The proposal, billed as the Green New Deal for Public Housing Act, offers a clear policy marker for liberals as Democrats seek to influence President Biden’s $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan.
LiquidStack does it. So does Submer. They’re both dropping servers carrying sensitive data into goop in an effort to save the planet. Now they’re joined by one of the biggest tech companies in the world in their efforts to improve the energy efficiency of data centers, because Microsoft is getting into the liquid-immersion cooling market.
Microsoft is using a liquid it developed in-house that’s engineered to boil at 122 degrees Fahrenheit (lower than the boiling point of water) to act as a heat sink, reducing the temperature inside the servers so they can operate at full power without any risks from overheating.
The vapor from the boiling fluid is converted back into a liquid through contact with a cooled condenser in the lid of the tank that stores the servers.
“We are the first cloud provider that is running two-phase immersion cooling in a production environment,” said Husam Alissa, a principal hardware engineer on Microsoft’s team for datacenter advanced development in Redmond, Washington, in a statement on the company’s internal blog.
While that claim may be true, liquid cooling is a well-known approach to dealing with moving heat around to keep systems working. Cars use liquid cooling to keep their motors humming as they head out on the highway.
As technology companies confront the physical limits of Moore’s Law, the demand for faster, higher performance processors mean designing new architectures that can handle more power, the company wrote in a blog post. Power flowing through central processing units has increased from 150 watts to more than 300 watts per chip and the GPUs responsible for much of Bitcoin mining, artificial intelligence applications and high end graphics each consume more than 700 watts per chip.
It’s worth noting that Microsoft isn’t the first tech company to apply liquid cooling to data centers and the distinction that the company uses of being the first “cloud provider” is doing a lot of work. That’s because bitcoin mining operations have been using the tech for years. Indeed, LiquidStack was spun out from a bitcoin miner to commercialize its liquid immersion cooling tech and bring it to the masses.
“Air cooling is not enough”
More power flowing through the processors means hotter chips, which means the need for better cooling or the chips will malfunction.
“Air cooling is not enough,” said Christian Belady, vice president of Microsoft’s datacenter advanced development group in Redmond, in an interview for the company’s internal blog. “That’s what’s driving us to immersion cooling, where we can directly boil off the surfaces of the chip.”
For Belady, the use of liquid cooling technology brings the density and compression of Moore’s Law up to the datacenter level
The results, from an energy consumption perspective, are impressive. The company found that using two-phase immersion cooling reduced power consumption for a server by anywhere from 5 percent to 15 percent (every little bit helps).
Microsoft investigated liquid immersion as a cooling solution for high performance computing applications such as AI. Among other things, the investigation revealed that two-phase immersion cooling reduced power consumption for any given server by 5% to 15%.
Meanwhile, companies like Submer claim they reduce energy consumption by 50%, water use by 99%, and take up 85% less space.
For cloud computing companies, the ability to keep these servers up and running even during spikes in demand, when they’d consume even more power, adds flexibility and ensures uptime even when servers are overtaxed, according to Microsoft.
“[We] know that with Teams when you get to 1 o’clock or 2 o’clock, there is a huge spike because people are joining meetings at the same time,” Marcus Fontoura, a vice president on Microsoft’s Azure team, said on the company’s internal blog. “Immersion cooling gives us more flexibility to deal with these burst-y workloads.”
At this point, data centers are a critical component of the internet infrastructure that much of the world relies on for… well… pretty much every tech-enabled service. That reliance however has come at a significant environmental cost.
“Data centers power human advancement. Their role as a core infrastructure has become more apparent than ever and emerging technologies such as AI and IoT will continue to drive computing needs. However, the environmental footprint of the industry is growing at an alarming rate,” Alexander Danielsson, an investment manager at Norrsken VC noted last year when discussing that firm’s investment in Submer.
Solutions under the sea
If submerging servers in experimental liquids offers one potential solution to the problem — then sinking them in the ocean is another way that companies are trying to cool data centers without expending too much power.
Microsoft has already been operating an undersea data center for the past two years. The company actually trotted out the tech as part of a push from the tech company to aid in the search for a COVID-19 vaccine last year.
These pre-packed, shipping container-sized data centers can be spun up on demand and run deep under the ocean’s surface for sustainable, high-efficiency and powerful compute operations, the company said.
The liquid cooling project shares most similarity with Microsoft’s Project Natick, which is exploring the potential of underwater datacenters that are quick to deploy and can operate for years on the seabed sealed inside submarine-like tubes without any onsite maintenance by people.
In those data centers nitrogen air replaces an engineered fluid and the servers are cooled with fans and a heat exchanger that pumps seawater through a sealed tube.
Startups are also staking claims to cool data centers out on the ocean (the seaweed is always greener in somebody else’s lake).
Nautilus Data Technologies, for instance, has raised over $100 million (according to Crunchbase) to develop data centers dotting the surface of Davey Jones’ Locker. The company is currently developing a data center project co-located with a sustainable energy project in a tributary near Stockton, Calif.
With the double-immersion cooling tech Microsoft is hoping to bring the benefits of ocean-cooling tech onto the shore. “We brought the sea to the servers rather than put the datacenter under the sea,” Microsoft’s Alissa said in a company statement.
The NFT craze has been an intriguing moment for digital artists who have seen seen great leaps in how tech has allowed them to create their work, but not as much progress in shifting how they profit off of it.
Though crypto’s early adopter artists have seemed to gain the most attention thus far, more institutionally present artists are dipping their feet into the token world. One of the bigger barriers has been the environmental concerns tied to the Ethereum blockchain which required intense energy usage to mint new artwork, tied to incredibly high transaction fees, something that has invited controversy for early artists because of climate change cocerns.
There have been a number of blockchain products to emerge in recent months that promise the benefits of Ethereum with greater speed, lower costs and lower energy usage, most notably Dapper Labs’ Flow blockchain which powers their NBA Top Shot product. Today, we saw the debut of a new “layer-two” entrant from ConsenSys, called Palm, which operates as a sidechain on Ethereum’s main network but will be supported via the popular crypto wallet MetaMask.
As part of Palm’s launch, the artist Damien Hirst announced he will be launching an NFT project, his first, called The Currency Project on the platform’s Palm NFT Studio.
Ethereum has already committed to transitioning to a more energy-efficient proof-of-stake consensus structure, but it’s unclear how quickly that’s going to happen. The network currently relies on a proof-of-work system (as does bitcoin), which use an energy-intensive manner of prioritizing where the next block in a chain is mined that gets more intensive as a network sees more traffic. It’s a reason why crypto mining operations have had to consistently invest in the latest hardware to maintain an edge and use more power. Proof-of-work does away with most of that, instead choosing nodes on the network to mine the next block based on reputation or their existing stake. There are some real security tradeoffs which have required workarounds though plenty in the crypto community aren’t quite satisfied with the compromises, though proponents argue that environmental concerns should take precedent.
In a press release, the team behind Palm says the ecosystem is “99% more energy efficiency than proof of work systems.”
