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  • Lighting The Way To A Brighter Future

    Every day, millions of people worldwide lack access to reliable electricity, forcing them to rely on dangerous and expensive alternatives. However, one entrepreneur, Sam Goldman, is on a mission to change that narrative. With degrees in Biology and Environmental Studies, an MBA, and a passion for social transformation, Sam has dedicated his career to making clean energy accessible and affordable to all. As a Peace Corps volunteer in Benin, Africa, he was inspired to find safer and more sustainable ways to power homes and businesses in underserved regions. His passion for social impact and innovation laid the foundation for d. Light's transformative work. Under his leadership, d.light has positively impacted over 170 million lives in 70 countries, saving customers $5 billion in energy expenses. Unsurprisingly, Forbes recognized him as one of the world’s top 30 social entrepreneurs, and he was named Social Entrepreneur of the Year by the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship. Today, Sam leads a project within Innovative Breakthrough Energy Technologies (IBET), where he continues to drive impactful change by addressing lightning-induced forest fires, a significant contributor to global carbon emissions. Join us as Sam shares the inspiring story behind d.light's inception, from its humble beginnings to its ambitious vision of reaching 1 billion people by 2030. Discover how Samuel's dedication to social impact, resilience, and innovation is lighting the way to a brighter, more sustainable future for all. Source: Someone Like You Podcast

  • Catalyzing Carbon Dioxide Removal at Scale

    Study analyzes the technology and economic readiness of carbon dioxide removal opportunities to achieve 2050 net-zero objectives Vancouver, B.C. - February 14, 2024 - The B.C. Centre for Innovation and Clean Energy (CICE) has released a techno-economic analysis of pathways to remove carbon dioxide from our atmosphere at a multi-gigatonne scale. The “Catalyzing Carbon Dioxide Removal at Scale” report confirms that alongside decarbonization and emissions reduction efforts, big impact strategies for carbon removal are needed to meet 2050 net-zero targets and remain in line with a 1.5°C future. Produced in collaboration with Innovative Breakthrough Energy Technologies (IBET Climate), Catalyzing Carbon Dioxide Removal at Scale uncovers promising economic opportunities and new areas for carbon removal innovation, spanning forest management and wildfire prevention, direct ocean capture and alkalinity enhancement, and direct air capture and carbon mineralization. “The need for large scale carbon removal is undeniable worldwide,” said Ron Dizy, Chief Executive Officer at IBET Climate. “For Canada, this is exacerbated by our devastating 2023 wildfires, which emitted an estimated 2.3 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide last year - over three times our entire economy’s emissions. We are pleased to produce a timely report that evaluates viable pathways to scaling CDR. This work supports IBET Climate’s mission to find and develop the technologies, products, and teams to build world class companies that will address at least 1% of the world’s carbon emissions at scale.” Catalyzing Carbon Dioxide Removal at Scale serves as a foundational document for innovators, industry leaders, investors, academia, policy makers, and Indigenous rights holders seeking to understand: Why carbon dioxide removal (CDR) is essential, and what volume of removal is needed to achieve net-zero targets. The requirements, challenges, and technology gaps associated with leading natural and engineered CDR approaches. The most efficient and effective innovation pathways to achieve gigatonne-scale CDR, considering variables such as cost, resources, land, and energy considerations. “For CICE, research such as the Catalyzing Carbon Dioxide Removal at Scale report underpins our investment thesis and shapes our future calls for innovation,” said Todd Sayers, Chief Operating Officer at CICE. “By leveraging the knowledge gathered through a combination of deep-dive reports, community engagement, and world-class subject matter experts, CICE uniquely validates future pathways to net-negative emissions, helping us to confidently lead investment and catalyze adoption of disruptive, carbon removal innovation where lack of traditional revenue metrics can be a barrier.” Carbon dioxide removal is the process of removing carbon dioxide from our atmosphere and depositing that carbon into different environmental reservoirs: our biosphere (all plants, trees, and living things), our hydrosphere (oceans, lakes, and rivers), or returning it back to our lithosphere (soil and rock). Key findings of the Catalyzing Carbon Dioxide Removal at Scale report include: There is no pathway to reaching net-zero emissions or limited global warming targets without the ability to scale carbon removal to multi-gigatonne levels. A minimum of 10 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide removal per year is needed by 2025. Much more will be required if the world exceeds the 1.5 degree warming target for limiting the effects of climate change. CDR approaches will require massive and rapid scaling to remove 10 gigatonnes of CO2 per year. Putting this amount into perspective, it is greater than all the coal mined each year (8 gigatonnes), or more than the global production of oil (4 gigatonnes) and gas (3 gigatonnes) combined. Land-based approaches are the most mature CDR options and show the nearest potential for near-term scaling - mainly through forests. These approaches involve sequestering CO2 in living biomass, converting it to bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, or converting the carbon in biomass to biochar and bioliquids through pyrolysis. Of all the approaches studied, Ocean Alkalinity Enhancement (OAE) was estimated to have the highest potential for a multi-gigatonne scale of carbon removal. This stands out as a primary method for achieving multi-gigatonne CO2 removal in British Columbia, leveraging the province’s vast coastline, ocean science expertise and research capacity. A 40% reduction in wildfires emissions in B.C. would prevent over 140 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent in a year like 2023, and at least 20 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year based on the average emissions from wildfires over the past 10 years. Nature-based approaches show the lowest cost, with estimate ranges below $100 per tonne of CO2, with lower bounds of $10-$20 per tonne in some cases. For engineered CDR approaches at the gigatonne scale, several were estimated to have cost projections at, or approaching, $100. For more information, attend the upcoming “Catalyzing Carbon Removal at Scale: Key Findings Unveiled” webinar on Wednesday March 6th, 2024, at 10am PDT. >> REGISTER HERE

