Want to learn more about climate technologies and solutions? Welcome to my complete climate tech/solutions glossary – much easier than Googling! Each section includes definitions of key terms and concepts, plus a short overview and related questions (opinions all mine). Icons courtesy Nicole Kelner.

See anything missing? Let me know.

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The climate challenge is all about emissions. Fossil fuels have transformed and greatly enhanced human life. But burning them emits heat-trapping greenhouse gases which accumulate in the atmosphere, driving extreme heat, drought, superstorms, floods, food shortages, human displacement, and species extinction. So the challenge is to quickly reduce these emissions to zero.

Key questions: How to get people to understand emissions when you can’t see them? How to hold organizations and governments accountable for their emissions? Which emissions matter most?

Key emissions concepts and terminology:

Carbon budget The idea that the world has a certain amount of carbon it can still burn and stay within certain global temperature limits.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) The predominant greenhouse gas trapping heat in the atmosphere. Persists for centuries in the atmosphere once emitted.

Carbon footprint The (controversial) idea that individuals’ carbon emissions aka footprints (rather than collective or systems emissions) matter and can/should be tracked and limited.

Carbon intensity How much CO2 is emitted in any given process or activity.

Embedded/embodied emissions The total amount of GHGs emitted in the course of producing a specific good, like a car, steel bridge or concrete building.

Fossil fuels The world runs on fossil fuel: 36 billion barrels of oil per year (100 million per day), eight billion tons of coal per year, four trillion cubic meters of gas. There are fifty years worth of proven oil and gas reserves, based on current consumption levels.

Greenhouse gases (GHGs) Gases emitted by burning fossil fuels, which trap heat in the atmosphere. Global annual GHG emissions are at an all-time high of 60 gigatons (37 of which are CO2).

Methane The second biggest greenhouse gas by volume. Shorter-lasting in the atmosphere than CO2 (a decade, vs. centuries) but much more potent at trapping heat (30-80x). ‘Natural’ gas is mostly methane.

Nitrous oxide The third biggest greenhouse gas, emitted when fertilizer goes into the soil. Long lasting like CO2 and potent like methane.

Parts per million Global atmospheric CO2 concentration, currently at about 420 parts per million, up from 340 ppm in 1980.

Scope 1 emissions Greenhouse gas emissions from a company’s operations that it directly controls.

Scope 2 emissions Emissions from the production of energy a company buys to use in its operations.

Scope 3 emissions Emissions produced by A) a company’s customers while using the company’s products; and B) a company’s suppliers.

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Because emissions-free electricity can be generated cheaply in bulk from the sun and wind, electrification is key to almost all climate solutions. The basics of electricity haven’t changed in 100 years. They’ve just become much more relevant to our daily lives, as our lives become more electrified. Understanding megawatts and gigawatts today is just as important as understanding megabytes and gigabytes was when computers went mainstream.

Key questions: How much electricity (in kWh) does your house use every day? How to get people to pay attention to kilowatts they same as they do to say, gallons of gasoline?

Key electricity concepts and terminology:

Alternating current (AC) The type of current commonly used for most grid power distribution, and in homes.

Amps A measurement of flow in a circuit (e.g. 15 amps), or how much power can flow across that circuit in a given amount of time. Amps = Watts/Volts.

Circuit A closed-loop path for circulating electric current, including a source of charge and devices that can use or manipulate the current.

Direct current (DC) The type of current commonly used in industrial processes, electrical motors, power supplies, and to charge batteries.

Generator A machine that converts mechanical energy (e.g. from a turbine or diesel motor) into electrical energy.

Gigawatt A million kilowatts (or a thousand megawatts). Only the very largest power plants generate more than a gigawatt of power.

Inverter Hardware that converts AC to DC power (or vice-versa), among other functions.

Kilowatt (kW) A thousand watts; and a good measure of home electricity consumption. Your clothes dryer, for example, might ‘pull’ a kilowatt or more of power while running.

Kilowatt hour (kWh) A total amount of electricity stored or used (an appliance that requires one kilowatt, running for an hour, uses one kilowatt hour).

Megawatt A thousand kilowatts. Most utility scale power plants produce tens, or hundreds, of megawatts of power. And don’t forget your “megawatt smile!”

Terawatt A billion kilowatts (or a million megawatts or a thousand gigawatts). Large countries’ energy usage often runs into the terawatts.

Transformer Hardware that transfers electrical energy from one circuit to another and can increase or decrease voltages.

Turbine A machine spun by water, wind power or other energy source (e.g. burning fossil fuel), to generate electricity.

Volts Voltage is like water pressure in an electrical circuit: the higher the voltage, the more power can be delivered through a given sized circuit. Volts = Watts/Amps.

Watts A basic unit of electric power. Old light bulbs needed 100 watts to light up. Today’s LEDs only need ten or less. Watts = Volts * Amps.

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Traditional utility grids were designed to move electricity from large power plants to homes and businesses. But today’s grids are becoming peer-to-peer networks with millions of ‘distributed’ power plants. Anyone can now produce power on their rooftop, store it, use it, or share it back out onto the grid. This changes everything, introducing intense competition, and challenging how grids are managed, financed and balanced (supply and demand). It’s also helping grids get cleaner faster, and handle surging demand from EV charging and greater electrification.

Key questions: How will grids have to restructure in the face of surging renewables? Will distributed generation undermine the economics of public grids? What about grid security and resilience? Who will the new grid winners and losers be? Will there be ‘power oases’ and ‘power deserts?’ What about universal service and equity?

Key grid terminology and concepts:

Advanced conductors Next-generation materials – plus cooling technologies – which enable upgraded grid transmission links to carry much more power.

Behind the meter The wiring, hardware and software on the customer side of the utility meter.

Blackouts and brownouts When a utility throttles electricity supply or cuts off customers so the grid doesn’t crash.

Curtailment When grid operators order wind or solar farms to reduce their output, because there’s no room on the grid for all their extra power.

Demand response Systems enabling electricity customers to temporarily lower their consumption in return for compensation to help balance the grid.

Dispatchable generation Power sources which can reliably be turned on anytime they’re needed by grid operators.

Distribution The wires that take electricity from long-distance transmission lines and bring it to homes and businesses. Typically up to 33 kilovolts, stepping down to 240 volts.

Distributed energy resources Small-scale supply or demand resources (e.g. appliances, solar, storage) that can respond to real-time signals to help to balance supply and demand on the grid.

Distributed generation Power generation (e.g. rooftop solar) distributed at the edges of the grid, closest to users.

Duck curve The big dip in load demand mid-day, followed by a dramatic rise as the sun sets, on grids with lots of solar generation.

Firming Using generators to dial supply up or down on the grid, thus maintaining a constant frequency (hertz) and avoiding instability.

Grid defection When businesses or homes can generate enough of their own energy to be independent of the public grid.

Intermittent generation Generation sources which can’t always run on demand, like solar or wind farms when not coupled with batteries.

Load A unit of energy demand… whether a single light bulb or an entire factory.

Microgrid A local grid with its own generation and storage, that can be ‘islanded’ (isolated) from the public grid and run separately if needed.

Peak load The time(s) of maximum load demand for a grid.

