Clean Energy Trust
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Clean Energy Trust

January Cleantech Roundup: Corporations Claim Their Carbon | How Public Chargers Influence Electric Vehicle Adoption | Investor Climate Initiatives

Clean Energy Trust’s cleantech roundup highlights interesting cleantech news and perspective, across industry, technology, policy, and investing.

Microsoft announced plans to be carbon negative by 2030 and to remove its historical carbon emissions by 2050. This is an extremely forward-leaning stance for a large company and hopefully will inspire others to make similar commitments. We should note that as a company that has primarily been focused on software historically, their emissions are just a fraction of many other large companies that produce physical products, but the fact that the company is taking public responsibility for their historic emissions is still something that should be applauded. Look for other consumer-facing software companies to follow. Link

A recent episode of Marketplace touched on how the visibility and availability of charging stations (or lack thereof) is a challenge for electric vehicle (EV) adoption. While I agree this is something people are paying attention to, local charging station visibility doesn’t make a ton of sense as the metric people use for evaluating the viability of owning an EV, especially if they have their own parking space. The chargers at the grocery store are like the free samples inside — people like them, but they are not relying on them.

What really matters is more difficult to observe, unfortunately. For a Chicago resident, this is what the infrastructure looks like along the interstate highways, and to a lesser extent what it looks like Madison, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Indianapolis, and South Bend. This is where EV owners are going to use a public charger the handful of times a year they use one. Link

Meanwhile, a report from Rocky Mountain Institute emphasizes the need to address soft costs to make the deployment of charging stations cheaper and easier. Link

Also on this theme, the Wall Street Journal put together a comprehensive video report of eight of their reporters testing out life with electric vehicles. Their takeaways?

  • The cars feel zippy
  • Things are good in China, where the government has taken a very active role in building out extensive charging infrastructure in both urban and rural areas (half of the electric vehicles in the world are in China)
  • Elsewhere a dearth of fast chargers in locations to which the reporters took the vehicles on road trips presented challenges, and the patchwork of different charging station networks could be confusing
  • Tesla owners rarely faced a lack of chargers because of the significant investment the company has made in their proprietary charging network
  • Because of range concerns, the reporters were often reticent to utilize some of the cars’ features because they drained the battery
  • Link

Greentech Media examined potential applications of blockchain in the energy industry to track renewable energy credits. It is always good to see more experimentation about ways to make the energy sector more efficient, although it’s a little more complicated than just putting it on the blockchain. My impression is the underlying issue with Renewable Energy Credits (REC) isn’t that actors are cheating in the marketplace (although presumably, this is a concern at some level); the issue is that the markets are not designed to account for the idea of additionality — where the purchase of the renewable energy credit enables clean energy generation that would not have occurred otherwise. In northern Europe, the REC market is flooded with credits from existing hydro producers; in the United States, it is flooded with credits from vertically integrated utilities who have rate-based wind projects and then sold off the RECs. Better tracking will help root out bad actors, but I don’t think it will do much to address these structural issues, regardless of how much of this information is tracked on a blockchain. Link

Clayton Christenson. Credit: John Lamparski/Getty Images

Clayton Christenson passed away in January. He was certainly one of the most influential business authors to a generation of entrepreneurs and tech founders. He is best known for concepts highlighted in his second book, The Innovator’s Dilemma, which discusses how and why startups are able to out-compete industry incumbents as technology changes. Link

Greentech Media highlights how transmission is a challenge as states try to incorporate more renewables. The challenges around transmission constraints are political, not technological (or, for some, economic — there are companies that want to spend a billion dollars building a transmission line to connect renewables-rich areas to more populated portions of the grid). The federal government needs more authority in this space, and also to use the authorities it has. Link

The world’s largest asset manager, Blackrock, joined the investor initiative Climate Action 100. Depending on how they decide to vote their shares, this could be a big deal for governance, or could just be a strategic move — my guess is the latter, although it does seem like they are moving in the direction of providing more sustainable investing opportunities. Also, even relatively small moves like adjusting some of their defaults to be sustainability-focused funds (so investors would be opting out rather than opting in) could be a pretty big deal given the scale of the company. Link

Treasury Steve Mnuchin made himself look silly trying to criticize Greta Thunberg. He tried to throw shade because she hasn’t yet gone to college — a real zinger to throw at a 16-year old. One reason Thunberg is such an effective spokesperson for addressing climate change is that she is not a policy expert. She is not proposing a solution that has political baggage and a specific set of stakeholders what support or oppose it; she is just trying to push policymakers to act on a fairly obvious global challenge. So criticizing her for not understanding how things work or not being old enough to know enough only really resonates if you don’t believe climate change is a big problem. If you think it is a big problem, then there is not a whole lot that is controversial with someone standing up and saying “this problem is a problem — please fix it.” Link

Credit: Arrival

UPS plans to buy 10,000 electric trucks from U.K. EV startup Arrival. While a lot of the EV attention has been on personal vehicles, companies like Amazon and UPS are making very large investments in EVs for their delivery fleets. For these businesses, the high utilization rate of these vehicles means they can save a lot of money on operations and maintenance costs by switching to EVs (versus a lengthier payback period for a passenger EV). Link

Automaker Byton promoted the 48-inch infotainment screen in its upcoming crossover EV, the M-Byte at the Consumer Electronics Show. A big-screen tv in a car: is that a good idea? Is it a better solution than a tablet you could take with you? Are they assuming drivers are going to be stuck waiting for their vehicle to charge and will want to binge-watch The Office while they wait? I think I see their line of reasoning here, but I am very skeptical. Link

Bloomberg New Energy Finance Highlights 10 charts from 2019. Most interesting to me is #10: Electric vehicles overtook consumer electronics as the primary use for lithium-ion batteries. Link

David Roberts has a nice 4-part series underway at Vox on CO2 utilization and how to build a circular economy. Link

The European Union announced its Green Deal, a gigantic plan aimed at being carbon neutral by 2050. Link

Greentech Media profiles how four US utilities are dealing with the energy transition. Link

Emissions dropped in 2019, after rising in 2018. Link

China announced plans to phase out single-use plastic bags by 2025. Link

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Ian Adams

Ian Adams

I work at Evergreen Climate Innovations in Chicago. I’m passionate about clean energy, innovation, and market driven solutions.