Early this year the Sustainable Oceans Alliance announced it would be starting its own accelerator with a focus on conservation. The nonprofit has just announced the Ocean Solutions Accelerator’s first wave of startups: a particularly varied and international lineup that’s easy to root for.
You may also remember that the SOA was one of the beneficiaries of the mysterious Pineapple Fund, administered by a mysterious cryptocurrency multimillionaire. No doubt that has helped get the accelerator on its feet in good time.
The startups — which I’m getting to, be patient — will receive an initial investment to cover the cost of relocating to the Bay Area for eight weeks this summer. There they will receive the loving care of the collection of academics, founders, officials and others in or around the Alliance, plus some important “personal development and executive training” intended to keep your company alive long enough to ship a product.
Interestingly, applications were only open to founders 35 years and under, presumably to get that young blood into the conservation game. Here are the five companies selected to take part:
SafetyNet, from London, makes light-emitting devices that attach to fishing nets and can be programmed to attract or discourage certain kinds of fish. This prevents a boat from catching — and subsequently throwing away — thousands of the wrong fish, a huge waste.
CalWave came out of Berkeley a couple of years ago and has been testing and refining its wave-harvesting renewable energy system, and in fact won a big Department of Energy grant just last year. Now presumably the team is looking to go from prototype to product and do some big installs.
Loliware has created seaweed-based straws and cups that are so compostable you can do it yourself — like, in your mouth. The items last for a day in a drink (or with a drink in them) but when you throw it away it’ll totally dissolve in about two months — or you could literally eat it. The New Yorkers were on Shark Tank and I’m guessing they ate one on camera. You can already order them on Amazon and people say they’re actually pretty tasty.
Etac, a Mexican company from Culiacan, has few details on its site, but SOA’s press release says the company “designs and produces functional nanomaterials for energy and environmental applications, such as oil spill and wastewater cleanup.” I believe them.
And because there can’t be an accelerator without a blockchain startup in it, there’s Blockcycle, based in Sydney, which aims to create a marketplace around waste materials that would normally go to the landfill but could also be valuable to recyclers, reusers and so on. (Turns out there was an uptick in blockchain applications after the Pineapple Fund thing.)
All five companies will present their ideas on September 11 at an event (specifically, a gala) timed to coincide with California Governor Jerry Brown’s Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco. And then in October they’ll present again in Bali at the Our Ocean Youth Summit.
“These ocean entrepreneurs are a beacon of hope at a time when new, bold approaches are needed to fast-track innovation and sustain the health of our planet,” said SOA founder and CEO Daniela Fernandez. “By supporting these incredible startups, we are encouraging young people to take ownership of the environmental threats facing their communities, bet against consensus and re-invent existing markets to benefit, instead of harm, our climate, and ocean.”
It’s been hard to miss the scooter startup wars opening fresh, techno-fueled rifts in Valley society in recent months. Another flavor of ride-sharing steed which sprouted seemingly overnight to clutter up sidewalks — drawing rapid-fire ire from city regulators apparently far more forgiving of traffic congestion if it’s delivered in the traditional, car-shaped capsule.
Even in their best, most-groomed PR shots, the dockless carelessness of these slimline electrified scooters hums with an air of insouciance and privilege. As if to say: Why yes, we turned a kids’ toy into a battery-powered kidult transporter — what u gonna do about it?
An earlier batch of electric scooter sharing startups — offering full-fat, on-road mopeds that most definitely do need a license to ride (and, unless you’re crazy, a helmet for your head) — just can’t compete with that. Last mile does not haul.
But a short-walk replacement tool that’s so seamlessly manhandled is also of course easily vandalized. Or misappropriated. Or both. And there have been a plethora of scooter dismemberment/kidnap horror stories coming out of California, judging by reports from the scooter wars front line. Hanging scooters in trees is presumably a protest thing.
Scooter brand Lime struck an especially tone-deaf tech note trying to fix this problem after an update added a security alarm that bellowed robotic threats to call the cops on anyone who fumbled to unlock them. Safe to say, littering abusive scooters in public spaces isn’t a way to win friends and influence people.
Even when functioning ‘correctly’, i.e. as intended, scooter rides can ooze a kind of brash entitlement. The sweatless convenience looks like it might be mostly enabling another advance in tech-fueled douche behavior as a t-shirt wearing alpha nerd zips past barking into AirPods and inhaling a takeaway latte while cutting up the patience of pedestrians.
None of this fast-seeded societal friction has put the brakes on e-scooter startup momentum, though. Au contraire. They’ve been raising massive amounts of investment on rapidly inflating valuations ($2BN is the latest valuation for Bird).
But buying lots of e-scooters and leaving them at the mercy of human whim is an expensive business to try scaling. Hence big funding rounds are necessary if you’re going to replace all the canal-dunked duds and keep scooting fast enough for the competition.