Peaker plant A power plant (usually gas) which typically only operates a few hours per day or week at times of peak demand.

Power desert A part of the grid that can’t produce enough power for all the local load it needs to support, and can’t import or buy excess electricity from elsewhere.

Power oasis A part of the grid with excess power, which much be throttled or curtailed because there’s no way to use it locally, or export and sell it to another part of the grid.

Resilience Can the whole grid or parts of it (like an individual neighborhood or home), stay online (or get back up quickly) after an extreme event like a storm, fires, or other disruptive event.

Repowering Upgrading older power plants, for example with more powerful wind turbines, and/or converting them (e.g. coal to solar-plus-storage).

Substation A facility with transformers that takes higher voltage electricity from the transmission network and steps it down to lower voltages for the distribution network.

Transmission The very high voltage wires which carry electricity hundreds of miles from large power plants (typically at over 100 kilovolts) to local distribution wires.

Utility An entities which generates, distributes and/or sells power on the grid.

Utility scale power Large power plants (wind, solar, gas etc.) that connect to the grid’s high-voltage transmission lines.

Virtual power plant The collective output of distributed resources (e.g. rooftop solar plus batteries) that can provide large amounts of power to the grid on demand.

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Solar power

Solar costs have been dropping like a rock these past few years, accelerating its deployment for both large-scale (‘utility’) power generation and rooftop (‘distributed’) power generation. Yet solar’s still barely begun to achieve its potential. With each new improvement in panel efficiency, solar increases its cost advantages and benefits vs. fossil competitors, providing that much more power in the same amount of space. Costs are also continuing to drop thanks to manufacturing efficiencies, more standardization and productization, better battery integration, and lower installation costs.

Key questions: How quickly can solar efficiency keep improving? Can ways be found to use excess (mid-day) solar power to displace fossil fuel in transportation and industry? Will rooftop solar outpace utility-scale solar? When will people start to place a greater value on solar-based energy independence and resilience (being able to generate your own local power, without importing fossil energy)?

Key solar concepts and terminology:

Agrivoltaics Combining solar panels with agriculture on the same piece of land.

Cell efficiency The most efficient silicon solar panels available today convert about 24% of the sun’s energy into electricity; those in the lab are getting closer to 30%.

Commercial solar Solar installed on buildings like warehouses, retail stores, or offices.

Floating solar Solar arrays designed to float on lakes, reservoirs, and even the ocean.

Grid tied solar: A simple solar system without a battery, which must feed all the excess energy it generates to the grid.

Net energy metering How utilities compensate homeowners and businesses for electricity they export to the grid from their solar panels.

Rooftop solar Rooftop solar saves money by cutting out the substantial network costs of transmitting electricity from centralized power plants to end users.

Self-consumption When rooftop solar owners use the electricity their panels generate, rather than exporting it back to the grid.

Silicon perovskite cells Solar cells which pair traditional silicon with crystalline materials called perovskites, potentially resulting in higher energy yields.

Siting and design software Software which can determine the optimal location and positioning of solar arrays, as well as facilitate design and permitting, is helping to lower overall deployment costs.

Solar carports Steel structures which enable solar panels to be installed on top of parking spaces.

Solar panels Are constructed out of layers of different materials – including glass, silicon, plastic, aluminum, copper, silver and lead – all sealed together.

Solar panel recycling Diverting the large volume of obsolete panels (20+ years old) from landfills is a challenging problem, just now being tackled by entrepreneurs.

Solar supply chain The world’s solar panel supply chain, dominated by China, starts with raw silicon, which is made into polysilicon, then ingots, then wafers, then cells, and finally into modules.

Solar trackers Solar mounts which enable panels to automatically pivot toward the sun as it moves, maximizing their efficiency.

Thin-film solar Uses thin layers of semiconductor material, like cadmium telluride, vs. thicker more rigid silicon, making them lighter, more flexible and potentially more versatile.

Utility scale solar Large solar farms that produce many megawatts of power, often located far from population centers.

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Wind power

Wind generates almost a tenth of the world’s electricity today, and thanks to innovations in materials and design (especially bigger towers and blades) could generate a lot more. Today’s massive turbines can produce as much as 10 megawatts each. And new floating offshore platforms allow them to be located in deep ocean waters, out of sight yet easy to connect to coastal cities. The logistics of constructing, transporting and installing huge towers, however – not to mention siting and financing them – makes wind a capital-intensive business that only governments can really push forward. And the turbines, perhaps because they’re so visible, have somehow become more politically polarizing than other renewables.

Key questions: Will governments have the conviction to continue making big, long-term investments in wind? Will there be enough global demand for vendors and developers to keep investing and driving down wind costs? Will there be further innovations which improve wind’s cost-effectiveness and deployability? Or will markets lose interest?

Key wind concepts and terminology:

Aerodynamic modeling Simulators and computational software tools are helping wind farm operators optimize overall wind farm output, e.g. by coordinating turbine controls to minimize wake effects.

Blade materials Modern, 200+ foot long turbine blades are made from lightweight, fiberglass-reinforced polyester and other composites like carbon fiber, optimizing performance but making recycling challenging.

Blade design Modern blades have evolved to incorporate high-lift airfoils, trailing edge noise-reduction add-ons, advanced blade tips, aeroelastic tailoring, and other performance enhancers.

Horizontal-axis turbines The most common type of wind turbine, like an airplane propeller, with three blades and the rotor shaft pointed in the direction of the wind.

Nacelle Housing with all the generating components of a wind turbine (gearbox, electronic systems, and either an induction or permanent magnet generator).

Floating wind Mounting turbines on giant floating platforms has enabled bigger wind farms in deeper ocean waters; less visible and drawing less opposition.

Fixed offshore wind The biggest offshore wind turbines, fixed to the ocean floor, can generate ten megawatts or more of power.

Onshore wind Easier to install than offshore, but with more local opposition. These turbines can be over 300 feet tall and generate three-plus megawatts of power.

Small wind Small distributed wind turbines ranging between one and 100 kilowatts which can be used to power homes, farms, schools, water pumps, and even feed energy into the grid.

Tower height Keeps growing, since power increases exponentially with wind speeds (which are faster higher off the ground), and longer blades extract more wind energy even at low speeds.

Wind supply chain The world’s wind supply chain includes manufacturing of very large blades, towers and generators, plus the challenging logistics of moving them around the world and installing them.

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Hydropower plants currently generate seventeen percent of the world’s electricity, and also do a lot to maintain grid balance and reliability. Much innovation is happening in smaller-scale hydropower, and in so-called ‘pumped hydro’ systems for long-duration energy storage. But building and permitting new large-scale hydro projects is challenging. And heat waves and droughts are starting to limit the production capacity of existing hydro plants.

Key questions: Can hydropower grow meaningfully, or has the best hydropower capacity already been built? Can upgrades to existing hydro plants and dams – plus new small hydro projects – add significant capacity at a competitive cost? Can pumped hydro become a more ubiquitous player in long duration energy storage?

Key hydropower concepts and terminology:

Closed loop hydro Dedicated pumped hydro systems where neither reservoir (upper or lower) is connected to an outside water source.

Conventional dams These mega-projects with human-engineered reservoirs are becoming less common. Among other factors (environmental destruction) the reservoirs let lots of water evaporate.

