Green Empire State building
Photo: Climate Week NYC

Tech took over Climate Week. These are the three biggest takeaways.

Protocol Climate

Happy Thursday! Your Protocol Climate team has been running all over New York to take in Climate Week. Today, we’re sharing the three biggest themes to emerge this week for climate tech, and then diving into 5G and autonomous vehicle research. Then, we’re considering running away to a little cabin in the woods for a month of R&R. (A spa day would also be just fine.)

What we learned at Climate Week

It’s climate nerd Christmas in New York. After a pandemic-induced hiatus, Climate Week is back in person for the first time in two years. In some ways, it feels familiar. The city is abuzz with events and side events, celebrities like Matt Damon and climate leaders like Al Gore are floating around (and in Gore’s case, going after the World Bank president), and there are way too many happy hours to enjoy a negroni at.

But in the two years since the last in-person Climate Week, a lot has changed. The tech industry has taken a leading role in setting the pace for corporate climate commitments and climate VC is heating up. Oh, and the U.S. actually has a climate law. Those factors have dramatically shaped the conversations taking place this week.

Climate tech is a hot investment. It feels like you can’t walk a block without tripping over a climate tech founder or venture capitalist looking for the next big carbon-cutting startup.

  • Carbon dioxide removal continues to be a hot topic. The industry raised a record $882 million in the second quarter, and purveyors and purchasers put on events at Climate Week. Though the technology is years (if not decades) away from being mature, it’s clearly of intense interest.
  • Agtech and fake meat are also experiencing a renewed wave of interest given that agriculture and land use account for a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions.
  • The majority of the nine Earthshot Prize winners and finalists who participated in the organization’s Innovation Summit on Wednesday involved some sort of climate tech, from a “Google Maps for nature” to an electrolyzer that transforms clean electricity into green hydrogen. (The latter was another hot topic this week.)

The IRA is a “global game-changer,” according to President Joe Biden, who was speaking at the U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday. (Did we mention it’s a busy week and we are tired?) And he just might be right.

  • The IRA’s $369 billion in climate provisions were never going to be enough on their own. But according to what everyone from policymakers to investors said at Climate Week, it’s clear that it’s the dawn of a new era.
  • The law’s tax credits are already creating a surge in climate tech interest, from battery manufacturing to green hydrogen production.
  • It’s also encouraging some states to increase their climate ambitions. Gov. Gavin Newsom told Protocol the IRA and California’s new climate goals go “hand in glove,” and the tax credits will be “profound,” particularly for growing the state’s regenerative agriculture sector.
  • He added that IRA and state tax credits will work in tandem to accelerate the deployment of EV infrastructure, with the “private sector [moving] in to absorb the gaps.” “It couldn’t have come at a better time,” Newsom said.
  • The law could even impact policy abroad, and has climate tech firms dreaming bigger. According to Lars Lundström, CSO of H2 Green Steel, the dream of carbon pricing is still alive in Europe, and would be “the most concrete and fair way” to incentivize decarbonization, especially of heavy industry. “It’s also important to mix it with subsidizing and actually help companies to do the transition,” he told Protocol.

Data rules everything around me. The climate tech world is data-hungry. This week, startups and Big Tech executives alike emphasized the need for data organization and analysis tools. One repeated refrain: Many companies are ready to do away with the time-consuming Excel spreadsheets that they are using to itemize emissions.

  • To the end of empowering companies with data, Uber launched a new tool at Climate Week for its 170,000 business clients to track work-related rides’ carbon emissions.
  • Adam Gromis, public policy manager for Uber’s sustainability team, told us that most of those clients are small or medium-sized companies that “don’t have capacity to measure emissions, or even estimate emissions from, say, their corporate ground travel.”
  • Mark Kroese, Microsoft’s general manager for sustainability solutions, said that the problem is no longer that there is a dearth of data; in fact, we have a “necklace of satellites around the Earth” delivering data constantly.
  • Our collective task now is figuring out where that data — in conjunction with reporting by companies — can live and be accessible to those who need it, he said at a Techonomy event, and Big Tech is well-equipped to help.
  • Data and transparency are also important when it comes to holding governments and businesses accountable, said Catherine McKenna, chair of the U.N.’s High-level Expert Group on the Net-Zero Emissions Commitments of Non-State Entities (yes, it’s a mouthful), at the Race to Zero and Resilience Forum.

The momentum at Climate Week is helping set the stage for the international climate talks that will be held in Egypt this November. And urgency is the name of the game.

“What we don't have is time,” Frans Timmermans, the executive vice president of the European Commission, said at the Race to Zero Forum. “We need to move at Formula 1 speed. ... If we do this in the next couple of years, we'll fix this.”

— Brian Kahn, Michelle Ma and Lisa Martine Jenkins

Just on the horizon …

There’s a lot of hype around 5G changing everything from health care to smart homes. Researchers are now looking to put the technology to work reducing transportation energy use as part of Texas A&M University’s 5G testbed, launched in partnership with AT&T last year.

The group is specifically examining how 5G can be used to cut energy usage in autonomous cars. It’s not a matter of if this is going to happen, but when and by how much, according to Srikanth Saripalli, the director of the Center for Autonomous Vehicles and Sensor Systems at Texas A&M, who’s leading the research. He spoke to me about what they’ve found so far.