At the same time, there isn’t a great deal to differentiate one e-scooter experience over another — beyond price and proximity. Branding might do it but then you have to scramble even harder and faster to create a slick experience and inflate a brand that sticks. (And it goes without saying that a scooter sticky with fecal-matter is absolutely not that.)
The still fledgling startups are certainly scrambling to scale, with some also already pushing into international markets. Lime just scattered ~200 e-scooters in Paris, for example. It’s also been testing the waters more quietly in Zurich. While Bird has its beady eye on European territory too.
The idea underpinning some very obese valuations for these fledgling startups is that scooters will be a key piece of a reworked, multi-modal transport mix for urban mobility, fueled by app-based convenience and city buy-in to greener transport options with emissions-free benefits. (Albeit scooters’ greenness depends on what they’re displacing; Great if it’s gas-guzzling cars, less compelling if it’s people walking or peddling.)
And while investors are buying in to the vision that lots of city dwellers are going to be scooting the last mile in future, and betting big on sizable value being captured by a few plucky scooter startups — more than half a billion dollars has been funneled into just two of these slimline scooter brands, Bird and Lime, since February — there are skeptical notes being sounded too.
Asking whether the scooter model really justifies such huge raises and heady valuations. Wondering if it isn’t a bit crazy for a fledgling Bird to be 2x a unicorn already.
The bear case for these slimline e-scooters says they’re really only fixing a pretty limited urban mobility problem. Too spindly and unsafe to go the distance, too sedate of pace (and challenged for sidewalk space) to feel worthwhile if you don’t have far to go anyway. And of course you’re not going to be able to cart your kids and/or much baggage on a stand-up two wheeler. So they’re useless for families.
Meanwhile scooter invasions are illegal in some places and, where they are possible, are fast inviting public and regulatory frisson and friction — by contributing to congestion and peril on already crowded pavements.
After taking one of Lime’s just-landed e-scooters for a spin in Paris this week, Willy Braun, VC at early stage European fund Daphni, came away unimpressed. “I didn’t feel I was really saving time in a short distance, since there is always many people in our narrow sidewalks,” he tells us. “And it isn’t comfortable enough for me to imagine a longer distance. Also it’s quite expensive ($1 per use and $.15/min).
“Lastly: Before renting it I read two news media that told me I had to use it only on the sidewalks and they tell us that we should only use it on the road during the onboarding — and that wearing an helmet is mandatory without providing it). As a comparison, I’d rather use e-bikes (or emoto-bikes) for longer journey without hesitation.”
“Give us Jump instead of Lime!” he adds, namechecking the electric bike startup that’s been lodged under Uber’s umbrella since April, adding a greener string to its urban mobility bow — and which is also heading over to Europe as part of the ride-hailing giant’s ongoing efforts to revitalize its regionally battered brand.
“Uber stands ready to help address some of the biggest challenges facing German cities: tackling air pollution, reducing congestion and increasing access to cleaner transportation solutions,” said CEO Dara Khosrowshahi wheeling a bright red Jump bike on stage at the Noah conference in Berlin earlier this month. Uber’s Jump e-bikes will launch in Germany this summer.
E-bikes do seem to offer more urban mobility versatility than e-scooters. Though a scooter is arguably a more accessible type of wheeled steed vs a bike, given you can just stand on it and be moved.
But in Europe’s dense and dynamic urban environments — which, unlike the US, tend to be replete with public transit options (typically at a spectrum of price-points) — individual transport choices tend to be based firstly on economics. After which it’s essentially a matter of personal taste and/or the weather.
Urban transport horses for courses — depending on your risk, convenience and comfort thresholds, thanks to a publicly funded luxury of choice. So scooters have loads of already embedded competition.
TechCrunch’s resident Parisien, Romain Dillet — a regular user of on-demand bike services in the city (of which there are many), and prior to that the city’s own dock-based bike rental scheme — also went for a test spin on a Lime scooter this week. And also came away feeling underwhelmed.
“This is bad,” he said after his ride. “It’s slow and you need to brake constantly. BUT the worst part is that it feels waaaaaay more dangerous than a bike. Basically you can’t brake abruptly because you’re just standing there.”
Index Venture’s Martin Mignot was also in Paris this week and he took the chance to take a Lime scooter for a spin too — checking out the competition in his case, given the European VC firm is a Bird backer. So what did he think?
“The experience is pretty cool. It’s slightly faster than a bike, there’s no sweating. The weather was just amazing and very hot in Paris so it was pretty amazing in terms of speed and lack of effort,” he says, rolling out the positively spun, vested view on scooter sharing. “Especially going up hill to go to Gare du Nord.
“And the lack of friction — just to get on board and get started. So in general I think it’s a great experience and I think it feels a really interesting niche between walking and on-demand bikes… In Paris you’ve also got the mopeds. So that kind of ‘in between offering’. I think there’s a big market there. I think it’s going to work pretty well in Paris.”