  • Mirror Imaging Hides the Customer

    When thinking about the energy transition, or any other of life’s many challenges, I try to guard against mirror imaging.  The way I define mirror imaging is to assume other people live, think and act like I do.  Mirror imaging allows one to believe that there is an easy solution or a single solution to many challenges just because you have implemented that solution and it worked for you.  Of course we know that we all live very differently, but mirror imaging can make a very complicated and messy world easier to comprehend and rationalize.  It is convenient and therefore enticing. This worked for me. Do the same. Job done. This illusion gets shattered when we travel and we are faced with the reality of other people’s differences.  This was recently the case during a recent 3 week trip to Japan where my wife and I experienced big city and small village accommodations in both hotels and private residences.  Since I work in the area of energy and climate change mitigation, I observe how people live; from transportation to eating, heating homes to laundry.  It is safe to say that finding people who lived the same way as I do in Canada was difficult. While certainly not a robust scientific census, I did note a few things that got me thinking.  In every private residence we stayed in, space heating was via a heat pump.  These were always minisplit systems where individual rooms where heated rather than the entire home.  You may have heard about heat pumps as they are one of the key heating technologies required during the transition away from fossil fuel combustion to electrification.  In summer, heat pumps become air conditioners which I understand is required during Japan’s hot and humid months.  So in terms of decarbonizing space heating, they appear to have a solution in hand. Hot water for washing and bathing, on the other hand, was always produced by instantaneous gas fired hot water heaters in the places we stayed.  In the cities, most of the units I saw were fed from the main gas grid which I assume was natural gas but in smaller villages, LPG/Propane was supplied using swappable cylinders delivered by truck.  The instantaneous water heaters were mounted either inside the house with the flue gas chimney vented outside or the entire heater was mounted outside with only cold water supply and hot water return lines going through the wall. The power used to heat water is an important consideration.  Heating water is typically a high power demand application.  For example, a typical shower requires 17 kW (58,000 BTU/hr) of power!  That is a lot of power and is one reason you don’t see electric instantaneous hot water heaters very often. As we described in a previous article, hybridization using heat pumps with natural gas to meet peak heating loads during cold days is an effective way of providing space heating without overtaxing the electrical grid in cold climate countries like Canada.  But while travelling in Japan I wondered what are they going to do about decarbonizing hot water? The easy answer is to electrify hot water.  I already have an electric resistance hot water tank in my home and it works just fine.  If we want to increase efficiency, we can add a heat pump to heat the hot water tank.    In places like the UK, the radiant heating system and hot water system are integrated so you can use a heat pump to do both.  The common element in all of these systems is that they heat a tank of hot water over a period of time so the heat provided from the resistance heater or the heat pump is decoupled from the demand.   So Japanese households will simply transition to hot water tanks heated with heat pumps or resistance heaters for hot water.  Job done. To see if this the right answer, it helps to understand how the hot water is used in a typical Japanese household.  The first crack in the mirror is that Japanese people prefer to bath in the evening.  After a long hard day at work and long commute, a good way to end the day before going to bed is a relaxing soak.  This is different than in North America where we tend to shower in the morning before work.  But there is another twist which adds more cracks.  Instead of filling up the tub and hopping in, Japanese people shower beforehand; thoroughly washing with shampoo and soap and rinsing completely before going into the tub.  As everyone is clean before entering the bath, bath water is shared by family members.   So everyone in the household showers AND they then they share a bath.  About 33% of total residential energy use in Japan is for hot water whereas in Canada it is about 19%. The other thing to note is that Japanese homes are significantly smaller than a typical North American home.  According to Statistica, the average Japanese home is ~1000 sq ft whereas the average home in the US is ~2500 sq ft.    Furthermore, in my Japanese travels I did not see a mechanical/laundry room or basement in the homes I visited. Understanding the customer first before developing the solution is one of IBET’s core tenants.  So knowing the above, it is relatively easy to understand why Japanese households typically use instantaneous gas fired hot water heaters.  They use a significant amount of hot water in the evenings but have limited space in which to install a hot water tank.  They can’t use electricity directly as the power demand is too high.  So that leaves them with burning a chemical fuel like natural gas or propane to supply hot water instantly as required. To use clean electricity to heat hot water, Japanese households will need to incorporate some kind of storage into their homes or move to a district hot water system.  A quick search shows that some OEMs have heat pump water heaters for the Japanese market and in 2022 approximately 700,000 such units were sold.   It is important to note that all of these systems include a hot water tank indicating that they are not a direct replacement for an instantaneous water heater. These systems are also sold predominantly in the new build market segment as the allocation for space for a hot water tank is easier. Alternatively, Japanese households could also store electricity in batteries and use that to power instantaneous resistance or heat pump electric water heaters.  Both storage options will add significant upfront capital costs and may result in loss of space inside existing homes. The other option is to use a chemical fuel that will result in low GHG emissions when burned in an instantaneous hot water heater.  The options here are biogas, renewable natural gas (RNG), synthetic LP gas or clean hydrogen.    Upfront capital costs will be about the same as current instantaneous units but these fuels will increase ongoing operating costs as they will be significantly more expensive than current fossil based natural gas or LPG.  However, they will not reduce usable space in the homes so functionally they are identical to current hot water systems. The solution is therefore not so straightforward.  What may work in North America may not work elsewhere.  Once you throw away your mirror and understand the customer’s needs, you can really begin to find solutions to our climate problems that work for everyone and not just you.