Unlike Dapper Labs’ Flow, Palm benefits from its interconnectedness with the community of Ethereum developers, something that was present in today’s announcement which showcased several industry partnerships including Nifty. The news arrived alongside details this morning of Dapper Labs’ monster $305 million fund raise which will give the company backing to build on the momentum of Top Shot which has given the broader NFT space the wave of enthusiasm it’s currently experiencing.
With the close of its latest investment fund, Norrsken VC is is taking an unprecedented step in tying the compensation of its partners to the positive changes the firm’s portfolio companies have on the world — and not just their financial returns.
The firm, which released its impact assessment for 2020 last week, has invested in companies that address seven of the United Nations’ seventeen sustainable development goals, and is benchmarking its performance on goals that range from the tightly monitored to the slightly tautological.
In some instances, the goals are simply customer metrics (with the assumption that the more customers on a product, the better they’re doing). To be fair, these are in areas like education and healthcare where the true impact of a company’s services are harder to measure.
The firm’s portfolio has much more tangible progress in the climate change mitigation and sustainability space. Here, emissions avoided or increases in energy efficiency can be measured quite easily. And those energy efficiency gains and emissions reductions, along with lower waste associated with the firm’s food and agtech businesses are where the firm has seen its best performance.
When they exit, this performance will matter a great deal to the partners at Norrsken, because their compensation is directly affected by it.
“For each investment that we make, we set targets pre-investment for what we want to see in terms of impact,” said Tove Larsson, a general partner with Norrsken VC. “We do that together with some of our key LPs in the fund. We need to get the advisory committee’s approval of the targets. We set thsoe targets for an individual year and then on an annual basis.”
When the fund reaches the end of its cycle, the firm will look at the aggregated outcome of all of the impact KPIs and will weight the results of each company’s impact based o the amount we invested in each company. Based on that, the firm decides whether the team gets any carried interest or not.
If the portfolio companies hit sixty percent of the impact targets that have been set by the firm and its advisory board members, then they receive half of the carried interest, with the rest donated to charity. “There’s a linear escalation up to 100 percent. And if we don’t achieve that then the carried interest will be paid out to a charity organization or an NGO,” said Larsson.
The partners at Norrsken see their novel compensation structure as a point of differentiation, especially as the number of firms focused on themes related to the UN’s sustainable development goals continues to increase dramatically.
“We we started to invest, we were one of the first — four years ago. Then the market evolved so quickly where we got questions around how do you stand out and how do you know whether you’re truly an impact player,” said Agate Freimane, a general partner at the firm.
“This is a core part of the DNA. We need to do better and show that we can walk the talk,” Freimane said. So the firm took a page from the European Investment Fund, whose operations impose similar restrictions on compensation, she said. “When we heard about this way of doing it, we said tis make 100 percent sense, and why doesn’t everyone do it?”
So far, the team hasn’t had any problems hitting the target it had set. “We’re at 119 percent of the 2020 targets,” Freimane said. Still that’s only 12 percent of the long term targets. “At the moment, we’v e done one tenth of what we need to do over the lifetime of the fund.”
Even if some of the targets may be… imprecise… the steps that the firm’s portfolio companies have taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and food waste, and improving energy efficiency are having a real, measurable imapct. Whether that’s the reduction of data center energy demand by 10 Gigawatt hours thanks to the deployment of Submer technologies; reducing 11,000 tons of food waste through operations at Karma, Whywaste, Matsmart or Olio; saving 4 million liters of water from carwashes using Woshapp; or the development of 38 megawatts of solar projects thanks to the work of Alight.
“What we’re most proud of is that we’re actually doing this now,” said Larsson. “It’s not perfect, what we have delivered now, But we really think we need to start somewhere and it is key that the industry needs to become more transparent. The first thing we mentioned is that we think it is an achievement that we are tracking it and making it public.”
Who knew building a vertical software as a service toolkit focused on home heating and cooling could be worth $8.3 billion?
That’s how much Los Angeles-based ServiceTitan, a startup founded just eight years ago is worth now, thanks to some massive tailwinds around homebuilding and energy efficiency that are serving to boost the company’s bottom line and netting it an unprecedented valuation for a vertical software company, according to bankers.
The company’s massive mint comes thanks to a new $500 million financing round led by Sequoia’s Global Equities fund and Tiger Global Management.
ServiceTitan’s backers are a veritable who’s who of the venture industry, with longtime white shoe investors like Battery Ventures, Bessemer Venture Partners and Index Ventures joining the later stage investment funds like T. Rowe Price, Dragoneer Investment Group, and ICONIQ Growth.
In all, the new $500 million round likely sets the stage for a public offering later this year or before the end of 2022 if market conditions hold.
ServiceTitan now boasts more than 7,500 customers that employ more than 100,000 technicians and conduct nearly $20 billion worth of transactions providing services ranging from plumbing, air conditioning, electrical work, chimney, pest services and lawn care.
If Angi and Thumbtack are the places where homeowners go to find services and technicians, then ServiceTitan is where those technicians go to manage and organize their own businesses.
Based in Glendale, Calif., with satellite offices in Atlanta and Armenia, ServiceTitan built its business to solve a problem that its co-founders knew intimately as the children of parents whose careers were spent in the HVAC business.
The market for home services employs more than 5 million workers in the US and represents a trillion dollar global market.
Despite the siren song of global expansion, there’s likely plenty of room for ServiceTitan to grow in the U.S. Home ownership in the country is at a ten-year high thanks to the rise of remote work and an exodus from the largest American cities accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
A focus on energy efficiency and a desire to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will likely cause a surge in residential and commercial retrofits which will also boost new business. Indeed these trends were already apparent in the statistic that home improvement spending was up 3 percent in 2020 even though the broader economy shrank by 3.5 percent.
“We depend on the men and women of the trades to maintain our life support systems: running water, heat, air conditioning, and power,” said Ara Mahdessian, co-founder and CEO of ServiceTitan. “Today, as both homeownership rates and time spent at home reach record highs, these essential service providers are facing rising demand from an increasingly tech-savvy homeowner. By providing contractors with the tools they need to deliver a great customer experience and grow their businesses with ease, ServiceTitan is enabling the hardworking men and women of the trades to reach the level of success they deserve.”
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.
In short: Very green. But plug-in cars still have environmental effects. Here’s a guide to the main issues and how they might be addressed.
As automakers promise to get rid of internal combustion engines, Heidelberg is trying to get rid of autos.
Retrofitting buildings to make them more energy efficient and better at withstanding climate change induced extreme weather is going to be a big, multi-billion dollar business. But it’s one that’s been hard for low-income communities to tap, thanks to obstacles ranging faulty incentive structures to an inability to adequately plan for which upgrades will be most effective in which buildings.
Enter BlocPower, a New York-based startup founded by a longtime advocate for energy efficiency and the job creation that comes with it, which has a novel solution for identifying, developing and profiting off of building upgrades in low income communities — all while supporting high-paying jobs for workers in the communities the company hopes to serve.
The company also has managed to raise $63 million in equity and debt financing to support its mission. That money is split between an $8 million investment from some of the country’s top venture firms and a $55 million debt facility structured in part by Goldman Sachs to finance the redevelopment projects that BlocPower is creating.
These capital commitments aren’t charity. Government dollars are coming for the industry and private companies from healthcare providers, to utility companies, to real estate developers and property managers all have a vested interest in seeing this market succeed.
