The car-share revolution is coming
Hello, Protocol Climate subscribers. We relate to you all the time, but never more so than this week. Our entire site is taking part in Subscriptions Week . To create a True Synergy™ between website and newsletter, we’re bringing you the story of how sharing cars can help save the planet and weather subscriptions could help save you.
Share a car, save the Earth?
Americans love their cars. There are more than 286 million cars in the country, most of which sit idle 95% of the time while taking up space in garages or on the curb. Cities — and our very concept of the American dream — have grown up alongside car culture. But that dream is a climate nightmare. Car-sharing could be one fix.
Companies offering customers access to shared vehicles have proliferated in recent decades as technology has evolved. Developments like keyless entry and apps have put a shared car at the fingertips of millions of citydwellers across the U.S. And they could grow even further as cities look to reduce emissions and tame sprawl.
Cars could become a service rather than an asset. Interest in car-sharing has picked up over the years, especially as car-sharing companies have scaled up.
- Andrew Mok, the chief marketing officer for Turo, said two recent surveys have shown that roughly 13% of its current users do not currently own a car, and roughly 17% said they do not plan to purchase a car in the next five years, a fact he attributes in part to the high cost of vehicle ownership in certain cities, like New York, Boston and San Francisco.
- Cities, said Zipcar’s president Tracey Zhen, are where the “challenges of congestion and population density” are coming to a head.
- Many cities big and small are also setting climate goals, and decarbonizing transportation is a huge piece of solving that puzzle.
Sharing cars could help — but not totally save — the climate. Public transit is our best option for that. But moving away from a culture centered around car ownership more generally has important ripple effects.
- “Studies have shown that car-sharing is sort of like a gateway to multimodal mobility,” said Andrew Byrnes, deputy general counsel and global head of Public Affairs for peer-to-peer service Getaround. Once people move away from relying on their own car for everything, he said, they begin to be more intentional about which transportation options they use.
- More public transit users and more bikers beget less congestion, while less need for parking begets denser housing closer to city centers, leading to even less car use. Car-sharing has the potential to prompt a virtuous cycle.
But both companies and cities themselves are the victims of inertia. Existing city policies subsidize car ownership, rather than car-sharing.
- “We’ve given [away] all this great real estate in terms of roadways and parking spaces. It’s either free or it’s really cheap to drive into cities and to park,” said David Keith, a professor at MIT’s Sloan School of Management who has researched consumer behavior around car ownership.
- Policy options include congestion pricing, adding high-occupancy vehicle lanes and raising parking fees, while encouraging alternatives to driving like cheaper (or free!) public transportation and expanded and protected bike lanes.
- Meanwhile, third-party subscription services specifically for multimodal transport — like the Finnish startup MaaS Global — have begun to emerge.
Changing the urban status quo is still a long way off. Policies that disincentivize car ownership are fairly common in Europe and elsewhere. But Keith said there is very little evidence that U.S. cities would actively try to make driving less attractive, calling it “a bit of third rail” politically. And sharing cars is just one of a suite of tools to cut carbon emissions. Consider it the tip of the climate-friendly urban planning iceberg, if you will.
Weather is no longer one-size-fits-all
In the beginning, there was the local weatherman providing the day’s forecast with the morning news. Then came the Weather Channel and its “Local on the 8s.” More recently, free or low-cost apps have populated our smartphones. But as the climate changes and the weather becomes more apocalyptic, relying on a few weather dispatches throughout the day might not be enough anymore.
Enter hyperlocalized or activity-specific weather services. Eric Holthaus, meteorologist, writer and founder of the weather service Currently, said people are increasingly interested in forecasts tailored specifically to their needs and location, and not just to the city they live in.
- Currently launched in June 2021, and provides daily, local weather newsletters written by meteorologists and other weather experts who live in the place they’re writing about. For power users, the service also offers on-demand text communication with those meteorologists.
- Meanwhile, Surfline is a forecasting service that serves a very specific audience: surfers. (Duh.) It has existed since 1985 — early users received surf reports via fax machine — and has evolved into a mobile subscription service that reaches 5.1 million people each month and conducts roughly 250 billion calculations on ocean and weather conditions daily.
Climate change has added urgency to the forecast. Carbon pollution is making nearly every heat wave more intense or likely. It’s also making heavy downpours more likely and juicing hurricanes and wildfires. While the forecast won’t slow down the crisis, it can help people make better decisions about when to evacuate or how to protect their property.
- Currently makes that connection clear in its local forecasts. That can help users understand the future risks they could face as the climate crisis worsens.
- The service tends to see subscriptions surge in the days leading up to a major weather event; the January blizzard in Boston was Currently’s biggest day for picking up subscribers so far, per Holthaus.
- Climate change has affected Surfline’s work as well, as rising sea levels swallow beaches and alter surf breaks around the world, and a growing number of storms have appeared outside the traditional hurricane season in the Atlantic. Whereas surfers may once have been able to time their trips to the shore to a predictable season, forecasting has become an increasingly complex enterprise.