Dead pool If a dammed reservoir’s water level reaches this low point, water can no longer flow downstream from the dam. Before this, the dam would have stopped being able to generate power.

Hydropower Power generated by flowing water (e.g. from a river or reservoir) which spins a turbine as it rushes downstream.

Methane release Microbes and vegetation decomposing in hydropower reservoirs can cause methane release depending how they’re managed, but there’s a debate about how much.

Pumped hydro Pumping water uphill or upstream to a reservoir when electricity is cheap, then running the water down through generators to harness the energy when it’s most valuable.

Run-of-river hydro Generators not connected to a reservoir, which depend on seasonal flows and thus can’t produce energy on demand.

Small scale hydro Small hydro generators (10kW to 30MW), common in local communities, industrial and agricultural settings (rivers, canals, conduits, reservoirs etc).

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Geothermal energy has been around for centuries, but limited to areas with specific geologies (near geysers etc). It’s about to break that barrier, however, opening up much more energy-generating potential, thanks to new drilling technologies that can work almost anywhere. Test deployments of these ‘enhanced geothermal’ techniques are underway worldwide, and if successful will attract financing to deploy them at scale.

Key questions: Will the oil and gas industry throw its drilling know-how and capital behind enhanced geothermal? Will enhanced geothermal be more useful for generating clean electricity, or industrial heat? Can enhanced geothermal drilling techniques be scaled and replicated globally or are they too specific to local geologies?

Key geothermal concepts and terminology:

Closed-loop geothermal Using water or another fluid flowing through pipes (rather than directly through subterranean rocks) to tap geothermal heat.

Deep geothermal Systems between 150 and 5,000 meters deep, with ground temperatures between 30 and 200 degrees Celsius.

Drilling technologies Many of the oil and gas industry’s innovations, like hydraulic fracturing (‘fracking’) and horizontal drilling, can be applied to geothermal.

Enhanced geothermal New technologies (e.g. drilling and data) being developed to make geothermal practical in places that don’t already have natural geologies where water easily flows through rock.

Hydrothermal plants Traditional geothermal plants which take advantage of natural geologies (near hot springs and geysers etc) featuring heat and pathways for flowing water to tap the heat.

Geothermal energy Renewable energy generated by tapping heat coming up from the deep in the earth.

Shallow geothermal Systems less than 150 meters deep, with ground temperatures between 0 and 30 degrees Celsius. Can support building heating and cooling via ground source heat exchangers/pumps.

Superhot rock energy With the right drilling technology, gigawatts of energy could be generated from superhot (400 degrees Celsius) rocks miles deep in the earth.

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Nuclear power

Nuclear power has been a major global electricity source for decades – though dogged by accidents and questions about its cost-effectiveness. A new generation of simpler, and presumably safer and more cost effective fission reactors is under development, which in theory could complement renewables with clean dispatchable power (power that’s always on or can be turned on anytime). However, they’re having trouble getting financed, permitted, and built.

Key questions: Why are next generation (SMR) nuclear reactors not getting built? Can they compete on cost against ever-cheaper renewables and battery storage? Is the hold-up political, or is it economic – i.e. that the market has just decided SMRs don’t make financial sense?

Key nuclear terminology and concepts:

Nuclear accidents Nuclear accidents and radiation releases (Three Mile Island 1979, Chernobyl 1986, Fukushima 2011) have made the public cautious about nuclear power in many countries.

Nuclear fission Fission reactors harness thermal energy from splitting uranium atoms, then use the heat generated to drive steam turbines and generators to create electricity.

Nuclear fusion A reaction in which two or more atomic nuclei combine to form a heavier one while releasing lots of energy. Still in development and far from ready to deploy for power generation.

Nuclear power Generates 10% of the world’s electricity (20% U.S.). There are currently over 400 fission reactors in the world (roughly 400 gigawatts), and more being built.

Small modular reactors Small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs) are technologies that developers hope could someday safely provide portable, low-carbon power to balance renewables on the grid.

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Batteries may be the single most important technology for quickly reducing global emissions. Better grid batteries improve renewables’ cost advantages over fossil fuels, storing their energy for use when it’s not sunny or windy. Better EV batteries widen the performance lead over gas and diesel vehicles. Each year brings improvements in battery chemistry and design, including energy density, lifespan, charging, safety, and cost. Yet the scale and materials required to produce the latest battery technologies – plus over-reliance on China for the battery supply chain – continue to be issues.

Key questions: Will there be a game changer like solid state batteries that resets the global playing field? How fast will new lithium-ion chemistry types (e.g. sodium) become deployable at scale, and for what use cases? How fast will the supply chain for existing chemistries like LFP develop outside of China? And what about medium and long duration storage… can technologies like thermal scale quickly enough to matter?

Key battery terminology and concepts:

Anode The negative electrode in a battery.

AC coupled A battery that takes an AC current and converts it (with an inverter) to DC for storage, and then back to AC when the power is needed.

Battery cell The basic battery unit, with an anode, cathode and electrolyte. Can take various formats (e.g. cylindrical, prismatic, pouch), and be aggregated in large numbers into battery packs.

Battery recycling Processes and technologies in development to extract as much re-usable material as possible (e.g. lithium, cobalt, nickel etc.) from end-of-life EV and other batteries.

Cathode The positive electrode in a battery.

Continuous power How many kilowatts (aka kilo-volt-amps) a battery can output on a continual basis.

Cycle lifespan The number of times (cycles) you can charge and discharge a battery before it degrades and starts to lose performance.

DC coupled A battery that takes a DC current, and provides DC current back when its needed.

Energy density How much energy a given type of battery can store given its size and weight.

Flow batteries Long-duration grid batteries that store energy chemically as a bulk dissolved metal (e.g. iron) in large tanks of an aqueous electrolyte.

LFP lithium ion batteries Lithium iron phosphate (LFP) chemistry batteries are less storage dense than NMC chemistry batteries, but use fewer rare metals and are cheaper and safer (less prone to fire).

NMC lithium ion batteries Nickel manganese cobalt (NMC) chemistry batteries are energy dense, but have issues including cost, fire risk, and the use of rare and problematic metals.

Peak (or max) power How many kilowatts a battery can output in short bursts, e.g. to support momentary power surge needs like starting up an air conditioner unit.

Round trip efficiency The percentage of energy put into the battery that can ultimately be retrieved and used.

Sodium ion batteries Batteries in production now using cheaper sodium in place of lithium; will compete for both grid storage and EV applications.

Solid-state batteries Batteries in development using thin layers of solid electrolytes to carry lithium ions between electrodes, enabling faster charging and higher density.

Thermal batteries Heating or cooling a medium like water, sand, rock, bricks or molten salt to store energy for later (typically long duration or more than a day).

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Transportation drives over a fifth of global GHG emissions, and is potentially the easiest sector to decarbonize quickly. Just replace gas vehicles with electric ones – no tearing buildings apart or re-inventing agriculture required. China has taken the lead on EV innovation, manufacturing and adoption, starting with cars, buses, and E-scooters and bikes. Now the rest of the world must catch up. And the biggest prize – decarbonized trucking – is still to come, with just a little more battery innovation.