There’s going to be over $1 billion carved out for weatherization and building upgrades in the stimulus package that’s still making its way through Congress
For BlocPower’s founder, Donnel Baird, the issue of seeing buildings revitalized and good high-paying jobs coming into local communities isn’t academic. Baird was born in Brooklyn’s Bedford Stuyvesant neighborhood and witnessed firsthand the violence and joblessness that was ripping the fabric of that rich and vibrant community apart during the crack epidemic and economic decline of the 1980s and early 90s.
Seeing that violence firsthand, including a shooting on his way to school, instilled in Baird a desire to “create jobs for disconnected Black and brown people” so they would never feel the hopelessness and lack of opportunity that fosters cycles of violence.
Some time after the shooting, Baird’s family relocated from Brooklyn to Stone Mountain, Georgia, and after graduating from Duke University, Baird became a climate activist and community organizer, with a focus on green jobs. That led to a role in the presidential campaign for Barack Obama and an offer to work in Washington on Obama’s staff.
Baird declined the opportunity, but did take on a role reaching out to communities and unions to help implement the first stimulus package that Obama and Biden put together to promote green jobs.
And it was while watching the benefits of that stimulus collapse under the weight of a fragmented building industry that Baird came up with the idea for BlocPower.
“It was all about the implementation challenges that we ran into,” Baird said. “If you have ten buildings on a block in Oakland and they were all built by the same developer at the same time. If you rebuild those buildings and you retrofit all of those buildings, in five of those buildings you’re going to trap carbon monoxide in and kill everybody and in the other five buildings you’re going to have a reduction in emissions and energy savings.”
Before conducting any retrofits to capture energy savings (and health savings, but more on that later), Baird says developers need to figure out the potential for asbestos contamination in the building; understand the current heating, ventilation, and cooling systems that the building uses; and get an assessment of what actually needs to be done.
That’s the core problem that Baird says BlocPower solves. The company has developed software to analyze a building’s construction by creating a virtual twin based on blueprints and public records. Using that digital twin the company can identify what upgrades a building needs. Then the company taps lines of credit to work with building owners to manage the retrofits and capture the value of the energy savings and carbon offsets associated with the building upgrades.
For BlocPower to work, the financing piece is just as important as the software. Without getting banks to sign off on loans to make the upgrades, all of those dollars from the federal government remain locked up. “That’s why the $7 billion earmarked for investment in green buildings did not work,” Baird said. “At BlocPower our view is that we could build software to simulate using government records… we could simulate enough about the mechanicals, electrical, and plumbing across buildings in NYC so that we could avoid that cost.”
Along with co-founder Morris Cox, Baird built BlocPower while at Columbia University’s business school so that he could solve the technical problems and overcome the hurdles for community financing of renewable retrofit projects.
Right before his graduation, in 2014, the company had applied for a contract to do energy efficiency retrofits and was set to receive financing from the Department of Energy. The finalists had to go down to the White House and pitch the President. That pitch was scheduled for the same day as a key final exam for one of Baird’s Columbia classes, which the professor said was mandatory. Baird skipped the test and won the pitch, but failed the class.
After that it was off to Silicon Valley to pitch the business. Baird met with 200 or more investors who rejected his pitch. Many of these investors had been burned in the first cleantech bubble or had witnessed the fiery conflagrations that engulfed firms that did back cleantech businesses and swore they’d never make the same mistakes.
That was the initial position at Andreessen Horowitz when Baird pitched them, he said. “When I went to Andreessen Horowitz, they said ‘Our policy is no cleantech whatsoever. You need to figure out how software is going to eat up this energy efficiency market’,” Baird recalled.
Working with Mitch Kapor, an investor and advisor, Baird worked on the pitch and got Kapor to talk to Ben Horowitz. Both men agreed to invest and BlocPower was off to the races.
The company has completed retrofits in over 1,000 buildings since its launch, Baird said, mainly to prove out its thesis. Now, with the revolving credit facility in hand, BlocPower can take bigger bites out of the market. That includes a contract with utility companies in New York that will pay $30 million if the company can complete its retrofits and verify the energy savings from that work.
There are also early projects underway in Oakland and Chicago, Baird said.
Building retrofits do more than just provide energy savings, as Goldman Sachs managing director Margaret Anadu noted in a statement.
“BlocPower is proving that it is possible to have commercial solutions that improve public health in underserved communities, create quality jobs and lower carbon emissions,” Anadu said. “We are so proud to have supported Donnel and his team…through both equity and debt capital to further expand their reach.”
These benefits also have potential additional revenue streams associated with them that BlocPower can also capture, according to investor and director, Mitch Kapor.
“There are significant linkages that are known between buildings and pollution that are a public health issue. In a number of geographies community hospitals are under a mandate to improve health outcomes and BlocPower can get paid from health outcomes associated with the reduction in carbon. That could be a new revenue stream and a financing mechanism,” Kapor said. “There’s a lot of work to be done in essentially taking the value creation engine they have and figuring out where to bring it and which other engines they need to have to have the maximum social impact.”
Social impact is something that both Kapor and Baird talk about extensively and Baird sees the creation of green jobs as an engine for social justice — and one that can reunite a lot of working class voters whose alliances were fractured by the previous administration. Baird also believes that putting people to work is the best argument for climate change policies that have met with resistance among many union workers.
“We will not be able to pass shit unless workers and people of color are on board to force the U.S. senate to pass climate change policy,” Baird said. “We have to pass the legislation that’s going to facilitate green infrastructure in a massive way.”
He pointed to the project in Oakland as an example of how climate policies can create jobs and incentivize political action.
“In Oakland we’re doing a pilot project in 12 low income buildings in oakland. I sent them $20K to train these workers from local people of color in Oakland… they are being put to work in Oakland,” Baird said. “That’s the model for how this gets built. So now we need them to call Chuck Shumer to push him to the left on green building legislation.”
“We intend to build the Standard Oil of renewable energy,” said James McGinniss, the co-founder and chief executive of David Energy, in a statement announcing the company’s new $19 million seed round of debt and equity funding.
McGinniss’ company is aiming to boost renewable energy adoption and slash energy usage in the built environment by creating a service that operates on both sides of the energy marketplace.
The company combines energy management services for commercial buildings through the software it has developed with the ability to sell energy directly to customers in an effort to reduce the energy consumption and the attendant carbon footprint of the built environment.
The company’s software, Mycor, leverages building demand data and the assets that the building has at its disposal to shift user energy consumption to the times when renewable power is most available, and cheapest.
It’s a novel approach to an old idea of creating environmental benefits by reducing energy consumption. Using its technology, David Energy tracks both the market price of energy and the energy usage by the buildings it manages. The company sells energy to customers at a fixed price and then uses its windows into energy markets and energy demand to make money off of the difference in power pricing.
That’s why the company needed to raise $15 million in a monthly revolving credit facility from Hartree Partners. So it could pay for the power its customers have bought upfront.
There are a number of tailwinds supporting the growth of a business like David Energy right now. Given the massive amounts of money that are being earmarked for energy conservation and energy efficiency upgrades, companies like David, which promise to manage energy consumption to reduce demand, are going to be huge beneficiaries.
