Guest Post

Climate Promises in an Age of Colliding Crises

Micah Kotch, the Managing Director of URBAN-X, an accelerator for startups reimagining city life explains how the Biden Administration can move the needle on Climate Change while facing multiple crises at the start of the administration.

Guest Post
Guest Post
Dec 3, 2020
Climate Promises in an Age of Colliding Crises
🔒 Member-only content. 🔒
OR

Happy Thursday! 🙌 It's been an exciting week for Urban Tech. We launched our podcast and today's edition features our first guest post —something I've wanted to do since starting UT.

Listen to the Urban Tech Podcast

Created by Urban Tech’s internal content factory

This post is written by Micah Kotch, the Managing Director of URBAN-X, an accelerator for startups reimagining city life.

The accelerator was created by MINI (the maker of the MINI Cooper) and the seed-stage venture firm Urban Us. Micah shares his thoughts on how the Biden administration can make progress on energy resiliency and climate action in a moment with crises on multiple fronts.

Some of my biggest takeaways:

  • 💰 The federal government spends less than $9 billion annually on energy innovation, less than a quarter of what it invests in health innovation;
  • ⚡️He sees four crucial areas for energy investment: creating a modern electrical grid; protecting that grid from cyber-security threats; fostering the proliferation of microgrids, and incentivizing restorative behaviors from large electricity consumers;
  • 💯 Micah explains why “a resilient, low-carbon economy must also be built upon the foundation of justice and equality”;
  • 📈 and finally, he outlines methods for creating “both ‘technology push’ policies that fund academic research with ‘market pull’ policies that create a path for impact at scale.”

Micah is precisely the type of person I wanted to start the series. He's thoughtful, passionate about cities, and has insights that will be valuable to Urban Tech's Community. Many of you reading also fit this description!

As I explained in Tuesday's Urban Tech Product Memo, where I shared our first podcast trailer, bringing in experts to share insights with our community is a major priority for me right now.

If there's a topic related to the intersection of cities and tech that you'd like to share with our community, let me know by replying or completing this form (you can also use it to let me know if you're interested in coming on the Urban Tech Podcast).

Write a guest post for Urban Tech

A final note: thank you to everyone who checked out and shared the UT podcast trailer. Please keep sharing it with your networks. The podcast is now live on Apple Podcasts, and pretty much anywhere you find podcasts.

Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Amazon Music | Youtube | In Browser

Some exciting guests are already booked and I can’t wait to share more in the coming weeks.

Okay, let’s get to Micah’s post!

Climate Promises in an Age of Colliding Crises

by Micah Kotch, Managing Director of URBAN-X

Today, the federal government spends less than $9 billion annually on energy innovation, less than a quarter of what it invests in health innovation and less than a tenth of what it invests in defense innovation. 

As we sit at a crossroads of an unprecedented confluence of challenges -- from a public health crisis, to a leadership crisis, to a climate crisis, to a racial equity and social justice crisis — it’s time we look for new solutions to solve some of our most urgent problems. 

With Joe Biden now as our President-elect, his administration must explore the ways that energy resiliency and climate action can help to see us through times of crisis, like today, and urge public leaders to take action that creates a new normal where a resilient, reliable and affordable energy system powers our economy, safeguards our public health, and provides a path to social and economic mobility.

One part of the equation requires increased federal support for the growing climate technology sector aimed at creating a resilient energy system to support America’s people and economy. 

The DOE estimates that weather-related power outages alone cost the US economy $18 billion to $33 billion per year. (These estimates were made before the recent years of wildfires and public safety power shut-offs in California.) 

It’s not just the coastal elites who are impacted: as automation impacts manufacturing, consistent electricity supply in the Midwest and Rust Belt will be impacted by extreme weather events too

President-elect Biden has already called for a $2 trillion investment and a strong push for innovation to drive a low-carbon future. To make energy resilience the centerpiece for our national recovery, his administration should act decisively (even without the support of Congress if need be) on the following four areas: 

  • creating a modern, self-healing smart grid;
  • protecting the grid from cyber attack; 
  • fostering the proliferation of microgrids to create local energy resilience; and 
  • incentivizing restorative behaviors from large electricity consumers.

