Heat pumps are ready for prime time and ripe for innovation
Good morning. The dog days of summer are setting in. Your Protocol Climate team is here today to share how to stay cool and why heat pumps are a technology ripe for innovation despite their basement-dwelling nature. We’re also looking at a potential EV inflection point and the moral case for nuclear fusion. Come chill with us.
Don’t sleep on heat pumps
If you’re one of the tens of millions of Americans who suffered through a blistering, record-breaking weekend of heat, I feel your pain. Hot weather just isn’t my thing.
As climate change makes heat increasingly common and intense, more people are looking at how to cool their homes. And a number are turning to the poorly named but nevertheless magical heat pump, an electric method for heating and cooling buildings that can take the place of both conventional AC and fossil-fuel heating. Policies are lining up to help the nation make that transition, which could save an estimated 142 million metric tons of carbon pollution annually, but that shouldn’t stop the tech industry from playing a major role in making heat pumps mainstream.
Joe Biden wants you to get a heat pump. The president used the Defense Production Act to compel companies to speed up heat pump production, though there’s not much cash behind the effort (yet).
- The Defense Production Act can work in a few ways. One that could be effective with heat pumps, according to Michael Thomas, the founder of electrification research group Carbon Switch, is by guaranteeing sales.
- That’s similar to what Stripe and other companies have done by teeing up hundreds of millions for carbon dioxide removal, green steel and more speculative technologies. “What the government is trying to do is kick off some of these flywheels, if you will, and really just get the market for mass scale heat pump adoption going,” Thomas said.
- The difference: Heat pumps are here, ready to be tossed in people’s basements.
There are still hurdles to heat pump dominance. We need more than Joe Biden guaranteeing orders for them. There’s a Senate bill that would encourage electrifying HVAC (that’s unlikely to garner Republican support needed to overcome the filibuster), but even that isn’t enough.
- Like everything else, the supply chain has come for heat pumps. Thomas said he’s heard from installers who have sold a record amount of them only to be stuck waiting for parts to materialize to install or repair them.
- Getting more heat pumps installed could also lead to a weird … if not quite problem, then challenge. By replacing furnaces in people’s basements with electric heating, heat pumps could open the door to more baseload on the grid.
- While it would save people money, especially if they switch away from baseboard or oil heating, installing tons of heat pumps will require a concurrent building out of more renewables and storage as well as the deployment of tech like smart thermostats.
Heat pumps themselves are ripe for innovation. Thomas said they’ve been overlooked as an entrepreneurial opportunity. “The amount of old-school business thinking and inefficient business practices and technology that has all sorts of opportunities for improvement in the space is just huge,” he said.
- That includes making the technology more accessible to some of the 40-plus million renters in the U.S. Right now, there’s basically one company (Gradient, if you’re interested) looking to roll out window heat pumps to the masses.
- A heat pump is an expensive upfront investment for homeowners who may know they want to move. But plopping a gas furnace in the basement means locking in emissions for long after they sell their house. Creating a business that reduces upfront costs or entices homeowners to take the plunge? Also huge.
While Silicon Valley is putting a lot of effort into carbon dioxide removal, EVs and other, splashier technology, it may just be time to consider the heat pump.— Brian Kahn (email | twitter)
EV adoption projections keep getting rosier
The view from 2022 isn’t so bad, at least when it comes to electric vehicle sales projections. While EVs alone won’t save us (Hello, have you met my good friends bikes and public transit?), replacing the gasoline- and diesel-powered cars on the market with their zero-emissions counterparts will take a big bite out of transportation emissions. And on that front, there’s some good news.
EV adoption might be even faster than previously expected. At least, according to a new analysis from the consultancy BCG.
- BCG researchers found that battery-powered EVs will amount to 20% of global sales by 2025, rising to 59% in 2035.
- This represents a big leap from this time last year, when the researchers projected that battery electric vehicles would make up 11% of global new light vehicle sales in 2025 and 45% in 2035.
- BEVs are projected to be the most popular type of light vehicle sold by 2028, three years earlier than the researchers found in 2021.
The U.S. is expected to see even more rapid EV adoption. While BEVs only made up 3% of the country’s new light vehicle sales in 2021, President Joe Biden has set a goal that half of all new vehicle sales will be electric by 2030.