“Looking at the macro shift and the attention being paid to things like battery storage and micro grids we do feel like we’re launching this at the perfect time,” said McGinniss. “We’re offering [customers] market rates and then rebating the savings back to them. They’re getting the software with a market energy supply contract and they are getting the savings back. It’s is bringing that whole bundled package together really brings it all together.”
In addition to the credit facility, the company also raised $4.1 million in venture financing from investors led by Equal Ventures and including Operator Partners, Box Group, Greycroft, Sandeep Jain and Xuan Yong of RigUp, returning angel investor Kiran Bhatraju of Arcadia, and Jason Jacobs’ recently launched My Climate Journey Collective, an early-stage climate tech fund.
“Renewable energy generators are fundamentally different in their variable, distributed, and digitally-native nature compared to their fossil fuel predecessors while customer loads like heating and driving are shifting to electricity consumption from gas. The sands of market power are shifting and incumbents are poorly-positioned to adapt to evolving customer needs, so there’s a massive opportunity for us to capitalize.”
Founded by McGinniss, Brian Maxwell and Ahmed Salman, David Energy raised $1.5 million in pre-seed financing back in March 2020.
As the company expands, its relationship with Hartree, an energy and commodities trading desk, will become even more important. As the startup noted, Hartree is the gateway that David needs to transact with energy markets. The trader provides a balance sheet for working capital to purchase energy on behalf of David’s customers.
“Renewables are causing fundamental shifts in energy markets, and new models and tools need to emerge,” said Dinkar Bhatia, Co-Head of North American Power at Hartree Partners. “James and the team have identified a significant opportunity in the market and have the right strategy to execute. Hartree is excited to be a commodity partner with David Energy on the launch of the new smart retail platform and is looking forward to helping make DE Supply the premier retailer in the market.”
David now has retail electricity licenses in New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts and is looking to expand around the country.
“David energy stands to reinvent the way that hundreds of billions of dollars a year in energy are consumed,” said Equal Ventures investor Rick Zullo. “Business model creativity and finding ways to change user behavior with new models is just as important if not more important than the technology innovation itself.”
Zullo said his firm pitched David Energy on leading the round after years of looking for a commercial renewable energy startup. The core insight was finding a service that could appeal not to the new construction that already is working with top-of-the-line energy management systems, but with the millions of square feet that aren’t adopting the latest and greatest energy management systems.
“Finding something that will go and bring this to the mass market was something we had been on the hunt for really since the inception of Equal Ventures,” said Zullo.
The innovation that made David attractive was the business model. “There is a landscape of hundreds of dead companies,” Zullo said. “What they did was find a way to subsidize the service. They give away at low or no cost and move that in with line items. The partnership with Partree gives them the opportunity to be the cheapest and also the best for you and the highest margin regional energy provider in the market.”
The end of the gasoline-powered car will transform the economy.
A lobby is trying to block building codes that would help fight climate change.
Toyota’s $180 million settlement with the federal government follows a series of emissions-related scandals in the auto industry.
From tariffs and trade to the status of Uber drivers, regulators are trying to install new rules or reduce regulations before President-elect Joe Biden takes over.
The new economic stimulus proposal that has been approved by Congress includes roughly $35.2 billion for energy initiatives, according to summary documents seen by TechCrunch.
“This is probably the biggest energy bill we’ve seen in a decade,” said policy analyst Dr. Leah Stokes, an Assistant Professor at the Bren School of Environmental Science & Management at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
The spending is split between the Energy Act of 2020 and the Energy for the Environment Act, and both include new money for big technology initiatives.
“[The Energy Act of 2020] is a bipartisan, bicameral energy innovation package that authorizes over $35 billion in RD&D activities across DOE’s portfolio and strengthens or creates programs crucial to advancing new technologies into the market,” a summary document for the legislation reads.
Included in the spending package is over $4.1 billion for new technology initiatives.
The biggest winners are photovoltaics, new transportation technologies, and energy efficiency technologies.
There’s a $1.5 billion for new solar technologies including modules, concentrating solar technology, new photovoltaic technologies and initiatives to expand solar manufacturing and recycling technologies. And $2.6 billion set aside for transportation technologies. Finally, energy efficiency and weatherization programs are continuing to be supported through a $1.7 billion reauthorization of the Weatherization Assistance Program.
Energy grid technologies get a $3.44 billion boost through $1.08 billion in support for short-term, long-term, seasonal and transportation energy storage technologies and $2.36 billion for smart utility and energy distribution technologies.
Another $625 million is dedicated to new research, development and commercialization for both onshore and offshore wind technologies. While $850 million is being set aside for geothermal technology development and $933 million for marine energy and hydropower tech. finally, there’s $160 million earmarked for hydropower generator upgrades, and upgrades to existing federal infrastructure through $180 million earmarked to the Federal Energy Management Program.
In an attempt to ensure that the money and innovation is used in the industries where decarbonization is the most technically challenging, there’s a $500 million pot for stakeholders in industries like iron, steel, aluminum, cement and chemicals as well as transportation businesses like shipping, avaiation, and long-distance transport that are looking to decarbonize.
By making these critical investments now, the Energy Act of 2020 will to help reduce our nation’s greenhouse gas emissions, bring good paying jobs back to the United States, and allow us to export these technologies to growing markets abroad for years to come,” the summary report reads.
If the next generation of technologies that already have broad commercial support is one area getting a boost, then another big pool of money is going to support the commercialization of technologies whose viability has yet to be demonstrated at commercial scale.
These include carbon capture utilization and storage technologies that are getting a $6.2 billion boost for roll out at industrial and energy sites. Congress is also approving a $447 milion research and development program for large-scale commercial carbon dioxide removal projects — with a $100 million carve out grant for direct air capture competition at facilities that capture at least 50,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide annually.
Nuclear technologies are also getting their day in the sun thanks to $6.6 billion in funding for the modernization of existing nuclear power plants and the development of advanced reactors. And, the nascent fusion industry can add another $4.7 billion to their calculus for available capital thanks to a carve out for basic and applied research investments.
All of this spending also comes with money to ensure that emerging technologies aren’t left out. Theres a $2.9 billion allocation to ARPA-E, the energy advanced research arm of the government whose structure is similar to the DARPA program that was responsible for the development of the Internet. And, taking a page from the NASA playbook that commercialized a number of technologies, the Office of Technology Transitions, which promotes national lab partnerships, is being codified and supporting the kind of milestone-based projects that have been effectively used by the Air Force and the Department of Defense broadly.
To cap it off, the new energy bill includes a directive to the Department of the Interior to target the generation of 25 gigawatts of solar, wind, and geothermal production on public lands by 2025.
“My understanding of it is that they’re trying to look at what the federal government has done for solar and wind and see how we can do that for other technologies,” Stokes said.
For her, what’s in other portions of the stimulus are equally important from a climate perspective. There’s a commitment to phase out hydrofluorocarbons, a huge contributor to global warming and climate change by 2035. Phasing out the use of these chemicals globally in refrigeration and other applications could reduce warming by half a degree centigrade (which is a big deal).