Key questions: At what point will EVs become cheaper to buy up-front than comparable gas or diesel vehicles? Will American and European manufacturers be able to catch and keep up with the Chinese? How will charging infrastructure and habits evolve to best use available grid infrastructure and renewable energy sources?

Key electric vehicle terminology and concepts:

Battery swapping Successfully being deployed across Asia for two and three wheeled electric scooters.

Bidirectional charger A charger that can move electricity in two directions (e.g. in and out of a car’s battery).

Die casting A key technology for manufacturing low-cost EVs. Casting the chassis of an EV in one or two massive (e.g. aluminum alloy) pieces reduces weight, cost and complexity.

eBikes Have exploded in popularity globally ($40+ billion market size in 2023), and outsell EVs in the U.S. Often an alternative to car ownership.

Electric buses Already ubiquitous in China, and spreading globally, electric buses make sense with their known routes/range and ease of charging at the depot.

E-scooters and motorcycles More popular than cars in Asia, two-wheeled vehicles (with their high emission two-stroke engines) are fast being replaced by electrified versions.

Fast DC charger A direct current charger that operates at 75kW or above and can charge a typical EV in less than an hour. Aka Level III charging.

Level two charger An alternating current charger operating at 5-10kW that can charge a typical EV in four to eight hours.

Megawatt charging Ultra high speed charging infrastructure for trucks and other large-battery vehicles, currently in development.

Miles per kilowatt-hour. A measure of an EVs efficiency: how far it can go on a certain amount of battery capacity (the EV equivalent of MPG).

On board charger The charger built into an EV which enables it to convert power from an external AC power source to DC power for its battery. Not required when charging from an external DC power source.

Plug-in hybrids Vehicles with drivetrains which can run on both fossil fuel and electricity from a battery, alternating between the two as needed.

Regenerative braking Braking by returning kinetic energy into an EVs battery, rather than applying friction to the wheels. Common in all EVs today; increases range and reduces wear and tear.

Structural battery pack Battery cells built into a structural (load bearing) component of an EV or other vehicle, in order to reduce overall weight and cost.

Trickle charging The slowest way to charge a car battery, by plugging it into a standard home wall (AC) outlet. Aka Level I charging.

Vehicle to grid The transfer of power from a vehicle’s battery to the grid when that extra power is needed.

Wireless EV charging A technology under development that would allow people to charge their cars (or trucks) just by parking in the right spot, using magnetic resonance.

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Electric motors have improved a lot recently thanks to chips, software, and new materials. This has enabled EVs (and eBikes and scooters) to become mass market commodities, on par with their fossil-fueled counterparts. In particular, innovation in permanent magnet motors, combined with power electronics to deliver AC power to those motors (and reverse the process during regenerative braking) has enabled a whole new level of EV capability.

Key questions: Having already bested combustion engines that took decades to perfect (diesel, two stroke, fuel injection), how much better can electric motors get? What new electric mobility products could they enable?

Key motors terminology and concepts:

EV motors Most EV motors use three-phase AC current to set up a rotating magnetic field (RMF) to create torque, controlled by power electronics that respond to the accelerator.

Hub motor A motor integrated directly into the drive wheel(s) of a two wheeled e-bike or electric scooter, rather than attached by a chain or belt.

Induction motors EV motors which induce a current in the rotor’s copper (or aluminum) cladding, creating an electromagnetic field.

Permanent magnet motors EV motors where the rotor, with embedded permanent magnets, possesses its own magnetism. This is the most common type of EV motor.

Rare earths Hard-to-source elements like neodymium which are commonly used for the strong magnets in EV permanent magnet motors.

Regenerative braking Reversing an EV motor (using it as a generator) to slow the vehicle without brakes, thus generating AC power which is converted to DC and returned to the battery.

Rotor The moving part of an EV electric motor which feeds torque out through the transmission (usually single-speed in EVs) to a differential and then the wheels.

Stator The housing of an EV electric motor, which applies the AC current to create the rotating magnetic field. Mounted to the chassis and usually stuffed with copper windings.

Torque The force that causes rotation around an axis (like an axle). EV motors produce instant torque, directly proportional to the electric current applied.

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Power electronics

Semiconductor innovations, in combination with software, are revolutionizing how we switch power and move it around – enabling cheaper, more powerful and flexible electrified products and infrastructure. Smart inverters are improving quickly, for example, driving advances in electric motors (improved EV range), batteries (faster charging), and renewables (higher yields). Other chip-based innovations are in development also, like digital circuit breakers, transformers and electronics to enable virtual power plants and microgrids.

Key questions: How fast can power electronics move beyond EVs and batteries into other applications? How soon will smart circuit breakers, electrical panels and transformers become cheap, powerful and reliable enough to replace traditional analog gear as the default? As power electronics continue to improve, how much efficiency is there to be gained (and improved resilience to be had) in the global energy system?

Key power electronics terminology and concepts:

Artificial intelligence AI, combined with software-driven hardware like power electronics, will likely help climate technologies become even more efficient and powerful.

Gallium nitride An emerging semiconductor material for power electronics which along with silicon carbide is enabling better, faster electrification.

Grid enhancing technologies Cheap software-based ways of getting 10-40% more out existing transmission lines, including dynamic line ratings, topology optimization, and advanced power flow control.

Grid forming inverters Smart inverters which can collectively ‘form’ a grid (e.g. a micro-grid) exactly matching the frequency of (and synchronizable with) the public grid.

HVDC converters Power electronics which enable high voltage DC (direct current) transmission lines to be more practical, by reducing the conversion costs of interconnecting with AC distribution systems.

Meter collar A smart device installed between a home’s utility meter and internal wiring to better utilize the full grid connection (for solar, EV charging etc) without expensive panel upgrades.

Microinverters Small chip-based inverters used to convert the DC output of individual solar panels to AC power, among other applications.

Power electronics Semiconductor based hardware (e.g. inverters) for managing, converting and harnessing electrical currents, for example in EVs.

Silicon carbide This semiconductor material has helped drive the recent power electronics revolution, enabling greater range and faster charging in EVs for example.

Smart meters Chip enabled systems that can monitor and help manage electricity usage and characteristics (voltage dips, motor stalls) in real time.

Smart panels Software-controlled electric panels which can dynamically allocate capacity among circuits, enabling much more efficient and flexible electricity usage within a building.

Solid state breakers Chip-based replacements for traditional mechanical breakers, which will enable power to be more flexibly and efficiently distributed (e.g. eliminating dedicated circuits).

Solid state transformers Replacing analog transformers on telephone poles (big jugs of oil and wire) with microchips could turn the grid into a smart, flexible, peer-to-peer energy network.

String inverter Aka central inverters. An inverter which converts the DC output from multiple solar panels wired together (a ‘string’) into AC power.

Switchgear Digitally controlled switching devices that control, protect and isolate electrical systems, for example a microgrid within the larger public grid.

Wide-bandgap semiconductors A new generation of semiconductor materials, like silicon carbide, which can operate at much higher voltages, frequencies and temperatures than conventional materials like silicon.