The first aspect of this legislation would be to create a federal energy resilience grant program, covering different aspects of resilience throughout the energy system. This program, an expanded successor to the Smart Grid Investment Grant from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, would help fund transformational efforts in all four major areas, with prioritization on projects that impact multiple areas. These grants could be managed federally, through grants to state energy regulatory agencies, or even directly to utilities. 

The second element would be creating an energy resilience data hub. This hub, hosted by the Energy Information Administration and the Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security and Emergency Response (CESER), would collect and organize information from around the country that could foster a better understanding of energy threats, responses, and best practices. 

Finally, the legislation should establish a Presidential Award in each of these four areas to be awarded annually. This award (coordinated between the White House and CESER) would highlight the year’s best energy resilience efforts as a means of raising awareness of the issue, and encouraging ambitious action from the research, development, and tech communities.

A resilient, low-carbon economy must also be built upon the foundation of justice and equality. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, African Americans are almost 3 times more likely to die from asthma-related causes than their white counterparts.

And, nearly 1 in 2 of Latinos in the US live in counties where the air doesn’t meet EPA public health standards for smog. This type of environmental injustice is apparent across the U.S. and has only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s clear that more stringent environmental regulations are needed to put an end to polluting industries’ disproportionate effects in poor and minority communities. In just a few short weeks, Biden’s transition team has already been tasked to identify policies that can improve pollution levels in Black and Latinx communities. To further these efforts, the administration can build on Congressman Raul Grijalva’s Environmental Justice for All Act.

The federal government should develop a formal scoring system that prioritizes environmental justice and frontline engagement over dollar-and-cents cost-benefit analysis, as proposed in the Climate Equity Act, which would use data to inform planning and balance the scales. 

Investment in microgrids and energy storage will also help to reduce the need to operate “peaker plants” in times of highest demand. These plants are often the dirtiest generation resources and are disproportionately located near low-income communities and communities of color. 

Along with new regulations, to push climate action forward, the Biden administration must build consensus amongst community organizers, energy companies, renewable energy developers, and environmental organizations who are on the ground in these communities across the country.

By working closely with those on the frontline of these issues and leveraging their ideas and insights, we can effect policy with real, lasting change. Progress can be made without congressional approval, massive investments, or new laws.  

Finally, to help develop, scale, and fund a path to net-zero, Wall Street, Silicon Valley, and Big Tech need to be deeply engaged and committed. Old industries, which have been too slow to change, need new tools to tackle climate change. (High-temperature processes like steel and concrete manufacturing are one of the most difficult areas to decarbonize, yet the US DOE only spends 6% of its RD&D budget on ‘Industry’.)  

It’s imperative we increase both “technology push” policies that fund academic research with “market pull” policies that create a path for impact at scale. What this requires is early-stage investors to help mitigate risk, and a concerted effort from Wall Street, Silicon Valley and Big Tech to support new ideas, technologies and companies that are solving some of our toughest climate challenges. Real capital, real commitments, real culture change.

Startups aren't waiting for federal action. Founders continue to develop new solutions across transportation, energy generation, and industry (which collectively make up ~80% of US emissions).

Proterra is designing and manufacturing electric buses that operate at a lower overall cost than diesel, hybrid, or natural gas vehicles. Roadbotics (an URBAN-X portfolio company) helps governments better administer their public infrastructure assets by unifying their data on a single cloud platform. Investment in innovation and deployment are not mutually exclusive. Research by PwC indicates that approximately 6% of total capital invested in 2019 is focused on climate tech, increasing from $418 million in 2013 to $16.3 billion in 2019.

Major corporations, from BlackRock, to Amazon, to Softbank, also have the power to incite change. Both through investment and deployment of forward-thinking climate technologies and by asserting a benevolent influence on Capitol Hill that demands transparent, long-term and clear policies for an equitable climate agenda. 

And yes, large companies like these are increasingly committing to ambitious climate goals. However, it’s our role as citizens, investors, entrepreneurs, and shareholders to demand accountability that they live up to their word.