Stokes took issue with the duration of some of the tax credits, whose extensions were relatively short, and the absence of a tax credit for electric vehicles. “The tax credits for EVs are a consumer-facing benefit that are absolutely critical to adoption,” Stokes said. “That was a massive equalizer between EVs and combustion engine cars.”
For all of the good news for climate activists baked into this portion of the stimulus, Stokes warns that no one concerned about global climate change should break out the bubbly.
“This package is not going to solve the climate crisis full-stop,” Stokes said. “Next year if the republicans are in control there’s going to be a new chairman and he’s not going to be as generous… We have to learn to celebrate the wins and give credit but recognize what’s missing. Which is a lot.”
Swell Energy, an installer and manager of residential renewable energy, energy efficiency and storage technologies, is raising $450 million to finance the construction of four virtual power plants representing a massive amount of energy storage capacity paired with solar power generation.
It’s a sign of the distributed nature of renewable energy development and a transition from large scale power generation projects feeding into utility grids at their edge to smaller, point solutions distributed at the actual points of consumption.
The project will pair 200 megawatt hours of distributed energy storage with 100 megawatts of solar photovoltaic capacity, the company said.
Los Angeles-based Swell was commissioned by utilities across three states to establish the dispatchable energy storage capacity, which will be made available through the construction and aggregation of approximately 14,000 solar energy generation and storage systems. The goal is to make local grids more efficient.
To finance these projects — and others the company expects to land — Swell has cut a deal with Ares Management Corp and Aligned Climate Capital to create a virtual power plant financing vehicle with a target of $450 million.
That financing entity will support the development of power projects like the combined solar and battery agreement nationwide.
Over the next twenty years, Swell is targeting the development of over 3,000 gigawatt hours of clean solar energy production, with customers storing 1,000 gigawatt hours for later use, and dispatching 200 gigawatt hours of this stored energy back to the utility grid.
It has the potential to create a more resilient grid less susceptible to the kinds of power outages and rolling blackouts that have plagued states like California.
“Utilities are increasingly looking to distributed energy resources as valuable ‘grid edge’ assets,” said Suleman Khan, CEO of Swell Energy, in a statement. “By networking these individual homes and businesses into virtual power plants, Swell is able to bring down the cost of ownership for its customers and help utilities manage demand across their electric grids,” said Khan. “By receiving GridRevenue from Swell, customers participating in our VPP programs pay less for their solar energy generation and storage systems, while potentially reducing the risk of a local power outage, and keeping their homes and businesses securely powered through any outages.”
Along with the launch of the virtual power plant financing vehicle, Swell is also giving homeowners a way to finance their home energy systems through Swell. They need the buy-in from homeowners to get these power plants off the ground, and for homeowners, there’s a way to get some money back by feeding power into the grid.
It’s a win-win for the company, customers, and early investors like Urban.us, which was seed investor in the company.
Sidewalk Infrastructure Partners, the investment firm which spun out of Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs to fund and develop the next generation of infrastructure, has unveiled its latest project — Reslia, which focuses on upgrading the efficiency and reliability of power grids.
Through a $20 million equity investment in the startup OhmConnect, and an $80 million commitment to develop a demand response program leveraging OhmConnect’s technology and services across the state of California, Sidewalk Infrastructure Partners intends to plant a flag for demand-response technologies as a key pathway to ensuring stable energy grids across the country.
‘We’re creating a virtual power plant,” said Sidewalk Infrastructure Partners co-CEO, Jonathan Winer. “With a typical power plant … it’s project finance, but for a virtual power plant… We’re basically going to subsidize the rollout of smart devices.”
The idea that people will respond to signals from the grid isn’t a new one, as Winer himself acknowledged in an interview. But the approach that Sidewalk Infrastructure Partners is taking, alongside OhmConnect, to roll out the incentives to residential customers through a combination of push notifications and payouts, is novel. “The first place people focused is on commercial and industrial buildings,” he said.
What drew Sidewalk to the OhmConnect approach was the knowledge of the end consumer that OhmConnect’s management team brought to the table The company’s chief technology officer was the former chief technology officer of Zynga, Winer noted.
“What’s cool about the OhmConnect platform is that it empowers participation,” Winer said. “Anyone can enroll in these programs. If you’re an OhmConnect user and there’s a blackout coming, we’ll give you five bucks if you turn down your thermostat for the next two hours.”
The San Francisco-based demand-response company already has 150,000 users on its platform, and has paid out something like $1 million to its customers during the brownouts and blackouts that have roiled California’s electricity grid over the past year.
The first collaboration between OhmConnect and Sidewalk Infrastructure Partners under the Resilia banner will be what the companies are calling a “Resi-Station” — a 550 megawatt capacity demand response program that will use smart devices to power targeted energy reductions.
At full scale, the companies said that the project will be the largest residential virtual power plant in the world.
“OhmConnect has shown that by linking together the savings of many individual consumers, we can reduce stress on the grid and help prevent blackouts,” said OhmConnect CEO Cisco DeVries. “This investment by SIP will allow us to bring the rewards of energy savings to hundreds of thousands of additional Californians – and at the same time build the smart energy platform of the future.”
California’s utilities need all the help they can get. Heat waves and rolling blackouts spread across the state as it confronted some of its hottest temperatures over the summer. California residents already pay among the highest residential power prices in the counry at 21 cents per kilowatt hour, versus a national average of 13 cents.
During times of peak stress earlier in the year, OhmConnect engaged its customers to reduce almost one gigawatt hour of total energy usage. That’s the equivalent of taking 600,000 homes off the grid for one hour.
If the Resilia project was rolled out at scale, the companies estimate they could provide 5 gigawatt hours of energy conservation — that’s the full amount of the energy shortfall from the year’s blackouts and the equivalent of not burning 3.8 million pounds of coal.
Going forward, the Resilia energy efficiency and demand response platform will scale up other infrastructure innovations as energy grids shift from centralized power to distributed, decentralized generation sources, the company said. OhmConnect looks to be an integral part of that platform.
“The energy grid used to be uni-directional.. .we believe that in the near future the grid is going to be become bi-directional and responsive,” said Winer. “With our approach, this won’t be one investment. We’ll likely make multiple investments. [Vehicle-to-grid], micro-grid platforms, and generative design are going to be important.”
As President-elect Joe Biden readies his transition team and sets the agenda for his first 100 days in office, startups can expect to see some movement on long-stalled infrastructure initiatives that could mean big boosts to their business.
Infrastructure is high on the list of priorities of the incoming Biden Administration as the former vice president hopes to make good on his campaign promise to “build back better.”
American infrastructure has been crumbling for decades without significant investment from the federal government, and much of what will be replaced will also be upgraded with new technology, according to people familiar with the Biden plan.
That means tech companies focused on next-generation telecommunications and utility infrastructure, transportation, housing and construction tech around energy efficiency could see new dollars pour in over the next four years.
“Infrastructure and build out of the clean energy economy … doesn’t necessarily mean large wind or large solar projects. It could mean advanced metering … it can be new engine technologies,” said Dan Goldman, a managing partner at Clean Energy Ventures. “We think that that can be a huge opportunity for job creation … not only putting people back to work but putting people back to work in high quality jobs.”