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Buildings – and the production of electricity and heat used in them – account for 30% of global energy consumption and 26% of global energy related emissions, according to the IEA. Incredibly, up to half that energy is wasted… mostly in the form of heat. Fossil fuels have been so cheap so long that the world just didn’t prioritize building efficiency. That’s now changing, because there are huge emissions reductions and cost savings to be had, by retrofitting and insulating buildings, upgrading appliances, designing better buildings, etc.

Key questions: How to overcome obstacles like up-front retrofitting costs (every building is unique), lack of tradespeople to do the work, utility disincentives (they make money when people use more energy, not less), and most important, inertia? How to go faster in decarbonizing existing buildings of all vintages?

Key building terminology and concepts:

Air filtration Better technologies for energy-efficient air purification (e.g. to remove smoke or pathogens) are increasingly important for buildings, because moving air through filters takes lots of energy.

Building envelope enhancements Upgrading building envelopes (floors, walls, roofs, windows, doors, etc.) to be better thermally insulated and air sealed.

Duct sealing Sealing leaky ducts can improve heating and cooling system efficiency up to twenty percent.

Embodied carbon The carbon emitted in producing construction materials for a given building (e.g. steel, concrete, rebar, glass, insulation, finish materials).

Insulation There are all different formats (and materials) of insulation, including loose-fill and blow-in, spray foam, rigid boards, and even radiant barrier insulation, which reflects heat.

LED lighting Replacing traditional incandescent and fluorescent lights with high efficiency LED lights – in both residential and commercial buildings – is the low hanging fruit of energy efficiency.

Mass timber buildings Buildings (even skyscrapers) are now being constructed using laminated timber (solid engineered wood panels), reducing the need for high-embodied-carbon steel and concrete.

Moisture control An important efficiency factor in both summer and winter, as most people feel warmer indoors at higher relative humidity levels and cooler at lower ones.

Passive heating and cooling Building designs which take in and utilize the sun’s heat in winter, and keep it out in summer, resulting in comfort plus high efficiency.

Reflective roofs Roofs coated with materials containing specialized pigments that reflect sunlight and absorb less heat than standard roofs. 

Smart appliances Connected, software-configurable appliances which can pull energy from the grid (or a local battery) when it’s cleanest, cheapest, or both.

Smart sensors and thermostats Connected, software-configurable sensors which can help make sure energy isn’t wasted on unneeded heating and cooling.

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Heating + Cooling

Heating and cooling – both residential and industrial – account for a huge chunk of human emissions. Traditional oil, gas and coal-fired furnaces are inefficient (waste lots of the heat produced) and emit lots of GHGs… as do traditional air conditioning systems. Heat pump systems solve these problems, running efficiently and cleanly on electricity. But getting them deployed at scale is challenging, because nobody really wants to rip apart their home or office building or factory to install a new system.

Key questions: How much easier and cheaper can heat pump installation and deployment get as they become more productized? Will the global need for more AC drive faster heat pump adoption? How much better can the technology get? And will heat pumps be a significant decarbonization vector for industrial heat (vs. hydrogen… see the hydrogen section)?

Key heating and cooling terminology and concepts:

Air source heat pump A heat pump that pulls heat from (or returns it to) the air.

Cold chain The end to end, energy-intensive supply chain for products which must be kept frozen or refrigerated such as food and medicines.

District heating and cooling A system which generates and distributes heat or cooling to an entire grouping of buildings or neighborhood.

Geothermal heat pump (Aka ground source) A closed-loop heat exchanger system that heat or cools buildings by pulling heat from (or returning it to) the ground. Ground loops can be horizontal or vertical.

Hybrid geothermal heat pump. A hybrid system combining multiple geothermal technologies, or combining ground source and air source components (e.g. a cooling tower) to reduce costs.

Heat pump A highly efficient system for using electricity to shift heat from one place to another, enabling both heating and cooling.

Heat pump water heaters Two to three times more efficient than resistance heating models, for both residential and commercial applications.

Hydronic systems Heat pump systems that use water to bring heat or cold into a building through floor tubes (‘radiant floor’) and/or special radiators.

Induction stove An electric stove or cooktop which uses magnets to heat pots, energy efficiently and without the unhealthy and destructive emissions of gas stoves.

Inverter air conditioner An energy-efficient air conditioner, similar to a heat pump, that uses a microprocessor-controlled, variable speed compressor motor.

Mini-split A ductless heat pump system with an outside condenser to exchange the heat, connected to a wall unit which distributes the heat (or cool air) inside.

Process heat The heat required by industrial processes, traditionally produced by gas steam boilers and coal-fired furnaces. A huge decarbonization opportunity.

Refrigerant Fluid in a heat pump or air conditioner that transfers the heat or cold indoors. Newer ones are less climate damaging than the old ones were, but still not great.

Resistance heating The traditional (but not very efficient) method of using electricity to heat or cook, by flowing electrons through a resistive material like nichrome wire.

Ventless (heat pump) dryers A new category of electric dryer that’s much more efficient than traditional resistance-heat dryers. Draws much less power, and also eliminates the need to vent wasted heat.

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Food + Agriculture

Depending who’s counting (and how), agricultural and food system GHG emissions account for 25 to 40% of the global total. Which means major food system changes will be needed to avert the worst climate impacts. Fertilizer – the miracle that enabled the human population explosion – is a massive GHG emitter. First it requires burning gas to chemically pull nitrogen from the air, then it emits even more GHGs (twice as much) when it hits the soil. Livestock are another big challenge: not just the land and water use, but the methane emissions from the burps of 1.5 billion cows worldwide. Finally, there’s food waste: 30-40% of food in the U.S for example is simply wasted.

Key questions: Can farmers be convinced to use less fertilizer, which is relatively cheap, familiar, and easy to just spread everywhere? Can various techniques to reduce agricultural emissions be deployed without reducing crop yields? Can a global population increasingly hungering for meat and proteins change their eating habits and desires?

Key food and agriculture terminology and concepts:

Alternative fertilizers Lower-emission, more efficient ways of getting nitrogen into soil, like biological solutions (natural bacteria, biological activators, genetically edited microbes).

Alternative proteins Cleaner alternatives to emissions-intensive meat and dairy products, like plant-based milks and meat substitutes (possibly even ‘cultured meat’ grown from animal cells).

Biofuels Fuels like bioethanol and biodiesel made from biomass (e.g. agricultural products like corn, soybeans or sugar cane) or bio waste. Much debate over their climate impact.

Decarbonizing fertilizer production Using green hydrogen or ammonia produced with renewable energy instead of the traditional Haber-Bosch process.

Haber-Bosch The traditional high-emission process for producing nitrogen fertilizer; fixes nitrogen into fertilizer (ammonia) using ‘steam-reformed’ (fossil fueled) hydrogen.

Fertilizer emissions Nitrogen fertilizer emits the potent greenhouse gas nitrous oxide when it enters the soil (twice the emissions of fertilizer production in fact).

Fertilizer reduction Reducing over-fertilization without sacrificing yields, through better data, farming practices (‘precision agriculture’), soil testing, etc.

Food waste A major emission reduction opportunity: 30-40% of the U.S. food supply is wasted, according to the USDA.

Increasing yields Various technologies are being developed (e.g. genetic editing of plants and animals) to increase yields per acre with less chemical fertilizer and pesticides.

