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LatAm’s First Homegrown EV, and More (Energy Transitions | Week in Review)

A weekly five-point roundup of critical events in the energy transition and the implications of climate change for business and finance.
Energy transition

A weekly five-point roundup of critical events in the energy transition and the implications of climate change for business and finance.

1. Latin America’s First Homegrown EV Is Here and It’s Tiny

What happened: Bolivia is seeking to become a player in the electric vehicle (EV) market, as the country has an abundance of lithium reserves, a key ingredient in EV batteries. The country’s first homegrown EV company is Quantum Motors, whose cars are “the size of a golf cart and built like a box.”

Why it’s important: As the global demand for EVs continues to grow, securing a reliable supply of lithium has become increasingly important. Bolivia’s lithium reserves could help diversify the global supply chain and reduce dependence on other countries like China, except that currently the country barely produces any of its own because of strict government controls.

What’s next: Bolivia’s efforts to develop its lithium industry are still in the early stages, but the country has the potential to become a major lithium producer in the future. If successful, Bolivia’s lithium could help support the growth of the global EV market and reduce carbon emissions from transportation. (By Ryan Dube, The Wall Street Journal)

2. YouTube Promised to Stop Climate Change Denial Ads. They’re Still Running.

What happened: “In October 2021, Google promised to stop placing ads alongside content that denied the existence and causes of climate change, so that purveyors of the false claims could no longer make money on its platforms, including YouTube.” The ads, however, remain.

Why it’s important: “As misinformation has grown into a greater scourge online, YouTube has tried to balance its desire to be an open platform for diverse views with an interest in serving users proven facts on important topics. In recent years, the platform clamped down on the lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen and false claims about vaccines.”

What’s next: Google claims its policies are working as planned. But it may have to take a closer look now that some of its biggest advertisers are speaking out. (By Nico Grant and Steven Lee Meyers, The New York Times)

3. Activists to FAA: Your Heads Are Stuck In Space

What happened: The FAA is being sued by a Texas environmental group over concerns about the environmental impact of SpaceX’s rocket launches. The group alleges that the agency failed to adequately assess the environmental risks of the launches and that SpaceX is violating federal laws by releasing pollutants into the air and water.

Why it’s important: SpaceX’s rocket launches have drawn scrutiny from environmental groups in the past. The lawsuit highlights the need to balance the economic benefits of space exploration with the environmental risks, and to ensure that companies like SpaceX are held accountable for their impact on the environment.

What’s next: The outcome of the lawsuit is uncertain, but it could have implications for SpaceX’s operations in Texas and for the regulation of rocket launches more broadly. If the lawsuit is successful, it could mean an end to the company’s ability to “self-review” potential environmental impacts. (By Alejandra Martinez, Texas Tribune)

4. California’s Solar Owners Aghast at Massive Pay Cut

What happened: California is experiencing a surge in rooftop solar installations, with new installations increasing by 24% in 2022. These increased sales, though, coincide with a “75 percent decrease in the rates that solar owners receive for excess electricity that flows back to the grid.” 

Why it’s important: Rooftop solar can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and combat climate change. The growth of rooftop solar in California is a positive development for the state’s efforts to transition to a low-carbon economy, but it’s now threatened by the change in net metering.

What’s next: Rooftop solar sales are likely to fall in the coming months. “The sales decrease due to the new policy won’t show up on an annual basis until 2024, when sales are projected to fall by 38 percent.” (By Dan Gearino, Inside Climate News)

5. Climate Tech Venture Funding May Have Just Peaked

What happened: Climate tech companies raised $11.2 billion in venture funding in Q1 2023, a figure that when extrapolated means total funding may be down by 50% from the previous year.

Why it’s important: The amount of venture capital flowing into climate tech has been increasing steadily in recent years but is likely to dip because of higher borrowing costs and bank failures.

What’s next: Although down off its peaks, climate tech funding looks to be primarily focused on battery storage in the U.S. and Europe and electric vehicles in China. (By the Climate Tech Intelligence Unit at HolonIQ)

The astronomer Carl Sagan said, “It was easy to predict mass car ownership but hard to predict Walmart.”