Mignot is a tad disparaging about the quality of Lime’s scooters vs the model being deployed by Bird — a scooter model he also personally owns. But again, as you’d expect given his vested interests.
“Obviously I’m biased but I would say that the Xiaomi scooter/Ninebot scooter is higher quality than the one that Lime are using,” he tells us. “I thought that the Lime one, the handlebar is a little bit too high. The braking is a little bit too soft. Maybe it was the one I used, I don’t know.”
Talking generally about scooter startups, he says investors’ excitement boils down to trip frequency — thanks exactly to journeys being these itty-bitty last mile links.
But it’s also then about the potential for all that last mile hopping to be a shortcut for winning a prized slot on smartphone users’ homescreens — and thus the underlying game being played looks like a jockeying for prime position in the urban mobility race.
Lime, for example, started out with bike rentals before jumping into scooters and going multi-modal. So scooter sharing starts to look like a strategy for mobility startups to scoot to the top of the attention foodchain — where they’re then positioned to offer a full mix and capture more value.
So really scooters might mostly be a tool for catching people’s app attention. Think of that next time you see one lying on a sidewalk.
“What’s very interesting if you look at the trip distribution, most of the trips are short. So the vast majority of trips if you’re walking, obviously, are less than three miles. So that’s actually where the bulk of the mobility happens. And scooters play really well in that field. So in terms of sheer number of trips I think it’s going to dwarf any other type of transportation. And especially ride-hailing,” says Mignot.
“If you look at how often do people use Uber or Lyft or Taxify… it’s going to be much less frequent than the scooter users. And I think that’s what makes it such an interesting asset… The frequency will be much higher — and so the apps that power the scooters will tend to be on the homescreen. And kind of on top of the foodchain, so to speak. So I think that’s what makes it super interesting.”
Scooters also get a big investor tick on merit of the lack of friction standing in the way of riding vs other available urban options such as bikes (or, well, non-electric scooters, skateboards, roller blades, public transport, and so on and on) — in both onboarding (getting going) and propulsion (i.e. the lack of sweat required to ride) terms.
“That’s what’s so brilliant with these devices, you just snap the QR code and off you go,” he says. “The difference with bikes is that you don’t have to produce any effort. I think there are cases where obviously bikes are better. But I think there are a lot of cases where people will want something where you don’t sweat.
“Where you don’t wrinkle your clothes. Which goes a little bit faster. Without going all the way to the moped experience where you need to put the helmet, which is a bit more dangerous, which a lot of people, especially women, are not super familiar with. So I think what’s exciting with scooters as a form factor is it’s actually very mainstream.
“Anyone can ride them. It’s very simple to manoeuvre. It’s not super fast, it’s not too dangerous. It doesn’t require any muscular effort — so for older people or for people who just don’t want to sweat because they’re going to a meeting or something. It’s just a fantastic option.”
Index has also invested in an e-bike startup (Cowboy) and the firm is fully signed up to the notion that urban mobility will be multimodal. So if e-scooters valuations are a bit overcooked Index is not going to be too concerned. People in cities are clearly going to be riding something. And backing a mix is a smart way to hedge the risk of any one option ending up more passing fad than staple urban steed.
Mostly Index is betting that people will keep on riding robotic horses for urban courses. And whatever they ride it’s a fairly safe bet that an app is going to be involved in the process of finding (docklessness is therefore another attention play) or unlocking (scan that QR code!) the mobility device — opening up the possibility that a single app could house multiple mobility options and thus capture more overall value.
“It’s not a one-size fits all. They’re all complementing each other,” says Mignot of the urban mobility options in play. “I would say e-bikes are probably a little bit more great for little bit longer trips because you’re sitting down. But again it takes a little bit longer, because you have to adjust the saddle, you need to start peddling. There’s a bit more friction both on the onboading and on the riding. But they’re a bit better for slightly longer distances. I would say for shorter distances there’s nothing better than the scooter.”
He also points out that scooters are both cheaper and less bulky than e-bikes. And because they take up less street space they can — at least in theory — be more densely stacked, thereby generating the claimed convenience by having them sitting near enough to convince someone not to bother walking 10 minutes to the café or gym — and just scoot instead. So scooters’ slimline physique is also especially exciting to investors. (Even if, ironically, it’s being deployed to urge people to walk less.)
“I think we will end up with more density of scooters. Which is super important,” he continues. “People will, in the end, tend to take the vehicle that they can find where they are. And I think it’s more likely, eventually, that they will get a scooter than an e-bike. Just simply because they take less space and they are less expensive.”
But why wouldn’t people who do get won over to the sweatless perks of last mile scooting just buy and own their own ride — rather than shelling out on an ongoing basis to share?