  • Optimizing our Energy Systems for Decarbonization

    If our primary goal behind electrification is decarbonization - and it should be! -  then we  must ensure that as we electrify, we are using electricity for its highest decarbonization value.  Over the next two to three decades our electricity supply will not keep up with the demand for electrification.   That means we should ensure that, particularly for policy-driven electrification, that every marginal kWh of electricity is displacing the maximum amount of CO2. Public policy makers, regulators and utilities will have to come together to determine which electrification policies will have the most efficient (and scale) impact on decarbonization.  This is no small consideration. All credible decarbonization pathways require very significant levels of electrification.  In fact, most observers estimate that the electric grid will need to deliver between two and three times more energy than it does today, and that would need to be in place within the next 25 years or so to meet 2050 net zero goals.  Without wholesale changes in how we design, consult, permit and finance these projects, this is simply not feasible. British Columbia’s Site C hydro generating facility, for example, was first studied in the early 1980’s,  received approval in late 2014 and will start delivering electricity to the grid in 2025.  At 1100MW at peak - but slated for average capacity of about 600MW - it will deliver less than 10% of British Columbia’s electricity.  The province would need to build about ten(!) more projects of the scale of Site C over the next 20-25 years in order to double the grid, with additional parallel investments in transmission and distribution.  In fact, BC would need to have two more Site C scale generating plants online by 2030, just to meet the demand associated with the EV and heat pump policies currently in place. Given these practical realities, we will have to be smart and nuanced about how we use each marginal kWh of electricity. In Ontario, a typical air source heat pump (with electric resistive backup) will mitigate a little over 1000kg of CO2 -- about 95g of CO2 for every kWh consumed. This is primarily because when the heat pump has to rely on electricity to supply supplemental heat on cold days, that electricity almost certainly comes from a marginal gas plant, generating significant emissions. That same heat pump, backed up by a high efficiency gas furnace, would mitigate nearly 3000kg of CO2 –  about 500g of CO2 for every kWh consumed – so that solution is about five times as efficient in reducing CO2 through electrification.   This means that policies – like the ones currently in place in Canada – that promote all electric heat pump options are actually supporting decarbonization solutions that are highly inefficient.  We SHOULD be promoting hybrid solutions, with gas backup, as a much more efficient way to use electricity to decarbonize. By comparison, electric vehicles can mitigate as much as 800g of CO2/kWh, in a fairly clean grid (like Ontario’s) timed to consume during periods of low demand.   That means an EV is more than 8 times as efficient at using electricity for decarbonization as the all electric heat pump.  This is pretty good, and something our policy makers should be encouraging – even more than heat pumps! We have to electrify almost everything to decarbonize our society – but smart policy means that we have to be pragmatic about how we think about ‘decarbonization efficiency’ as we think about electrifying society. For the first 100+ years of our electricity grid, we really didn’t try to manage demand – we built the grid to support whatever was needed, as it was needed.  For the next 50 years, as we collectively address the existential crisis that is climate change, because of the scale of the change that is required, we will have to be more intentional about how we use our grid (and energy in general).

