February Cleantech Roundup
Capturing Our Attention and Our Emissions
One aspect of the recent budget deal in Washington that’s getting a lot of attention is the tax incentives included for carbon capture technologies. This piece in the MIT Technology Review provides a great summary.
This subject inspires robust debate. Some have suggested that this incentive amounts to a giveaway to large industrial processing and oil & gas companies who would have built some of these projects regardless, and perhaps even makes it cheaper to produce oil (because the CO2 that’s captured in a carbon capture project is sometimes pumped into existing oil wells to get some of the last oil out, akin to how you can get milk to bubble up out of your cup if you blow into the milk through a straw — trust me). This process is known as Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR).
Others point out that EOR is just the first-market application for this technology that will enable technology development and decrease the costs of carbon capture as it scales.
I asked my colleague Dr. Ben Gaddy for his take — his perspective was that anything that pushes forward carbon capture development and scale-up is a good thing, even if it’s for EOR. He also pointed out that while large oil majors like Exxon could be the companies that benefit from this incentive, they are the same types of companies that would be well suited for capital intensive industrial processes that will be required to capture and store carbon and to suck it out of the air. So, ironically, these oil majors may be the companies that are best positioned to help save the world from climate change!
I’m on the same page as Ben — I think we need to be investing in many different approaches to solve our impending climate challenges — this absolutely includes capturing and storing carbon. Also, as the MIT Technology Review point piece points out, many industrial processes produce CO2 as a byproduct of their process. So, even if we are able to completely decarbonize the electricity sector (itself a monumental task), the world will still need carbon capture technology to effectively reduce emissions.
Also, while we’re on the subject of tax incentives, I should probably note that a number of other tax credits for energy technologies were included in the final budget deal, including combined heat and power, microturbines and fuel cells. Unfortunately, energy storage was not one of them, although storage that is charged primarily by a solar system can still qualify for the solar investment tax credit, up to a point.
Is Artificial Intelligence Invenergy’s Future Fun?
This week AI-analytics firm SparkCognition announced it’s recent $50+ million Series B round, from a number of sources including the Invenergy Future Fund. This marks the third investment made by the Invenergy Future Fund, along with cybersecurity company Nozomi Networks and power trading software company Aquilon.
We’d previously discussed the implications of Tesla’s recently announced truck, the Tesla Semi, and what the implications of electrifying and automating America’s long-haul fleet will be. While many have pointed out the potential for large-scale job losses in this sector at the hands of automation, others share the opposite view. In recent piece in the Atlantic, along with Uber’s head of self-driving trucks, argue that automating trucking could actually be a good thing for truckers. Yes, the logic goes, a lot of the long-haul highway driving between logistical hubs will be completed by autonomous trucks. However, the trucks probably will not actually drive themselves from ‘dock-to-dock’ for a very long time — highway miles will be handled by computers, while shorter delivery routes in more dense urban environments will still be primarily handled by humans. If automation leads to cheaper transportation costs, than we could see an increase in the demand for truck drivers overall as the demand for short-haul drivers outpaces the declines in long-haul driving demand.
It’s a reminder that automation isn’t the goal, rather it’s a means to more efficient, lower cost operations in business. In spaces where the more efficient and lower cost operations can be done by humans (like certain delivery routes, or assembling cell phones), humans work will still prevail for the foreseeable future. And, this doesn’t even touch on the potential indirect labor market impacts driven by automation. For example, even as automated trucks eliminates some jobs for drivers in the future, it is also likely to increase the number of people dealing with the logistics, parking, unloading, and loading of truck fleets.
Grid-Scale Storage: The Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer of Energy Markets
U.S. energy markets regulator and federal-agency-that-sounds–most-like–a-swear–word FERC recently passed a rule that will allow energy storage to participate in wholesale energy markets on a level playing field with other grid resources. Up until now, energy storage had been limited to a few specific applications in certain jurisdictions. This is an important step that will enable much broader deployment of energy storage systems throughout the country, enabling business model tinkering and innovation, while lso undoubtedly contributing to cost reductions as more battery storage is deployed.
Very Important Non-Cleantech News
Courtesy of @cbinsights, I saw a polls that show more than a third of americans believe houses can be haunted.
Also, per @fivethirtyeight, more than half of Americans take a nutritional supplement, and 10% take 4 or more of them, despite little evidence that they have health benefits. That seemed kind of silly to me. However, to the extent these supplements are warding off the evil spirits at home, I guess that’s money well spent.
At the end of the day, if you can give me a pill that keeps away tigers, let’s talk.
For Further Reading:
These publications and newsletters are what I typically pay attention to and are great sources for cleantech and investing news.
- GreenTech Media — Good source for news and analysis on all kinds of clean energy.
- Axios’ Generate — Daily energy news roundup, with coverage that includes (but is not limited to) federal goings-on
- Midwest Energy News — Provides both a midwest and national daily newsletter
Investing and Technology:
- Benedict’s Newsletter — Ben Evans’ weekly summary of interesting tech and investing news, along with his own interesting takes
- A VC — Blog by Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures — lots of interesting commentary on venture investing in general, and blockchain in particular
- Fortune’s Term Sheet — Weekday morning newsletter by Polina Marinova