The Energy, Transport, and Automotive Disruption is Happening Faster Than Ever

Disruption is only accelerating in electricity, oil, transportation, and the automotive industry as solar and wind power, batteries, self-driving cars, and electric drive trains all come of age in a wave of mutually amplifying technologies.

Trillions of dollars will be lost by incumbent companies and fossil-fuel-dependent nations that move too slowly.  Trillions of dollars will be made by those that lead. And the world will be better for it.

Video of my talk from the Singularity University Global Summit 2018:

Yes, Blockchain Can Help Us Solve Climate Change – Why I Joined Nori


Over the last two years, as both an angel investor and a public speaker on energy and climate, I’ve looked at at least a few dozen startups and proposals on how to use blockchain in energy or climate.

I’ve passed on all of them. Until now.

Over the past few months I’ve been talking with the founders of Nori. This summer, I agreed to come onboard as an advisor. In addition to that, I’m investing my own money in the Nori presale.

Nori is a transparent marketplace for people and companies to fund the removal of carbon from the air — something we simply have to do if we’re going to limit climate change to safe levels. Nori starts with incredibly simple, low cost ways of removing carbon from the air. The very first carbon removal method in the market will be soil carbon capture — ways that farmers, at extremely low cost (~$3/ton) can change their practices so that their land absorbs more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and holds it in the soil. From there, Nori will move into other methods, starting with the cheapest methods that can absorb the most carbon.

Most importantly to me, Nori solves critical problems with current carbon “offset” systems. Every ton of carbon removed by Nori is a real ton sucked out of the atmosphere — not a theoretical offset that might or might not matter. And Nori’s blockchain makes every ton of carbon removal accountable and transparent — every ton removed can be tracked back to a specific project at a specific location that’s been verified by a specific investor.

You can read the Nori whitepaper yourself to learn more. And you can invest in the Nori crowdsale. If you’re an accredited investor, you can apply to be part of the Nori private presale.

Here’s more on why I’m excited about, advising, and investing in Nori.

We Need Carbon Capture

I write and speak a lot about the incredible, disruptive power of clean energy. Yet even as fast as solar power, wind power, energy storage, and electric vehicles are improving and scaling, we are not on track to hit our climate goals.

One estimate is that we have only 10 years left at current carbon emissions to have a 50% chance of staying below 1.5 degrees C. And while some parts of our emissions can be reduced rapidly by new technologies — like emissions from electricity and cars — other parts of our emissions, like those from livestock, from manufacturing, from building heat, from aviation, and from shipping — don’t show any signs of being reduced in the near future.

Indeed, even to stay under 2 degrees C of warming, most models show a need for “negative emissions”. That is to say, most models show that we’re going to have to remove carbon from the atmosphere.

Carbon Offsets and Carbon Capture Are Taking Off

The good news is momentum is slowly building for offsetting carbon emissions, and on the technology and policies that support removing carbon from the atmosphere.

For example:

  1. Tax credits for carbon capture. In 2018, the US Congress passed a tax credit for carbon removal from the atmosphere, that should help bootstrap the industry.
  2. Industrial scale carbon capture machines. In June, scientists published an analysis that industrial-scale machines could remove carbon from the air at $100/ton. (Other methods, like soil capture and planting trees, are much much cheaper. But industrial scale capture could scale to as much carbon as we want — it’s a good backstop.)
  3. Lyft and other companies voluntarily offsetting carbon emissions. In April, Lyft announced that it would offset the carbon emissions from every passenger ride in the US. Lyft joins a host of tech companies — like Google, Apple, Facebook, and Microsoft — that are committing to being carbon neutral through a combination of clean energy and carbon offsets. What I especially love here is that these companies are doing this voluntarily. It’s important to their customers, their employees, their corporate values, and their brand. We’re going to see more and more of this happen as consumers and investors push companies to make up for their carbon emissions.

Current Carbon Offsets Have Serious Problems

But current carbon offset markets have some serious problems.

