, #ethiopia, #financial-advisor, #food, #food-supply, #food-waste, #kenya, #nairobi, #new-york, #new-york-university, #renewable-energy, #senegal, #solar-energy, #solar-power, #tanzania, #tc, #uganda, #united-nations, #united-states

Renewable power represents almost 90% of total global power capacity added in 2020

Bucking the slowdown in most of the power sector caused by responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, renewable energy actually grew in 2020, and will represent about 90% of the total power capacity added for the year, according to the International Energy Agency.

A surge in new projects from China and the US led the charge for renewable power, which will account for almost 200 gigawatts of additional power generating capacity around the world, according to the  IEA’s Renewables 2020.

Big additions came from hydropower, solar and wind. Wind and solar power generating assets are expected to jump by 30% in both China and the US as developers take advantage of incentives that are set to expire.

The agency predicts that India and the European Union will also jump in and add an additional 10% of renewable capacity — marking the fastest period of growth for the industry since 2015.

These supply additions are in part due to the commissioning of projects delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, which disrupted supply chains and put a stop to construction.

“Renewable power is defying the difficulties caused by the pandemic, showing robust growth while others fuels struggle,” said Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA Executive Director, in a statement. “The resilience and positive prospects of the sector are clearly reflected by continued strong appetite from investors – and the future looks even brighter with new capacity additions on course to set fresh records this year and next.”

Throughout the first ten months of the year, China, India, and the EU have boosted auctioned renewable power capacity by 15% over the year ago period. Meanwhile, shares of publicly traded renewable equipment manufacturers and project developers have been outperforming most stock indices and the overall energy sector, the agency noted.

Much of this success, the agency noted, will require continued political support to work. Expiring incentives could reduce demand, but if governments provide some certainty around the continuation of subsidy programs, solar and wind additions could jump by another 25% by 2022.  With the right policy, solar photovoltaic installations could reach a record 150 gigawatts by 2022, which would be a 40% increase in just about three years.

“Renewables are resilient to the Covid crisis but not to policy uncertainties,” said Dr Birol, in a statement. “Governments can tackle these issues to help bring about a sustainable recovery and accelerate clean energy transitions. In the United States, for instance, if the proposed clean electricity policies of the next US administration are implemented, they could lead to a much more rapid deployment of solar PV and wind, contributing to a faster [decarbonization] of the power sector.”

If the agency’s predictions hold, renewable energy could become the largest source of electricity worldwide by 2025, according to Dr. Birol.

“By that time, renewables are expected to supply one-third of the world’s electricity – and their total capacity will be twice the size of the entire power capacity of China today,” Birol said in a statement.

#articles, #china, #electricity, #energy, #european-union, #india, #renewable-energy, #solar-power, #tc, #united-states

U.S. charges Russian hackers blamed for Ukraine power outages and the NotPetya ransomware attack

Six Russian intelligence officers accused of launching some of the “world’s most destructive malware” — including an attack that took down the Ukraine power grid in December 2015 and the NotPetya gloibal ransomware attack in 2017 — have been charged by the U.S. Justice Department.

Prosecutors said the group of hackers, who work for the Russian GRU and reside in Russia, are behind the “most disruptive and destructive series of computer attacks ever attributed to a single group.”

“No country has weaponized its cyber capabilities as maliciously or irresponsibly as Russia, wantonly causing unprecedented damage to pursue small tactical advantages and to satisfy fits of spite,” said John Demers, U.S. U.S. assistant attorney general for national security. “Today the Department has charged these Russian officers with conducting the most disruptive and destructive series of computer attacks ever attributed to a single group, including by unleashing the NotPetya malware. No nation will recapture greatness while behaving in this way.”