Unlike bikes, scooters are mobile enough to be picked up and moved around fairly easily. Which means they can go with you into your home, office, even a restaurant — disruptively reducing theft risk. Whereas talk to any bike owner and they’ll almost invariably have at least one tale of theft woe, which is a key part of what makes bike sharing so attractive: It erases theft worry.
Add to that, you can find e-scooters on sale in European electronics shops for as little as €140. So if you’re going to be a regular scooterer, the purely economic argument to just own your own looks pretty compelling.
And people zipping around on e-scooters is a pretty common sight in another dense European city, Barcelona, which has very scooter-friendly weather but no scooter startups (yet). But unless it’s a tourist weaving along the seafront most of these riders are not shared: People just popped into their local electronics shop and walked out with a scooter in a box.
So the rides aren’t generating repeat revenue for anyone except the electricity companies.
Asked why people who do want to scoot won’t just buy, rather than rent Mignot talks up the hassle of ownership — undermined slightly by the fact he is also a scooter owner (despite the claimed faff from problems such as frequent flat tires and the chore of the nightly charge).
“The thing you notice very rapidly: There are two things, one is the maintenance,” he says. “The models that exist today are not super robust. Maybe in a very flat, very smooth roads, maybe Santa Monica, maybe it’s a little bit less true but I would say in Europe the maintenance that is required is fairly high… I have to do something on mine every week.
“The other thing is it takes a little bit of space. If you have to bring it to a restaurant or whatever type of crowded place, a movie theatre or wherever you’re going, to an office, to a meeting room, it’s a little bit on the heavy side, and it’s a little bit inconvenient. So certainly some people will buy them… But I also think that there are a lot of cases where you’d rather have it just on-demand.”
Unlike Mignot and Index, Tom Bradley, of UK focused VC firm Oxford Capital, is not so convinced by the on-demand scooter craze.
The firm has not made any e-scooter investments itself, though mobility is a “core theme”, with the portfolio including an on-demand coach travel startup (Sn-ap), and technology plays such as Morpheus Labs (machine learning for driverless cars) and UltraSoc (complex circuits for automotive parts, which sells to the likes of Tesla).
But it’s just not been sold on scooter startups. Bradley describes it as an “open question” whether scooters end up being “an important part of how people move around the cities of the future”. He also points to theft problems with dockless bike share schemes that have not played out well in the UK.
“We’re not convinced that this is a fundamental part of the picture,” he says of scooter sharing. “It may be a part of the picture but I personally am not yet convinced that it’s as big a part of the picture that people seem to be prepared to pay for.”
“I keep thinking of the Segway example,” he adds. “It’s an absolutely delightful product. It’s brilliant. It’s absolutely brilliant. In a way that these electric scooters are not. But obviously it was much more expensive. And it made people feel a bit weird. But it was supposed to be the answer — and it’s not the answer. Before its time, perhaps.”
Of course he also accepts that capital is “being used as a weapon”, as he puts it, to scoot full-pelt towards a future where shared electric scooters are the norm on city streets by waging a “marketing war” to get there.
“Venture capital valuations are what someone is prepared to pay. And in this case people are valuing potential rather than valuing the business… so the valuations [of Bird and Lime] are being driven more than anything by the amount of money being raised,” he says. “So you decide a rule of thumb about what is acceptable dilution, and if you’re going to raise $400M or whatever then the valuation’s got to be somewhere between $1.6BN and $2BN to make that sort of raise make sense — and leave enough equity for the previous investors and founders. So there’s an element of this where the valuations are being driven by the amount of capital being raised.”
Oxford Capital’s bearish view on scooter sharing is also bounded by the fund only investing in UK-based startups. And while Bradley says it sees lots of local mobility strengths — especially in the automotive market — he admits it’s more of a mental leap to imagine a world leading scooter startup sprouting from the country’s green and pleasant lands. Not least because it’s not legal to use them on UK public roads or pavements.
“If you look at places like Amsterdam, Berlin, they’re sort of built for bikes. London’s getting towards being built for bikes… Cycling’s been one of the big success stories in London. Is [scooter sharing] going to replace cycling? I don’t know. Not so convinced… It’s obviously easy for anyone to get on and off these things, young and old. So that’s good, it’s inclusive. But it feels a little bit like a solution looking for a problem, the sorts of journeys people talk about for these things — on campus, short urban journeys. A lot of these are walkable or cycle journeys in a lot of cities. So is there a mass need?
“Is this Segway 2 or is this bike hire 2… it’s hard to tell. And we’re coming down on the former. We’re not convinced this is going to be a fundamental part of the transport space. It will be a feature but not a huge part.”
But for Mignot the early days of the urban mobility attention wars mean there’s much to play for — and much that can be favorably reshaped to fit scooters into the mix.