And there’s a willingness to encourage these infrastructure projects in less partisan ways in states like Massachusetts, Virginia and Florida, which are actively building out electric vehicle infrastructure and renewable energy projects, Goldman said.
While the federal government will ultimately be distributing the cash, startups can expect to see the spending actually come from municipalities and state governments, which often have a better understanding of local needs and where the money should go.
Next-generation energy infrastructure
The electrification of everything — a component of any zero-carbon movement — requires significant upgrades to existing power infrastructure. That means everything from systems management technologies to distribution facilities to ways to store power that can be moved on to the grid.
“Without that infrastructure investment it gets quite challenging,” said Abe Yokell, a co-founder and managing partner of Congruent Ventures.
He pointed to large-scale energy storage technologies as one solution, but management systems for utilities will be another area of interest.
Those infrastructure initiatives will likely mean good things for battery companies like Form Energy, which signed its first major contract with Great River Energy earlier this year; or Antora and Malta, which store energy as heat; or Quidnet, which has a pumped hydroelectric play for large-scale energy storage by pumping water into the gaps between rocks underground that creates pressure and can force water back up through a generator.
Other large-scale energy storage companies working on developing and installing batteries could benefit as well. That means good things for Tesla, which has a few major battery installs under its belt, and Fluence, which manages and operates big install projects.
Natel Energy, another startup working on energy storage (and generation) using hydropower, could also find its technology in the mix, according to company founder, Gia Schneider.
Schneider sees three potential pitches for her company’s technologies. “Climate change is water change,” she said. “We have a bucket in energy, a bucket of stuff in environmental and a bucket of stuff in working lands.”
Deep Vision, a new AI startup that is building an AI inferencing chip for edge computing solutions, is coming out of stealth today. The six-year-old company’s new ARA-1 processors promise to strike the right balance between low latency, energy efficiency and compute power for use in anything from sensors to cameras and full-fledged edge servers.
Because of its strength in real-time video analysis, the company is aiming its chip at solutions around smart retail, including cashier-less stores, smart cities and Industry 4.0/robotics. The company is also working with suppliers to the automotive industry, but less around autonomous driving than monitoring in-cabin activity to ensure that drivers are paying attention to the road and aren’t distracted or sleepy.
The company was founded by its CTO Rehan Hameed and its Chief Architect Wajahat Qadeer, who recruited Ravi Annavajjhala, who previously worked at Intel and SanDisk, as the company’s CEO. Hameed and Qadeer developed Deep Vision’s architecture as part of a Ph.D. thesis at Stanford.
“They came up with a very compelling architecture for AI that minimizes data movement within the chip,” Annavajjhala explained. “That gives you extraordinary efficiency — both in terms of performance per dollar and performance per watt — when looking at AI workloads.”
Long before the team had working hardware, though, the company focused on building its compiler to ensure that its solution could actually address its customers’ needs. Only then did they finalize the chip design.
As Hameed told me, Deep Vision’s focus was always on reducing latency. While its competitors often emphasize throughput, the team believes that for edge solutions, latency is the more important metric. While architectures that focus on throughput make sense in the data center, Deep Vision CTO Hameed argues that this doesn’t necessarily make them a good fit at the edge.
“[Throughput architectures] require a large number of streams being processed by the accelerator at the same time to fully utilize the hardware, whether it’s through batching or pipeline execution,” he explained. “That’s the only way for them to get their big throughput. The result, of course, is high latency for individual tasks and that makes them a poor fit in our opinion for an edge use case where real-time performance is key.”
To enable this performance — and Deep Vision claims that its processor offers far lower latency than Google’s Edge TPUs and Movidius’ MyriadX, for example — the team is using an architecture that reduces data movement on the chip to a minimum. In addition, its software optimizes the overall data flow inside the architecture based on the specific workload.
“In our design, instead of baking in a particular acceleration strategy into the hardware, we have instead built the right programmable primitives into our own processor, which allows the software to map any type of data flow or any execution flow that you might find in a neural network graph efficiently on top of the same set of basic primitives,” said Hameed.
With this, the compiler can then look at the model and figure out how to best map it on the hardware to optimize for data flow and minimize data movement. Thanks to this, the processor and compiler can also support virtually any neural network framework and optimize their models without the developers having to think about the specific hardware constraints that often make working with other chips hard.
“Every aspect of our hardware/software stack has been architected with the same two high-level goals in mind,” Hameed said. “One is to minimize the data movement to drive efficiency. And then also to keep every part of the design flexible in a way where the right execution plan can be used for every type of problem.”
Since its founding, the company raised about $19 million and has filed nine patents. The new chip has been sampling for a while and even though the company already has a couple of customers, it chose to remain under the radar until now. The company obviously hopes that its unique architecture can give it an edge in this market, which is getting increasingly competitive. Besides the likes of Intel’s Movidius chips (and custom chips from Google and AWS for their own clouds), there are also plenty of startups in this space, including the likes of Hailo, which raised a $60 million Series B round earlier this year and recently launched its new chips, too.
The Energy Star rating is not just for refrigerators; homes are certified for energy efficiency too.
If analysts from BloombergNEF are right, then all of the world’s most greenhouse gas polluting days are behind it, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.
A sharp drop in energy demand caused by the global response to the coronavirus pandemic will remove 2.5 years of energy sector emissions between now and 2050, according to the latest New Energy Outlook from BloombergNEF.
The latest models from the analysis firm tracking the evolution of the global energy system show that emissions from fuel combustion will likely have peaked in 2019.
The company’s models show that global emissions declined roughly 20% as a result of the international response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and while those emissions will rise again with economic recoveries, BloombergNEF’s models never see emissions reaching 2019 levels. And from 2027 emissions are projected to fall at a rate of 0.7% per year to 2050.
These rosy projections are based on the assumption of a massive construction boom for wind and solar power, the adoption of electric vehicles, and improved energy efficiency across industries.
Together, wind and solar are projected to account for 56% of global electricity generation by mid-century, and along with batteries will gobble up $15.1 trillion invested in new power generation over the next 30 years. The firm also expects another $14 trillion to be invested in the energy grid by 2050.
The rain on this new energy parade could come from India and China, which have long been reliant on coal power to keep their national economies humming. But even in these colossal coal consumers the Bloomberg report sees good news for people who like good news.
They expect coal-fired power to peak in China in 2027 and in India in 2030. By 2050, coal is projected to account for only 12% of global electricity consumption. But even with the surge in renewables gas-fired power ain’t dead. It remains the only fossil-fuel to continue to grow until 2050, albeit at an anemic 0.5% per-year.
No one should break out the champagne based on these projections, though, because the current trajectory still sees the globe on a course to hit a 3.3 degrees Celsius rise in temperature by 2100.
“The next ten years will be crucial for the energy transition,” said Bloomberg New Energy Finance chief executive, Jon Moore. “There are three key things that we will need to see: accelerated deployment of wind and PV; faster consumer uptake in electric vehicles, small-scale renewables, and low-carbon heating technology, such as heat pumps; and scaled-up development and deployment of zero-carbon fuels.”