  • Hybridization – The Best Approach to Decarbonization Using Electricity

    All credible decarbonization pathways require significant levels of electrification.  In fact, most observers estimate that the electric grid will need to deliver between two and three times more energy than it does today.  This implies massive investments in generation (which will have to be low emissions), transmission (to the extent that new generation is not highly distributed) and distribution (because decarbonization implies that fossil fuel usage in homes and buildings will need to be displaced by electricity). Overall, assuming we have strong and successful electrification policies, it is unlikely that our electricity supply and distribution will keep up with the increasing demand for electrification.  We have become slower – not faster – in building large scale infrastructure.  It isn’t just a matter of the dollars required, but also the planning, approvals and even the ‘will’ to build out this scale of infrastructure in the time required. The challenge is that some of the key and most compelling opportunities for electrification will drive significant demands on the grid.   For example, most decarbonization experts are strongly supportive of air source heat pumps as the best way to decarbonize heating.  However, at scale, heat pumps would overwhelm the grid on cold days.  Because their efficiency drops with temperature, they are LEAST efficient on the coldest days, and if electric backup resistance heat is used (as many policies typically mandate), they will drive very high system peaks that will be impossible to meet without massive additional investments in infrastructure.  As an example, Fortis BC has recently estimated that if the entire city of Kelowna switched to heat pumps with electric backup (which is required to qualify for the available federal grants), they would need to invest an additional $3.2B in distribution infrastructure to meet the demand associated with cold weather peaks. Hybridization is the Solution There is a better way.  Heat pumps do a great job of heating in shoulder seasons and are more efficient than air conditioners for cooling.   But we can avoid the significant grid challenges heat pumps pose on the coldest days by continuing to use natural gas for ‘peak heating’.  In fact, this is similar to how Ontario (quite successfully) runs its relatively low carbon intensity electric grid.  Well over 90% of the province’s electricity comes from non-emitting generation (nuclear, hydro, wind and solar), with the balance from natural gas to meet peaks.  The net result is a grid with very low emissions per kWh overall which can reliably meet its peaks. Using natural gas for ‘peak heating’ largely does the same thing.  It takes advantage of the inherent storage in the natural gas system and avoids the new peaks that non-hybridized heat pumps would cause. There are several advantages to this approach: We can support many more heat pumps, faster, using existing grid infrastructure – driving higher levels of overall decarbonization, before requiring extensive grid upgrades Lowers overall emissions – because if the marginal electricity is from natural gas (it is in Ontario, as it is in many electricity systems), then supplying heat with a condensing boiler (@ ~90-95% efficiency) produces far less emissions than supplying that heat with electricity from a combined cycle gas plant (@ ~50-60% efficiency, at best) Drives lower operating costs for consumers by shifting to gas to supply heat during periods with lower heat pump efficiency (providing heat from natural gas is roughly 4x cheaper than from electricity during periods of low heat pump efficiency) And the numbers are not close:  A typical heat pump in Ontario installed without gas backup, will drive peak demand of about 10-12kW and will consume ~13,500 kWh over the course of a year at a cost of about $1200 in a typical year.  If that heat pump were hybridized, it would drive a peak demand of just 3-4 kW and consume about 5800 kWh of electricity – and total heating costs would drop to about $870 per year. The reduction in peak demand – from 10-12kW to 3-4kW – is really important.  It means that in a typical neighborhood most of the houses could switch to heat pumps without incurring substantial upgrade costs to the distribution system instead of just a third of the homeowners. Reducing peak demand and lowering cost to homeowners are good things to spur adoption – but the kicker is that using gas to meet heating peaks is actually better for decarbonization.  If the marginal resource in the electricity system is gas (as it is in many, if not most, electricity systems) then the GHG savings of the all-electric approach over an efficient furnace or boiler is about 28%.  That jumps to ~65% with the hybrid system. Embracing hybridization requires pragmatic policy, and it requires abandoning the principle that we must eliminate natural gas from building energy requirements.  Climate change represents an existential risk that requires fast action, and not necessarily perfection.   We are likely to be facing a period of extremely tight electricity supply, and it will be critical to optimize the use of it, while we continue to build the much bigger grid of the future.   We can still get emissions to zero – as our grid grows and as alternatives to hybridization evolve.  But hybridization makes sense if we want to move fast – and we must move fast.