The six accused Russian intelligence officers. (Image: FBI/supplied)

In charges laid out Monday, the hackers are accused of developing and launching attacks using the KillDisk and Industroyer (also known as Crash Override) to target and disrupt the power supply in Ukraine, which left hundreds of thousands of customers without electricity two days before Christmas. The prosecutors also said the hackers were behind the NotPetya attack, a ransomware attack that spread across the world in 2017, causing billions of dollars in damages.

The hackers are also said to have used Olympic Destroyer, designed to knock out internet connections during the opening ceremony of the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics in South Korea.

Prosecutors also blamed the six hackers for trying to disrupt the 2017 French elections by launching a “hack and leak” operation to discredit the then-presidential frontrunner, Emmanuel Macron, as well as launching targeted spearphishing attacks against the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the U.K.’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, tasked with investigating the use of the Russian nerve agent Novichok in Salisbury, U.K. in 2018.

The accused hackers — Yuriy Sergeyevich Andrienko, 32; Sergey Vladimirovich Detistov, 35; Pavel Valeryevich Frolov, 28; Anatoliy Sergeyevich Kovalev, 29; Artem Valeryevich Ochichenko, 27; and Petr Nikolayevich Pliskin, 32 — are all charged with seven counts of conspiracy to hack, commit wire fraud, and causing computer damage.

#articles, #christmas, #crime, #cyberattack, #cybercrime, #electricity, #emmanuel-macron, #government, #malware, #petya, #phishing, #ransomware, #russia, #security, #south-korea, #ukraine, #united-kingdom, #united-states

How “St. Elmo’s fire” could help protect aircraft from lightning strikes

A passenger jet is gloriously silhouetted by a lightning storm.

Enlarge / MIT scientists think the corona discharge known as “St. Elmo’s fire” could help reduce the risk of aircraft being struck by lightning during thunderstorms. (credit: Anton Petrus/Getty Images)

The electrical phenomenon known as St. Elmo’s fire manifests during strong thunderstorms as a flash of blue light, usually at the tips of electrically conductive structures like cell phone towers, telephone poles, and ship masts—which is how it got its name, in honor of the patron saint of sailors, St. Erasmus of Formia. On the ground, St. Elmo’s fire glows more brightly in windy conditions because the wind helps further electrify the surrounding air.

But MIT scientists have discovered that wind has the opposite effect on ungrounded structures such as airplane wings and turbine blades, according to a recent paper in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres. They discovered this while investigating the possibility of using St. Elmo’s fire to control the electrical charge of an aircraft, thereby helping protect it from lightning strikes.

St. Elmo’s fire is not a form or lightning; it’s essentially a continuous electric spark known as a corona discharge, like the glow of a neon sign. The friction that builds up in storm clouds gives rise to an electric field extending to the ground. If it’s strong enough, the friction breaks apart surrounding air molecules, ionizing the air to produce a plasma (charged gas). All the excess electrons knock the plasma molecules into an excited state, which then emit photons to produce that telltale glow. The color of the glow depends on the type of gas being ionized. Since Earth’s atmosphere is primarily made up of nitrogen and oxygen, the glow takes on a blue or violet hue.

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#aeronautics, #aircraft, #atmospheric-physics, #corona-discharge, #electricity, #geophysics, #lightning, #physics, #science, #st-elmos-fire

Private space industrialization is here

The universal glee that surrounded the launch of the crewed Dragon spacecraft made it easy to overlook that the Falcon rocket’s red glare marked the advent of a new era — that of private space industrialization. For the first time in human history, we are not merely exploring a new landmass. We, as a biological species, are advancing to a new element — the cosmos.

The whole history of humanity is the story of our struggle with space and time. Mastering new horizons, moving ever farther; driven by the desire for a better life or for profit, out of fear or out of sheer curiosity, people found ever faster, easier, cheaper and safer ways to conquer the space between here and there. When, at the beginning of the 19th century, Thomas Jefferson bought Louisiana from Napoleon, actually having doubled the territory of the United States at that time, he believed it would take thousands of years for settlers to populate these spaces in the center of the continent.

