February Cleantech Roundup: Corporate Carbon Neutrality | New Mobility Modes | Climate Politics
Clean Energy Trust’s cleantech roundup highlights interesting cleantech news and perspective, across industry, technology, policy, and investing
Large oil and gas and utility companies are making net-zero pledges, as they look to get ahead of consumer and regulatory trends. Carbon neutral by 2050 is the go-to metric (to align with IPCC report goals). Dominion and BP made 2050 pledges; Consumers Energy in Michigan took a big step by committing to carbon neutrality by 2040, moving itself to the front of the pack in this space. (It is important that this includes scope three emissions: otherwise, an oil company is just pledging their actual operations would be carbon neutral, but not accounting for all the emissions from the fossil fuels they sell, which is where the overwhelming amount of emissions comes from.)
It is illuminating that some of the largest fossil fuel producers are willing to make this 2050 commitment today, even as the idea of legislating a similar approach economy-wide is seen as an aggressive or even controversial idea. While it is true that talk is cheap and these companies won’t have direct financial consequences if they end up missing their deadlines, it does imply that moving towards carbon neutrality is not the economy-twisting boogeyman that some suggest.
If you go one level deeper, committing to carbon neutrality by 2050 is another way of saying ‘hey we’re with you, don’t worry about the carbon we’re going to be emitting for the next couple decades” — a time horizon that extends beyond when most of the corporate decision-makers will be in charge. This doesn’t mean they aren’t serious about making a transition, but it is an example of the 3-dimensional chess that will be occurring as we collectively figure out the best way to decarbonize our economy. Link
Recently the GOP introduced what they described as a package of climate bills. What was proposed is not a comprehensive plan, but there were several pieces of legislation related to energy and climate, including expanding a tax credit for carbon capture and support for planting trees. I liken their current approach to if you took a car and removed everything but the cup holders and the windshield wipers… I’m definitely interested in those features, but there’s more to it than that.
Jokes aside, I’m happy to see any effort in the direction of climate policy. I have been optimistic about the potential for bipartisan federal climate legislation in the next several years, even though votes are not currently there for anything of significance. I remain optimistic, although recent events suggest that optimism may be misplaced.
It is hard to imagine how anyone would be against these things. But, perhaps that is just a failure of my imagination: immediately after they were introduced, there was significant pushback from some conservative legislators and numerous conservative interest groups. That there was pushback should not be surprising for the caucus, which in recent years has veered towards climate skepticism as a policy plank, but it is kind of bizarre and surreal.
As Vox climate writer David Roberts has pointed out on a number of occasions, the GOP proposals for addressing climate (carbon capture tax credits, planting trees, more Federal funding for basic R&D) either provide direct support to the fossil fuel industry, or avoid supporting direct competition against it, so it is not even a situation where there is a significant industry lobby or interest group that is negatively impacted. Despite this, certain stakeholders react reflexively to policy discussions related to climate, perhaps because they see it as a slippery slope to more significant policy provisions.
While we’re still not close to comprehensive legislation currently, this is not meant to be all doom-and-gloom — the fact that certain stakeholder groups are complaining does not mean that legislation is not possible. After all, there is also great disagreement about the best approach to climate policy on the Democratic side of the aisle (albeit consensus that it is a problem that should be addressed). Link
Jeff Bezos announced a $10 billion fund to address climate change. Details are light but the funds would be philanthropic, rather than investments. One thing is clear: Bezos is a polarizing figure. This amount of philanthropic support is a gigantic increase in percentage terms of the current total philanthropic budget for addressing global climate change; at the same time, some responded to this announcement by criticizing Amazon’s climate record and/or pointing out that it’s a relatively small percentage of Bezos’ overall wealth. Obviously the proof will be in the pudding, but when the world’s richest person gives $10 billion to an important global cause, I think of that as a positive. Link
Several quick hits on the new trends in mobility:
Citroen has introduced a Micro EV that technically isn’t a car (so doesn’t require a license) and costs about $6,000. Currently, when people talk about micro-mobility it is a buzzword for scooters, but I think there’s going to be an incredibly interesting set of mobility solutions that sit somewhere between scooters/mopeds and compact cars (especially in Europe). As the ownership mode of vehicles flips from upfront purchase to shorter-term and shared use agreements, it makes more sense to have different vehicles for different purposes (a scooter to commute to work, a ‘tweener vehicle to go run an errand, a hatchback car share to take a weekend trip). But the story doesn’t end there: once you are using different types of vehicles for different applications, it allows manufacturers to both be more creative and to optimize the features and attributes to the specific application (for example, a small vehicle intended for local errands doesn’t need to have a huge and expensive battery because no one would drive it long distances. Link
Nissan rolled out a vehicle subscription service, where customers pay $699 per month for a car, insurance, maintenance, roadside assistance, and vehicle delivery. EVs and large SUVs cost extra, but the plan allows you to change your vehicle whenever you want. I think this will be a niche space for now, but it is interesting to see different companies playing around with new approaches to vehicle use and ownership. Link
Speaking of, shared electric vehicle subscription service company Canoo is collaborating with Hyundai to develop an electric vehicle platform. Like I said, I’m excited about all of the experimentation, although I have no idea why you need to develop a custom vehicle in order to launch a shared EV subscription service — is there a customer segment that will only switch to car memberships if their vehicles are shaped like eggs? Link
Katie Fehrenbacher highlighted the increasing usage of “Climate Tech” and the evolution of terminology related to the cleantech space. It appears my colleague Paul may have been the first to suggest this term back in 2017… as part of an exercise to come up with different branding terminology for the cleantech space (our Slack archive is immutable). Link
Tesla’s stock price went CRAZY last month. Tesla responded very rationally by raising $2 billion in equity. As is typical for the capital markets, Bloomberg’s Matt Levine has the most insightful and amusing commentary on the block here → Link
Airlines are increasingly concerned about the flight shaming movement disrupting their business. JetBlue and Delta Airlines recently announced plans to become carbon neutral (by purchasing offsets). Link
Chargepoint announced a collaboration to deploy $1 billion worth of charging infrastructure at travel plazas and fuel stops in the United States. This charging infrastructure along interstates and arterial roads is exactly where charging will be most useful. Link
John Tough of Energize Ventures highlights venture capital trends in the energy and industrial sectors. Link
Solar projects are extremely credit-worthy: As Greentech Media quoted Andrew Joynt, a senior director at Fitch Ratings focused on project finance, “Some U.S. solar projects now carry a credit rating equivalent to that of their utility off-takers.” “It’s basically saying that the operating risk itself is not viewed as something that constrains the project; it’s really just how likely you are to get paid by the utility.” The recent Fitch analysis also found solar projects to be much more reliable performers than wind farms. Link
The American Energy Innovation Council came out with a new set of recommendations for federal energy innovation support — as always, its recommendations are nonpartisan, detailed, and sensible. Link
The tech and research hub Discovery Partners Institute has started to be built in Chicago. Great potential here, although as this commentary notes it has a big hill to climb in order to meet its lofty ambitions. Link
Long-duration cryogenic energy storage company Highview Power raised $46 million to develop full-scale plants. I wasn’t aware cryogenic storage was a thing, but you learn something new every day. This also falls into the category of unique approaches to trying to address long-duration storage by leveraging technology from other industries, along with Energy Vault. Link