Like with all things 5G, it’s hard to estimate just how big the impact is going to be. Add in autonomous vehicles — another much-hyped technology that’s not scalable — and it makes those estimates even more challenging. But Saripalli’s team is working on an answer.

  • Stop-and-go traffic is notoriously bad for fuel economy: Pumping the pedal and then slamming the brakes consumes a lot of fuel compared to steady driving. One study found that aggressive driving can lower gas mileage by up to 40%.
  • The working theory is that 5G-aided autonomous vehicles can sense when there’s a traffic jam well ahead on the road and reroute or start decelerating earlier accordingly, theoretically reducing the energy consumed by that particular vehicle. Since 5G can process that information at a much higher bandwidth and with lower latency than previous networks, this could happen seamlessly.
  • Most autonomous vehicles being tested for commercialization are either electric or hybrid, which is why the Texas A&M team is calculating energy saved rather than carbon pollution reduced.

Early estimates show a small but meaningful savings. If all things fall into place, Saripalli’s research predicts about a 5% energy reduction per vehicle. That number comes with a lot of caveats, though.

  • The first is that it’s assuming a very specific set of conditions that include the number of users, the kind of antennas that exist, traffic patterns, vehicles, and more.
  • The most surprising finding so far has been how many variables an autonomous vehicle has to juggle on the road and how it all comes together to impact energy consumption.
  • Ultimately, Saripalli is bullish on the promise of 5G to improve energy efficiency in transportation; the challenge is knowing exactly how much it will help, which is hugely important when it comes to actually commercializing the technology. (After all, who would invest in a technology without knowing its real impact?)

“If you ask me the question, ‘Does 5G help?’ the answer is yes. The answer to the question, ‘How much?’ is much harder,” he said. The research goal is to put a precise figure on that impact by the end of the year.

— Michelle Ma

A MESSAGE FROM ACCENTURE

Today’s inflation crisis is driving up the costs of commodities, food and energy at rates not seen in decades. Businesses must lead in this moment, and can do so most immediately through energy efficiency – aligning with climate commitments while delivering immediate returns and alleviating pressure on citizens and consumers everywhere.

Learn more

Coming soon

The state of innovation: The global innovation race is well underway. What is the U.S. administration doing to stay ahead, and where is it falling short? What is the status of funding by Congress and in statehouses, and which areas still need investment? Is the U.S. doing enough to attract and retain top tech talent from around the world? And let’s not forget about China. Join Protocol Policy as we dive into the U.S.’s national strategy on innovation, what’s working, what isn’t, and what policy changes we can expect from the year ahead. RSVP here.

Make it rain

The clean power company Mainspring Energy, which sells linear generators to utilities and other industrial and commercial customers, closed its series E financing round at $290 million, led by Lightrock.

The construction supply-chain management startup Kojo (formerly known as Agora) raised $39 million in its series C investment round, led by Battery ventures.

Yet another EV charging startup is landing on the scene: Iontra said goodbye to stealth mode with the news that it raised $38 million in series B funding, led by Volta Energy Technologies. The company developed charging technology that it says can boost the performance and safety of batteries.

The startup ZwitterCo, which developed a filtration system for large farms and industrial wastewater, raised $33 million in its series A round, led by DCVC. ZwitterCo CEO and co-founder Alex Rappaport told CNBC that the company’s goal is to “maximize reuse” and conserve freshwater.

Datamaran, which dubs itself the “world’s only data-driven platform” for ESG risk, raised nearly $13.2 million in its series B investment round, led by its partner and client Fortive. The U.S. coal country utility American Electric Power also got in on the round.

The latest MIT spinout to spread its wings is Transaera, the creator of an efficient air conditioning unit that separates cooling from dehumidifying in order to save energy. The startup closed a $4.5 million seed round, with Energy Impact Partners leading.

Another farewell to stealth mode: The energy sector-focused SASE company Operant Networks announced that it raised $3.8 million in seed funding, led by Constellation Technology Ventures.

Arbonics aims to help landowners (almost literally) make money grow from their trees by turning forests into carbon credits; the company raised around $1.8 million in pre-seed funding from Plural Platform and Taavet Hinrikus.

Hot links

Big Tech is crushing the Global Fortune 500 on climate. The tech sector is a leader in setting climate goals among major industries. Here’s hoping that other sectors follow suit — and deliver on their promises.

The Senate did another good thing for the climate. A supermajority of senators voted to ratify the Kigali Amendment. The U.S. joins the 137 other nations planning to cut the production of HFCs, extremely potent greenhouse gases used in refrigeration.

EVs are coming to the rental market. Hertz intends to order up to 175,000 cars and delivery vehicles from General Motors in the next five years.

Amazon is doubling down on renewables. The retail giant is purchasing 2.7 gigawatts of clean energy capacity globally as it looks to power its operations with 100% renewables by 2025.

Salesforce gets in on carbon credits. The tech major is launching a marketplace for offsets in October as corporate demand surges.

The IRA is doing what it’s supposed to. Kia is planning to build its flagship EV in the U.S. in order to qualify for new tax credits.

A MESSAGE FROM ACCENTURE

Today’s inflation crisis is driving up the costs of commodities, food and energy at rates not seen in decades. Businesses must lead in this moment, and can do so most immediately through energy efficiency – aligning with climate commitments while delivering immediate returns and alleviating pressure on citizens and consumers everywhere.

Learn more

Thanks for reading! As ever, you can send any and all feedback to climate@protocol.com. See you next week (or whenever we return from the woods)!

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