Methane-reducing feed additives Products available today (e.g. seaweed-based) can reduce up to 30% of the methane emissions from cows digesting their feed.

Nitrogen runoff Fertilizer runoff into lakes, rivers, and oceans not only wastes the nitrogen (and its emissions), but pollutes drinking water and causes algal blooms and dead zones.

Pesticide reduction Production of chemical pesticides (mostly petroleum derived) causes lots of GHG emissions; technology can be used to apply them much more selectively.

Regenerative farming Practices like planting cover crops or reducing tillage (plowing) to improve soil health and reduce erosion. May sequester some carbon, but may also reduce yields.

Vertical farming The idea of growing crops indoors in stacked high-tech high-yield factories, maximizing land use while minimizing weather and pesticide impacts.

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Industrial activity accounts for up to a quarter of the world’s annual GHG emissions, due to all the coal, oil and gas burned in furnaces and processes to make products like steel, cement, and chemicals. Decarbonizing industry is hard, because generating high heat without fossil fuels is difficult, and the installed base of fossil-fired furnaces is large and hard to replace quickly. Under pressure from customers and regulators, however, industrial companies are starting to invest in a range of promising decarbonization and electrification options from green hydrogen to heat pumps.

Key questions: How to stop new fossil-fired furnaces from getting built when they still cost less up front than lower-emission ones? Can techniques under development to produce low-emission steel, cement, and chemicals scale and become widely accepted replacements for century-old processes?

Key industry terminology and concepts:

Cement emissions Making cement is six percent of total global CO2 emissions; mostly from superheating limestone and clay in coal-fired kilns to make the binding agent for concrete.

Electric arc furnaces Much lower-emission than blast furnaces, they use electricity and scrap metal to make steel rather than coal, iron and coke.

High temperature processes Harder-to-electrify industrial processes using heat over 500 degrees celsius, like iron and steelmaking and chemicals.

Hydrogen direct reduction Using green hydrogen instead of coal to reduce iron ore to pig iron (the most emissions-intensive part of steelmaking).

Metallurgical coal The coal used for steelmaking.

Methane leaks Stopping and cleaning up methane leaks (and venting and flaring) is a major emissions reduction opportunity for the oil and gas industry.

Low-temperature processes Easier-to-electrify industrial processes using heat under 200 degrees celsius, like food and beverage, pulp and paper, machinery.

New cement formulations Will be key to decarbonizing cement; for example using less limestone to reduce kiln emissions.

Refineries Oil refining (hydroskimming, hydrocracking and catalytic cracking) accounts for four percent of global CO2 emissions, plus significant methane emissions.

Thermal coal The coal used for electric power generation or heating.

Steel emissions Making steel, mostly with coal-fired blast furnaces, accounts for seven percent of total global CO2 emissions.

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Chemicals + Plastics

Petrochemicals and plastics account are hard to decarbonize, and generate lots of emissions. Worse, demand for petrochemical-derived virgin (new) plastic keeps surging, to make consumer products and packaging (clothes, toys, bottles, paints) plus many industrial products. Petrochemicals and plastics not only use fossil fuels as their primary ingredient, but the process of making them burns fossil fuels and releases lots of emissions. Efforts are underway to develop non-fossil-fuel petrochemical feedstocks, but they’re not anywhere close to being economically scalable.

Key questions: Can we reduce or slow the growth of global plastics consumption and waste? Will petrochemical companies be willing to make the massive capital investments required to electrify their manufacturing processes?

Key petrochemicals and plastics terminology and concepts:

Air pollutants Large petrochemical plants can expose their workers and surrounding communities to a host of health hazards including VOCs like ethylene and propylene, ozone, benzene, toluene, formaldehyde and particulate matter.

Bioplastics New plastic materials made from plants, biomass, bio-polymers and other renewable non-fossil-fuel-feedstocks.

Cracker plants Facilities which perform the first step of transforming hydrocarbons like ethane, propene, or liquified petroleum gas into other chemicals and plastics, using fossil-fueled hot steam to ‘crack’ their molecular bonds.

Demand reduction Since petrochemical product are so hard to decarbonize, reducing demand for products like single-use plastics is an important part of reducing emissions.

Electricity driven processes Some chemical processes, like the production of chlorine to make PVC pipes or solvents, already use electricity, so can be decarbonized with renewable energy.

Electrified crackers Lower-emission chemical manufacturing facilities which could replace conventional fossil-fueled steam cracker plants.

Feedstocks The raw materials used to make chemical products and plastics – almost always fossil fuels, or cracked derivatives of fossil fuels.

Incinerated plastic waste Twenty-plus percent of global plastics waste is burned in incinerators, releasing even more emissions than it originally took to make the plastic.

Polyethylene Main ingredient in plastic products including PET (water bottles, dispensing containers), HDPE (shampoo and milk bottles, freezer bags) and LDPE (bags, trays, containers, packaging films).

Producer responsibility Making producers financially responsible for taking their plastic back and recycling it is one possible way to fix recycling and stem the ever-growing production of virgin plastics.

Recycling Current plastics recycling systems aren’t working – they can’t compete with cheap virgin plastics. As a result, about 400 million tons of plastic waste each year ends up in oceans and landfills.

Refinery by-products Some key chemicals like aromatics, a major ingredient in products like PET soda bottles, are sourced from oil refineries as a by-product of fuel production.

Virgin plastics Brand new plastic supplies with no recycled component. Unfortunately, these have become so cheap that its hard for recycled plastics to compete.

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Hydrogen’s a hot topic these days, because it can be made from water with renewable energy and burns emissions-free, making it potentially a clean substitute for methane gas and coal in industrial processes requiring high heat (e.g. steelmaking). The same is true of hydrogen’s cousin ammonia (NH3, the H’s are hydrogen). But there’s lots of problems to be solved first, including how to create enough green hydrogen or ammonia cost-effectively, how to transport it, and how to convince businesses to use it instead of tried and true fossil gases and coal.

Key questions: Can electrolyzers get cheap enough to make green hydrogen cost-competitive with (fossil-fueled) grey hydrogen? Does the massive investment going into hydrogen infrastructure globally make sense, or is it just wishful thinking (or a scheme to perpetuate fossil-gas dominance)? What role is there for hydrogen (if any) in decarbonizing transportation in addition to industrial processes?

Key hydrogen and ammonia terminology and concepts:

Ammonia (NH3) Can be made from hydrogen, and vice versa. And easier to transport than hydrogen, making it relevant for decarbonizing industry, shipping and agriculture (fertilizer is mostly ammonia).

Blue hydrogen Hydrogen made with fossil fuels (e.g. via steam methane reforming) plus a carbon capture/storage system, supposedly making it carbon neutral, but in reality requiring even more energy.

Electrolyzer A machine that can create green hydrogen (by splitting H2O into H and O), and also green ammonia, using electricity from renewable energy as an input.

Fuel cell A machine that can convert gas (like methane or hydrogen) into electricity, to provide stationary power or run EVs. If run on 100% green hydrogen, fuel cells could help decarbonize many things requiring electricity on demand.

Green hydrogen Hydrogen produced with 100% decarbonized electricity (e.g. solar or wind). But in practice, some fossil-fueled grid electricity still usually gets mixed in.