But after just a few decades, the discovery of gold in California mobilized huge masses of industrious people, created incentives for capital and demanded new technologies. As countless wagons of newcomers moved through the land, threads of railways were stretched coast to coast, cities and settlements arose, and what Jefferson envisioned more than 200 years ago was actualized — and in the span of just one human life.

Growing up in a small Mongolian village near where Genghis Khan began the 13th-century journey that resulted in the largest contiguous land empire in history, I acquired an early interest in the history of explorers. Spending many long Siberian winter twilights reading books about great geographical discoveries, I bemoaned fate for placing me in a dull era in which all new lands had been discovered and all frontiers had been mapped.

Little did I know that only a few decades later, I would be living through the most exciting time for human exploration the world had ever seen.

The next space race

In recent years, the entire space industry has been waiting and looking for what will serve as the gold rush of space. One could talk endlessly about the importance of space for humanity and how technologies developed by and for space activity help to solve problems on Earth: satellite imagery, weather, television, communications. But without a real “space fever” — without the short-term insanity that will pour enormous financial resources, entrepreneurial energy and engineering talent into the space industry, it will not be possible to spark a new “space race.”

Presently, the entire space economy — including rockets, communications, imagery, satellites and crewed flights — does not exceed $100 billion, which is less than 0.1% of the global economy. For comparison: during the dot-com bubble in the late 1990s, the total capitalization of companies in this sector amounted to more than 5% of global GDP. The influence of the California Gold Rush in the 1850s was so significant that it changed the entire U.S. economy, essentially creating a new economic center on the West Coast.

The current size of the space economy is not enough to cause truly tectonic shifts in the global economy. What candidates do we have for this place in the 21st century? We are all witnesses to the deployment of space internet megaconstellations, such as Starlink from SpaceX, Kuiper from Amazon and a few other smaller players. But is this market enough to create a real gold rush? The size of the global telecommunications market is an impressive $1.5 trillion (or almost 1.5% of the global economy).

If a number of factors coincide — a sharp increase in the consumption of multimedia content by unmanned car passengers, rapid growth in the Internet of Things segment — satellite telecommunications services can grow in the medium term to 1 trillion or more. Then, there is reason to believe that this segment may be the driver of the growth when it comes to the space economy. This, of course, is not 5% (as was the case during the dot-com era), but it is already an impressive 1% of the world economy.

But despite all the importance of telecommunications, satellite imagery and navigation, these are the traditional space applications that have been used for many decades since the beginning of the space era. What they have in common is that these are high value-added applications, often with no substitutes on the ground. Earth surveillance and global communications are difficult to do from anywhere but space.

Therefore, the high cost of space assets, caused primarily by the high cost of launch and historically amounting to tens of thousands of dollars per kilogram, was the main obstacle to space applications of the past. For the true industrialization of space and for the emergence of new space services and products (many of which will replace ones that are currently produced on Earth), a revolution is needed in the cost of launching and transporting cargo in space.

Space transports

The mastering of new territories is impossible to imagine without transport. The invention and proliferation of new means of moving people and goods — such as railways, aviation, containers — has created the modern economy that we know. Space exploration is not an exception. But the physical nature of this territory creates enormous challenges. Here on Earth, we are at the bottom of a huge gravity well.

To deliver the cargo into orbit and defeat gravity, you need to accelerate things to the prodigious velocity of 8 km/s — 10-20 times faster than a bullet. Less than 5% of a rocket’s starting mass reaches orbit. The answer, then, lies in reusability and in mass production. The tyranny of rocket science’s Tsiolkovsky equation also contributes to the large rocket sizes that are necessary. It drives the strategies for companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin, who are developing large, even gigantic, reusable rockets such as Starship or New Glenn. We’ll soon see that the cost of launching into space will be even less than a few hundred U.S. dollars per kg.