The subscription forecast model will almost certainly keep growing. Especially as climate change continues to make weather more violent, demand has emerged from both the public and private sector for hyper-specific weather and wave data that can allow companies to plan for extreme events that could do everything from disrupt the supply chain to cancel events.
- Currently is starting a B2B weather service, providing on-demand information to weather-sensitive clients like wedding venues, flood restoration companies and outdoor sporting sites and events.
- And state and municipal agencies have turned to Surfline for the seabed and coastal erosion data that the company’s fleet of cameras and other monitoring devices have been providing for years.
Tech regulation beyond Big Tech
Tech regulation is fast coming over the horizon. Companies everywhere are bracing for new privacy legislation and antitrust action, but much of the focus thus far has been on how the biggest tech firms will fare. What about the rest of the sector? How should the thousands of small, medium-sized and enterprise-level tech companies prepare for this new regulatory landscape? Will changing policies bring about a more even playing field, or will growth be stunted for smaller businesses with fewer resources? How should the U.S. avoid one-size-fits-all regulation in such a diverse ecosystem while still checking unfair competition and data abuses? Join Protocol and a panel of experts as we dive into the biggest regulatory priorities of the not-quite-biggest tech companies. RSVP here .
A MESSAGE FROM WORKPLACE FROM META
100% of C-suite staff surveyed by Workplace by Meta said that frontline workers were a strategic priority for their business in 2022, but nearly two in three of them said that keeping their frontline staff, who bear the brunt of the stresses of the workplace most acutely, had only become a priority since the pandemic hit.
Make it rain
The EV charging startup FreeWire Technologies raised a whopping $125 million in advance of an IPO expected in the next 18 months, with contributions from BlackRock, Riverstone and BP (side-eye at that last one).
Sense , which offers technology to monitor home energy use, raked in $105 million in series C financing led by Blue Earth Capital. The investment comes as home energy bills skyrocket.
Rondo Energy raised $22 million in series A funding for its quest to decarbonize heavy industry. Breakthrough Energy Ventures and Energy Impact Partners led the funding round.
Another emissions tracking startup is cashing in. Greenly , which provides carbon emissions tracking and reduction options for small and medium enterprises, raised $22 million in its series A round , co-led by Energy Impact Partners and Xange.
Zeno Power , which develops advanced power systems using radioisotopes for upping production of small-scale nuclear batteries, raised a $20 million series A with funding led by Tribe Capital .
South 8 Technologies raised $12 million in series A funding , led by Anzu Partners. The company is working to improve the electrolyte formulations in lithium batteries.
The Canadian Carbon Upcycling Technologies closed a $6.15 million seed funding round , led by Clean Energy Ventures. The startup produces a cement and concrete additive that it says could reduce emissions in concrete production.
Tandem PV , a Santa Clara, California-based developer of solar panels that pair perovskite with traditional silicon, raised $6 million in series A funding led by Bioeconomy Capital.
In tandem with Y otta Energy ’s announcement that it won an award for nearly $2 million from the Defense Department to build a microgrid project in Nevada, the battery storage company said it raised an additional $3.5 million in series A financing , bringing its total for the round to $16.5 million.
In an exciting development for vegan leather, TômTex , a developer of bio-based leather alternatives from mushroom or seafood shell waste, raised $1.7 million in seed funding , led by SOSV.
There is apparently no shortage of battery investors: BattGenie , a startup aiming to improve the performance of lithium batteries, raised $1.5 million in seed funding , co-led by Powerhouse Ventures and VoLo Earth ventures.
In non-startup news: The global alternative asset management firm TPG announced it closed its dedicated climate fund at $7.3 billion .
— Lisa Martine Jenkins
Let there be (more efficient) light. It’s both my alma mater’s logo and potentially that of the Biden administration’s new regulations to phase out old-fashioned and inefficient incandescent light bulbs.
Hydrogen is hitting the big time, with developers in Utah raking in a $504 billion conditional commitment from the Department of Energy for the world’s largest hydrogen hub.
Please, Congress, we want some more. The brands are asking Congress to resurrect clean energy tax credit provisions from the dead-for-now Build Back Better package.
Net zero is all the rage, but getting there is tricky. There are a million examples of its trickiness, but the Soros Fund’s 2040 ambitions are particularly complicated .
The solar sector is freaked out by a trade probe, which the Solar Energy Industries Association says could potentially cut the number of domestic installations in half .
F-150 Lightning incoming. Electric versions of America’s favorite truck are beginning to roll off the assembly line, with the first ones slated to be delivered in the coming week .
— Lisa Martine Jenkins
A MESSAGE FROM WORKPLACE FROM META
Businesses are starting to turn to workplace communication tools. Such tools enable frontline workers to feel more connected to the rest of their business, to raise concerns and to provide feedback on potential pain points or points of improvement. By bridging that divide, companies can unlock new savings and efficiencies, and build a business that can last for the long run.
Thanks for joining us this Subscriptions Week! As ever, you can send any and all feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org . Have a lovely weekend, 'til we meet again!