Grey hydrogen Hydrogen made with fossil fuels, e.g. via the high emissions steam methane reforming process.

Hydrogen A pathway to decarbonize industrial and other processes using green hydrogen produced by electrolyzers. When burned, hydrogen emits only water.

Steam methane reforming How hydrogen is commonly produced today, using lots of methane gas and emitting lots of CO2.

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Lots of people are working on carbon these days, trying to figure out how to how to capture CO2 at its source of emission, store and sequester it, and even remove it directly from the atmosphere. Although most of these technologies are in their infancy and not yet economical, lots of money is being invested to change that. Many experts say the world will need them in its portfolio of climate solutions to be successful.

Key questions: Which carbon technologies could get deployed economically on a scale that matters, and in what timeframe? Can long-term sequestration and storage of carbon – or it’s embedding in other materials – be effectively verified and guaranteed? Or are carbon capture investments primarily a way for the energy industry to justify continued investment in fossil fuels?

Key carbon terminology and concepts:

Biologic carbon sequestration Storing carbon in grasslands, forests, soils, and aquatic environments.

Carbon capture Trying to catch carbon (e.g. when it’s generated by burning fossil fuels) before it goes into the atmosphere.

Carbon credits Financial products purporting to enable companies to offset their actual carbon emissions by sponsoring various unrelated carbon reduction projects.

Carbon sink Anything that absorbs more carbon from the atmosphere than it releases.

Direct air capture Using technology to pull carbon directly from the air, thus removing it from the atmosphere.

Geologic carbon sequestration Storing carbon in underground geologic formations, e.g. pressurized into a liquid and then injected into porous rock.

Liquid capture systems Pass air through chemical solutions to capture carbon.

Solid capture systems Pass air through filter materials that chemically bind with the CO2 to capture carbon.

Supercritical CO2 A superheated gas/liquid form of CO2 which could replace steam for driving turbines, dramatically increasing efficiency in almost any type of power plant.

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Nature is the best technology for capturing and storing carbon we’ll ever have. It’s also home to our species – and all the other species on earth – so protecting and helping it recover is crucial. Forests continue to get cut and burned down, wetlands continue to get destroyed, the oceans continue to rise and overheat. But lots of people are working on solutions to try to give nature a helping hand. Key issues include financing, verification, political support and mindshare – nature-based solutions can be very cost effective, but aren’t as sexy and attention grabbing as engineered (technology) solutions.

Key questions: How to protect nature and help it recover when short-term human economic incentives to destroy it are so strong? How to get more people to care about nature and work on it, when the majority of human population lives in cities? How to measure and verify both the destruction and restoration of natural systems?

Key nature-based solutions terminology and concepts:

Biologic carbon sequestration Storing carbon in grasslands, forests, soils, and aquatic environments.

Deforestation Ongoing profiteering-driven global deforestation is removing existing carbon sinks, raising the bar for climate solutions.

Fire tech Technology including drones, sensors, satellite imagery, vegetation management and software which can help monitor, manage and suppress/pre-empt massive fires and their emissions.

Nature-based solutions Protecting and restoring the natural world and enhancing its capacity to help counteract global GHG emissions.

Reforestation Restocking of forests that have been depleted/deforested, by replanting trees or supporting natural regeneration in areas affected by human clearing and/or natural disturbances.

Restoring biodiversity Reforesting also helps protect species diversity, as forests are home to the vast majority of species on the planet.

Restoring coastal wetlands Protecting and restoring peatlands and coastal wetlands (for example with mangroves), so they can not only absorb more carbon, but protect against flooding.

Reversing soil erosion Reforesting and planting trees is one of the best ways to hold back the wind and rain that drives soil erosion.

Urban nature solutions Can provide cooling, shade and flood mitigation as well as carbon absorption. Examples include prioritizing green roofs, urban forests, green spaces and canopy cover.

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Supply Chain

The best way to decarbonize the global supply chain is to stop shipping so much fossil fuel to begin with (40% of global tonnage is oil, gas and coal), and replace those imports with local renewable energy. A second approach is to manufacture goods closer to where they’re used – a trend gaining momentum thanks to trade wars, real wars, and other supply chain disruptions. Finally, efforts are underway to decarbonize maritime cargo ships and ports, using hydrogen, ammonia, and electricity, and lower-emission fuels.

Key questions: Can the highly fragmented maritime shipping industry agree on standards for next-generation lower emission engines, fuels, and fueling infrastructure? Can the huge existing global shipping fleet be retrofitted at a cost anyone is willing to pay?

Key supply chain terminology and concepts:

Ammonia engines Efforts are underway to develop ship engines which run on energy-dense green ammonia – either by burning that ammonia or using it to power fuel cells to run electric engines.

Bunker fuel The sulfur-laden, emissions-intensive fuel made from refinery dregs that powers most global shipping.

Dark/shadow oil tankers Over ten percent of the world’s tanker fleet is said to be ‘shadow’ or ‘dark’: old, uninsured, often unsafe and hard to trace, ideal for ferrying illegal (e.g. sanctioned) oil shipments.

Electric airplanes Getting a big plane off the ground takes more energy than batteries can hold… for now. But that could change.

Fuel-cell electric ships Battery electrification will help decarbonize local shipping – and ports – while fuel cells will enable lower-emission electric powertrains for longer distance shipping.

Globalization The decades-long outsourcing of manufacturing and production to countries based primarily on cost (labor and materials), and assuming friction-free trade (now under question).

Hydrogen engines Engines where hydrogen is used for example to power fuel cell electricity generation. Because hydrogen is harder to store than ammonia, it would likely be ‘cracked’ from ammonia on-board.

Kites and sails Many shipping companies are experimenting with wind-assisted propulsion devices like towing kites and rotor sails which can reduce a large ship’s fossil fuel use by up to 20%.

LNG tankers ‘Liquified natural gas’ is methane gas that’s been cooled down to liquid form so it can be transported internationally by tanker.

Reshoring and nearshoring Moving production and supply chains closer to consumption to reduce geopolitical risk (and also likely environmental impacts).

Supply chain weaponization Fossil fuel pipelines and shipping are at risk of sudden political weaponization, as happened recently with the Ukraine war and oil and gas from Russia.

Sustainable aviation fuel Fuel that’s made from recycled cooking oil for example – it works in jet engines but unfortunately costs a lot and is in short supply.

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Local solutions

All politics is local… and so is all climate and energy! Around the world, people use whatever energy sources are cheapest and most available locally. They innovate and invest in the climate solutions that make sense locally, trying experiments that can be replicated elsewhere if they work. And they suffer the local consequences (e.g. health impacts) of extracting and burning fossil fuels. The politics of resilience, energy independence, and climate justice and equity are also very specific to local communities.

Key questions: How much control can local communities exercise? How to get broad local buy-in for projects and investments? How to outflank utilities and other incumbents, or regional/national governments who may foot-drag or impose too many restrictions and hurdles?

Key local solutions terminology and concepts:

Bikeability Efforts to make local communities as appealing and safe to people using bicycles (and eBikes) as possible, to get people out of cars and traffic.

