Posts from climate crisis

Nuclear Energy

When I was in my early 20s, I had a conversation with my dad. I told him I was against nuclear power because it was dangerous and because it created radioactive waste that we had no idea how to safely dispose of. He replied that there certainly were problems with nuclear energy but that they paled in comparison to those of burning fossil fuels. This was before greenhouse gases and climate change were front and center in my mind and the minds of most people. I was not convinced by my dad’s argument.

Forty years later, my dad is no longer with us, but his words ring loudly in my ears. I have come full circle on nuclear energy and now see it as way more attractive than most other forms of generating energy.

There are two ways of making energy with atoms. We can split atoms to generate energy and that is called Fission. Or we can combine atoms to generate energy and that is called Fusion.

We have understood how to make nuclear reactors that generate energy with fission for 80 years now. But these fission reactors have two unsolved issues. In rare situations they can get out of control and melt down. We have seen that at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Fukushima, and a few others. While rare, these have been scary events that have shaken confidence in the safety of nuclear reactors in the public eye. Fission reactors also create radioactive waste that we have not yet found a good way to dispose of and that nuclear waste has slowly been building up around the world.

We don’t yet understand how to make nuclear reactors that generate energy with fusion in a sustainable way, although there has been a lot of exciting technological progress on fusion over the last few decades. I believe fusion is not an if, but a when.

As we electrify more and more of our energy use, we will need ever more electricity and most students of energy consumption do not believe we can fully electrify our lives with renewable energy (solar, wind, hydro, etc). I’ve heard people say there is a 30-40% gap between what we need and what we can generate with renewables.

At this time, nuclear is the best way to close that gap.

At USV, we believe that fixing fission and making fusion work are technological and engineering problems that can be solved with sufficient creativity and capital.

In fission, that means figuring out how to make reactors that are not prone to catastrophic meltdown and figuring out how to use/consume the radioactive waste that fission generates. There are a number of promising technologies that are attempting to do these things.

In fusion, that means figuring out how to make a reactor that generates more energy than it is given. The progress on that dimension is promising but we are nowhere near where we need to be and more creativity and capital will be needed to solve the fusion puzzle.

Our climate fund is focused on both mitigating the climate crisis and adapting to it. Solving these technological problems with fission and fusion is an important part of mitigating the climate crisis and we are talking to teams working on both approaches.

I am excited to do that and believe my dad would be too.

#climate crisis

Solar For Outdoor Devices

A trend I’ve been watching for a while now is the use of solar for devices that live outside away from electrical outlets.

Last summer, I bought an inexpensive device that keeps snakes away from our yard. It vibrates into the ground like the animals that hunt snakes and scares them away. I don’t really know if it works but we have not seen any snakes since we got it. The device is powered by a small solar device that is on top of it. Installation was basically pushing it into the ground.

This morning on my way back from getting coffee, I passsed this Citibike station.

I have noticed that most (all?) Citibike stations are now powered by solar. I imagine they also have a battery of some sort that stores solar energy for use at night.

Solar is slowly but surely making its way into all of our lives. It is a great way to power homes and offices, cars and buses, and, it turns out, all sorts of devices that live outdoors away from the electrical grid.

#climate crisis

Geothermal

We have a house in the northeast United States where the summers are warm and the winters are cold. We have solar on the roof and we heat and cool this house with electricity. This is the electrical generation/consumption chart for all of 2020 for that house:

We produce almost all of the heating and cooling for that house with solar power. How do we do that?

We use geothermal energy to heat and cool it. We drilled wells down into the earth and pull water up to heat the house in the winter and cool the house in the summer.

The combination of solar on the roof and geothermal heating and cooling is powerful and can get you off the grid if you design your house appropriately. It will be hard for us to get our house completely off the grid because we have large south-facing windows that generate a lot of solar load. But even with that, we are pretty close.

Geothermal is a technology with a lot of potential to address the climate crisis and we have been studying it at USV.

My colleague Hanel wrote an excellent post on USV.com last week talking about our interest in Geothermal and areas we are most interested in investing in.

Here is the opening paragraph:

Geothermal energy has massive potential: just 0.1% of the Earth’s heat content could supply humanity’s total energy needs for two million years. Geothermal power is essentially inexhaustible and resilient; unlike solar and wind, it can run as baseload power around the clock, and uses a reliable, onsite resource not subject to surface climate conditions or fuel-price volatility.

You can read the rest here. If you are working on a geothermal startup, go read Hanel’s post and you can reach out to her on Twitter if you want to talk to us about what you are working on.

#climate crisis

Crypto and Climate Continued

I wrote about crypto and climate earlier this month and suggested that the narrative that crypto is bad for the climate is not as straightforward as many make it out to be.

Over last weekend (a beautiful one in the northeast), two of my partners wrote on this topic.

My partner Albert took a similar approach as I did in my post and outlined many reasons that crypto and climate are not at odds with each other. He went further than I did in my post and it is worth reading his, even though they are similar.

