Royal Dutch Shell, though still reliant on profits from fossil fuels, is investing more in renewable energy. Critics say the changes have to come quicker.
Pollinator habitats and solar farms may seem like ecologically great neighbors, but we still don’t understand very much about that relationship. A team of researchers recently published a paper surveying the ins and outs of keeping solar production alongside the kinds of plants that pollinators like bees and butterflies love. The paper notes that there’s a good amount of potential here, but more work needs to be done to fully understand the potential partnership.
“I think in some ways, it sounds like a no-brainer that we should be implementing pollinator habitats at these types of facilities. And on one hand, I agree with that, but I think it really does benefit us to figure out the most efficient ways to get these kinds of benefits out there,” Adam Dolezal, assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s department of entomology, told Ars.
More than 100 crops in the US rely on pollinators. However, around the world, the number of pollinators has been in decline. Habitat loss is a significant reason for the decline, though there are others, including climate change and invasive species.
Last year’s deal could set the rules for global commerce for years to come, leaving the door open to lavish Chinese subsidies and unilateral American tariffs.
The country relies less on foreign oil than it used to, but pipelines and grids are increasingly vulnerable to cyberattacks and extreme weather.
The country relies less on foreign oil than it used to, but pipelines and grids are increasingly vulnerable to cyberattacks and extreme weather.
Cut off from the power grid and with fuel costs soaring, Syrians in a poor, embattled enclave have turned en masse to solar panels to charge their phones and light their homes and tents.
Sweden’s Exeger, which for over a decade has been developing flexible solar cell technology (called Powerfoyle) that it touts as efficient enough to power gadgets solely with light, has taken in another tranche of funding to expand its manufacturing capabilities by opening a second factory in the country.
The $38 million raise is comprised of $20M in debt financing from Swedbank and Swedish Export Credit Corporation (SEK), with a loan amounting to $12M from Swedbank (partly underwritten by the Swedish Export Credit Agency (EKN) under the guarantee of investment credits for companies with innovations) and SEK issuing a loan amounting to $8M (partly underwritten by the pan-EU European Investment Fund (EIF)); along with $18M through a directed share issue to Ilija Batljan Invest AB.
The share issue of 937,500 shares has a transaction share price of $19.2 — which corresponds to a pre-money valuation of $860M for the solar cell maker.
Back in 2019 SoftBank also put $20M into Exeger, in two investments of $10M — entering a strategic partnership to accelerate the global rollout of its tech and further extending its various investments in solar energy.
The Swedish company has also previously received a loan from the Swedish Energy Agency, in 2014, to develop its solar cell tech. But this latest debt financing round is its first on commercial terms (albeit partly underwritten by EKN and EIF).
Exeger says its solar cell tech is the only one that can be printed in free-form and different colors, meaning it can “seamlessly enhance any product with endless power”, as its PR puts it.
So far two devices have integrated the Powerfoyle tech: A bike helmet with an integrated safety taillight (by POC), and a pair of wireless headphones (by Urbanista). Although neither has yet been commercially launched — but both are slated to go on sale next month.
Exeger says its planned second factory in Stockholm will allow it to increase its manufacturing capacity tenfold by 2023, helping it target a broader array of markets sooner and accelerating its goal of mass adoption of its tech.
Its main target markets for the novel solar cell technology currently include consumer electronics, smart home, smart workplace, and IoT.
More device partnerships are slated as coming this year.
“We don’t label our rounds but take a more pragmatic view on fundraising,” said Giovanni Fili, founder and CEO. “Developing a new technology, a new energy source, as well as laying the foundation for a new industry takes time. Thus, a company like ours requires long-term strategic investors that all buy into the vision as well as the overall strategy. We have spent a lot of time and energy on this, and it has paid off. It has given the company the resources required, both time and money, to bring an invention to a commercial launch, which is where we are today.”
Fili added that it’s chosen to raise debt financing now “because we can”.
“The same answer as when asked why we build a new factory in Stockholm, Sweden, rather than abroad. We have always said that once commercial, we will start leveraging the balance sheet when securing funds for the next factory. Thanks to our long-standing relationship with Swedbank and SEK, as well as the great support of the Swedish government through EKN underwriting part of the loans, we were able to move this forward,” he said.
Discussing the forthcoming two debut gizmos, the POC Omne Eternal helmet and the Urbanista Los Angeles headphones — which will both go sale in June — Fili says interest in the self-powered products has “surpassed all our expectations”.
“Any product which integrates Powerfoyle is able to charge under all forms of light, whether from indoor lamps or natural outdoor light. The stronger the light, the faster it charges. The POC helmet, for example, doesn’t have a USB port to power the safety light because the ambient light will keep it charging, cycling or not,” he tells TechCrunch.
“The Urbanista Los Angeles wireless headphones have already garnered tremendous interest online. Users can spend one hour outdoors with the headphones and gain three hours of battery time. This means most users will never need to worry about charging. As long as you have our product in light, any light, it will constantly charge. That’s one of the key aspects of our technology, we have designed and engineered the solar cell to work wherever people need it to work.”
