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Climate

Volvo and Polestar Break Up

On Tesla and antifreeze, otters and crabs, and more.

Briefing image.

AM Briefing: An EV Breakup

Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Current conditions:“The largest storm of the season” is scheduled to make landfall tomorrow in California, which is fresh off one storm that dumped water across the state.The Spanish region of Catalonia has declared a state of emergency over its worst drought on record. Residents are protesting unprecedented water shortages in Mexico City, which is struggling after years of little rain.

THE TOP FIVE

1. Volvo splits with Polestar

Yesterday, Swedish automaker Volvo announced it is pulling funding from Polestar, its EV arm, which has struggled to gain a foothold in the market. As Jennifer Mossalgue reports in Electrek, Polestar is bleeding cash — it announced plans to cut 15% of its workforce last week, and needs a billion-dollar cash infusion over the next year to stay in business. Polestar will instead become the purview of Volvo parent company Geely, owned by Chinese billionaire Li Shufu.

2. Tesla settles lawsuit over water pollution

Yesterday, a judge in California's San Joaquin County ordered Tesla to pay $1.5 million to settle a lawsuit brought by more than two dozen counties, including Los Angeles and San Francisco, for mislabeling hazardous waste and sending it to landfills that could not accept the particular substances, including “paint materials, brake fluids, used batteries, antifreeze and diesel fuel.” The lawsuit alleged that at least 101 facilities violated California’s waste management laws, including the factory in Fremont. The electric vehicle-maker has had multiple previous tangles with the Environmental Protection Agency over pollution from its factories.

“While electric vehicles may benefit the environment, the manufacturing and servicing of these vehicles still generates many harmful waste streams,” said San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins in a press release. “Today’s settlement against Tesla, Inc. serves to provide a cleaner environment for citizens throughout the state by preventing the contamination of our precious natural resources when hazardous waste is mismanaged and unlawfully disposed.”

3. Democrats take on AI’s environmental impact

Sen. Markey at a Capitol Hill rally in 2021.Sen. Markey at a Capitol Hill rally in 2021.Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

A group of Democratic lawmakers, led by Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey, introduced a bill that would direct the EPA to study the environmental impacts of artificial intelligence. It also asks the National Institute of Standards and Technology to set up a system to both measure and voluntarily report those impacts. AI, like crypto mining, is energy-intensive, but it’s difficult to tell just how that energy use impacts the environment without any measurement or reporting mechanism in place.

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  • 4. Rooftop solar’s woes continue

    Earlier this week the software company Aurora Solar laid off 20% of its 500-person staff, about a year after it raised $200 million in a Series D round.

    “Like many other companies in the solar industry, we’ve felt the effects of larger macroeconomic challenges, including higher interest rates and the impact of NEM 3.0 in California,” Aurora Solar told Tim De Chant at TechCrunch.

    NEM 3.0 is California’s latest iteration of a net metering regulation. Under the new structure, which came into effect in April of last year, compensation rates for solar customers in the state dropped by about 75%, which means rooftop solar is no longer the steal deal it once was.

    The news is the latest in a series of signs that the rooftop solar industry is in a tough spot at the moment — as Alana Semuels wrote in Time last week, more than 100 residential solar-related companies declared bankruptcy in 2023 alone.

    5. Otters are inadvertent erosion fighters

    Sea otters are playing a crucial role in stopping estuaries in California from eroding away, according to a delightfully-titled article in Nature. After conservation efforts succeeded in helping sea otter populations in the state rebound from the brink of extinction, researchers found that the animals were inadvertently stopping salt marshes like Monterey Bay’s Elkhorn Slough from washing away by eating the crabs that were picking at vegetation that keeps the sandy banks of the marsh together. Erosion in the areas where otters returned slowed from 30 centimeters a year to 10 centimeters a year.

    “It’s remarkable when you think about it,” Jane Watson, a community ecologist at Vancouver Island University in Nanaimo, Canada, told Nature’s Jude Coleman. “You can have a single animal, the sea otter, come in and through predation actually mitigate the effects of erosion.”