“The whole thing, even on-demand bikes, it’s a two year old phenomenon really,” he says. “So I think everyone is just trying to learn and figure out and adapt to this new reality, whether it’s users or companies or cities. I think it’s very similar to when cars were first introduced. There were no parking spaces at the time and there were no rules on the road. And fast forward 100 years and it looks very different.
“If you look at the amount of infrastructure and effort and spend that has been put into making — and I would argue way more than should have — into making a city car-friendly, if you only do a 100th of the same amount of effort and spend into making some space for bicycles and light two-wheel vehicles I think we’ll be fine.
“That’s the beauty of this model. If you compare the space of the tech and if you look at the efficiency of moving people around vs the space, the scooters are simply the most efficient because their footprint on the ground is just so small.”
He even makes the case for scooters working well in London — arguing the sprawl of the city amps up the utility because there are so many tedious last mile trips that people have to make.
Even more so than in denser European cities like Paris, where he admits that hopping on a scooter might just be more of a “nice to have”, given shorter distances and all the other available options. So, really, where urban mobility is concerned, it can actually be courses for horses.
Yet, the reality is London is off-limits to the likes of Bird and Lime for now — thanks to UK laws barring this type of unlicensed personal electric vehicle from public roads and spaces.
You can buy e-scooters for use on private land in the UK but any scooter startups that tried their usual playbook in London would be scooting straight for legal hot water.
It’s not just the British weather that’s inclement.
“I’m really hoping that TfL [Transport for London] and the Department for Transport are going to make it possible,” says Mignot on that. “I think any city should welcome this with open arms. Some cities are, by the way. And I think over time once they see the success stories in other parts of the world I think they all will. But I wish London was one of those cutting edge cities that would welcome new innovation with open arms. I think right now, unfortunately, it’s not there.
“There’s a lot of talk about air quality, and so on, but actually, when push comes to shove… you have a lot of resistance and a lot of pushback… So it’s a little bit disappointing. But, you know, we’ll get there eventually.”
Excited to announce that this year’s The Europas Unconference & Awards is shaping up! Our half day Unconference kicks off on 3 July, 2018 at The Brewery in the heart of London’s “Tech City” area, followed by our startup awards dinner and fantastic party and celebration of European startups!
The event is run in partnership with TechCrunch, the official media partner. Attendees, nominees and winners will get deep discounts to TechCrunch Disrupt in Berlin, later this year.
The Europas Awards are based on voting by expert judges and the industry itself. But key to the daytime is all the speakers and invited guests. There’s no “off-limits speaker room” at The Europas, so attendees can mingle easily with VIPs and speakers.
What exactly is an Unconference? We’re dispensing with the lectures and going straight to the deep-dives, where you’ll get a front row seat with Europe’s leading investors, founders and thought leaders to discuss and debate the most urgent issues, challenges and opportunities. Up close and personal! And, crucially, a few feet away from handing over a business card. The Unconference is focused into zones including AI, Fintech, Mobility, Startups, Society, and Enterprise and Crypto / Blockchain.
We’ve confirmed 10 new speakers including:
Eileen Burbidge, Passion Capital
Carlos Eduardo Espinal, Seedcamp
Richard Muirhead, Fabric Ventures
Sitar Teli, Connect Ventures
Nancy Fechnay, Blockchain Technologist + Angel
George McDonaugh, KR1
Candice Lo, Blossom Capital
Scott Sage, Crane Venture Partners
Andrei Brasoveanu, Accel
Tina Baker, Jag Shaw Baker
We’d love for you to ask your friends to join us at The Europas – and we’ve got a special way to thank you for sharing.
Your friend will enjoy a 15% discount off the price of their ticket with your code, and you’ll get 15% off the price of YOUR ticket.
That’s right, we will refund you 15% off the cost of your ticket automatically when your friend purchases a Europas ticket.
So you can grab tickets here.
Public Voting is still humming along. Please remember to vote for your favourite startups!
Awards by category:
The Awards celebrates the most forward thinking and innovative tech & blockchain startups across over some 30+ categories.
Startups can apply for an award or be nominated by anyone, including our judges. It is free to enter or be nominated.
Instead of thousands and thousands of people, think of a great summer event with 1,000 of the most interesting and useful people in the industry, including key investors and leading entrepreneurs.
• No secret VIP rooms, which means you get to interact with the Speakers
• Key Founders and investors speaking; featured attendees invited to just network
• Expert speeches, discussions, and Q&A directly from the main stage
• Intimate “breakout” sessions with key players on vertical topics
• The opportunity to meet almost everyone in those small groups, super-charging your networking
• Journalists from major tech titles, newspapers and business broadcasters
• A parallel Founders-only track geared towards fund-raising and hyper-networking
• A stunning awards dinner and party which honors both the hottest startups and the leading lights in the European startup scene
• All on one day to maximise your time in London. And it’s PROBABLY sunny!