My partner Nick went out on a limb and compared Bitcoin to a battery. He used that analogy to be provocative. He took some heat for doing it, but I think it was worth it because you sometimes have to stake out a provocative position to get people’s heads to turn a bit on something.

This is the key part of Nick’s post:

Which brings us back to crypto mining. Crypto mining converts electricity into value, in the form of crypto assets (BTC, ETH, etc). Those assets, like the aluminum produced in Iceland, can then be moved, transferred and transformed. But unlike aluminum, which must be physically shipped to its final destination, crypto assets are programmable, and can move there instantly via an internet connection.

So, if we think of Bitcoin as a battery, what can we do with it?  The key properties of Bitcoin’s battery are: 1) always on and permissionless (no need to find customers, just plug and go) and 2) naturally seeking low-cost electricity: it will always buy when the price is right.

https://www.nickgrossman.xyz/2021/bitcoin-as-battery/

We have been addressing this topic (crypto and climate) for multiple reasons. First, because we believe the narrative in the mainstream media is too simplistic and we would like to see it evolve. And second because we know that there are many entrepreneurs out there that are working with crypto to help address the climate crisis and we would like to meet them.

Nick and Albert’s posts last weekend opened the floodgates on the latter point and we are now talking to a number of very interesting projects as a result.

#climate crisis#crypto

Crypto and Climate

I keep reading that Bitcoin, Ethereum, NFTs, etc are a climate issue.

It is true that proof of work mining which secures the Bitcoin and Ethereum blockchains uses electricity to do that work. And certainly there are carbon emissions associated with that electricity consumption.

However, it is not as simple as that for the following reasons:

1/ Proof of work miners are constantly seeking the lowest cost of electricity to mine with. That leads them to electricity sources like geo, hydro, solar, and wind. There is a meaningful financial incentive to mine on clean energy in many cases.

2/ The Ethereum blockchain is moving to proof of stake and moving away from proof of work. Many other popular blockchains, like the Flow blockchain that powers NBA Top Shot and other NFT experiences, already use proof of stake. Proof of stake consensus uses vastly less electricity to secure the network.

3/ There is a narrative that much of China’s Bitcoin mining happens on coal powered electricity, but I have read that most of it happens on China’s overbuilt hydro capacity.

4/ Proof of work mining can stimulate the buildout of clean energy capacity because it can produce immediate monetization of that capacity.

It is time for the crypto industry to study this issue carefully and provide real data. I would like to see carbon emissions from proof of work mining measured over time and projected into the future.

#climate crisis#crypto

Going Off Grid

It is terrible what is happening to people in Texas and other parts of the country where this super cold snap has caused power outages and freezing cold temperatures in their homes.

But it is also a reminder that we need not be reliant on the grid. In fact, we should figure out how to reduce our reliance on the grid when things like this happen.

Until recently, that generally meant a generator that is powered by oil or gas. And that is still a good thing to have when the grid becomes unreliable.

But there are also new ways of doing this with solar and batteries.

A Sonnen Eco battery can store up to 20kWh. A Tesla Powerwall stores 13.5kWh.

A fully electrified home, heated and cooled with energy-efficient heat pumps, would consume on average 20kWh per day to heat and cool the home in a moderate climate. Rooftop solar could produce that or more on most days on sunny days.

A home that is fully electrified and has rooftop solar could operate off grid many days. Adding a battery means that the home could also operate off grid at night.

And when the grid goes down, the combo of solar, battery, and a heat pump could allow a home to stay warm (or cool) for as long as necessary.

I have been drawn to this model of resilience and have been working towards it personally for a while now. I think what is happening with the weather out there might be the catalyst for many more to think this way.

#climate crisis

Funding Friday: Fresh Start Farm

My friend Joseph and his wife Mikayla have started a dairy farm called Fresh Start Farm. They will be using regenerative grazing techniques.

Mikayla writes on her Kickstarter, “Regenerative agriculture refers to farming practices that reverse climate change by sequestering carbon from the atmosphere and improving the water cycle. I plan on dividing the pasture into smaller paddocks that allow me to move the cows in a way that maximizes soil and root recovery. The more the roots can recover and grow deeper underground, the more carbon we can sequester from the air. “

I backed Mikayla’s project earlier this week and you can too.

#climate crisis#crowdfunding

Rooftop Solar

I’ve been thinking a lot about the economics of rooftop solar. Our family has invested in rooftop solar over the last five years in an attempt to reduce our carbon footprint and reduce our electric bills. When you do that in combination with electrification of your heating and cooling (using electric heat pumps vs gas or oil), you can save money and live a more sustainable life.

We have used SunPower solar panels and inverters and they come with a nice analytics service that shows how much of your electric consumption is being generated with solar power.

Here is a chart from our SunPower dashboard that I looked at this morning:

You can see that we generate about 2/3 of our energy consumption with solar. I believe that with some additional conservation efforts, we can get to 75%+ solar.

The installation cost of the rooftop solar was about $24,000 after the federal solar tax credit.