  • Confirmation Bias Kills Companies

    Confirmation Bias Kills More Companies Than Anything Else In practice, most technology companies, particularly ones that will be venture backed, are started by technologists as technology solutions – which then seek to find a market. Technology companies rarely start from a business problem – and then seek a genuinely technology-agnostic solution. The mantra from the venture and tech community is that this is because companies often “don’t know what they need, until it is shown to them”. In a way, this tends to give startup leaders something of a free pass in what should be early validation of market need – because ‘my future customers don’t even know they need what I am building … but they will’. And this makes them highly susceptible to confirmation bias. Confirmation bias refers to the very human tendency to search for, interpret and favour information in a way that confirms or supports one's prior beliefs or values. Company founders are generally very smart people – so they DO know that they need to validate that there will be a market for their product or service. They reach out to potential customers - often large customers, with well known brands – to validate that their solution is something that these customers would buy. Generally, these larger companies are aware that they need to understand what technology solutions are being developed – because they don’t want to miss out on something they might use and they don’t want their competitors to gain a competitive advantage. They usually do this in one of two ways (or sometimes both). They either form an ‘innovation group’ (to scan the market for innovations that might be helpful) or they form a ‘venture group’ (so they can invest in and, in theory, benefit from being an early customer). But, at the end of the day, these generally turn out to be defensive actions, and almost never lead to actual adoption. This is because the ‘innovation’ or ‘venture’ functions are almost never actually integrated with the core elements of the business. I spoke with an accomplished executive that held CEO positions with two national technology firms – both had innovation and venture functions: and both had perfect track records of never seeing a technology identified in either the investing or innovation function turn into large scale demand in the core business. The practical reality is that innovation and venture functions are NOT demand confirmation functions. They exist to make sure that companies don’t ‘miss something’. And because they want to present a forward looking, innovation mindset, these functions usually react positively to new technology ideas. The people who staff these functions are almost always ‘imagine what might be possible’ people, and generally their message is often ‘yes, if you build this, we can see that there could be a market’. THIS is confirmation bias. And once a founder hears “yes, if you build this – no promises – but we can see how we might buy it, or bring it to market”, they don’t really want to know the answer to the much more important question: “And if we don’t build this, how would that impact your business”. Because, the real answer to that question is often “Honestly, we have lots of other solutions to this problem, that are practical”? Or “Your solution is interesting, but it isn’t even close to a top ten priority for us”. The practical reality is that – despite outsize intelligence - very few founder/entrepreneurs actually have the fortitude to acknowledge that the idea they have spent the past 6 months developing has limited legs. It can feel like the better course of action is to pursue the idea, and bet that there will be changes in demand – or that at least they have a company, and there is always the possibility to pivot once customer demand becomes clearer. Entrepreneurs are told that they have to ignore all the people who tell them that they won’t succeed. But what if some of those people are raising real and valid objections? Instead, entrepreneurs adopt a mantra like ‘fake it til you make it’. This is really just confirmation bias. In reality, founders (and entrepreneurs) have to be GREAT at hearing feedback. And unless there is strong customer traction, founding teams have to be willing to abandon (or at least dramatically modify) their ideas. Here are three approaches to avoiding confirmation bias: Be curious (and skeptical). Genuinely try to understand why the company wants to buy your product. How will they use it? How does it either save or make them A LOT of money? What significant, company-altering problem is it solving? What if your solution didn’t exist? Many companies create products that are useful – but really not critical. There are lots of alternatives, including the status quo. Be willing to kill your idea. This is really hard. But if you are going to really commit to avoiding confirmation bias, that has to be not only an option … but actually a likely outcome. It is WAY better to kill your idea early than waste money (and time!) on an idea that isn’t going to work Because confirmation bias kills more companies than anything else.

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