  1. They’re not transparent. If you buy an offset, you typically can’t see exactly what your purchase funded.
  2. Most offsets are hypothetical. You can pay for an offset by funding more energy efficiency at a polluting factory, for example. But many of those efficiency improvements would have been made anyway, for purely economic reasons.

We need more carbon removal from the air. But the current markets aren’t the right ones.

Nori’s Blockchain Market Solves Those Problems

Nori solves these problems in two ways.

  1. Nori’s marketplace only lists actual removal from the air, and not hypothetical offsets. 1 Nori token pays for the removal of one ton of CO2 (or equivalent in other greenhouse gases) from the atmosphere. No hypothetical future reductions. Only actual removal.
  2. Nori uses blockchain to make carbon removal transparent and accountable. Because of the structure of blockchain, where every transaction is kept immutable and viewable by everyone with access to the blockchain, every ton of carbon removed from the air can be traced back to the specific project and location, and what human inspector verified it.

Here’s how the Nori blockchain marketplace for carbon removal works, in more detail:


In short, Nori is that rare blockchain project that actually uses some of the unique qualities of blockchain to make the world better.

I’m thrilled to be an advisor to and an investor in Nori.

If you’re interested in learning more, you can visit Nori.com, read the Nori whitepaper, or invest in the Nori crowdsale via Republic.

If you’re an accredited investor and interested in the private SAFT (Simple Agreement for a Future Token) sale, please get in touch with me and/or fill out this form.

Solar doesn’t need a “breakthrough”. It’s a breakthrough on it’s own.

Yesterday, Tyler Cowan, who I’m a major fan of, wrote a piece for Bloomberg View arguing that solar needs more R&D for a true green energy breakthrough.

This logic mirrors that of Bill Gates, the Breakthrough Institute, and others who, over the years, have argued that solar (and batteries and wind power) simply won’t get cheap enough or effective enough without some additional R&D push.

I believe additional R&D in clean energy would be highly valuable, and it’s foolish that we invest so little. At the same time, the line of argument that an “energy miracle” or sudden “breakthrough” is necessary to scale green energy doesn’t fit the data showing the incredible price decline seen in these technologies over the last few decades.

Below are my responses to Tyler, in tweet form.  Enjoy.

 

Don’t Let the Terrorists Win – White Supremacy Edition

“Don’t let the terrorists win.”

We said that a lot after 9/11, and have for the last 16 years. As air travel became absurdly cumbersome, as civil liberties were eroded, as people were arbitrarily blacklisted or detained without room for appeal – we said the terrorists were winning, causing us to undermine the underpinnings of our own society, to crack down on the freedoms that are central to the principles of the United States.

Now, I see friends calling for cracking down on freedom of speech, for restricting the First Amendment, taking away its protections from speech they (and I) consider loathsome. I even see friends advocating for physical violence against people because of their speech.

That, my friends, is letting the terrorists win.

I loathe the ideology of white supremacy. But to let fear or anger at it undermine our notions of civil liberties or civil society… that would be letting the terrorists win.

We’re bigger than that. We’re stronger than that. Don’t let the terrorists win.

Why Trump Won’t be Impeached Any Time Soon

I see any impeachment of Trump before 2019 as extremely unlikely. Here’s why.

First, for context, I believe the GOP as a party would be better off with a swift impeachment and resignation than a protracted scandal. Every week this remains in the news, their ability to pass legislation is impaired, and the GOP’s risk of losing the House in 2018 goes up. When you have a festering wound, sometimes the best thing to do is to accept the pain of cauterizing it, quickly. However, I see very few signs of it happening.

The problem is this. Trump’s support is still high among his base. His popularity is likely extremely high among the minority of GOP voters who vote in the primaries. That means that any GOP House member who voted to impeach would be at major risk of losing to a Trump loyalist in the 2018 primary. Thus, no individual House member can dare be too aggressive without risking their seat.

A legislator can only move forward if they believe that the GOP’s base has or is imminently about to turn against Trump, thus protecting them from losing out to a more conservative opponent in the primaries.

