Plus: Dogs and storage deals
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JAN 19, 2022

Good day!

We’re debuting a new recurring section of Cipher today! It’s called Voices, where we publish articles written by experts on topics important to our mission of supporting the technological transformations that we need to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

To submit a Voices article for consideration, please email with a suggested headline and the first sentence idea. We're looking to feature experts with a range of experience and technological focus.

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Whether cars or energy storage, let’s be enthusiastic for portfolios

Dowling is graduate student in chemistry at the California Institute of Technology. Dowling has contributed to six publications on macro-energy systems over the last two years. You can reach her at

Many people concerned with reducing greenhouse gas emissions have become enthusiasts about a particular technology (wind, solar, nuclear, etc.) and argue that technology alone could address most of our climate challenge.

While enthusiasm for particular technologies can be helpful, it has become increasingly clear that there won’t be a single “silver bullet” technology that will clean up our electricity grid and provide affordable reliability. Some have argued that instead of thinking in terms of a “silver bullet” we need to be thinking in terms of “silver buckshot”—a broad portfolio of energy technologies for the clean energy transition that can serve multiple functional roles and overcome different types of challenges, as U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm says.

Indeed, whether for energy supply or energy use, broad portfolios often better meet needs at lower cost and with less risk.

Consider the transportation sector. People can travel to their destinations in various ways—planes, trains, buses, boats, cars, bikes. Zoom in further to the car industry: there is no “one size fits all” type of car for everyone. Some prefer large cars for high-clearance mountain driving, and others prefer small cars to zip around the city. Different types of cars are successful in the market because they fill different functional roles.

What is true of transportation is also true of most of the rest of the energy system.

In our electricity system, wind turbines and solar panels can provide cheap bulk electrical power when the wind blows and the sun shines, but other generation technologies may be better suited to reliably meet peaks in electricity demand. Some energy storage technologies cost more and are more efficient, while others cost less but are less efficient.

As with cars, this doesn’t mean that every energy technology will be successful in the market. A broad portfolio does not mean an undiscerning portfolio. A broad range of concepts needs support at early stages of development, but critical analysis will be needed to assess which early-stage technologies might be able to compete in a future marketplace.

Different clean energy technologies perform different functions, and they each have their pros and cons. Considerations may include technology performance, cost or constraints due to geographic requirements, the rarity of materials, social needs or unintended consequences.

While enthusiasm for particular technologies can make a positive contribution, we need enthusiasm for developing a broad portfolio of technologies that can potentially compete in future marketplaces, and which—taken collectively—could successfully address our climate challenge.

Editor’s note: Dowling's advisor is Caltech chemistry Professor Nathan S. Lewis, and they collaborate closely with Ken Caldeira. Caldeira is a senior scientist at the Carnegie Institution for Science and Breakthrough Energy, which supports Cipher.

Amy’s Lunchtime Reads
and Hot Takes

Zero-emission, all-electric school buses to be manufactured in West VirginiaWest Virginia Metro News
My take: The story focuses mostly on economic development, which is how more and more red states will embrace cleantech manufacturing.

Plugging the U.S. fossil revenue gap won’t be easy Axios
My take: This is one of those inconvenient truths the climate community shouldn’t ignore. I’d love to see to what degree clean energy could help fill these gaps.

Car Advertising Finally Goes Electric Bloomberg
My take: Greenwashing is when green marketing occurs in lieu of actual investments. But when green marketing follows actual investments, that means we’re finally in business.

California’s Gov. Newsom says ‘changes need to be made’ to the state’s polarizing net-metering proposal Canary Media
My take: This is a microcosm of the intensifying battles in climate and clean energy policy: supporting a growing solar industry versus ensuring equitable energy costs.

Next-generation solar project proposed in eastern Kern The Bakersfield Californian
My take: It’s exciting—and much needed—to see new applications for wind and solar, above and beyond their traditional electricity applications.

Germany faces 'gigantic' task meeting energy, climate goalsAP News
My take: When we make the easy stuff hard, the hard stuff becomes impossible. Keeping existing nuclear reactors open that are safely operating should be easy. It would have made this task a little less “gigantic.”

Is Norway the Future of Cars? The New York Times
My take: After getting past the question headline and another wrong turn on the use of parentheticals, this article does a good job of laying out why Norway has been so successful with electric cars. But I would have liked more reality-checking when it comes to the types of taxes Americans and other populations would be willing to stomach.

Air France-KLM Raises Fares to Fund Shift to Sustainable Fuels Bloomberg
My take: This seems like a minor fare increase considering the current cost of sustainable aviation fuel; then again, the amount of SAF this airline plans to blend any time soon is miniscule.

US government squandered hundreds of millions on ‘clean coal’ pipe dream Canary Media
My take: Such an important read on the expensive lessons learned putting lots of government money into installing coal-fired power plants with carbon capture technology. One intriguing issue this report did not cover is the politics behind why senior leaders at the Energy Department (presumably under then-President Obama) urged funding to continue despite projects missing deadlines.

Brussels Airlines makes 3,000 unnecessary flights to maintain airport slots The Bulletin
My take: OK, Lufthansa, a few weeks ago I highlighted your green rewards program for customers as a possibly good way to engage individuals on climate. But this article makes me regret doing that. Not cool!

More of what I'm reading:
  • BlackRock’s Larry Fink tells fellow CEOs that businesses are not ‘climate police’ — The Washington Post
  • White House departures send tremors through environmental community — POLITICO
  • ExxonMobil aims for net zero greenhouse gas emissions from operations by 2050 — The Washington Post
  • Jigar Shah on DOE's big new loan for a hydrogen plant and what’s coming next — Canary Media
  • Bill Gates’ climate fund looks to funnel billions into carbon removal, green hydrogen, and more — The Verge
Storage deals soar since 2018
Source: Long Duration Energy Storage Council, PitchBook • Data is based on public investments, venture capital, private equity, corporate and debt investments of 35 major LDES companies.

Investments in long duration energy storage have increased by nearly a factor of 13 since 2018.

The data comes from a recent report by the Long Duration Energy Storage (LDES) Council and year-end numbers from PitchBook, a financial research firm and data provider.

Long duration energy storage is classified as technologies that can store energy for days and even weeks at a time. This type contrasts with the most well-known type of storage: lithium-ion batteries.

As Dowling wrote above, different types of storage technologies serve different purposes. LDES can compensate for seasons that are less windy than normal (as Europe has just experienced), while lithium-ion batteries can work best with cars and brief stints on a power grid.

The LDES Council, which launched at the United Nations Climate Change Conference last November, includes roughly two dozen members ranging from technology startups to major corporations, including BP, Siemens Energy and Rio Tinto.

This year is already serving up more big deals. Goldman Sachs just invested $250 million from its private equity division into Hydrostor, according to Canary Media. The outlet says this makes it “one of the largest corporate investments ever made” in an LDES company.

Note: Breakthrough Energy is a member of the LDES Council.

Dogs, solar and soot-filled skies
Jennifer Holmgren, CEO of LanzaTech, a company we profiled a couple of editions ago, shares this photo of her with her two rescued greyhounds and solar panels. But she says the real story is the observation dome also pictured here. “Clear skies every night in the mountains of Colorado are now often soot-filled from all the fires,” Holmgren said on LinkedIn.
Each week, we feature a photo that is somehow related to energy, the thing we all need but don’t notice until it’s expensive or gone. Email your ideas and photos to
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