That’s just the beginning. There’s more to come…
Interested in sponsoring the Europas or hosting a table at the awards? Or purchasing a table for 10 or 12 guest or a half table for 5 guests? Get in touch with:
Phone: +44 (0) 20 3239 9325
As renewable energy continues to gobble up more and more of the new energy capacity coming online, the solar project lending company Wunder Capital has raised $112 million in primarily debt financing to boost its business.
The 90 percent debt and 10 percent equity commitment came from the multi-strategy investment firm Cyrus Investments, which has backed renewable energy projects for years through its investment in RePower Group.
“The debt component is going to blow out the lending opportunity,” says Wunder chief executive Bryan Birsic.
Wunder chose to consolidate the debt and equity round with a single lead investor to simplify the negotiation process on both sides of the table, Birsic said. “Since Cyrus is an equity holder in the company we can come to better terms,” on debt facilities and repayment, he said.
Wunder lends money to commercial solar energy development projects throughout the U.S. and its business has been buoyed by a flood of demand for new solar energy projects coming online.
Since its launch in 2016, the company has financed more than 180 projects throughout the U.S., which are generating somewhere in the range of 50 megawatts (or enough electricity to power roughly 32,500 homes).
The Boulder, Colo.-based company makes money in three ways: It charges closing fees, a servicing fee and annual interest rate on the debt it provides — typically Wunder will pull in between 4 percent and 5 percent off of each loan it provides to a project.
And business… for renewable energy… is booming.
For instance, the industry appears to have shaken off concerns over price increases stemming from the tariffs imposed on solar panels as part of broad punitive measures President Trump has taken against China (which supplies most of the world’s solar panels).
“It was really pleasant to see that folks were less reactionary and more responsive to the data,” says Birsic. The headlines, Birsic explains, were worse than the reality for the industry. The headlines in January predicted a 30 percent tariff on solar panels, but banks thought those increases would ultimately result in a 3 percent price increase for residential solar installations and a 4 percent price increase for commercial solar.
Those price increases would only bring costs in line with what they were at the end of 2017, since over the course of the year prices on installations declined 10 percent, Birsic says.
“We’re very cool with the economics as it existed in 2017,” he said.
Logistics may not be the most exciting application of autonomous vehicles, but it’s definitely one of the most important. And the marine shipping industry — one of the oldest industries in the world, you can imagine — is ready for it. Or at least two major Norwegian shipping companies are: they’re building an autonomous shipping venture called Massterly from the ground up.
“Massterly” isn’t just a pun on mass; “Maritime Autonomous Surface Ship” is the term Wilhelmson and Kongsberg coined to describe the self-captaining boats that will ply the seas of tomorrow.
These companies, with “a combined 360 years of experience” as their video put it, are trying to get the jump on the next phase of shipping, starting with creating the world’s first fully electric and autonomous container ship, the Yara Birkeland. It’s a modest vessel by shipping terms — 250 feet long and capable of carrying 120 containers according to the concept — but will be capable of loading, navigating and unloading without a crew
(One assumes there will be some people on board or nearby to intervene if anything goes wrong, of course. Why else would there be railings up front?)
Each has major radar and lidar units, visible light and IR cameras, satellite connectivity and so on.
Control centers will be on land, where the ships will be administered much like air traffic, and ships can be taken over for manual intervention if necessary.
At first there will be limited trials, naturally: the Yara Birkeland will stay within 12 nautical miles of the Norwegian coast, shuttling between Larvik, Brevik and Herøya. It’ll only be going 6 knots — so don’t expect it to make any overnight deliveries.
“As a world-leading maritime nation, Norway has taken a position at the forefront in developing autonomous ships,” said Wilhelmson group CEO Thomas Wilhelmson in a press release. “We take the next step on this journey by establishing infrastructure and services to design and operate vessels, as well as advanced logistics solutions associated with maritime autonomous operations. Massterly will reduce costs at all levels and be applicable to all companies that have a transport need.”
The Yara Birkeland is expected to be seaworthy by 2020, though Massterly should be operating as a company by the end of the year.
Dandelion, a clean energy startup that was originally incubated inside Google parent Alphabet, has raised $4.5 million in funding to build out its business — a geothermal heating and cooling system for homes that claims it will drastically reduce its customers’ bills — it claims to cut bills in half (notwithstanding the upfront costs, more on that below) — while also being significantly more friendly for the environment compared to conventional systems that use gas and fossil fuels.
The company opened for business first in Upstate New York — a market with extreme cold and hot spells — where it says it has started to install systems in people’s homes, and it’s going to use the funding to help work through what it says is a waitlist of “thousands” of customers nationally.
“We have been overwhelmed with demand and support from homeowners across the country,” said Kathy Hannun, cofounder and CEO of Dandelion, in a statement. “This round will help us ramp up operations to serve these customers and launch our new and improved 2018 offering.”