And a three degree rise in temperature is bad. At that temperature huge swaths of the world would be unlivable because of widespread drought, rainfall in Mexico and Central America would decline by about half, Southern Africa could be exposed to a water crisis and large portions of nations would be covered by sand dunes (including chunks of Botswana and a large portion of the Western U.S.). The Rocky Mountains would be snowless and the Colorado River could be reduce to a stream, according to this description in Climate Code Red.
“To stay well below two degrees of global temperature rise, we would need to reduce emissions by 6% every year starting now, and to limit the warming to 1.5 degrees C, emissions would have to fall by 10% per year,” Matthias Kimmel, a senior analyst and co-author of the latest report, said in a statement.
Patrick Chopson and Sandeep Ahuja started cove.tool, an Atlanta-based company developing software to optimize building design for sustainability and cost, because of problems they’d faced in their careers as architects.
Along with Patrick’s brother, Daniel Chopson, the two Georgia Institute of Technology graduates have developed a suite of software products that are now used by thousands of architects, engineers, contractors and developers like EYP, P2S, Skanska, and JLL in 22 countries around the world. The company’s software is also taught in universities including California Polytechnic State University, the University of Illinois, and UNC Charlotte, along with their alma matter, Georgia Tech.
Now the company is $5.7 million richer following the close of its series A funding led by the Los Angeles-based investment firm Mucker Capital and including previous investors Urban.us, Knoll Ventures, and Atlanta’s own Techsquare Labs.
The company’s first product is software that helps model the energy consumption of a building and provides insights on how to improve energy efficiency. The product turns what used to be a manual process that involved outside consultants and roughly 150 hours of work into a job that can be done in 30 minutes, according to the cove.tool.
The software can account for factors such as energy consumption, light exposure, glare, radiation, water and embodied carbon targets for new and existing buildings and offers the ability to compare different options, allowing architects and developers to determine the most cost-efficient way to meet energy targets. In its most recent update, the company added an occupancy tool to help developers understand the safest designs for reducing the potential spread of airborne diseases like COVID-19.
Buildings and building construction are a huge contributor to the greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change, accounting for roughly 39 percent of carbon emissions annually, according to data released by the Global Alliance for Building and Construction and the International Energy Agency. And the continuing global migration to cities means that demand for new buildings and construction won’t slow down anytime soon. As demand for buildings increases, technologies like cove.tool’s software could save the equivalent of 40,000 trees on a typical construction project, the company said.
“We only have about 10 years to lower buildings to actually be net zero before the action would be useless in terms of stopping climate change,” said Ahuja, the company’s chief executive.
With the new funds in hand cove.tool intends to expand global sales and marketing efforts and develop some new projects, according to Ahuja. Both founders said that the software is already designed to meet the building standards for Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia. And the company has a plan to see if it can design energy efficient structures for a martian environment.
“For fun, we’re going to do Mars,” Ahuja said. “We want to see what the model looks like.”
The big selling point for the software is that environmental sustainability is baked into the product so even if developers only care about cost-cutting, they’ll be improving their carbon footprint anyway.
“Every developer that uses our platform may or may not care about sustainability, but they definitely save on cost,” said Ahuja.
Next on the product roadmap is a marketplace that can provide energy efficient materials that construction managers and developers would need to turn the cove.tool designs into actual buildings.
“Everybody is using a completely different bad workflow,” Chopson, the company’s co-founder and product development lead, said. “This brings it together in terms of cost and the offset carbon targets that every building and every city actually need to meet.”
The roadmap is to create easier workflows from the architect to the contractor so everyone involved can coordinate more closely. As it moves into this side of the construction market, cove.tool will find itself facing some very well-funded competitors, but that’s because the construction management and procurement side of the market is massive.
Companies like Procore have become billion dollar businesses on the back of. their pitch to simplify the construction management process.
The cove.tool marketplace product will be arriving sometime in the middle of 2021 and the company has already amassed a database of over 1,000 products from hundreds of vendors that it intends to list, according to Ahuja.
“There’s a lot of product databases, but no one can analyze it,” said Chopson. “We’re the only ones who can analyze that glass is better than any other glass.. It’s highly disorganized and you can’t compare one thing versus another.. The key is to be able to analyze things and put the analysis you do in the context of a building.”
Ultimately, the focus will still be on efficiency and sustainability, the founders said. And in a rapidly warming world, there are few things that are important.
As Omar Hamoui, a partner at Mucker Capital and the new director on the cove.tool board, said in a statement, “Sustainable design is rapidly becoming a necessity in the built world.”
Nvidia is in the process of acquiring chip designer Arm for $40 billion. Coincidentally, both companies are also holding their respective developer conferences this week. After he finished his keynote at the Arm DevSummit, I sat down with Arm CEO Simon Segars to talk about the acquisition and what it means for the company.
Segars noted that the two companies started talking in earnest around May 2020, though at first, only a small group of executives was involved. Nvidia, he said, was really the first suitor to make a real play for the company — with the exception of SoftBank, of course, which took Arm private back in 2016 — and combining the two companies, he believes, simply makes a lot of sense at this point in time.
“They’ve had a meteoric rise. They’ve been building up to that,” Segars said. “So it just made a lot of sense with where they are at, where we are at and thinking about the future of AI and how it’s going to go everywhere and how that necessitates much more sophisticated hardware — and a much more sophisticated software environment on which developers can build products. The combination of the two makes a lot of sense in this moment.”
The data center market, where Nvidia, too, is already a major player, is also an area where Arm has heavily focused in recent years. And while it goes up against the likes of Intel, Segars is optimistic. “We’re not in it to be a bit player,” he said. “Our goal is to get a material market share and I think the proof to the pudding is there.”
He also expects that in a few years, we’ll see Arm-powered servers available on all of the major clouds. Right now, AWS is ahead in this game with its custom-built Gravitron processors. Microsoft and Google do not currently offer Arm-based servers.
“With each passing day, more and more of the software infrastructure that’s required for the cloud is getting ported over and optimized for Arm. So it becomes a more and more compelling proposition for sure,” he said, and cited both performance and energy efficiency as reasons for cloud providers to use Arm chips.
Another interesting aspect of the deal is that we may just see Arm sell some of Nvidia’s IP as well. That would be a big change — and a first — for Nvidia, but Segars believes it makes a lot of sense to do so.
“It may be that there is something in the portfolio of Nvidia that they currently sell as a chip that we may look at and go, ‘you know, what if we package that up as an IP product, without modifying it? There’s a market for that.’ Or it may be that there’s a thing in here where if we take that and combine it with something else that we were doing, we can make a better product or expand the market for the technology. I think it’s going to be more of the latter than it is the former because we design all our products to be delivered as IP.”
And while he acknowledged that Nvidia and Arm still face some regulatory hurdles, he believes the deal will be pro-competitive in the end — and that the regulators will see it the same way.
He does not believe, by the way, that the company will face any issues with Chinese companies not being able to license Arm’s designs because of export restrictions, something a lot of people were worried about when the deal was first announced.
“Export control of a product is all about where was it designed and who designed it,” he said. “And of course, just because your parent company changes, doesn’t change those fundamental properties of the underlying product. So we analyze all our products and look at how much U.S. content is in there, to what extent are our products subject to U.S. export control, U.K. export control, other export control regimes? It’s a full-time piece of work to make sure we stay on top of that.”