Today, in the midst of a hotly contested presidential election, we’ve seen the conversation on climate change grow in prominence across the nation. As part of Joe Biden’s $5 trillion “Build Back Better” plan, he calls for a $2 trillion investment and a strong push for energy innovation to drive a low-carbon future. This type of attention to and investment in climate tech is critical. With it, we may finally be able to act on the promise our country holds and be at the forefront of the industries that will define the next century.

We can create a robust pipeline for jobs in a low-carbon economy, rather than one pegged to oil and gas. We can have the tools to bridge the yawning equity and environmental justice divide laid bare for all to see by Covid-19. We can build new companies at scale that bring sustainability-forward solutions to age-old industries. 

To turn this vision into reality and make good on the campaign promises Biden’s already made requires real leadership, a belief in science and a true commitment to answer calls for climate action from across the nation. 

Without strong federal backing, we can’t possibly hope to meaningfully address the society-scale challenge we face. Optimism does not come easy, but it’s a choice. And despite the suffering around us and the challenges to come, I’m optimistic that, know it or not, we’ve embarked on a new path that can meet this moment.

Micah Kotch is Managing Director of URBAN-X, the accelerator for startups reimagining city life built by MINI and Urban Us.  After Hurricane Sandy, he launched NY Prize, a first in the nation community microgrid competition for the New York State Energy and Research Development Authority.  He is a proud board member of Green City Force, an AmeriCorps program that engages young adults from New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) communities in national service related to the environment.

Share Urban Tech

A big thanks to Micah for writing this piece. I hope it’s clear why I thought it was a great one to launch the guest post series.

If you enjoyed this post, on Thursday, December 10, URBAN-X is hosting a virtual discussion led by Kevin Delaney, Co-Founder and former Editor-in-Chief of Quartz and CEO of ResetWork, that will recap the events of 2020 through a city-focused lens.

A final ask 🙏: please continue to share Urban Tech to help us reach our next growth metric of 500 subscribers. We are super close, and I’m pumped to share with all of you as soon when we hit that milestone and can officially begin the pivot to the next KPI: 1,000 subscribers. 🔥

Thanks for reading. I’ll be back on Monday morning with the top city and tech stories you need to know to kick off your week.

✌️JT

Happy Thursday! 🙌 It's been an exciting week for Urban Tech. We launched our podcast and today's edition features our first guest post —something I've wanted to do since starting UT.

Listen to the Urban Tech Podcast

Created by Urban Tech’s internal content factory

This post is written by Micah Kotch, the Managing Director of URBAN-X, an accelerator for startups reimagining city life.

The accelerator was created by MINI (the maker of the MINI Cooper) and the seed-stage venture firm Urban Us. Micah shares his thoughts on how the Biden administration can make progress on energy resiliency and climate action in a moment with crises on multiple fronts.

Some of my biggest takeaways:

  • 💰 The federal government spends less than $9 billion annually on energy innovation, less than a quarter of what it invests in health innovation;
  • ⚡️He sees four crucial areas for energy investment: creating a modern electrical grid; protecting that grid from cyber-security threats; fostering the proliferation of microgrids, and incentivizing restorative behaviors from large electricity consumers;
  • 💯 Micah explains why “a resilient, low-carbon economy must also be built upon the foundation of justice and equality”;
  • 📈 and finally, he outlines methods for creating “both ‘technology push’ policies that fund academic research with ‘market pull’ policies that create a path for impact at scale.”

Micah is precisely the type of person I wanted to start the series. He's thoughtful, passionate about cities, and has insights that will be valuable to Urban Tech's Community. Many of you reading also fit this description!

As I explained in Tuesday's Urban Tech Product Memo, where I shared our first podcast trailer, bringing in experts to share insights with our community is a major priority for me right now.

If there's a topic related to the intersection of cities and tech that you'd like to share with our community, let me know by replying or completing this form (you can also use it to let me know if you're interested in coming on the Urban Tech Podcast).

Write a guest post for Urban Tech

A final note: thank you to everyone who checked out and shared the UT podcast trailer. Please keep sharing it with your networks. The podcast is now live on Apple Podcasts, and pretty much anywhere you find podcasts.

Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Amazon Music | Youtube | In Browser

Some exciting guests are already booked and I can’t wait to share more in the coming weeks.

Okay, let’s get to Micah’s post!

Climate Promises in an Age of Colliding Crises

by Micah Kotch, Managing Director of URBAN-X

Today, the federal government spends less than $9 billion annually on energy innovation, less than a quarter of what it invests in health innovation and less than a tenth of what it invests in defense innovation. 

As we sit at a crossroads of an unprecedented confluence of challenges -- from a public health crisis, to a leadership crisis, to a climate crisis, to a racial equity and social justice crisis — it’s time we look for new solutions to solve some of our most urgent problems. 

With Joe Biden now as our President-elect, his administration must explore the ways that energy resiliency and climate action can help to see us through times of crisis, like today, and urge public leaders to take action that creates a new normal where a resilient, reliable and affordable energy system powers our economy, safeguards our public health, and provides a path to social and economic mobility.

One part of the equation requires increased federal support for the growing climate technology sector aimed at creating a resilient energy system to support America’s people and economy. 

The DOE estimates that weather-related power outages alone cost the US economy $18 billion to $33 billion per year. (These estimates were made before the recent years of wildfires and public safety power shut-offs in California.) 

It’s not just the coastal elites who are impacted: as automation impacts manufacturing, consistent electricity supply in the Midwest and Rust Belt will be impacted by extreme weather events too

President-elect Biden has already called for a $2 trillion investment and a strong push for innovation to drive a low-carbon future. To make energy resilience the centerpiece for our national recovery, his administration should act decisively (even without the support of Congress if need be) on the following four areas: 

  • creating a modern, self-healing smart grid;
  • protecting the grid from cyber attack; 
  • fostering the proliferation of microgrids to create local energy resilience; and 
  • incentivizing restorative behaviors from large electricity consumers.

The first aspect of this legislation would be to create a federal energy resilience grant program, covering different aspects of resilience throughout the energy system. This program, an expanded successor to the Smart Grid Investment Grant from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, would help fund transformational efforts in all four major areas, with prioritization on projects that impact multiple areas. These grants could be managed federally, through grants to state energy regulatory agencies, or even directly to utilities. 

The second element would be creating an energy resilience data hub. This hub, hosted by the Energy Information Administration and the Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security and Emergency Response (CESER), would collect and organize information from around the country that could foster a better understanding of energy threats, responses, and best practices. 

Finally, the legislation should establish a Presidential Award in each of these four areas to be awarded annually. This award (coordinated between the White House and CESER) would highlight the year’s best energy resilience efforts as a means of raising awareness of the issue, and encouraging ambitious action from the research, development, and tech communities.

A resilient, low-carbon economy must also be built upon the foundation of justice and equality. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, African Americans are almost 3 times more likely to die from asthma-related causes than their white counterparts.

And, nearly 1 in 2 of Latinos in the US live in counties where the air doesn’t meet EPA public health standards for smog. This type of environmental injustice is apparent across the U.S. and has only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s clear that more stringent environmental regulations are needed to put an end to polluting industries’ disproportionate effects in poor and minority communities. In just a few short weeks, Biden’s transition team has already been tasked to identify policies that can improve pollution levels in Black and Latinx communities. To further these efforts, the administration can build on Congressman Raul Grijalva’s Environmental Justice for All Act.

The federal government should develop a formal scoring system that prioritizes environmental justice and frontline engagement over dollar-and-cents cost-benefit analysis, as proposed in the Climate Equity Act, which would use data to inform planning and balance the scales. 

Investment in microgrids and energy storage will also help to reduce the need to operate “peaker plants” in times of highest demand. These plants are often the dirtiest generation resources and are disproportionately located near low-income communities and communities of color. 

Along with new regulations, to push climate action forward, the Biden administration must build consensus amongst community organizers, energy companies, renewable energy developers, and environmental organizations who are on the ground in these communities across the country.

By working closely with those on the frontline of these issues and leveraging their ideas and insights, we can effect policy with real, lasting change. Progress can be made without congressional approval, massive investments, or new laws.  