“This is the year of our commercial breakthrough,” he added in a statement. “The phenomenal response from the product releases with POC and Urbanista are clear indicators this is the perfect time to introduce self-powered products to
the world. We need mass scale production to realize our vision which is to touch the lives of a billion people by 2030, and that’s why the factory is being built now.”
The company is charging tens of thousands of dollars more to cover roofs with its much-anticipated solar shingles, angering some customers.
The world is adopting renewable sources of power much faster than experts thought possible.
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.
Iberdrola is a leader in wind and solar power, thanks largely to a bet its C.E.O. made 20 years ago.
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The National Academies said the United States must study technologies that would artificially cool the planet by blocking sunlight, citing the lack of progress fighting global warming.
Charged via rooftop solar panels, the cells form a network that provides a building with backup electricity and that utilities can tap during peak periods.
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In “How to Avoid a Climate Disaster,” the billionaire Microsoft founder lays out his concerns for the earth and some concrete ideas for the future.
Five years ago I landed the Solar Impulse 2 in Abu Dhabi after flying around the globe powered solely by solar energy, a first in aviation history.
It was also a milestone in energy and technology history. Solar Impulse was an experimental plane, weighing as little as a family car and using 17,248 solar cells. It was a flying laboratory, full of groundbreaking technologies that made it possible to produce renewable energy, store it and use it when necessary in the most efficient manner.
The time has come to use technology again to address the climate crisis affecting us all. As we enter the most crucial decade of climate action — and most likely our last chance to limit global warming to 1.5°C — we need to ensure that clean technologies become the only acceptable norm. These technologies exist now and they can be profitably implemented at this crucial moment.
Hundreds of clean tech solutions exist that protect the environment in a profitable way,
Here are just four innovations from our solar-powered plane that the market can start using now before it’s too late.
From insulating the cabin to insulating our homes
The building sector is one of the largest energy consumers in the world. Next to a reliance on carbon-heavy fuels for heating and cooling, poor insulation and associated energy loss are among the main reasons.
Inside Solar Impulse’s cockpit, insulation was crucial for the plane to fly at very high altitudes. Covestro, one of our official partners, developed an ultra-lightweight and insulating material. The cockpit insulation performance was 10% higher than the standards at the time because the pores in the insulating foam were 40% smaller, reaching a micrometer scale. Thanks to its very low density of fewer than 40 kilograms per cubic meter, the cockpit was ultra-lightweight.
This technology and many others exist. We now need to ensure that all market players are motivated to make hyperefficient building insulation their standard operating procedure.
From propelling an electric aircraft to propelling clean mobility
Solar Impulse was first and foremost an electric airplane when it flew 43,000 km without a single drop of fuel. Its four electric motors had a record-beating efficiency of 97%, far ahead of the miserable 27% of standard thermal engines. This means that they only lost 3% of the energy they used versus 73% for combustion propulsion. Today, electric vehicle sales are soaring. According to the International Energy Agency, when Solar Impulse landed in 2016, there were approximately 1.2 million electric cars on the road; the figure has now risen to over 5 million.
Nevertheless, this acceleration is far from enough. Power sockets are still far from replacing petrol pumps. The transport sector still accounts for one-quarter of global energy-related CO2 emissions. Electrification must happen much more quickly to reduce CO2 emissions from our tailpipes. To do so, governments need to boost the adoption of electric vehicles through clear tax incentives, diesel and petrol engine bans, and major infrastructure investments. 2021 should be the year that puts us on a one-way road to zero-emission vehicles and puts thermal engines in a dead end.
An aircraft microgrid can work for off-grid communities
To fly for several days and nights, reaching a theoretically endless flight potential, Solar Impulse relied on batteries that stored the energy collected during the day and used it to power its engines during the night.
What was made possible with Si2 on a small scale should guide the way to future-proofing power-generation systems that are made up entirely of renewable energy. In the meantime, microgrids, like those used in Si2, could benefit off-grid systems in remote communities or energy islands, allowing them to abolish diesel or other carbon-heavy fuels already today.
On a larger scale, we are looking at smart grids. If all “stupid grids” were replaced by smart grids, it would allow cities, for example, to manage production, storage, distribution and consumption of energy and to cut peaks in energy demand that would reduce CO2 emissions dramatically.
Energy efficiency in the air and on the ground
Solar Impulse’s philosophy was to save energy instead of trying to produce more of it. This is why the relatively small amount of solar energy we collected became enough to fly day and night. All the airplane parameters, including wingspan, aerodynamics, speed, flight profile and energy systems, had therefore been designed to minimize energy loss.
Unfortunately, this approach still stands out against the inefficiency of most of our energy use today. Even though the IEA found energy efficiency improved by an estimated 13% between 2000 and 2017, it is not enough. We need bolder action by policymakers to encourage investors. One of the best ways to do so is to put strict energy efficiency standards in place.
For example, California has set efficiency standards on buildings and appliances, such as consumer electronics and household appliances, estimated to have saved consumers more than $100 billion in utility bills. These measures are as good for the environment as they are for the economy.