Trump’s support among his base has to fall substantially before that can happen. There’s no sign of that happening any time on the horizon.

Or, of course, GOP Reps could vote to impeach if their conscience demanded it, at the risk of losing their seat. That’s possible. But I’d put the odds against it.

Healthcare Improvements Republicans Could Make

Here are some things the GOP could productively do on healthcare, that have little or nothing to do with repealing the ACA:

1. Price transparency and consistency. Require all providers (hospitals, doctors, etc..) to clearly publish their prices by service and by diagnosis in advance, physically and electronically, in both human and machine-readable formats.

2. Stop gouging the uninsured. Require that providers give people who are paying out of their own pocket “most favored nation” status – giving them the best price that the provider offers to any private insurer.

3. Easier approval for generics in the US – to create more price competition in drugs and devices, and bring prices down.

4. FDA drug approval reciprocity with Europe. Once a drug is approved in Europe or the US, it defaults to an approved state across the Atlantic.

5. Tort reform. Cap pain and suffering awards. Reduce some of the drive for defensive medicine.

6. *Increase* medical R&D from the NIH and elsewhere (instead of decreasing it, as the Trump budget proposed). And specifically fund R&D into more cost-effective treatments that can bring the cost of healthcare down.

7. Allow cross-state exchanges.

8. Slowly phase out the employer health care tax credit – the single thing that most ties health insurance to one’s job, and which significantly distorts insurance markets.

All of these are compatible with both market-oriented viewpoints and the ACA. If the GOP cares about improving healthcare, and wants to use market-oriented and innovation-oriented approaches to do so, all of these are paths towards that.

To Fight Climate Change in the Trump Era, Focus on the States

Summary: Focus on the states. Advocate for clean energy.

(This is a follow-up to my post on pushing for progress at the state level.)

Short Version

If you read nothing else in this post, follow these three steps:

  1. Find your state legislators and the contact info for your Governor’s office.
  2. Contact them: Call them up. Find out when their next town hall meeting is, and show up. Bring friends, or ask your friends to call too.
  3. Tell them you want to see more clean energy in your state. Tell them clean energy creates jobs. Tell them clean energy means cleaner air and water, and a healthier environment for the kids in your state.

Note: Say “Clean Energy” instead of “Climate Change

If you live in a deep blue state, talking climate change may work. But in a purple or red state, or, heck, even in most blue states, “boosting clean energy” is remarkably more popular than “fighting climate change”. Clean energy is popular among both Democrats and Republicans. Fighting climate change isn’t.

That’s why, in the current environment, where Republicans control the White House, the Congress, and the majority of state legislatures, the framing has to shift to “clean energy” if we want to see progress.

Long Version

How Bad Will Trump Be for Climate Change – How Do We Limit Warming – What Policies Should We Push For – What If I’m in a Red State?  

How Bad Will Donald Trump be for Climate Change Efforts?

Donald Trump is the President-Elect. The GOP has majorities in both the House and Senate, and will probably keep them in 2018.

How bad is this for our efforts to fight climate change? Opinions vary.

  1. If you think the most important element in fighting climate change is technology innovation that’s bringing down the cost of clean energy, Trump’s election isn’t great, but ultimately probably doesn’t matter much.
  2. If you think the most important element is policies inside of various nations, Trump’s election is bad. But not fatal.
  3. If you think the most important element is international agreements, Trump’s election is a complete disaster.

Obviously, all three of these are components. I place the most emphasis on 1 and 2. Prices will keep plunging and policies in other countries and in US states won’t change much. Trump will likely instruct the EPA to scrap the Clean Power Plan, but that was never a very ambitious policy.

Trump and the congress could accelerate the end of solar and wind tax credits, which matter more, but purported insiders claim that those bipartisan tax credits will remain. What’s very likely is that the US will stop leading on international climate negotiations. And Trump is highly unlikely to push for a massive acceleration of clean energy as Hilary Clinton proposed to.