Here are some excerpts from our 30-minute conversation:
TechCrunch: Walk me through how that deal came about? What was the timeline for you?
Simon Segars: I think probably around May, June time was when it really kicked off. We started having some early discussions. And then, as these things progress, you suddenly kind of hit the ‘Okay, now let’s go.’ We signed a sort of first agreement to actually go into due diligence and then it really took off. It went from a few meetings, a bit of negotiation, to suddenly heads down and a broader set of people — but still a relatively small number of people involved, answering questions. We started doing due diligence documents, just the mountain of stuff that you go through and you end up with a document. [Segars shows a print-out of the contract, which is about the size of two phone books.]
You must have had suitors before this. What made you decide to go ahead with this deal this time around?
Well, to be honest, in Arm’s history, there’s been a lot of rumors about people wanting to acquire Arm, but really until SoftBank in 2016, nobody ever got serious. I can’t think of a case where somebody actually said, ‘come on, we want to try and negotiate a deal here.’ And so it’s been four years under SoftBank’s ownership and that’s been really good because we’ve been able to do what we said we were going to do around investing much more aggressively in the technology. We’ve had a relationship with Nvidia for a long time. [Rene Haas, Arm’s president of its Intellectual Property Group, who previously worked at Nvidia] has had a relationship with [Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang] for a long time. They’ve had a meteoric rise. They’ve been building up to that. So it just made a lot of sense with where they are at, where we are at and thinking about the future of AI and how it’s going to go everywhere and how that necessitates much more sophisticated hardware — and a much more sophisticated software environment on which developers can build products. The combination of the two makes a lot of sense in this moment.
How does it change the trajectory you were on before for Arm?
Four ways to air-condition your home more efficiently in the summer heat.
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.”
The economic lockdown resulting from the coronavirus pandemic has had an immediate negative impact on renewable energy projects and electric vehicles sales, but the sustainable trends are still in place and may even be strengthened over the longer term.
For the first time in four decades, global installation of solar, wind and other renewable energy will be less than the previous year, according to the International Energy Agency, which is projecting a 13% reduction in installations in 2020 compared to 2019. Woods Mackenzie projects an 18% reduction for global solar installations in 2020. Morgan Stanley is projecting declines in U.S. solar PV installations from 48% in second quarter to 17% in the fourth quarter of 2020.
This is due to a combination of construction delays, supply chain disruptions and a capital crunch.
Installation of rooftop solar has been hit particularly hard. Access to homes and businesses was generally halted in March 2020 for several months. Installers have indicated that as much as half the workforce had to be furloughed. The supply chain was also disrupted as PV manufacturing in China was temporarily suspended. Installations and the supply chain will resume, and most contracts are still in place, but the robust projected growth in rooftop PV for 2020 will not be met, and it may take more than a year to catch up. Also, some businesses that planned installations may have higher priorities for cash and investment now as they reopen. Many of the small businesses planning solar installations may not return at all.
On the other hand, utility scale electricity generation from renewable energy continues to grow and take market share. In the first part of this year, renewable energy has produced more electricity than coal for the first time since the late 19th century, when hydropower started the power industry. Wind and solar are the cheapest alternatives for new electric generation in the U.S. The pandemic and collapse in oil prices will not change that. The closure of coal plants has been accelerating this year, and wind and solar will continue to be competitive with gas.
Furthermore, most solar and wind farms were already financed and construction underway in rural areas not affected by the lockdown. About 30 GW of new solar capacity have already been contracted, and as long as interest rates remain low, financing should not be a problem. In fact, many solar and wind projects in the U.S and China are rushing to completion this year to qualify for government incentives.
But supply chains for utility scale renewables were still disrupted. Solar panel manufacturing in China was halted during the first quarter and has now reopened, but facing reduced orders. At one point, 18 wind turbine manufacturing facilities in Spain and Italy were stopped while social distancing and sanitation measures were put in place. Mining operations in Africa and other countries were also temporarily halted and now face reduced demand.
The replacement of oil and gas electricity generation with renewables in developing countries is not going to seem as attractive as a few years ago. Emerging economies need to expand electricity as cheaply as possible, which means coal, gas and even diesel plants. New fossil fuel plants in developing nations could lock in carbon emissions for years.
Electric vehicle sales globally have also been severely impacted. The transition to electric vehicles takes place as people purchase new vehicles. The price of oil has collapsed, used-car prices are dropping and unemployment has soared to levels not seen since the Great Depression. Cheap gas, cheap cars and high unemployment will dramatically lower the expectations for multipassenger EV sales in 2020. Wood Mackenzie has projected a 43% global decline in EV sales in 2020 from 2019. Furthermore, many new electric models from the automakers are not expected until 2021.
However, the long-term transition to EVs will continue and may even accelerate. It still costs less to drive a mile on electricity compared to gasoline, and when the upfront cost of electric vehicles becomes competitive with internal combustion vehicles in a few years, the market should quickly move to EVs. Now that the battery range is adequate for the average driver, the last barrier seems to be the availability of fast charging stations between cities.
Before the collapse in oil demand this year, the oil majors were expecting peak oil demand to occur sometime during the 2040s. Now peak oil demand is expected earlier, perhaps in the mid-2020s. Some even think that 2019 might turn out to be the highest level of oil consumption historically. At any rate, it seems that it will be at least a few years until the 2019 levels are reached again, if ever.
However, the recent collapse in oil prices means the oil and gas industry will be able to supply fuel at very competitive prices for decades. This will at least make it more difficult for electric vehicles to take market share in the short term, and very difficult for alternative liquid fuels to be competitive. For biofuels and synthetic fuels, it seems to be a repeat of earlier decades when cheap oil crushed those industries. Replacing gas and diesel-powered cars is certainly going to be unattractive in the impoverished economies of developing nations.
But there are also bright spots for clean transportation alternatives emerging. Electric bicycles, for example, are a hot item. As people look for alternatives to mass transit and want something to move outdoors in the fresh air, electric-assisted bikes are a great solution and are no longer looked down upon as a vehicle for older (or lazy) cyclists.
Telecommuting struggled for years to take hold, but the pandemic seems to have finally changed that. The recent national lockdown has spurred many large businesses to set up their employees to work from home. They have found that it works fairly well, and many will not return to packed downtown offices.
Several experts have cited the potential for cleaner energy alternatives because the public is seeing cleaner air and the environmental benefits of a 30% reduction in daily oil consumption. Some consumer surveys have indicated a greater interest in electric vehicles.
There is certainly the hope that we will take the opportunity to revive the economy with cleaner technologies than before the lockdown. However, the reality is that workers and businesses need to start up again with the infrastructure they have, and investment in cleaner technology requires capital. Since many business operations are struggling to find cash and loans to just remain open, new clean technology may be delayed.
Yet the major infrastructure changes for a sustainable future are well underway. Solar and wind are rapidly replacing fossil fuels for electricity. Automakers and governments are committed to electrification of the transportation sector. The pandemic may be a near-term obstacle, but the transition to a sustainable economy is just delayed and may even be accelerated in the coming years.
A growing array of specialty shops are turning classics into silent brutes with tire-burning torque and vintage style.