June 2023 Cleantech Roundup: Tesla’s Charging Standard | Climate Tech Investment Droops | Cultivated Meat | The Grid
This post was originally published on the Evergreen Climate Innovations blog.
In this June Cleantech Roundup, we’re talking about big news in the EV charging space, recent climate tech venture investment trends, cultivated meat, grid planning, and more!
North American Charging Standard?
The biggest news in EVs is that Ford announced it was changing charging standards in 2025, from the mostly industry standard CCS to the Tesla NACS — for North American Charging Standard. This move will open up Tesla’s Supercharger network to Ford vehicles (current vehicles will get an adapter). This is important because this charging network is by far the largest and best.
This change will create headaches for other charging networks, and big decisions for other automakers. Or, maybe not that big of a decision after all — Ford’s announcement was followed pretty quickly by GM’s similar announcement. And more recently, by Rivian (June 20), and Volvo (June 27) and Polestar (June 29) and Mercedes (July 7). Hyundai also made noises suggesting it would make the move. So in a few weeks, Tesla went from the outlier on charging (albeit with more than 50% EV market share in the US), to the new primary player.
The charging news is a win for Tesla (who stands to make a lot of money from the vehicle charging that will take place on their network), although it is also a leveler (once everyone has access to the supercharger network, it isn’t necessarily a competitive advantage for Tesla any longer).
It is an interesting example of how Tesla, as an innovator, made the choice to build out its own charging network (because they saw it as critical to their business success), even while other brands chose not to, at least partially because they didn’t really pencil (until utilization rates climbed significantly, the charging networks would be money losers). Now, Tesla is in a great position where it can capitalize on this early investment.
Venture Investment Retreat
Climate Tech VC highlighted how venture investment dropped dramatically in the first half of the year (compared to last year), although the number of deals is up slightly. And, while growth stage (ie more mature) investments got hammered, earlier seed stage funding amounts and deals actually increased compared to the year prior. This post is worth a read if you have the time.
I would say this is largely in line with what we are seeing anecdotally in working with our portfolio — it appears there has been more pullback at the later stages, while it is a mixed bag at the earliest stages (which tends to be a bit more buffered from the general economy in general since investment decision making is less tied to current macroeconomic conditions, at least directly).
As we discussed earlier this year, cultured meat is now approved for sale in the United States. This is meat grown from cultivated cells in a lab, not meat from slaughtered animals.
Right now this is an extremely niche thing, and there are questions as to whether it’ll ever get cheap enough to compete with mass market meat. However, I am quite optimistic about this space over the long term (and when I say ‘this space’ I mush together cultivated meat and plant-based imitations) — as companies gain experience and scale in the space, these products will continue to improve and work their way down the cost curve. While I don’t think there is a robust economic case to make that these products will supplant slaughtered meat, I think there is a real potential for cultural change over a longer time period that could result in lab-produced meat and meat alternatives as the ‘normal’ or more conscious and sustainable choice and leave slaughtered meat as more of a bit player.
We Need More Grid (Planning)
The New York Times highlighted some of the major challenges to building new transmission, which we need to do in order to accommodate more renewable power. This is a really significant hurdle, one of the top tier of challenges to rapidly decreasing our emissions domestically (I would put transmission development with interconnection reform as one integrated challenge, with the other major one being the lack of workforce capacity for all the electrification we will need to do). That said, one silver lining is that, unlike a lot of other thorny decarbonization problems like ammonia, steel, cement, and jet fuel, this isn’t a technology challenge. We don’t really need to invent and scale up new solutions to enable this grid, we just need to make some common sense changes about how we plan, coordinate, and approve it. Building interregional transmission lines is really hard and takes a really long time, but the actual engineering and construction part is pretty straightforward: we already build a bunch of transmission today, it’s just not the longer lines that we need in certain areas to connect renewables to population centers.
There are some positive things happening on the transmission front — for example, Kansas recently approved the Grain Belt Express Clean Line Project being developed by Invenergy Transmission. That said, it is not necessarily happening at the rate it needs to — I am familiar with that project from my time at DOE around 2012–2013 — meaning it took more than a decade to get to this point of securing state approval.
Have Wind, Will Farm
Renewables developer NextEra is scouting locations in rural North Dakota to set up a wind farm that will power a facility of electrolyzers to produce hydrogen, to make fertilizer. Still with me? This project could take advantage of a number of federal and state incentives; another reason this project could be interesting is that leveraging renewables for commodity production and manufacturing is one way to get around the clogged up grid that we discussed above.
This Guy Was Impressive
Credit: University of Texas at Austin
The person credited as the inventor of the lithium ion battery passed away in June, at 100. John Goodenough is an incredibly interesting character who jumped across fields repeatedly. His research helped develop the RAM we all use in computers today, and subsequent research on cathode materials helped support the commercialization of the lithium ion batteries we all use in computers and increasingly in electric vehicles today. This guy also invented lithium iron phosphate (LFP) batteries, the type of lithium ion battery that has seen recent adoption because it does not contain as many rare earth minerals. And he was the oldest person to be awarded a Nobel Prize! Maybe not breaking news, but an incredible person who lived an incredible life.
A Tale of Two Nanettes
This presentation on the energy transition from Andy Lubershane of Energy Impact Partners is technically from the very end of May, but I missed it last month and thought it was great so wanted to share it here in the roundup (narrative with graphics here; video link here).
I thought this point was particularly insightful:
From the standpoint of carbon emissions, Nuni’s life is going to need to be a mirror image of Nancy’s. Actually, it’s going to need to be a sort of funhouse mirror image, in the sense that the decline in emissions we’re aiming for during Nuni’s life will need to be more than three times as steep as the growth in emissions during Nancy’s lifetime.
I also appreciated his new tongue-in-cheek unit of measurement for the energy transition of a Nanette (about 90 years, the lifetime of his grandmother).
From Flood to Fortune
Crain’s Chicago recently profiled Evergreen portfolio company Intellihot, which makes the world’s best commercial tankless hot water heaters, manufactured in west-central Illinois. Sri, the company’s founder, founded the company after dealing with a flood from a water heater in his own home; it has since grown to over $100 million in revenue.
Have Incentives, Will Electrify
DOE Assembled a new information hub to help consumers leverage the consumer incentives that were enabled by the Inflation Reduction Act.