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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

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. Read More

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Politics

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On expanding solar access, the American Climate Corps, and union news

Biden’s Big Earth Day Agenda
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Current conditions: Torrential rains forced Mauritius to shut down its stock exchange • “Once in a century” flooding hit southern China • In the Northern Hemisphere, the Lyrid meteor shower peaks tonight.

THE TOP FIVE

1. Biden kicks off Earth Day with $7 billion for expanding solar access

Today is Earth Day, but President Biden and his cabinet are celebrating all week long. Senior members of the administration have scheduled a national tour of events and announcements related to the president’s climate and environmental record. It starts with Biden’s visit to Prince William Forest Park in Triangle, Virginia, today, where he will announce $7 billion is being awarded to 60 state and local governments, tribes, and national and regional nonprofits through the Environmental Protection Agency’s Solar for All initiative, which aims to support solar in low- to moderate-income communities. The average grant size will be more than $80 million, and the funding will be used to design new programs and bolster existing ones that subsidize the cost of rooftop solar installations, community solar projects, and battery storage.

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Sparks

Biden Hands Out $7 Billion to Expand Solar Access

The Solar For All program is the final piece of the $27 billion Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund.

Solar panel installation.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

The great promise of solar panels — in addition to their being carbon-free — is the democratization of energy. Anyone can produce their own power, typically for less than the going utility rate. The problem is that those who stand to benefit the most from this opportunity haven’t been able to access it.

That pattern could change, however, with Solar for All, a $7 billion program under the Environmental Protection Agency to support solar in low- to moderate-income communities. On Monday, the Biden administration announced it was awarding the funds to 60 state and local governments, tribes, and national and regional nonprofits, at an average grant size of more than $80 million.

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Climate

A Big Week for Batteries

Texas and California offered intriguing, opposing examples of what batteries can do for the grid.

A battery.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

While cold winters in the south and hot summers across the country are the most dramatic times for electricity usage — with air conditioners blasting as weary workers return home or inefficient electric heaters strain to keep toes warm from Chattanooga to El Paso before the sun is up — it may be early spring that gives us the most insight into the lower-emitting grid of the future.

In California, America’s longtime leader in clean energy deployment, the combination of mild temperatures and longer days means that solar power can do most of the heavy lifting. And in Texas — whose uniquely isolated, market-based and permissive grid is fast becoming the source of much of the country’s clean power growth — regulators allow the state’s vast fleet of natural gas power (and some coal) power plants to shut down for maintenance during the mild weather, giving renewables time to shine.

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