- BCG finds that the country is on track to get close to that goal, at 47% adoption in 2030 and 68% in 2035.
- Sales of hybrid vehicles are expected to swell in the short term but stabilize in the long term as EV sales replace the bulk of gasoline- and diesel-powered vehicle sales.
- According to the report, “the U.S. will also need to ban sales of new vehicles other than zero-emission ones by 2035—just as Europe is doing—to fulfill its 2050 net-zero pledge.”
Regulators are driving the rosy outlook. Yes, that’s a car pun. And yes, it’s also true.
- Both President Joe Biden and his counterparts in the European Union have set more aggressive goals for cutting the transportation sector’s greenhouse gas emissions.
- Many automakers have seen the regulatory writing on the wall, adding EV options across their portfolios with plans to transition more completely in the coming decades.
- It’s not all regulators and companies, though. The last year has also seen significant shifts in consumer perception of EVs; in a real-world reflection of “if you build it, they will come,” the public has become decidedly more interested in EVs in the last year as more cars hit the road and more charging infrastructure is there to keep them rolling.
But there are some caveats. Not only will the rest of the world likely progress much more slowly than the U.S., EU and China, but also — and stop me if you’ve heard this one before — supply chain hiccups are leading to some uncertainty. EV adoption can only progress as fast as the vehicles can make it off the factory floor.— Lisa Martine Jenkins (email | twitter)
A MESSAGE FROM INTERNET FOR GROWTH
The idea that politicians could restrict cost-effective online advertising and marketing is daunting. These laws could potentially cripple the way small companies like ours do business in this ever-evolving digital age.
The ‘moral obligation’ to pursue fusion
Michl Binderbauer has made an audacious promise. Within the next decade, his company, TAE Technologies, will create a nuclear fusion reactor that delivers energy to the power grid.
“It's not false confidence,” said Binderbauer, the CEO of TAE. “The building blocks we need — they’re coming.”
Nuclear fusion is the process that makes the sun shine. At temperatures higher than 25 million degrees Fahrenheit, our star mashes together hydrogen atoms to form helium to generate energy.
- Harnessing that power in a controlled setting would give the world a major tool in the fight to get to net zero emissions by midcentury, one that comes without the downsides of nuclear fission (such as long-lived nuclear waste).
- TAE, a California-based company that formed in 1998, aims to make a mini-sun that fuses hydrogen and boron atoms at nearly 2 billion degrees Fahrenheit to generate net energy for the grid by the late 2020s. Other companies have similar ambitions.
After decades of research and tests, Binderbauer said that fusion power is about to truly come of age. Investors seem convinced, too.
- TAE has raised $880 million, and rival companies have gathered comparable funds. Commonwealth Fusion Systems in Massachusetts has raised $1.8 billion, and Helion Energy in Washington has raised $2.2 billion. This money builds on more than $40 billion of government funding since 1953.
To find out why Binderbauer sees his work on fusion as a “moral obligation,” and what the future could hold, read our full feature.— Sophia Chen (twitter)
Gina McCarthy told tech platforms to get their act together. New forms of climate misinformation have found a home online, and the White House climate adviser urged tech companies to crack down.
A $7.5 billion down payment on the climate is what the Biden administration’s EV charging investment amounts to. Good, but we’re going to need so much more money to get the U.S. the speedy, standardized charging network it deserves.
“Major credibility gaps” haunt corporate plans to cut emissions, according to the annual report from Net Zero Tracker.
What’s the future of carbon capture and storage? The Department of Energy’s Jennifer Wilcox thinks it could be decarbonizing cement, steel and even paper. (Yes, paper.)
Electric Last Mile Solutions is taking its last breath. The EV startup will liquidate its operations roughly a year after going public via SPAC.
Big Tech is fighting Warren Buffett over wind turbines. The showdown is unfolding over a Buffett-backed proposal to build a nearly $4 billion wind farm in Iowa, which Google, Facebook and Microsoft are saying is not in customers’ best interest.
Congrats to the Texas grid. It survived a scorching heat wave and record power demand.
— Lisa Martine Jenkins
A MESSAGE FROM INTERNET FOR GROWTH
Internet advertising has enabled us to grow our business to what it is today, but proposed regulations limiting advertisers’ ability to reach target audiences would hurt media publishers like us.
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