The funding was led by New Enterprise Associates, with participation also from new investors BoxGroup, Daniel Yates, and Ground Up, and previous investors Borealis Ventures, Collaborative Fund, and ZhenFund, the Chinese-based VC associated with Sequoia in China. It brings the total raised by Dandelion to $6.5 million, including a seed round it announced when first spinning out in July of last year.
The impressive list of backers — and the fact that Dandelion was originally incubated at Alphabet X, the company’s “moonshot” factory — underscores a couple of trends worth pointing out.
The first is the double maxim that everything is now a “tech” challenge, and that the interests of the tech world touch everything. As legacy businesses continue to try to update their systems or become more responsive to some of the challenges of running their legacy operations, a company like Dandelion becomes a direct threat, or a potential, strategic acquisition target.
The second is the ongoing interest among tech investors and tech companies to expand their horizons and explore companies and ideas that might prove to be disruptive in the same way that tech has been, further down the line; or whose solutions could prove to be a helpful boost to their more direct tech interests — for example by becoming acquirers of data systems to run these services better, or by making the cost of electricity to run other services (like internet, or maybe, these days, bitcoin mining) less expensive. (Dandelion is already proving its role in that wider ecosystem: just earlier this month, it acquired Geo-Connections, a geothermal SaaS startup.)
“Over the next decade, homeowners across America will replace their expensive, conventional home heating systems with Dandelion geothermal,” said Yates in a statement. “I’m thrilled to be part of the team that will lead this transition.” Yates — who had founded the energy efficiency startup Opower, which went public and then was acquired by Oracle — is joining the board as an executive director with this round.
In the case of Dandelion, its challenge and opportunity has been in the world of legacy energy services. Built largely on fossil fuel systems and centralised operation models — you have large plants and generators located in one place that distribute their energy to smaller stations, which distribute to individuals — the idea behind Dandelion has been to build a heating and cooling system that is significantly more decentralised: it operates directly from a person’s home — or more specifically, underneath it — leveraging the ground’s natural state of being 50°F, in order to work.
One big issue with scaling up geothermal energy solutions prior to Dandelion has been the up-front installation costs, both from a financial and practical point of view. As Hannun has described it:
The process of installing ground loops in homeowners’ yards has typically been messy and intrusive, using wide drills that are designed to dig water wells at depths of over 1,000 feet. These machines are unnecessarily large and slow for installing a system that needs only a few 4” diameter holes at depths of a few hundred feet. So we decided to try to design a better drill that could reduce the time, mess and hassle of installing these pipes, which could in turn reduce the final cost of a system to homeowners.
The company’s solution has been to build a system that bores a much smaller hole (a few inches is all that’s needed) at a much shallower depth of hundreds of feet — making the installation something that can be done in less than a day.
So far, the company’s upfront costs might prove to be too much of a gating factor for the majority of homeowners. Installations run between $20,000 and $25,000 in upfront costs alone. For those willing to take the plunge — or dig into the challenge, as the case may be — over twenty years, the company has claimed that savings can be about $35,000.
The company also tells me that homeowners are buying a lot of these using financing and will save around 20 percent annually if they finance. (The savings percentage comes after a tax credit, a spokesperson said. “Here is a real example from one of our homeowners. He needed a 4-ton system, which is the size most homes require. He formerly spent $2,621 on fuel oil annually (832 gallons over the year at $3.15/gallon). To run geothermal, he requires $803 in additional electricity costs. With Dandelion pricing, starting at $115/mo, geothermal heating costs for his home are $1,380 + $803 = $2,183. This is about 20% savings annually for heating alone. His air conditioning will also be over twice as efficient with geothermal than it was with conventional a/c.”)
The savings in terms of using clean versus dirty energy, of course, come from the start.
Geely’s Lynk & Co is one of the more interesting young automotive brands, with an approach to sales and marketing that more closely resembles modern gadget and lifestyle brand go-to-market strategy than traditional automaker sales. The Lynk & Co 01 SUV, designed to sit somewhere between Geely’s line on one end and Volvo’s vehicles on the other, debuted last year; now the company is revealing its 02, a more compact crossover SUV, again designed with mobility, connectivity, and the potential for shared use in mind.
The 02 was designed and engineered in Sweden, Lynk & Co says, by a team of international talent. It has a sportier look and feel when compared to the 01, but also clearly shares design traits with the original Lynk & CO. vehicle. The car is intended to capitalize on the rapidly growing crossover SUV model, which is particularly strong in Europe, where Lynk & Co is also finally revealing its market rollout plans after initially kicking off sales in China in 2017.
