The Breeze - Issue #4
1M Teslas, Resilience, Idealab's Solutions, Links and Jobs
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I’ve been thinking a lot about this tweet lately:
Anand Patel @Djoker_play@naval what do u thnk about @elonmusk ??
With Tesla, Elon created the electric vehicle industry. He saw the threat of climate change and provided a vision for energy independence: “to help expedite the move from a mine-and-burn hydrocarbon economy towards a solar electric economy.” He shared this in 2006 in his Tesla Master Plan, which he updated in 2016. Two weeks ago Tesla made its 1 millionth electric vehicle. There is a path.
What does the world need now? Back to Naval: “For the first time in human history, the entire world is focused on one problem.” The novel coronavirus. Or: a species-wide recognition of our human vulnerability to exogenous shocks.
Once we cure COVID-19, will the bright minds of the world turn to the climate crisis?
I’ve been focused on climate for 6 months now. People who have been in the trenches for years have seen the world shift its attention from climate to other crises (real or political diversions) for decades. RIP climate tech?
I think what we’re actually seeing is a recognition of our system’s vulnerability and the first worldwide step toward resiliency. We literally stopped the U.S. economy to slow down coronavirus. We recognized we can’t simply go on with business as usual when our citizens’ survival is at risk.
The U.S. is a much different country than a month (week?) ago. Coronavirus changed the conversation — not just about how many tests, beds, and ventilators we need, but about what matters to society. We changed our lifestyles (stay in place), our culture (stream everything), our economy (stop nearly everything) and our politics (in a rare display of unity, the Senate came together to approve a $2T stimulus package unanimously).
We are living through an experiment in radical change. Federal, state and local governments issued orders from the top-down, and citizens have united in new networks to help each other from the bottom-up. While elected officials across the country have stalled in taking action, community and business leaders have stepped up to provide personal protective gear and other resources to front-line caretakers.
Our sudden societal shut-down and mobilization of resources to support hospitals and businesses is proof that we can change when we need to. It brings up practical questions — do we know what we’re doing? — and philosophical ones — are we acting on behalf of individual health or economic wealth? Are they different?
Here we’re talking about building the infrastructure of a new civilization. Either we completely redesign civilization as we know it for the 22nd century, or we probably perish.
We are dying (>23,000 and counting). Our bubble of false comfort burst. Coronavirus galvanized the world in months in a way that climate change hasn’t in years. Both crises expose risks in health, infrastructure, food, supply chain, etc. Leaving these risks unresolved will lead to even greater suffering.
We need Diego’s transformation now. In the next months and years, investors and entrepreneurs will explore our civilization’s vulnerabilities as opportunities, build solutions, and scale them up. Climate tech will be a major pillar.
Today I’m highlighting two world-recognized investors turned essential climate tech thinkers — Chamath and Bill Gross — who share ideas for how we’ll do that.
Kara Swisher interviews Chamath Palihapitiya
From minutes 29 to 40, Chamath discusses how the priority of the economy is shifting from efficiency to resiliency. We’re going to have to price in pandemics and climate change in the public and private markets, which will change the business calculus:
Profits were maximized when the world could optimize around efficiency. Cheaper, faster, better, right? Single supply chains, very brittle, but highly efficient, very fast, just in time. I think the world now is going to swing the pendulum towards resiliency. You need to have the ability to be resilient. That is expensive. It’s not cheaper, faster, better. It’s slower, it’s more methodical, it’s more expensive, but it’s more reliable.
The shift will start in the public markets and impact private investing. He claims, “Technologies that enable a shift to a more resilient population will win.”
Chamath expects “a multi-decatrillion dollar” (!!) infrastructure spending plan that will transform America. It will be a green new deal, but they won’t call it. It will pave the way for infrastructure improvements such as high-speed rail, high-speed air, and clean energy.
He foresees similar investments in healthcare and online education. We’ll need a healthier population to withstand pandemics and new ways to educate people in usable skills, so they can go back to work. We’ll do this with tech and remote where possible. “You’ll realize you don’t need to go to Harvard.”
I agree that this is the way the world is going. I expect it to happen fast - universities have all moved online already. The shift will disrupt industries and introduce new consequences like massive unemployment, unwelcome environmental policy interference, and other issues that we’ll need to deal with. It’s unclear to me how we’ll pay for a massive infrastructure spending package on the heels of the current stimulus. Chamath says we’ll inevitably tax the massive corporations that are sitting on cash and enriching their executives. I recommend the entire episode.
Bill Gross on How Technology Can Solve the Climate Crisis
His solution to the climate crisis is just 4 words: Stop burning fossil fuels. But we love our fancy lifestyles so much! 🛥 Our lever to move off fossil fuels is innovating to reduce the cost of renewables and storage:
People are not willing to pay more. Renewable energy just has to be cheaper than fossil fuels to make an impact… This is the biggest challenge that we face right now.
It’s not just about the cost per kWh of solar and wind. We need the cost of making energy with solar (or wind) plus the cost of storage to be lower than the cost of fossil fuels. With fossil fuel at $0.05 kWh, and solar at $0.02 kWh and, we need energy storage to be $0.03 kWh or less. Currently lithium ion batteries are $0.25 kWh, and pumped hydro is $0.17 kWh — we’re not even close.
Bill proposes a new system called the Energy Vault that gets storage down to $0.025 kWh at utility scale. It’s a computer-controlled crane with 6 arms that builds a tower of giant blocks with excess energy, then releases the energy by moving the blocks using gravity. It makes me wonder if this is how they built the pyramids. It’s impressive.
He proposes two other solutions. Heliogen solves the problem of generating 1000°C solar heat. It would be the first zero-emission way to make cement, which currently accounts for 8% of our global emissions alone. Carbon Capture uses a “SuperTree” system that incorporates the other 2 solutions to capture carbon in tanks for industrial use or to combine with other molecules for fuel. With 1 acre, the system can take out the equivalent CO2 of a 100 acre forest. With a 390 square mile patch of land (ie a chunk of the Sahara Desert), we can remove all of mankind’s CO2. “We just need a desert with sunshine.”
These massive-scale solutions give me hope that we’ll achieve Bill’s dream — his 4 words. Then I’d expect Naval to tweet about him too.
Jason Jacobs interviews Dawn Lippert, CEO of Elemental Excelerator: Elemental has an amazing vibe, and they’ve been supporting climate tech startups for years. I loved hearing Dawn talk about how they focus on helping startups deploy solutions and surrounding founders with industry-specific coaches. After you listen, apply for funding.
List of cleantech funds from SJF Ventures: h/t to Shanu Matthew for sharing this resource in the MCJ Slack. Brendan Loudermilk lists even more funds in Climatescape’s Climate Capital. They pair nicely with our investor list in Issue #2! 🍻
Ann Bordetsky hosts Climate Avengers panel: in this edition of Climate Avengers, Ann hosted Abe Yokell of Congruent, Maria Fujihara of SINAI Technologies, and Bill Weihl of ClimateVoice in a discussion about how companies measure and manage their climate impact.
Community Support Grief Ritual: my dear friend and coach Larissa Conte is hosting an online event on Saturday to allow people to feel and explore grief associate with the changes in the world through ceremony. 🌸
Join a climate tech startup to help us solve this crisis! 💪🏻
I’ve asked a few climate tech founders who I know personally (and vouch for) about openings at their startups. Feel free to reach out to them directly and share widely.