But rockets are effective only for launching huge masses into low-Earth orbits. If you need to distribute cargo into different orbits or deliver it to the very top of the gravity well — high orbits, such as GEO, HEO, Lagrange points or moon orbit — you need to add even more delta velocity. It is another 3-6 km/sec or more. If you use conventional rockets for this, the proportion of the mass removed is reduced from 5% to less than 1%. In many cases, if the delivered mass is much less than the capabilities of huge low-cost rockets, you need to use much more expensive (per kg of transported cargo) small and medium launchers.

This requires multimodal transportation, with huge cheap rockets delivering cargo to low-Earth orbits and then last-mile space tugs distributing cargo between target orbits, to higher orbits, to the moon and to other planets in our solar system. This is why Momentus, the company I founded in 2017 developing space tugs for “hub-and-spoke” multimodal transportation to space, is flying its first commercial mission in December 2020 on a Falcon 9 ride-share flight.

Initially, space tugs can use propellant delivered from Earth. But an increase in the scale of transportation in space, as well as demand to move cargo far from low-Earth orbit, creates the need to use a propellant that we can get not from the Earth’s surface but from the moon, from Mars or from asteroids — including near-Earth ones. Fortunately, we have a gift given to us by the solar system’s process of evolution — water. Among probable rocket fuel candidates, water is the most widely spread in the solar system.

Water has been found on the moon; in craters in the vicinity of the poles, there are huge reserves of ice. On Mars, under the ground, there is a huge ocean of frozen water. We have a vast asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. At the dawn of the formation of the solar system, the gravitational might of Jupiter prevented one planet from forming, scattering fragments in the form of billions of asteroids, most of which contain water. The same gravity power of Jupiter periodically “throws out” asteroids into the inner part of the solar system, forming a group of near-Earth asteroids. Tens of thousands of near-Earth asteroids are known, of which almost a thousand are more than 1 km in diameter.

From the point of view of celestial mechanics, it is much easier to deliver water from asteroids or from the moon than from Earth. Since Earth has a powerful gravitational field, the payload-to-initial-mass ratio delivered to the very top of the gravitational well (geostationary orbit, Lagrange points or the lunar orbit) is less than 1%; whereas from the surface of the moon you can deliver 70% of the original mass, and from an asteroid 99%.

This is one of the reasons why at Momentus we’re using water as a propellant for our space tugs. We developed a novel plasma microwave propulsion system that can use solar power as an energy source and water as a propellant (simply as a reaction mass) to propel our vehicle in space. The choice of water also makes our space vehicles extremely cost-effective and simple.

The proliferation of large, reusable, low-cost rockets and in-space last-mile delivery opens up opportunities that were not possible within the old transportation price range. We assume that the price to deliver cargo to almost any point in cislunar space, from low-Earth orbit to low-lunar orbit will be well below $1,000/kg within 5-10 years. What is most exciting is that it opens up an opportunity to introduce an entirely new class of space applications, beyond traditional communication, observation and navigation; applications that will start the true industrialization of space and catalyze the process of Earth industry migration into space.

Now, let’s become space futurists, and try to predict future candidates for a space gold rush in the next 5-10 years. What will be the next frontier’s applications, enabled by low-cost space transportation? There are several candidates for trillion-dollar businesses in space.

Energy generation

Energy generation is the first and largest candidate for the gold rush, as the energy share of the global economy is about 8.2%. Power generation in space has several fantastic advantages. First, it is a continuity of power generation. In space, our sun is a large thermonuclear reactor that runs 24/7. There’s no need to store electricity at night and in bad weather. As a result, the same surface collects 10 times more energy per 24 hours than on Earth.

This is not intuitively obvious, but the absence of twilights or nighttime, and the lack of clouds, atmosphere or accumulating dust create unique conditions for the production of electricity. Due to microgravity, space power plants with much lighter structures can eventually be much less costly than terrestrial plants. The energy can be beamed to the ground via microwaves or lasers. There are, however, at least two major challenges to building space power stations that still need to be resolved. The first is the cost of launching into space, and then the cost of transportation within space.

