Sentiment shift

Winds of change in nuclear energy?

Howdy,

Hope all who celebrated had a lovely Thanksgiving and that you got some good R&R. It’s almost December, which means it’s almost the end of 2023. Which is wild. In service of that, the content over the coming month will start taking on a ‘year-in-review’ type tenor. 

If you’re still easing your way back into things, you can skip the top section and go straight to the roundup of climate tech fundraising and energy headlines.

In today’s email:

  • A sentiment shift for nuclear energy?

  • Climate tech fundraising announcements 

  • Climate tech and energy headlines

DEEP DIVE

A big story for me when I reflect on 2023 as a whole has been a sentiment or ‘zeitgeist’ shift in how people who are roughly my age and who roughly look like me demographically think about nuclear energy. This shift is important because the generation before mine (hi, Mom) often fought tooth and nail against nuclear power. With significant success, mind you.

My German compatriots are a prime example of extremely effective efforts, both at the grassroots and national policy level, to shut down nuclear power plants. Especially as it pertains to plants that were already built and in operation (sunk costs), that’s come at a massive detriment to the climate and the climate industry. Nor is it just Germany; other EU countries are doing the same.

Nuclear reactors at the Port of Antwerp in Belgium (Shutterstock). Belgium is among the EU nations that has shut down some of its once operational nuclear fleet. 

Sitting here in late 2023 however, it seems the tide is turning again. Some of the zeitgeist shift is driven by real, albeit ultimately modest, legislative and policy tailwinds:

Nor is the sentiment shift surrounding nuclear energy just tangible to me in the ‘vibes’ on social media and at the level of international policy. Uranium prices are at five-year highs, as pictured below. Uranium prices crested over $80 for the first time in fifteen years before correcting a bit.

What happens in 2024 and beyond? Let’s explore.

Don’t hold your breath (in the U.S.)

Don’t hold your breath for a nuclear renaissance stateside, at least in the short term. To this day, the U.S. has the largest fleet of nuclear reactors of any country globally. That’s in spite of the fact that almost no new reactors have come online in the 21st century. 

Had the U.S. kept up its pace of reactor deployment from the 1970s, it’s possible we’d have a 100% low-carbon power sector today. Suffice it to say that didn’t happen for a variety of reasons, including near-catastrophic accidents domestically – like Three Mile Island – and actual catastrophes globally (Chernobyl).

Forty years or so on from those major pivot points in the history of nuclear energy, the generation to which I belong seems to have cultivated enough distance from past nuclear scares and the anti-nuclear tinges of the Cold War to warm up to fission again. I count myself among the camp of proponents. 

Still, I’d be the last person to claim nuclear energy is without its issues. When introducing the downside discussion, many folks focus on safety in general and the storage of nuclear waste. Those are less interesting to me than how little the nuclear energy industry in the U.S. has progressed in my lifetime.

Deploying new reactors in the U.S. has become painfully difficult, not to mention expensive. While two new reactors are coming online in Georgia at Plant Vogtle – marking the first time in fifteen-plus years that the U.S. is actually adding new nuclear capacity – Plant Vogtle cost way more than initially projected. Those are costs ratepayers (i.e., everyday people like you) may have to bear, mind you. Plus, the reactors took seven years longer than originally projected. The fourth and final unit at the plant still won’t be operational until next year. 

The most ardent proponents of nuclear energy in the U.S. often suggest that onerous regulation is the main reason it’s become almost untenable to get a new reactor built. I don’t have an informed opinion on whether and to what extent that’s true. 

Whatever the proximate causes of challenges in deploying new reactors are, the best thing for countries like the U.S. to focus on is keeping operational nuclear assets working and restarting reactors that work but aren’t in operation. Yes, this can require additional capital investment for upgrades and maintenance. But with plants already built, costs pale in comparison to building new ones. New material requirements are minimal, expensive upfront CAPEX at high interest rates isn’t a factor, and new interconnection isn’t required. 

Nuclear power plants aren’t perfect (just like any other power plant, they see outages), but they’re reliable sources of a massive amount of low-carbon electrons. Nor is any electricity generation source perfect. As it pertains to the energy transition, perfection is the enemy of lower-carbon.

