Why Batteries Will Save the World
And Four Cool Jobs becomes Four Layers
Hello all. First,
Some news! 4 Cool Jobs is now called Four Layers
This newsletter has always been written for operators, investors, job-seekers, and curious people who want to understand things right down to their building blocks. The name Four Layers speaks to the method of this analysis: moving past unexplanatory theses, peeling back the layers of a problem, and getting to the molten core of what’s driving change. Every episode will continue to include career-changing industries and companies.
This has de facto been the structure of this newsletter for a while now: we’ve seen that it takes at least four layers to get to the core of a problem.
Last week’s topic, sports tech, showed that:
Sports are powered by massive TV deals
TV deals are powered by a flywheel of hype generating attention generating yet more hype
This revenue and flywheel are threatened by the disruption of traditional media
As a result, the future of sports will follow the future of sports media
Way back when, my piece on no-code tech showed that:
No code tools make it dramatically easier to make software
This is a matter of accessibility but also of cost
Due to this, we’ll see the proliferation of software in ever-smaller verticals
Choice will become overwhelming, and curation will become essential
This week: Energy Tech in Four Layers
As we all know, the approaching apocalypse of climate change is one of the most critical problems currently faced by humanity. Over 50% of greenhouse gas emissions in the US are generated by the burning of fossil fuels for two purposes: transportation and electricity.
This tells us that we can drastically cut our emissions if we’re able to innovate in one area: energy tech. This week, I’ve partnered with my friends at Climate Tech VC to analyze this topic in four layers.
Some background on our collaborator this week:
Climate Tech VC is a weekly newsletter on climate and innovation. We bring you perspective on the evolving world of climate tech by interviewing top investors & operators and covering recent venture deals, news, and jobs.
The narrative we all know is that breaking our dependence on fossil fuels requires cheap and efficient technology for renewable energy capture: wind turbines, photovoltaics. The good news is that the momentum to solve this problem is there, and has been for a while: the price of wind and solar energy has fallen nearly 90% in the last 40 years. Thanks to a combination of demand-spurring policies and R&D investment, solar is actually now the cheapest source of new energy generation in many parts of the world.
We have economically-palatable solutions for renewable energy capture, but we now face a challenge when it comes to distribution. Today, our energy grids use a just-in-time system: there is no delay and no storage. Detailed forecasting is necessary because “at each point in time, total production must be equal to total consumption” (source). This works because when there is greater than expected demand, utility companies—mediated by energy markets—can simply spin up more production. Our entire grid is built upon the premise of this control:
The challenge is that neither wind nor solar energy can be manipulated in this manner: both are intermittent rather than controllable (ex., hydropower) or constant (ex., geothermal). sunlight varies daily and seasonally, while wind has primarily seasonal intermittence. They will never meet demand perfectly, and they cannot be spun up on whim, so we will have to find a way to change the grid to deal with this intermittency.
We can cope with the intermittency of renewables by building centralized and decentralized energy storage into the grid. The system would look like this:
In this model, macro grids run by utility companies work in tandem with microgrids that are equipped with software and operated within communities. Microgrids leverage the fact that renewable energy capture can be decentralized to add redundancy and resilience to the grid. Small networks of homes and businesses equipped with compact PV kits will store and disperse energy according to local supply and demand. If local supply ever eclipses local demand, microgrids can also sell back to the macro grid, helping to cope with any supply/demand mismatches on a larger scale.
Most importantly, both the macro grid and the micro grid in this system will be equipped with storage. When the supply of energy is greater than demand, extra energy will be stored. When supply is low, utilities will draw from that storage. This fundamental change will allow us to cope with energy production intermittencies and move to a grid of 100% renewables.
The same technology that will allow us to store energy within our grid is also what will push electric vehicles over the finish line, allowing us to drastically reduce transportation emissions. The Lithium Ion battery, first commercialized in the 1990s, takes advantage of the high electrochemical potential of Lithium (it’s ability to shed electrons) to produce a powerful, energy-dense system of energy storage—a huge upgrade over the lead acid battery. This technology can be applied both to cars and the grid.
We’ve come a long way toward operationalizing this battery: its price has plummeted more than 10x since it was developed, but we’re still trying to make it last longer. The goal is to produce a longer-lasting “million mille” battery—and important grid implications if we are able to form a virtuous loop of recycling car batteries for grid use.
It’s important to note that there are tons of political and supply chain problems tied to this. Currently, China produces most of the worlds Lithium Ion batteries, raising geopolitical concerns. The mining of Cobalt, Lithium, and other metals needed to support the battery can also be so pollutive and harmful to local economies that watchdogs have repeatedly urged for the design of an “ethical battery.”
In summary: a principle way to combat climate change is by building sustainable energy tech, and in particular, the energy storage that will make it possible for our grid and our transportation to rely fully on renewables. Thus: batteries will help us save the world.
Companies and Careers in Energy Tech
Form Energy is building some of the most innovative Lithium Ion battery technology on the market to facilitate long-duration energy storage technology and transform the grid. They are hiring for a variety of roles spanning product management, operations, people operations, analytics, software engineering, and hardware engineering.
Moxia is building technology for residential energy storage. Their battery, called a “solar leaf,” is temperature controlled and attaches directly to solar panels. They are hiring project managers and engineers.
Redwood Materials is thinking two steps ahead, building the battery recycling technology that will help us deal with the waste produced by a society that is reliant on energy storage in the grid and in cars. They are hiring for interns, operations professionals, and engineers.