Lynk & Co will aim to start European sales of its vehicles in 2020, and will skip the traditional dealer model to launch what it’s calling “Offline Stores,” which sound in practice a lot like Tesla’s global showrooms: “Small, sociable brand boutiques in urban districts.” The automaker will also sell online via its Lynkco.com site, which is a trademark of its conception (again something seemingly derived from the Tesla playbook) and it’ll also have a rolling pop-up shop that can make visits to spots that won’t have a permanent Offline Store boutique.
Another bit of news from Lynk & Co this morning: They’re creating a design collaboration with online commerce platform Tictail. This will be a line of both clothing and home good that will be designed by Tictail’s designer community and sold via its platform, and it’s going to be called “The City Dweller Series.” It’s a bit heavyhanded, but it fits overall with Lynk & Co’s strategy of positioning itself as the brand of connected young professionals.
Nissan is hoping to achieve a target of selling 1 million electrified vehicles across its portfolio by its fiscal 2022, the automaker announced today. The target is part of its overarching strategic mid-term plan leading up to 2022. To be included in the sales total, models sold by Nissan need to either be pure electric or e-POWER vehicles (Nissan’s hybrid system that delivers the performance benefits of a fully electric powertrain with the range and refuelling benefits of an internal combustion engine).
The overall strategy to help get Nissan to that milestone also includes the release of eight new purely electric vehicle, to follow the LEAF, and a multi brand launch of EVs specific to China. There’s also a new electric mini-car coming to Japan, and a plan to electrify all new Infiniti vehicles by 2021.
Alongside its EV targets, Nissan is also looking to build out its autonomous driving portfolio, with specific goals to ramp up its ProPILOT advanced driver assistance system sales by 2022. Nissan says it’s also aiming to sell 1 million models per year equipped with ProPILOT (which is similar to Tesla’s Autopilot) by that time. ProPILOT should grow more capable, too, with automated multilane driving and destination picking hopefully rolling out in the next couple of years.
Despite being a necessity for life, clean, drinkable water can be extremely hard to come by in some places where war has destroyed infrastructure or climate change has dried up rivers and aquifers. The Water Abundance XPRIZE is up for grabs to teams that can suck fresh water straight out of the air, and it just announced its five finalists.
The requirements for the program are steep enough to sound almost like science fiction: the device must extract “a minimum of 2,000 liters of water per day from the atmosphere using 100 percent renewable energy, at a cost of no more than 2 cents per liter.” Is that even possible?!
For a million bucks, people will try anything. But only five teams have made it to the finals, taking equal shares of a $250,000 “milestone prize” to further their work. There isn’t a lot of technical info on them yet, but here they are, in alphabetical order:
Hydro Harvest: This Australian team based out of the University of Newcastle is “going back to basics,” probably smart if you want to keep costs down. The team has worked together before on an emission-free engine that turns waste heat into electricity.
JMCC Wing: This Hawaiian team’s leader has been working on solar and wind power for many years, so it’s no surprise their solution involves the “marriage” of a super-high-efficiency, scalable wind energy harvester with a commercial water condenser. The bigger the generator, the cheaper the energy.
Skydra: Very little information is available for this Chicago team, except that they have created “a hybrid solution that utilizes both natural and engineered systems.”
The Veragon & Thinair: Alphabetically this collaboration comes on both sides of U, but I’m putting it here. U.K. collaboration has developed a material that “rapidly enhances the process of water condensation,” and are planning not only to produce fresh water but also to pack it with minerals.
Uravu: Out of Hyderabad in India, this team is also going back to basics with a solar-powered solution that doesn’t appear to actually use solar cells — the rays of the sun and design of the device do it all. The water probably comes out pretty warm, though.
The first round of testing took place in January, and round 2 comes in July, at which point the teams’ business plans are also due. In August there should be an announcement of the $1 million grand prize winner. Good luck to all involved and regardless of who takes home the prize, here’s hoping this tech gets deployed to good purpose where it’s needed.
Ford detailed a bunch of its roadmap for the next few years at a special media event today, and one of the key takeaways is that it’s going all-in on hybrids with its SUV lineup. Ford estimates that SUVs could make up as much as half the entire U.S. industry retail market by 2020, and that’s why it’s shifting $7 billion in investment capital from its cars business over to the SUV segment. By 2020, Ford also aims to have high-performance SUVs in market, including five with hybrid powertrains and one fully battery electric model.
These will include brand new versions of the Ford Escape and Ford Explorer that are coming next year, and two entirely new off-road SUVs, including a new Bronco, and a small SUV that has yet to be named. There’s also that “performance battery electric utility” that will make up part of its overall SUV lineup, which is set for a 2020 release and will spearhead a plan to release six electric vehicle models by 2022.
With this big hybrid push on the SUV side, Ford expects to go from second to first-place in the U.S. hybrid vehicles market by sales, surpassing current leader Toyota by 2021, thanks also to the forthcoming hybrid Mustang and F-150.