What about internationally? (+ a word on COP28)

Beyond the U.S., while there is positive ‘energy’ coalescing for the nuclear power industry, there is a vast gulf between the top-down policies that countries or international bodies set regarding climate or energy technologies and their actual deployment. 

For instance, at COP28, the U.S., in conjunction with the U.K., plans to call for a tripling of installed nuclear power capacity by 2050. The Bloomberg article cited in the previous sentence notes this as a “major turnaround for the controversial technology at the climate negotiations.”

Is it? When I first started covering climate tech and energy, I was often laser-focused on announcements like this one. More nuclear! Awesome! Over time, however, I’ve grown more lukewarm on them. What interests me more in the present moment are ‘concrete’ plans and progress, most often spearheaded by private sector actors or a coalition of stakeholders, to invest in and deploy projects. I’m talking about actually putting steel in the ground.

It can be challenging to see a throughline from the grand goals that governments set at events like COP 28 and how it actually ‘trickles’ down to deployment. I have a hard time seeing it. Many past commitments made at COP conferences haven’t come to bear

I will keep an eye on the COP 28 proceedings and will ask people on the ground how it’s going. But I doubt I’ll cover it much after this. Maybe something or someone will change my mind about its impact this year or in the future. 

As it pertains to the possibility of global nuclear energy renaissance, the stepwise flow that matters to me most is as follows: 

  1. Firm commitments and investments by countries and corporations to deploy reactors

  2. Legislative and policy changes or updates to facilitate and accelerate #1

  3. Project development progress that maps to timelines and budgets set in #1

For instance, last week, we discussed the Barakh nuclear power plant in the UAE. Construction on the plant began in 2012, and now it’s done: The plant is almost 100% operational. That’s pretty good in the nuclear world, especially considering the plant includes four 1.4 GW reactors and will provide ~25% of the UAE’s electricity.

The net-net (tl;dr)

OK, I just articulated that the goals and targets that national and international bodies set don’t excite me that much. Now, I’ll close by saying that they do still matter, provided there’s follow-through.

The countries that are effectively building new nuclear power plants today often facilitate deeper cooperation between the public and private sectors. China and the UAE, despite having fundamentally different economic systems, offer examples of this. There’s a lesson in that about what a comprehensive response to climate change, both with respect to the power sector and other major sources of emissions, will require.

Market forces are certainly unleashing a wave of low-carbon energy deployment, especially as it pertains to renewable energy and EVs. Still, there are limits to how far that progress can extend. Market forces, like higher interest rates, work both ways and can slow deployment progress just as quickly as they accelerate it.

Whether you look at transmission lines, low-carbon power plants, or efforts to protect forests against deforestation, a lot of the progress I’ve seen in 2023 involved governments – and their various departments – at some level (often a significant one).

DEAL HEAT

Medium-sized funding rounds

🥑 Matsmart-Motatos, based out of Stockholm, Sweden, raised ~$44M in equity funding for its food waste-focused online grocery marketplace. Circularity Capital led. More here. (Sweden, Food & Agriculture)

🌱 Planet Farms, based out of Milan, Italy, raised $40M in equity funding for its vertical farming business. More here. (Italy, Food & Agriculture)

Advanced Electric Machines, based out of Washington, U.K., raised ~$28.8M in Series A funding to design and manufacture electric motors and powertrain systems. Legal & General Capital and Barclays Sustainable Impact Capital co-led. More here. (U.K., Industry)

🌞 Tsun, based out of Shanghai, China, raised ~$20.7M in Series B funding to increase production of its solar photovoltaic microinverters. IDG Capital led. More here. (China, Energy)

♻️ Safi, based out of London, raised $19.5M in Series A funding for its B2B marketplace for recyclable materials. Nosara Capital led. More here. (U.K., Materials)

💡 Red Horticulture, based out of Lyon, France, raised ~$18.5M in Series A funding for its dynamic greenhouse lighting startup. European Circular Bioeconomy Fund led. More here. (France, Food & Agriculture)

♻️ Le Fourgon, based out of Wambrechies, France, raised ~$11M in Series A funding to popularize reusable food and drink containers. Id4 Ventures, Teampact, and La Poste Ventures participated. More here. (France, Industry)

🏠 Eliq, based out of Gothenburg, Sweden, raised ~$11M in growth equity funding for its home energy efficiency platform. Inven Capital, Axpo, and Valkea invested. More here. (Sweden, Built Environment)