Finally, to help develop, scale, and fund a path to net-zero, Wall Street, Silicon Valley, and Big Tech need to be deeply engaged and committed. Old industries, which have been too slow to change, need new tools to tackle climate change. (High-temperature processes like steel and concrete manufacturing are one of the most difficult areas to decarbonize, yet the US DOE only spends 6% of its RD&D budget on ‘Industry’.)  

It’s imperative we increase both “technology push” policies that fund academic research with “market pull” policies that create a path for impact at scale. What this requires is early-stage investors to help mitigate risk, and a concerted effort from Wall Street, Silicon Valley and Big Tech to support new ideas, technologies and companies that are solving some of our toughest climate challenges. Real capital, real commitments, real culture change.

Startups aren't waiting for federal action. Founders continue to develop new solutions across transportation, energy generation, and industry (which collectively make up ~80% of US emissions).

Proterra is designing and manufacturing electric buses that operate at a lower overall cost than diesel, hybrid, or natural gas vehicles. Roadbotics (an URBAN-X portfolio company) helps governments better administer their public infrastructure assets by unifying their data on a single cloud platform. Investment in innovation and deployment are not mutually exclusive. Research by PwC indicates that approximately 6% of total capital invested in 2019 is focused on climate tech, increasing from $418 million in 2013 to $16.3 billion in 2019.

Major corporations, from BlackRock, to Amazon, to Softbank, also have the power to incite change. Both through investment and deployment of forward-thinking climate technologies and by asserting a benevolent influence on Capitol Hill that demands transparent, long-term and clear policies for an equitable climate agenda. 

And yes, large companies like these are increasingly committing to ambitious climate goals. However, it’s our role as citizens, investors, entrepreneurs, and shareholders to demand accountability that they live up to their word.

Today, in the midst of a hotly contested presidential election, we’ve seen the conversation on climate change grow in prominence across the nation. As part of Joe Biden’s $5 trillion “Build Back Better” plan, he calls for a $2 trillion investment and a strong push for energy innovation to drive a low-carbon future. This type of attention to and investment in climate tech is critical. With it, we may finally be able to act on the promise our country holds and be at the forefront of the industries that will define the next century.

We can create a robust pipeline for jobs in a low-carbon economy, rather than one pegged to oil and gas. We can have the tools to bridge the yawning equity and environmental justice divide laid bare for all to see by Covid-19. We can build new companies at scale that bring sustainability-forward solutions to age-old industries. 

To turn this vision into reality and make good on the campaign promises Biden’s already made requires real leadership, a belief in science and a true commitment to answer calls for climate action from across the nation. 

Without strong federal backing, we can’t possibly hope to meaningfully address the society-scale challenge we face. Optimism does not come easy, but it’s a choice. And despite the suffering around us and the challenges to come, I’m optimistic that, know it or not, we’ve embarked on a new path that can meet this moment.

Micah Kotch is Managing Director of URBAN-X, the accelerator for startups reimagining city life built by MINI and Urban Us.  After Hurricane Sandy, he launched NY Prize, a first in the nation community microgrid competition for the New York State Energy and Research Development Authority.  He is a proud board member of Green City Force, an AmeriCorps program that engages young adults from New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) communities in national service related to the environment.

Share Urban Tech

A big thanks to Micah for writing this piece. I hope it’s clear why I thought it was a great one to launch the guest post series.

If you enjoyed this post, on Thursday, December 10, URBAN-X is hosting a virtual discussion led by Kevin Delaney, Co-Founder and former Editor-in-Chief of Quartz and CEO of ResetWork, that will recap the events of 2020 through a city-focused lens.

A final ask 🙏: please continue to share Urban Tech to help us reach our next growth metric of 500 subscribers. We are super close, and I’m pumped to share with all of you as soon when we hit that milestone and can officially begin the pivot to the next KPI: 1,000 subscribers. 🔥

Thanks for reading. I’ll be back on Monday morning with the top city and tech stories you need to know to kick off your week.

✌️JT

Climate Promises in an Age of Colliding Crises

Guest Post

A post written by a special guest

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