The combination of huge rockets and reusable space tugs will reduce the cost of transporting goods from Earth to optimal orbits up to several hundred dollars per kilogram, which will make the share of transportation less than one cent per kilowatt-hour. The second problem is the amount of propellant you’ll need to stabilize vast panels that will be pushed away by solar radiation pressure. For every 1 gigawatt of power generation capacity, you’ll need 500-1,000 tons of propellant per year. So to have the same generation capacity as the U.S. (1,200 GW), you’ll need up to 1 million tons of propellant per year (eight launches of Falcon 9 per hour or one launch of Starship per hour).

Power generation will be the largest consumer of the propellant in cislunar space, but the delivery of propellant from Earth will be too economically inefficient. The answer lies on the moon, where 40 permanently darkened craters near the north pole contain an estimated 600 million metric tonnes of ice. That alone will be enough for many hundreds of years of space power operations.

Data processing

Centers for data computation and processing are one of the largest and fastest-growing consumers of energy on Earth. Efficiency improvements implemented over the last decade have only increased the demand for large cloud-based server farms. The United States’ data centers alone consume about 70 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity annually. Aside from the power required to operate the systems that process and store data, there is an enormous cost in energy and environmental impact to cool those systems, which translates directly to dollars spent both by governments and private industry.

Regardless of how efficiently they are operated, the expansion of data centers alongside demands for increased power consumption is not sustainable, economically or environmentally. Instead of beaming energy to the ground via microwaves or lasers, energy can be used for data processing in space. It is much easier to stream terabytes and petabytes from space than gigawatts. Power-hungry applications like AI can be easily moved to space because most of them are tolerant of latency.

Space mining

Eventually, asteroids and the moon will be the main mining provinces for humanity as a space species. Rare and precious metals, construction materials, and even regolith will be used in the building of the new space economy, space industrialization and space habitats. But the first resource that will be mined from the moon or asteroids will be water — it will be the “oil” of the future space economy.

In addition to the fact that water can be found on asteroids and other celestial bodies, it is quite easy to extract. You simply need heat to melt ice or extract water from hydrates. Water can be easily stored without cryogenic systems (like liquid oxygen or hydrogen), and it doesn’t need high-pressure tanks (like noble gases — propellant for ion engines).

At the same time, water is a unique propellant for different propulsion technologies. It can be used as water in electrothermal rocket engines (like Momentus’ microwave electrothermal engines) or can be separated into hydrogen and oxygen for chemical rocket engines.

Manufacturing

The disruption of in-space transportation costs can make space a new industrial belt for humanity. Microgravity can support creating new materials for terrestrial applications like optical fiber, without the tiny flaws that inevitably emerge during production in a strong gravity field. These flaws increase signal loss and cause large attenuation of the transmitted light. Also, microgravity can be used in the future space economy to build megastructures for power generation, space hotels for tourists and eventually human habitats. In space, you can easily have a vacuum that would be impossible to achieve on Earth. This vacuum will be extremely valuable for the production of ultrapure materials like crystals, wafers and entirely new materials. The reign of in-space manufacturing will have begun when the main source of raw materials is not Earth, but asteroids or the moon, and the main consumers are in-space industry.

The future market opportunities enabled by the disruption in space transportation are enormous. Even without space tourism, space habitats will be almost a two trillion dollar market in 10-15 years. Undoubtedly, it will lead to a space gold rush that will drive human civilization’s development for generations to come.

The final frontier

I studied in high school during the last years of the Soviet Union. The Soviet economy was collapsing, we had no sanitation in the house, and quite often we had no electricity. During those dark evenings, I studied physics and mathematics books by the light of a kerosene lamp. We had a good community library, and I could order books and magazines from larger libraries in the big cities, like Novosibirsk or Moscow. It was my window into the world. It was awesome.