Smaller funding rounds

🍎 Ryp Labs, based out of Seattle, raised $8.1M in Series funding for its food labels aimed at combating fruit and vegetable food waste. King Philanthropies led. More here (paywall). (U.S., Food & Agriculture)

♨️ Arkeon Energy Systems, based out of Saint-cyr-l'ecole, France, raised ~$6M in equity funding for its thermodynamic cycle and thermal stage heating, air conditioning, and electricity generation technologies. Team for the Planet, France 2030, and Crédit Agricole invested. More here (paywall). (France, Built Environment)

🏢 Vizcab, based out of Lyon, France, raised ~$5.5M in Series A funding for its software that helps construction companies measure and reduce the emissions from their building construction projects. Kompas VC led. More here. (France, Built Environment)

👨‍💻 Generative Engineering, based out of London, raised ~$4.4M in pre-seed funding for its software focused on improving physical engineering efficiency. EQT Ventures led. More here. (U.K., Built Environment)

🔬 Osium AI, based out of Paris, raised $2.6M in seed funding for its materials innovation platform. Y Combinator, Kima Ventures, Singular, Collaborative Fund, and Raise Phiture invested. More here. (France, Materials)

🌱 Floreon, based out of Hull, U.K., raised ~$2M in Series A funding from Northern Gritstone for its bioplastics development business. The company focuses on making plastic alternatives from plants. More here. (U.K., Materials)

📱 Reboxed, based out of London, raised ~$2M in seed funding for its electronics resale marketplace that aims to reduce e-waste. ACF Investors led. More here. (U.K., Industry)

⬇️ CarpeCarbon, based out of Turin, Italy, raised ~$1.85M in pre-seed funding to develop a DAC pilot project in Piedmont, Italy. CDP Venture Capital’s Tech4Planet initiative, 360 Capital, and others invested. More here. (Italy, Carbon Removal)

📊 Avarni, based out of Sydney, raised ~$1.6M in extended equity funding for its carbon accounting and Scope 3 emissions tracking software targeted at major corporates. Main Sequence, Sprint Ventures, and AfterWork Ventures invested. More here. (Australia, Climate Data)

⬇️ Sirona, based out of Brussels, Belgium, raised $1M in pre-seed funding to build a DAC startup. XAnge, Voyagers' Climate-Tech Fund, Syndicate One, and others invested. More here. (Belgium, Carbon Removal)

‎‍🌾 Bio-Logical, based out of Makuyu, Kenya, raised $1M to build the largest biochar production facility in Africa and convert waste into fertilizer ingredients. The company is targeting capacity to transform over 30,000 tonnes of agricultural waste into biochar annually, sequestering 25,000 tonnes of CO2 in the process. Steyn Group led. More here. (Kenya, Carbon Removal / Food & Agriculture)

🌧️ Databourg Systems, based out of Luxembourg, raised $1M in seed funding for its rainfall monitoring and data analytics software. Asian Development Bank Ventures invested. More here. (Luxembourg, Climate Data)

🌊 Samudra Oceans, based out of London, raised ~$1M in pre-seed funding for its ocean robotics technology designed for seaweed farming and carbon removal. British Design Fund invested. More here. (U.K., Food & Agriculture / Carbon Removal)

Other funding rounds

In private equity funding: 

💦 Monarch Energy, based out of San Diego, CA, raised $25M in preferred equity financing from LS Power to develop green hydrogen projects across the U.S. LS Power notes it plans to invest up to $400M in projects developed by Monarch. More here. (U.S., Industry) 

♨️ Newheat, based out of Bordeaux, France, raised ~$33M from SWEN Capital Partners for its solar heat and waste heat recovery services. More here. (France, Industry)

In grant funding:

✈️ A consortium of U.K.-based companies received ~$1.73M in grant funding from the UK Department for Transport’s Advanced Fuels Fund competition to advance their “Advancing Sustainable Aviation via Power-to-Liquid and Direct Air Capture” project. The companies include Carbon Neutral Fuels, io consulting, and Mission Zero Technologies. The project aims to demonstrate a Power-to-Liquid e-fuels facility with sufficient capacity to produce 750,000 liters of Jet A-1 compatible sustainable aviation fuel annually. More here. (U.K., Transportation)