Bus rapid transit Buses which run in dedicated lanes so they don’t get stuck (as much) in traffic; cheaper to build per mile than either underground subways or above-ground light rail.

Climate justice Making sure communities who’ve suffered from proximity to fossil fuels (extraction, processing, emissions, impacts etc) benefit equally or more so from decarbonization.

Community energy co-ops Local buying (often quasi-governmental) organizations which can purchase wholesale (and cleaner) electricity for their local communities.

Community solar Solar installed near a local community, whose output is is financed by and shared by that community.

Islanding The ability to be self-reliant locally for energy and electricity, via a local microgrid and/or other local energy sources. People who live on islands already know what this means!

Local health Many health hazards and impacts of fossil fuels are local (carbon monoxide, diesel particulates, groundwater contamination etc), and local decarbonization efforts can alleviate them.

Micromobility Getting around locally with a wide variety of (probably electrified) car alternatives like e-bikes and scooters.

Permitting and planning Lots of permitting and planning (e.g. zoning and building codes) happens at the local level, so streamlining and improving those processes for climate-friendly projects is very leveraged.

Public transportation Buses, light rail, subways, commuter trains, and other forms of public transit are all highly emissions-reducing compared to drivers sitting in traffic in cars.

Recycling A signature climate effort for many communities, recycling is getting more targeted as it becomes clear that not all things (e.g. plastics) can really be recycled effectively.

Resilience Local communities can become more self-reliant in the event of extreme weather or other disruptive events by developing local energy systems (e.g. solar, storage, microgrids).

Walkability Efforts to make local communities as appealing and safe to people getting around by walking as possible, to get people out of cars and traffic.

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Climate policies and regulations are critical, at the global, national and local levels. But they’ve lagged the climate crisis and fallen behind previous committments (Kyoto 2005, Paris 2015, etc.). Carrots (incentive policies) have fared better than sticks (mandates, carbon taxes), but short term political interests and fossil fuel industry lobbying have prevented much progress on either. The U.S. Inflation Reduction Act, a massive response to China’s lead on solar, EVs and batteries, may now change that. But the Ukraine war also stoked a global thirst for energy security, and fossil fuels, limiting political appetite for aggressive climate policies.

Key terminology and concepts:

1.5/2.7 degrees A 2015 global agreement targeted limiting temperature rises over pre-industrial levels to about three degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 Celsius).

Cap and trade (emissions trading) Government programs requiring companies to reduce emissions below certain levels (caps), or buy emissions permits from others who’ve done so.

Carbon taxes Taxing carbon consumption or emissions to give incentives for reducing them.

Climate subsidies When governments support or help underwrite the cost of climate technologies and programs. Can be via tax, direct investment, loans etc.

Feed-in tariffs Government compensation guarantees and subsidies for renewable energy developers.

IRA The U.S. Inflation Reduction Act, a massive multi-hundred-billion dollar investment in decarbonization and climate tech (both supply and demand side).

Resource adequacy Policies requiring utilities to have a certain amount of extra grid generation capacity on hand at all times. Increasingly a way to favor fossil fuel plants as renewables undercut them on cost.

Tax credits Many countries use their tax codes to incentivize production and/or consumption of decarbonized energy.

Trade tariffs Import duties placed on key inputs (e.g. Chinese solar panels) which can split stakeholders politically (deploy faster vs. grow domestic capacity).

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Fossil fuels have been gushing profit and soaking up investment dollars since the early 20th century. But today, the funding battle with low carbon alternatives is on. Investors’ and governments’ financial decisions will likely decide who wins this hugely consequential money fight: whether we decarbonize the planet or not (and how fast). Low-carbon technologies like solar and wind are now the cheapest energy sources on the planet. But fossil fuels are the devil money managers (and energy buyers) know, and they continue to be hugely profitable. Here’s some key things to know about climate finance, economics and investing.

Key terminology and concepts:

Banks Banks control the money flow to fossil fuel projects and infrastructure. In 2022, banks provided almost $700 billion to finance fossil fuel projects globally.

Cost curves Show how much cheaper technologies are getting (like climate tech), and how quickly.

Divestment When organizations with large investment portfolios (public pension funds, universities) sell off their investments in fossil fuel companies.

Energy as a service Financing arrangement where 3rd parties pay for building energy upgrades (e.g. efficiency or rooftop solar), and then sell services back to the building owners like a utility.

ESG Meant to be an investing shorthand for investing in companies that behave well across three broad areas (environmental, social, and governance).

Green bonds Money loaned (debt financing) to governments and companies, purportedly to be used on green projects.

Insurance companies Invest hundred of billions of dollars annually in fossil fuel projects, and also crucially underwrite them: without this insurance, the projects wouldn’t get built.

Power purchase agreement A long term commitment by a corporate buyer (‘offtaker’) to purchase power from a new (e.g. solar or wind) power plant.

Renewable energy certificate (REC) A certificate large energy buyers get that proves they’ve bought a certain amount of renewable energy.

Shareholder activism When shareholders use proxy fights or other forms of pressure to try to force companies to move faster on decarbonization.

Stranded assets Assets like coal power plants which are no longer profitable, but that a utility is stuck with contractually and must keep paying for.

Sunk cost The cost of something that’s paid for but no longer makes sense to use, like obsolete fossil fuel infrastructure.

Time of use rates Customers pay more or less per kWh at predetermined times of day, loosely based on when demand is higher and supply lower.

Total cost of ownership The complete cost of owning and operating an asset over time, including purchase, financing, operating (e.g. fuel) and maintenance costs.

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Acronym Bee

OK… think you learned all the climate tech terms and concepts above? Try covering up the definitions below and guessing what they are just from the acronym!

BRT Bus rapid transit.

BTU British thermal unit.

CO2 Carbon dioxide.

CCS Combined charging system.

CCS Carbon capture and storage.

CFC Chlorofluorocarbon.

CH4 Methane.

CNG Compressed methane gas.

COP Conference of parties (UNFCCC).

DAC Direct air capture.

DER Distributed energy resource.

ESG Environmental, social and governance.

GaN Gallium nitride.

GET Grid enhancing technologies.

GHP Geothermal Heat Pump.

GHG Greenhouse gas.

GWh Gigawatt-hour.

GWP Global warming potential.

HVAC Heating, ventilation and air conditioning.

HVDC High voltage direct current.

ICE Internal combustion engine.

IRA Inflation reduction act.

ITC Investment tax credit.

kWh Kilowatt-hour.

kVA Kilovolt-amp.

LED Light emitting diode.

LFP Lithium iron phosphate.

LNG Liquified methane gas.

LPG Liquified petroleum gas.

MWh Megawatt-hour.

NEM Net energy metering.

NH3 Ammonia.

NMC Nickel managanese cobalt.

NOX Nitrous oxides.

N2O Nitrous oxide.

PPA Power purchase agreement.

PPM Parts per million.

PTC Production tax credit.

PUC Public utilities commission.

REC Renewable energy certificate.

ROI Return on investment.

SiC Silicon carbide.

SMR Small modular reactor.

TCO Total cost of ownership.

TOU Time-of-use (rates).

T&D Transmission and distribution.

VPP Virtual power plant.

V2B Vehicle to building.

V2G Vehicle to grid.

V2X Vehicle to anything.