August Cleantech Roundup: Energy Storage is Growing, Cleantech Startup are Fundraising, and Scooters are Driving Themselves
Clean Energy Trust’s cleantech roundup highlights interesting cleantech news and perspective, across industry, technology policy, and investing.
Batteries. Lots of Batteries.
Recent analysis from Bloomberg New Energy Finance has a lot of new data on battery storage. The authors expect the majority of new storage to be utility-scale rather than behind-the-meter and envisions energy storage as a practical alternative to building new generation or improving the existing grid. The report also projects battery storage costs to drop by half over the next decade. These are not crazy or particularly surprising findings given the growth of the sector, but a good reminder of quick growth and progress in this space.
One additional tailwind energy storage has is that it is a capital asset. Unlike demand-side solutions like energy efficiency and demand response, storage aligns really well with the existing utility regulatory paradigm because it is utilities essentially make money by building stuff (and serving their customers, but the return is on the capital investments). Whereas energy efficiency is something all utilities should do more of, energy storage is something all utilities will do more of. Link
Rent a Tesla? No, Not That Kind
Tesla announced its first big move in the residential solar market in quite a while and is planning to rent solar rooftop systems to customers in a half dozen states. Tesla had acquired the largest solar installation business (SolarCity) several years ago, but deeply cut it in a drive to reduce costs (last quarter the division installed about 10% of what it did at its peak). This seems like a more streamlined model (no install cost charged, less complex financing) which could potentially make sales cheaper and faster. And there are other good examples of large assets people rent for convenience instead of purchasing (leasing cars, renting apartments).
At the end of the day, it probably helps Tesla recapture some market share but solar system renters still need to be good credit risks, so Tesla can’t skip the underwriting. Putting solar on your roof is still a significant undertaking and is probably one of the largest home projects a homeowner will do; I just don’t see this as much of a game changer as I don’t think the rent vs. buy decision as what is primarily holding back sales. Solar leasing has long been an important aspect of the residential solar market — the wheel is not being reinvented here.
Then again, I could be wrong: maybe there are a lot of folks who are afraid of commitment but love the idea of solar (and are familiar with the Tesla brand), and they could be psychologically assuaged by the idea that they could get the system uninstalled for a modest price ($1,500) if they are unhappy with it, sort of like how people seem to like the idea of being able to return mattresses they buy online. Link
Water Stress = High
There is increasing salience of the problem of water stressed areas throughout the world. While climate has some role here, a lot of this is just driven by population and consumption growth, with people using up aquifers more quickly than they can be replenished. This will be a major problem that is likely to lead to a lot of suffering and global conflict; one silver lining is that when population centers in developed economies do face these water crises, they seem to be able to cut back on water use very significantly without much of an economic signal — for example, residential water usage dropped 30% when Cape Town announced it was approaching a ‘day zero’ when it would run out of water last year. This suggests that by pricing water to more appropriately reflect its value we may be able to make big gains. It’s also a big opportunity area — CET portfolio company Wellntel provides groundwater data visualization solutions, which is increasingly in demand by companies and governments alike. Link
If the Scooter Rides Itself, What Am I Here For?
Segway-Ninebot announced a new 3-wheel model of electric scooter that can drive itself to a charging location or be controlled remotely. The feature comes at a cost premium, but could mean huge operational cost savings for scooter companies (who often pay $100–250 a month to have them picked up to be charged and repositioned) while also reducing emissions (since you don’t need people driving cars around to grab them). Between this and the quick iteration in the scooter models Bird has been bringing to market, it is impressive how quickly this technology is changing and improving. Link
This is a really big wind turbine: GE completes manufacturing component for 12mw offshore wind turbine (for reference, most of the turbines you see from the highways in the Midwest are in the 1–3 range — the wind farm along I-65 in north-central Indiana has 1.5mw turbines). Link
Chicago area-based LanzaTech recently announced a $72 million Series E financing led by Novo Holdings. LanzaTech is a pioneer in the production of next-generation fuels using carbon pollution from steel mills and trash- it’s great to see them continue to grow and help to address our climate challenges (we also talked about the company in this blog post on technologies which re-use our carbon pollution) Link
Starship Technologies, which develops cooler-sized autonomous electric delivery capsules recently raised a $40 million round and announced they’d completed 100,000 deliveries, with a big share of that on college campuses. While cool little contraptions may actually increase deliveries and miles traveled, by replacing automobile trips for food delivery, they have a positive energy/emissions impact as well. One question I haven’t given any real thought to: once it becomes cheap and seamless enough for robots to putter around and bring us everything we could want ot need, does this lead to a public health crisis because people don’t need to move around to do anything, a la Wall-E. Link
Form Energy recently raised a $40 million Series B from investors including Breakthrough Energy Ventures and Prelude Ventures. The company has a dream team of founders with industry centrality and is attempting to make very long duration batteries (The use case is storing energy for weeks or months with fewer discharges, to help offset the intermittency and seasonality of renewables, rather than today’s lithium-ion batteries, which can be discharged hundreds of times but only offer hours of storage cost-effectively). Link
East Penn, a large battery manufacturer, acquired Chicago-based Navitas Systems, which is a leader in manufacturing lithium-ion battery systems for heavy-duty commercial and industrial applications. Link
Governor Inslee has dropped out of the Presidential race after a campaign focused on climate action, but the extremely detailed climate plan he put out should be a resource going forward. Link
Impact Alpha highlights newer sources of capital in the venture space. Link
How attached are you to your gas stove? Would you mind giving it up to reduce emissions? Link