New funds

💵 Kinterra Capital, based out of Toronto, Canada, raised $565M for its first ‘critical minerals’ fund to invest in infrastructure for mining and processing minerals for batteries and other energy transition technologies. So far it has invested in a copper project in Michigan, a nickel project in Quebec, and it acquired Australian nickel miner Cannon Resources. Kinterra says it will focus on investing in North America, Western Europe, and Australia. More here. (Canada, Funds)

💰 Acton Capital, based out of Munich, raised ~$245M for its sixth fund to focus on early to growth-stage startups, including climate companies, across Europe and Canada. More here. (Germany, Funds)

💰  Last month, Sustainable Development Capital, based out of London, U.K., raised ~$709M for its Green Energy Solutions Fund, which will focus on infrastructure investments to make the built environment more energy efficient. The EU's European Investment Fund invested ~$136M in the new fund. More here (paywall). (U.K., Funds)

ELSEWHERE IN CLIMATE AND CLIMATE TECH

🔋 More sodium! Several companies made splashy announcements this week regarding sodium-ion batteries. Northvolt, the burgeoning European battery manufacturing giant, announced it has developed a sodium-ion battery that it has validated at 160 watt-hours per kg. The only elements in the electrodes are sodium, carbon, iron, and nitrogen, all of which are abundant. 

⚛️ Nuclear sentiment shift: Both the Canadian government and the EU made moves (see here and here, respectively) that should help boost future nuclear energy deployment). Specifically, Canada made investments in nuclear energy eligible under a new green bond framework while the European Parliament included nuclear energy in a list of 17 key technologies in its Net-Zero Industry Act (this list could get shaved in final negotiations).

Uranium spot prices are at five-year highs, and a nuclear 'sentiment shift' seems to be underway. 

🚧 Notice to proceed: Revolution Wind, a planned 704 MW project that could become Rhode Island and Connecticut's first utility-scale offshore wind farm, got the go-ahead to begin construction in 2024 this week. The developers are Eversource and Ørsted. This offers a bright spot for the offshore wind industry amid a barrage of otherwise bad news.

The Biden admin also granted the Empire Wind offshore wind project the go-ahead. The project is being jointly developed by Equinor and BP and would include two offshore wind facilities off the coast of Long Island in New York and Long Branch in New Jersey. Together, the projects could represent up to ~2.1 GW of offshore wind energy capacity.

💦 Green H2: Australian mining giant Fortescue Metals Group will invest $550M to build a green hydrogen hub in Phoenix, Arizona. The company aims to achieve 80 MW of electrolysis and liquefaction capacity to produce up to 11,000 tonnes of liquid green hydrogen annually, with initial production planned for 2026. The company acquired the hub from Nikola in July for $24M.

Grenergy, a Spanish IPP focused on renewable energy, also noted it plans to invest ~$2.9B over the next three years to double its U.S. solar projects pipeline (paywall). 

💸 Federal funding: The Canadian government plans to introduce legislation that could include up to $20B in subsidies (paywall) over five years for 'carbon capture and net-zero energy projects.' 

📜 Policy: A new investment tax credit from the Inflation Reduction Act, could cover up to 30% of U.S. low-carbon energy projects’ interconnection costs. The tax credit is already available for small projects but may now get opened up for larger projects. Read more in Heatmap. 

📊 Data: The Rocky Mountain Institute released some really interesting data after modeling the 'highest leverage' near-term emissions abatement opportunities in each state in the U.S. It's neat to see methane abatement pop up as number two in some places.

📉 Not all roses: The New York Independent System Operator will keep four barge-mounted natural gas peaker plants operating past their expected May 2025 retirement date to preserve grid reliability in New York City. The generators will run for at least two more years. 

🚫 so good news: The SEC is moving more slowly on new emissions reporting disclosures than previously expected and may scale back some of the most stringent disclosure requirements, including ones surrounding Scope 3 emissions.

Elsewhere, more than 1 million gallons of crude oil leaked into the Gulf of Mexico near a pipeline southeast of New Orleans.

🌞 Closing on good news: Gulfstream Aerospace says it's completed the world's first trans-Atlantic flight using 100% sustainable aviation fuel. Using a Gulfstream G600 aircraft, the flight left Savannah, Georgia, and landed seven hours later at Farnborough Airport in England.

Have a nice week ahead,

– Nick