I was reading about the flights of the Voyager spacecraft, and about the exploration of the solar system, and I was thinking about my future. That was the time when I realized that I both love and excel in science and math, and I decided then to become a space engineer. In an interview with a local newspaper back in 1993, I told the reporter, “I want to study advanced propulsion technologies. I dream about the future, where I can be part of space exploration and may even fly to Mars … .”

And now that future is coming.

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Could developing renewable energy micro-grids make Energicity Africa’s utility of the future?

When Nicole Poindexter left the energy efficiency focused startup, Opower a few months after the company’s public offering, she wasn’t sure what would come next.

At the time, in 2014, the renewable energy movement in the US still faced considerable opposition. But what Poindexter did see was an opportunity to bring the benefits of renewable energy to Africa.

“What does it take to have 100 percent renewables on the grid in the US at the time was not a solvable problem,” Poindexter said. “I looked to Africa and I’d heard that there weren’t many grid assets [so] maybe I could try this idea out there. As I was doing market research, I learned what life was like without electricity and I was like.. that’s not acceptable and I can do something about it.”

Poindexter linked up with Joe Philip, a former executive at SunEdison who was a development engineer at the company and together they formed Energicity to develop renewable energy microgrids for off-grid communities in Africa.

“He’d always thought that the right way to deploy solar was an off-grid solution,” said Poindexter of her co-founder.

At Energicity, Philip and Poindexter are finding and identifying communities, developing the projects for installation and operating the microgrids. So far, the company’s projects have resulted from winning development bids initiated by governments, but with a recently closed $3.25 million in seed financing, the company can expand beyond government projects, Poindexter said.

“The concessions in Benin and Sierra Leone are concessions that we won,” she said. “But we can also grow organically by driving a truck up and asking communities ‘Do you want light?’ and invariably they say yes.” 

To effectively operate the micro-grids that the company is building required an end-to-end refashioning of all aspects of the system. While the company uses off-the-shelf solar panels, Poindexter said that Energicity had built its own smart meters and a software stack to support monitoring and management.

So far, the company has installed 800 kilowatts of power and expects to hit 1.5 megawatts by the end of the year, according to Poindexter.

Those micro-grids serving rural communities operate through subsidiaries in Ghana, Sierra Leone and Nigeria, and currently serve thirty-six communities and 23,000 people, the company said. The company is targeting developments that could reach 1 million people in the next five years, a fraction of what the continent needs to truly electrify the lives of the population. 

Through two subsidiaries, Black Star Energy, in Ghana, and Power Leone, in Sierra Leone, Energicity has a 20-year concession in Sierra Leone to serve 100,000 people and has the largest private minigrid footprint in Ghana, the company said.

Most of the financing that Energicity has relied on to develop its projects and grow its business has come from government grants, but just as Poindexter expects to do more direct sales, there are other financial models that could get the initial developments off the ground.

Carbon offsets, for instance, could provide an attractive mechanism for developing projects and could be a meaningful gateway to low-cost sources of project finance. “We are using project financing and project debt and a lot of the projects are funded by aid agencies like the UK and the UN,” Poindexter said. 

The company charges its customers a service fee and a fixed price per kilowatt hour for the energy that amounts to less than $2 per month for a customers that are using its service for home electrification and cell phone charging, Poindexter said.

While several other solar installers like M-kopa and easy solar are pitching electrification to African consumers, Poindexter argues that her company’s micro-grid model is less expensive than those competitors.

“Ecosystem Integrity Fund is proud to invest in a transformational company like Energicity Corp,” said James Everett, managing partner, Ecosystem Integrity Fund, which backed the company’s. most recent round. “The opportunity to expand clean energy access across West Africa helps to drive economic growth, sustainability, health, and human development.  With Energicity’s early leadership and innovation, we are looking forward to partnering and helping to grow this great company.”

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