Si2 was the future; now, it should define the present
When we used all these different innovations to build Solar Impulse, they were groundbreaking and futuristic. Today, they should define the present; they should be the norm. Next to the technologies mentioned above, hundreds of clean tech solutions exist that protect the environment in a profitable way, many of which have received the Solar Impulse Efficient Solution Label.
Just as for the Si2 technologies, we must now ensure that they enter the mainstream market. The faster we scale them, the faster we will set our economy on track to achieve the Paris Agreement goals and attain sustainable economic growth.
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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.
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Solar energy is really starting to get its wings, with utility and residential installation growing at a rapid clip. While these systems generally operate for two or three decades, there inevitably comes a time to take photovoltaic panels down for replacement. What happens then has a lot to say about solar’s long-term bottom line.
The opportunity is there to turn old PV panels into new ones, reducing the technology’s environmental footprint. But in a paper published in Nature Sustainability, a group led by Garvin Heath at the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory argues we have a long way to go—though they think they see the way.
A matter of purity
Currently, they say, standard practice is to hand solar panels to existing glass- or metal-recycling facilities—at best, batches of panels may be at least be run through on their own. That does little more than recover the aluminum in the frame, the copper in the wiring, and the glass sheet atop the photovoltaic cells. Laws mandating panel recycling haven’t advanced beyond the drawing board in many places yet, with the European Union and the state of Washington in the US as exceptions. The EU requires at least 75 percent of material to be recovered, and these processes can hit that mark.
Sunrun is acquiring Vivint in an all-stock deal, valued at $3.2 billion, leaving Tesla further behind as a provider of residential solar panels and batteries.
As coal declines and wind and solar energy rise, some are pushing to limit the use of natural gas, but utilities say they are not ready to do so.
The natural gas project would have crossed the Appalachian Trail. Dominion Energy, one of the pipeline’s two partners, also announced the sale of its gas transmission and storage assets.
South Africa based renewable energy startup Sun Exchange has raised $3 million to close its Series A funding round totaling $4 million.
The company operates a peer-to-peer, crypto enabled business that allows individuals anywhere in the world to invest in solar infrastructure in Africa.
How’s that all work?
“You as an individual are selling electricity to a school in South Africa, via a solar panel you bought through the Sun Exchange,” explained Abe Cambridge — the startup’s founder and CEO.
“Our platform meters the electricity production of your solar panel. Arranges for the purchasing of that electricity with your chosen energy consumer, collects that money and then returns it to your Sun Exchange wallet.”
It costs roughly $5 a panel to get in and transactions occur in South African Rand or Bitcoin.
“The reason why we chose Bitcoin is we needed one universal payment system that enables micro transactions down to a millionth of a U.S. cent,” Cambridge told TechCrunch on a call.
He co-founded the Cape Town headquartered startup in 2015 to advance renewable energy infrastructure in Africa. “I realized the opportunity for solar was enormous, not just for South Africa, but for the whole of the African continent,” said Cambridge.
“What was required was a new mechanism to get Africa solar powered.”
Sub-Saharan Africa has a population of roughly 1 billion people across a massive landmass and only about half of that population has access to electricity, according to the International Energy Agency.
Recently, Sun Exchange’s main market South Africa — which boasts some of the best infrastructure in the region — has suffered from blackouts and power outages.
Sun Exchange has 17,000 members in 162 countries who have invested in solar power projects for schools, businesses and organizations throughout South Africa, according to company data.
The $3 million — which closed Sun Exchange’s $4 million Series A — came from the Africa Renewable Power Fund of London’s ARCH Emerging Markets Partners.
With the capital the startup plans to enter new markets. “We’re going to expand into other Sub-Saharan African countries. We’ve got some clear opportunities on our roadmap,” Cambridge said, referencing Nigeria as one of the markets Sun Exchange has researched.
There are several well-funded solar energy startups operating in Africa’s top economic and tech hubs, such as Kenya and Nigeria. In East Africa, M-Kopa sells solar hardware kits to households on credit then allows installment payments via mobile phone using M-Pesa mobile money. The venture is is backed by $161 million from investors including Steve Case and Richard Branson.
In Nigeria, Rensource shifted from a residential hardware model to building solar-powered micro utilities for large markets and other commercial structures.
Sun Exchange operates as an asset free model and operates differently than companies that install or manufacture solar panels.
“We’re completely supplier agnostic. We are approached by solar installers who operate on the African continent. And then we partner with the best ones,” said Cambridge — who presented the startup’s model at TechCrunch Startup Battlefield in Berlin in 2017.
“We’re the marketplace that connects together the user of the solar panel to the owner of the solar panel to the installer of the solar panel.”
Sun Exchange generates revenues by earning margins on sales of solar panels and fees on purchases and kilowatt hours generated, according to Cambridge.
In addition to expanding in Africa, the startup looks to expand in the medium to long-term to Latin America and Southeast Asia.
“Those are also places that would really benefit from from solar energy, from the speed in which it could be deployed and the environmental improvements that going solar leads to,” said Cambridge.
For the first time, the United States is on track to produce more electricity from renewables than from coal this year, a climate milestone.
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