This isn’t good news. At best a Trump administration represents a status quo in climate policy in the US, even at a time that US policy wasn’t ambitious enough. More realistically, we’ll see a weakening of clean energy and climate policy both at home and abroad. Meanwhile, 2016 will be a record hot year and we’re already not taking climate change seriously enough.

So what the hell do we do?

Let’s be honest. Limiting climate change to two degrees celsius is, at this point, extremely unlikely.

Even so, our actions matter. 2.1 degrees or 2.2 degrees of warming is far better than 3 degrees.

How Do We Limit Warming?

How do we limit warming? Fundamentally, we need to continue and accelerate the process of making clean energy and clean transportation cheap. Even cheaper than they are now. How cheap?

  • Cheap enough that they account for all or virtually all new electricity and transportation.
  • Cheap enough that nations are willing to decommission existing fossil-fuel based electricity and transportation, and replace them with the cheap clean options.

As I’ve posted before, the private sector is doing an amazing job bringing down the cost of solar power, wind power, energy storage, and electric vehicles. Clean energy can provide the large majority of the world’s power. But it still needs to get even cheaper.

How do we make these technologies cheaper? We scale them. The most fundamental observation in clean technology is that prices drop as the industry grows. No other factor predicts the price of clean energy better than the amount that we’ve installed.

Globally, clean energy will keep on getting deployed, as in many places solar and wind are the cheapest sorts of energy, even without subsidies.

Our Best Tools Are In the States, Now

Inside the US, while federal progress is unlikely, we have tools to drive more deployment of clean energy at the state and sometimes city levels.  So that’s what we’ll have to use.

How do we push for change at the state level? Well, first understand that state legislators hear tremendously less from their constituents than members of Congress. Each state legislators represents fewer people than each federal Representative or Senator. And voters have a way of fixating on national politics and ignoring the local and state level. That makes your voice more powerful. Phone calls, letters, attendance at town hall meetings, even contributions – they all have more power at your state level than they do at the national level.

So use them! Call your state legislators. Make your voice heard. Show up at their town hall meetings. If you have the means, contribute in close races to get someone who cares about climate policy elected. And call your Governor’s office as well.

Now, what do we push for at the state and local level?

1. Push for a (stronger) Renewable Portfolio Standard in Your State

As I posted last week, 29 states have Renewable Portfolio Standards which mandate a certain percent of electricity must come from renewables by a specific year. Voters in all 50 states can push – via the legislature, and in some states by initiative – to raise those targets, to invest more dollars directly in clean energy, to create taxes or caps on carbon emissions, to boost vehicle fuel efficiency standards, or for other laws that accelerate the deployment of clean energy, electric vehicles, or energy efficiency, or which directly cap or reduce fossil fuels.

Find your state below, or look up the specifics of your state’s policy here.

  • If your state is dark green, it already has a binding target for getting a certain fraction of its electricity from solar and wind. Call up your state legislators (again, you can find them here) and tell them you want a higher target. Then call your Governor’s office, and say the same.
  • If your state is light green, your state has a goal, but it’s voluntary. Call up your state legislators and Governor’s office, and say you want a binding clean energy target.
  • If your state is grey, then shame shame on your state. Call up your state legislators and Governor’s office, tell them that you vote, and that you want your state to move forward with clean energy.

state-renewable-portfolio-standards-from-ncsl

Talking points you can use:

  • Clean Air and Clean Water – Clean energy doesn’t produce smog or air pollution. It doesn’t contaminate ground water. It helps your communities have clean air and clean water.
  • Jobs Clean energy now employs more people in the US than coal. These are good, high-paying, local jobs.
  • Owe it to our kids – In polling, one of the most powerful messages across left and right is that “we owe it to our kids and future generations to leave them a cleaner, healthier world”

But I Live in a Red State!

Red states are no strangers to clean energy. Texas leads the country in wind power. The top 10 wind power counties in the country all have Republican congressmen.

