June 23, 2022
Photo: Nicholas Kamm / AFP
Hello, good day. Your Protocol Climate team is itching to get away for the summer, really to anywhere that doesn’t smell like garbage. (Sorry, New York, but you know it’s true.) We’re also side-eying gas prices and pondering Biden’s gas tax holiday proposal. Today, we’re exploring alternatives to the tax reprieve as well as a startup that’s making homes more energy- and cost-efficient. With gas prices like these, you’re going to want to read on!
It feels like we’ve reached the “throw policies at a wall and see what sticks” phase of gas prices. With $5 per gallon gas the norm, Joe Biden has proposed a federal gas tax holiday to ease the cost at the pump. It’s a nice thought that, if implemented, would do next to nothing to address the problem. And it shows that our continued reliance on fossil fuels isn’t just a climate problem, it’s a political one as well. But, as always, there are fixes.
The gas tax holiday would do basically nothing. The problems that ail prices at the pump are not the 18- and 24-cent federal taxes on gas and diesel, respectively. Oil refinery capacity is in short supply, and the Russian war in Ukraine has added further pressure, ratcheting up prices. Kill the tax for three months and demand would likely go up anyway, assuming oil companies don’t just pocket the difference.
There are no short-term fixes for gas prices. The Biden administration has tried basically every quick fix it can.
But there are long-term fixes that will make the price of gas irrelevant. Ultimately, a gas tax holiday is political window-dressing at a time when the U.S. needs more substantive policies that end the combustion engine’s hegemony. It’s like showing up at a wedding with a birthday card. Sicko behavior, really. Rather than toying with the tax on a gallon of gas, policymakers need to be full steam ahead on the electric transition.
There’s just one problem. Congress actually has to do something. Just as Biden needs the Senate and House to enact a gas tax holiday, he also needs Congress to approve any new EV subsidies or other spending that would speed up their adoption.
Despite the pretty dim outlook for relief at the pump and the future of EVs, at least some analysts are bullish that we could be closer to an electric tipping point than it seems. And that’s good news, because another summer of everyone complaining about $5 gallons is the last thing anyone wants.
The market for heat pumps is growing slowly but surely, and home decarbonization startup Sealed is trying to speed up the process with a unique business model. And it’s doing the improbable: convincing homeowners to take a longm hard look at their oft-ignored HVAC systems (and their home insulation, to boot!) in order to save both energy and money.
Sealed is on an energy efficiency mission. Weatherization and converting heating and cooling systems to electric heat pumps may not be a glamorous endeavor, but it’s one that’s vital to cleaning up existing buildings’ carbon pollution.
The company has grabbed attention in part because of its unconventional funding model. Sealed’s central premise is that it will eat its own costs if its upgrades don’t succeed in cutting a home’s energy bill.
The key to Sealed’s success? Its accurate predictions of future energy use. Sealed combines its analysis of a home’s age, location, layout and energy usage history with data from third-party sources like Zillow and Google Maps to present its customers with personalized proposals.
The pandemic has been an “accelerant” for Sealed, according to Sealed president and co-founder Andy Frank. With people spending more time at home, their focus turned to comfort. That doesn’t just mean more nappable couches; a big part of comfort is heating, cooling and general home efficiency, Frank said.
The key to growing further: education. The Sealed team is putting new emphasis on teaching customers about the merits of decarbonization — and what the heck a heat pump is, anyway.
Curious for more about what a Sealed home looks like? Keep an eye on Protocol Climate for more on Sealed in the days to come.— Lisa Martine Jenkins (email | twitter)
How to build an equitable and inclusive future
At the same time that the pandemic demonstrated all that is possible in an interconnected world, we saw in new and increasingly stark ways how certain communities continue to be marginalized and harmed by a persistent digital divide and how effectively that divide exacerbates our society’s other inequities.
ESG Book, a platform for companies to track ESG goals (duh?), raised $35 million in series B funding, led by EIP, Meridiam and Allianz X.
C-Zero, a startup focused on decarbonizing natural gas, closed a $34 million financing round led by SK Gas, which is a subsidiary of the South Korea conglomerate the SK Group. The funding will be used for the company’s first pilot plant.
Connected Energy, a British company that turns old EV batteries into stationary storage, raised over $18 million from five investors, including the venture capital arms of both Volvo and Caterpillar.
The climate-focused podcast outfit Post Script Mediaraised $2 million in a seed funding round led by Prelude Ventures.
IPO alert: Canadian mining company Ivanhoe Electric has plans for a public offering of up to $180 million, listed in both New York and Toronto. The offering would break a long dry spell for U.S. IPOs, and reflects major hype around the critical minerals necessary for the energy transition.
Canadian asset manager Brookfieldraised $15 billion for an impact fund focused on the energy transition, which drew commitments for over 100 other investors as well.
U.K.-based Kiko Ventureslaunched its own $450 million venture capital fund devoted specifically to cleantech investments.— Brian Kahn and Lisa Martine Jenkins
Salesforce and AT&T are using the cloud to save the climate. The companies are teaming up to leverage the former’s Net Zero Cloud software and the latter’s Internet of Things-enabled devices in an effort to cut 1 billion tons of carbon pollution by 2035.
Prepare for hydrogen-powered takeoff. This summer, clean aircraft startup ZeroAvia is planning two test flights of its 19-seat aircraft that use hydrogen fuel cells instead of dirty jet fuel.
Digital advertising is cleaning up its act. No, it’s not going to do away with misleading ads, sadly. But the industry is increasingly aware of its carbon footprint, and ad agencies and brokers are paying more attention to how to use less power.
You should read this profile of philosopher Olufemi Táíwò. Philosophy and tech may feel far apart, especially in the context of climate change. But perhaps they shouldn’t.
A famously embattled nuclear project is somehow even more embattled. The co-owners of the Vogtle plant are suing Georgia Power Company, alleging the utility is trying to put them on the hook for $700 million they shouldn’t have to pay.— Brian Kahn and Lisa Martine Jenkins
How to build an equitable and inclusive future
There is so much more we need to do to make sure our future is more equitable and inclusive and maximizes America’s potential. It is not enough just to ensure everyone is connected. We also need to extend the full scope of digital opportunity to the people, the communities, and the institutions.
Thanks for reading! As ever, you can send any and all feedback to email@example.com. See you Thursday!