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Technology

Amazon Just Bought a Nuclear-Powered Data Center

On clean cloud computing, e-bike accidents, and battery prices

Amazon Just Bought a Nuclear-Powered Data Center
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Current conditions: A tumbleweed invasion nearly buried some houses in Utah • Storms triggered floods, avalanches, and tornadoes across Italy • California’s snowpack is above normal levels for the first time this year.

THE TOP FIVE

1. Amazon Web Services buys nuclear-powered data center

Amazon’s cloud computing arm, Amazon Web Services, just paid $650 million for a data center that runs on nuclear power. Talen Energy’s Cumulus data center campus in Pennsylvania gets power from the Susquehanna nuclear plant, one of the largest nuclear power plants in the U.S. It will give Amazon a supply of clean carbon-free power, which the company could use to run energy-intensive artificial intelligence operations. The Wall Street Journalreported that AI searches require 10 times more computing power than regular searches. Amazon’s new data center campus could give it a leg-up over other tech giants because “companies looking to start data centers running AI face delays in getting permits to connect to grids, and long waits for the installation of transmission lines to connect utilities to their facilities.”

2. E-bike accidents account for majority of NYC cycling deaths

Thirty cyclists died in New York City last year, the highest number since 1999, The New York Timesreported, citing Department of Transportation data. Twenty-three of those killed were riding electric bikes, and most of them collided with vehicles in areas lacking proper cycling infrastructure. However the Times notes that a good portion (about one-third) of the e-bike riders who died were in solo crashes – accidents that did not involve cars or pedestrians, a trend that isn’t seen among traditional bike-riders. “There may be a learning curve that some first-time e-bike riders aren’t prepared for,” said Sara Lind, an executive director at Open Plans. “It’s very possible that that learning curve, combined with the speed of the bike, exacerbates already confusing or chaotic conditions. Navigating a pothole or a suddenly blocked bike lane is more dangerous at a higher speed, emphasizing even more the need for better infrastructure as more people use e-bikes.” Some e-bikes can reach speeds of 25 mph, though NYC is reducing the top speeds of electric Citi Bikes to 18 mph.

3. NOAA warns of mass coral bleaching event

The world is on the cusp of the worst mass coral bleaching event in the history of the planet, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) warned. Climate change and El Niño have sent ocean temperatures soaring, and already “the Southern Hemisphere is basically bleaching all over the place,” ecologist Derek Manzello, the coordinator of NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch, told Reuters. “The entirety of the Great Barrier Reef is bleaching. We just had reports that American Samoa is bleaching.” Researchers believe a sustained global temperature increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius is a tipping point for mass coral reef die-off. Coral reef ecosystems provide a home to thousands of species of fish and other plants and animals, and are essential sources of food and income for millions of people around the world. NOAA notes that “when a coral bleaches, it is not dead. Corals can survive a bleaching event, but they are under more stress and are subject to mortality.”

4. Goldman Sachs predicts battery prices will soon plummet

In case you missed it, Goldman Sachs is forecasting that electric vehicle battery prices will fall dramatically in the coming months thanks to an increased supply of minerals like nickel and lithium, plus innovations in manufacturing. In a research note, the firm said it expects battery prices to drop by 40% between 2023 and 2025, resulting in “breakthrough levels” of cost parity with internal combustion engine cars in some markets. By 2030, Goldman sees EVs accounting for 50% of U.S. car sales. Looking ahead, Nikhil Bhandari, co-head of Asia-Pacific Natural Resources and Clean Energy Research, said major innovations like solid-state batteries could “be a game-changer for the industry.” Batteries can account for one-third of the cost of an EV.

5. Man charged with smuggling greenhouse gases into U.S.

Here’s a weird one: A California man has been charged with smuggling greenhouse gases into the U.S., Axiosreported. Michael Hart allegedly bought hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) in Mexico, hid them in his vehicle, and brought them into the States where he listed them for sale. HFCs are greenhouse gases used in refrigeration. The United Nations’ Climate and Clean Air Coalition says HFCs represent around 2% of total greenhouse gases, but “their impact on global warming can be hundreds to thousands of times greater than that of carbon dioxide (CO2) per unit of mass.” The EPA is trying to implement a phase-down of HFCs, and said smuggling them "undermines international efforts to combat climate change.”

THE KICKER

Just three of this year’s Oscar-nominated films (Barbie, Nyad, and Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part One) pass the “Climate Reality Check,” a two-part test that asks if climate change exists in a film’s story, and if at least one character knows about it.

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Jessica  Hullinger profile image

Jessica Hullinger

Jessica Hullinger is a freelance writer and editor who likes to think deeply about climate science and sustainability. She previously served as Global Deputy Editor for The Week, and her writing has been featured in publications including Fast Company, Popular Science, and Fortune. Jessica is originally from Indiana but lives in London.

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

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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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Politics

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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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