In Florida, which Trump won, voters rejected an initiative that would have hurt rooftop solar.

And clean energy is popular across the political spectrum. It can be pushed for, even in red states.

2. Push for Electric Vehicles & Charging Stations

Clean electricity from solar and wind is getting cheap. But almost all cars run on gasoline, and that accounts for a third of our nation’s carbon emissions. If we want to beat climate change, we must electrify everything.

Fortunately, electric vehicles are plunging in price. But that price is still artificially high. If we included the benefit that electric vehicles bring by reducing carbon emissions, they’d be thousands of dollars cheaper. And charging infrastructure is still an issue. Without enough places to charge, drivers are less likely to opt for electric vehicles. Here again, the states can help.

Look up your state on this map of state-level electric vehicle policies. Find out what incentives exist:

  • Is there a tax credit for buying or leasing an electric vehicle? (To capture the benefit it brings us all be reducing air pollution and climate change.)
  • Can electric vehicles use the HOV lanes?
  • Does the state create incentives for private businesses to create charging stations?

If not, call up your state legislator(s) and your Governor’s office, and ask for those things.

4. Push for Rooftop Solar

Most US states now have some form of “net metering” policy. This is the policy that lets home-owners that have solar panels on their roofs sell excess energy back to the grid. But the quality of these polices varies widely.

Some of the sunniest states in the US, including Nevada and Texas, get an “F” on their net metering policy – either having none, cutting one that existed off, or cutting the amount they pay home owners for the excess electricity to well-below market rates. Find your state below, or at the interactive map at freeingthegrid.

state-net-metering-policy-grades-from-freeingthegrid-dot-org

Don’t like your state’s policy? You know what to do: Call your state legislators and your Governor’s office.

5. Push for Community Solar

Rooftop solar is great if you own a home with a roof that points south or west, and that isn’t blocked by trees. But what if you rent? What if you live in an apartment? What if trees or other buildings block the sunlight from your roof?

“Community Solar” is a new policy that lets you buy into a solar farm in your community, own a set of panels there, but treat it as if its on your roof – using the electricity that comes out of it for free (after the cost of paying for the panels, of course) and selling excess power back to the grid. It’s a leveler of the playing field, allowing often lower-income families who live in apartments or rent their own homes to tap into some of the value of solar.

It’s also quite new. Look at the map below. Is your state in the more saturated color of blue? No? Then there’s more work to do. Work you can help make happen by calling your state legislators and your Governor’s office.

community-solar-map-by-state

6. Take Action in Your City

Finally, states aren’t the only level at which action can be taken. More than a dozen cities around the world have signed on to the Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance, pledging to cut their emissions by 80% or more by 2050. Cities also have critical work to do on climate resilience – improving infrastructure to deal with rising seas, increased flooding, prolonged heatwaves, and other threats.

You can organize and act at the city level. Contact your city councilors (modify this search to find them) and your Mayor’s office.

Climate deniers may be in charge of the Federal government. But that’s no reason to give up. Many of the most effective policies in the US exist at a state level. Climate change is a divisive topic, but clean energy is loved across the political spectrum. Use your voice. Contact your state politicians, and tell them you want more clean energy in your state.

 

Trump Isn’t Hitler. The US isn’t 1930s Germany

Trump isn’t Hitler. And, more importantly, the US is a far different place than Germany in the 1930s. We’re a 240-year-old nation, not a 14-year old republic reeling from WWI. Our institutions are more solid and stable. They can’t be swept away in the way that Hitler was able to sweep away the Weimar Republic’s.

I don’t say this to encourage complacency: The next few years are likely to see a big regression in our laws, and rollback of some significant and important progress we’ve made. Trump’s election is not a good thing. There are darker days ahead. We need to work hard and smart to get the country back on track and headed into the future instead of the past. And we should be prepared for the possibility that things get worse than expected, as well.

But we shouldn’t panic. We shouldn’t give up. We shouldn’t flee.

We should stay here and win our country back.