Had we taken a 30 year self amortizing home equity loan to finance the solar installation, we would be paying $1900 a year in principal and interest payments at current home equity rates.

As you can see, Sunpower estimates that we are saving $2854 a year with our rooftop solar, so there is quite a nice profit in rooftop solar at current interest rates if you live in medium to high energy cost locations in the US.

I think there are a number of good business opportunities in and around rooftop solar. For one, making it drop dead simple for a homeowner to finance, order, and install rooftop solar and start getting paid for doing so feels like a winner to me.

#climate crisis#entrepreneurship

The Work-Life Balance Revolution

Yesterday, I had a gap in the middle of the day. So the Gotham Gal and I took an hour-long walk with our dog Ollie. It cleared my head and when I got back to work, I was full of energy and clarity.

I’ve been working exclusively from home since the end of November 2019 when we left NYC to go to LA. It has been a stretch of incredible productivity for me.

I am not arguing against going back to the office. As I’ve said in many posts recently, I can’t wait to go back to the office. But I am sure that many of us have had the same experience that I have had working from home during the pandemic. It has its advantages.

And in that realization exists the possibility that we are on the cusp on a revolution in how many of us can find work life balance going forward.

My friend Tom wrote this post last week suggesting that a husband and wife can now work a total of 50 hours a week between them and have two full-time jobs and raise a family. This part sums up the idea pretty well:

Why do I think 25 hours/ week is the equivalent of a 50-hour week (counting commuting)?

Given a nine-to five schedule with an hour for lunch, the 40 hour work week was only 35 to begin with.

As an ex-CEO, I think that at least ten hours of each workweek go to socialization, surfing the internet, checking with the spouse or checking up on the children, chatting on smartphones etc. (Mary thinks only five).

Meetings and travel to meetings waste a huge amount of time and money. One reason that Zooming appears not to have reduced productivity is that many of the meetings weren’t productive to begin with.

Office space and often parking are expenses to the employer but they are not income to the worker. If office space and all its attendant costs can be drastically reduced, employers can afford to pay more dollars in salary for the same productivity.

Commuting expense including perhaps even the second car, daycare, clothing and dry-cleaning bills, and paid before and after school activities whose purpose is to supervise school age kids are all expenses which go away when parents can work from home. Even if the WFH employee has less gross taxable income, he or she will have more cash at the end of each month.

https://blog.tomevslin.com/2021/01/newnormal-the-50-hour-family-work-week.html

Even if Tom is off by a bit with his math, he makes a terrific point. Companies can ask for less of a family’s time, pay them more, and get the same amount of work done using the techniques we have perfected during the pandemic.

I realize that not all jobs lend themselves to this approach. But maybe more than you think. Take doctors. We used to have to go see doctors in their offices. Now with digital health services like those offered by our portfolio companies Brave and Nurx, the doctors are seeing the patients from their homes (or wherever they are).

Teaching is another occupation that presents a lot of opportunity to rethink time and location. Many teachers have been learning how to help their students master new things from their kitchen counters over the last year.

I want to say it again. I am not suggesting that we won’t be going to offices anymore. I am not saying doctors won’t have offices anymore. I am not saying teachers won’t be in classrooms anymore.

What I am saying is that we can and should be asking how much of our work time needs to be in person, face to face, and how much can be virtual. And I am certain that we will be asking that. In our year-end reviews at USV, we heard again and again from our team that they wanted to ask those questions. They should. Commuting and business travel are not the necessities they were last century.

And, naturally, this coming work-life balance revolution presents tremendous opportunities for new products, services, and companies. We have been seeing many of them crop up over the last year and have invested in a few of them.

From bad comes good. This pandemic and all of the things that have come with it has been awful. But I believe it will unleash all sorts of new behaviors and businesses that will be for the better. If you squint, you can see them coming.

#climate crisis#economics#employment#enterprise#entrepreneurship#Family#hacking education#health care#management#VC & Technology

USV Climate Fund

As I alluded to in a post earlier this week, we have some new things going on at USV. Today my partner Albert talks about one of them on the USV blog.

Over the last few months, USV has raised a climate fund. Our thesis for this fund is:

The USV Climate Fund invests in companies and projects that provide mitigation for or adaptation to the climate crisis.

https://www.usv.com/writing/2021/01/usv-climate-fund/

We believe that the time is right to invest in companies seeking to mitigate the climate crisis by either reducing carbon emissions or drawing down carbon from the atmosphere. We also believe the time is right to invest in companies providing solutions for adapting to the climate crisis that is already underway and may not be able to be completely mitigated.

This is the third strategy we are executing at USV. Each one has a fund associated with it. We have our core early-stage fund that is investing in what we call Thesis 3.0. We now have our climate fund investing in our climate thesis articulated above. And we have our Opportunity Fund that invests in more mature companies across both theses. And we have one team of generalists that works together to invest all three of these funds.

I encourage all of you to go read Albert’s post which has a bit more information about what we plan to invest in around the climate thesis and how we intend to do it.

#climate crisis#VC & Technology