    THE KICKER

    It’s cloudy with a chance of flurries in Punxsutawney, PA, where the eponymous rodent is scheduled to make his prediction for Groundhog Day, and TheWashington Post’s Kasha Patel has a story about it told entirely in verse. Punxsutawney Phil, Patel notes, has a bit of competition these days:

    “The National Weather Service issues seasonal outlooks based on computer models and science. They do not have a groundhog for reliance.”

    Yellow
    Neel Dhanesha profile image

    Neel Dhanesha

    Neel is a former founding staff writer at Heatmap. Prior to Heatmap, he was a science and climate reporter at Vox, an editorial fellow at Audubon magazine, and an assistant producer at Radiolab, where he helped produce The Other Latif, a series about one detainee's journey to Guantanamo Bay. He is a graduate of the Literary Reportage program at NYU, which helped him turn incoherent scribbles into readable stories, and he grew up (mostly) in Bangalore. He tweets sporadically at @neel_dhan.

    Technology

    Is Sodium-Ion the Next Big Battery?

    U.S. manufacturers are racing to get into the game while they still can.

    Sodium-ion batteries.
    Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images, Peak Energy, Natron Energy

    In the weird, wide world of energy storage, lithium-ion batteries may appear to be an unshakeably dominant technology. Costs have declined about 97% over the past three decades, grid-scale battery storage is forecast to grow faster than wind or solar in the U.S. in the coming decade, and the global lithium-ion supply chain is far outpacing demand, according to BloombergNEF.

    That supply chain, however, is dominated by Chinese manufacturing. According to the International Energy Agency, China controls well over half the world’s lithium processing, nearly 85% of global battery cell production capacity, and the lion’s share of actual lithium-ion battery production. Any country creating products using lithium-ion batteries, including the U.S., is at this point dependent on Chinese imports.

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    Blue
    Electric Vehicles

    AM Briefing: Tesla’s Delay

    On Musk’s latest move, Arctic shipping, and China’s natural disasters

    Tesla Is Delaying the Robotaxi Reveal
    Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

    Current conditions: Heavy rains triggered a deadly landslide in Nepal that swept away 60 people • More than a million residents are still without power in and around Houston • It will be about 80 degrees Fahrenheit in Berlin on Sunday for the Euro 2024 final, where England will take on Spain.

    THE TOP FIVE

    1. Biden administration announces $1.7 billion to convert auto plants into EV factories

    The Biden administration announced yesterday that the Energy Department will pour $1.7 billion into helping U.S. automakers convert shuttered or struggling manufacturing facilities into EV factories. The money will go to factories in eight states (including swing states Michigan and Pennsylvania) and recipients include Stellantis, Volvo, GM, and Harley-Davidson. Most of the funding comes from the Inflation Reduction Act and it could create nearly 3,000 new jobs and save 15,000 union positions at risk of elimination, the Energy Department said. “Agencies across the federal government are rushing to award the rest of their climate cash before the end of Biden’s first term,” The Washington Post reported.

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    Yellow
    Politics

    What the Conventional Wisdom Gets Wrong About Trump and the IRA

    Anything decarbonization-related is on the chopping block.

    Donald Trump holding the IRA.
    Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

    The Biden administration has shoveled money from the Inflation Reduction Act out the door as fast as possible this year, touting the many benefits all that cash has brought to Republican congressional districts. Many — in Washington, at think tanks and non-profits, among developers — have found in this a reason to be calm about the law’s fate. But this is incorrect. The IRA’s future as a climate law is in a far more precarious place than the Beltway conventional wisdom has so far suggested.

    Shortly after the changing of the guard in Congress and the White House, policymakers will begin discussing whether to extend the Trump-era tax cuts, which expire at the end of 2025. If they opt to do so, they’ll try to find a way to pay for it — and if Republicans win big in the November elections, as recent polling and Democratic fretting suggests could happen, the IRA will be an easy target.

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