The Sidekick #006

Beyond the Green Veneer

Kris Lance

Kris Lance

VP & General Manager, Una

July 9, 2024

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Intro

Welcome to Issue #006 of The Sidekick! You know, there’s this idea out there that the hot new technologies like electric cars are inherently green and sustainable. But the reality is a bit more complicated. The energy needs and environmental impacts are actually pretty darn complex. And I think a lot of people just don’t appreciate how messy the energy picture can be, particularly around the energy mix used for charging and the massive carbon impacts of EV batteries. More on that below.

Talking about batteries, there’s a Swiss startup connecting multiple lab-grown human mini-brains to create massive savings in energy usage. Brain-machine interface systems and bioprocessors might sound amazing to some, but I’m personally pretty creeped out. Check out the AI news section for more.

That’s not all. Scroll down to check out some curated highlights from social media, words of wisdom, tech news, people to follow, and more.

Let’s dive in.

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The American Supply Scene: EV Emissions Are Deeply Misunderstood

On the surface, it all sounds great. Electric vehicles (EVs) have zero direct emissions, AI can apparently solve all our problems, and crypto is this revolutionary “decentralized” system. But when you dig into the details, things get a lot murkier.

An electric car charged on a grid that’s mostly coal-fired power plants? Not nearly as clean as you might think. Training one of those massive AI models? It can suck up enough juice to power dozens of homes. And the whole “mining” process that keeps cryptocurrencies running? That’s an energy hog of epic proportions – rolling blackouts, anyone?

These aren’t just little side issues, either. As more and more people adopt this stuff, the total energy demand and environmental footprint is going to become a really big deal in the fight against climate change. But the public discourse is still way too simplistic – we need a much more nuanced, evidence-based understanding of what’s really going on under the hood.

In other words, we need to explore the tradeoffs we’ll have to grapple with to make sure these transformative technologies are actually serving the cause of sustainability, not undermining it.

Let’s focus on the energy requirements and greenhouse emissions of EVs. While they don’t directly consume fossil fuels, the electricity required to charge them has an environmental impact that varies greatly depending on the electricity generation mix in a given region. If you live somewhere with a high proportion of coal-powered plants, then your EV might not be as green as it could be.

Reducing emissions of greenhouse gases to Net Zero is often referred to as a “mitigation strategy,” according to the IPCC. The alternative to this strategy, however, is adaptation which means taking measures to adjust to climate change. For a simple example of adaptation – we’d look at dams or irrigation systems, etc. In the US, however, most of the focus and dollars being spent are on the mitigation aspects.

The mitigation strategy has significant drawbacks and really can only work if CO2 is the main climate control knob. The data that the IPCC refers to, going back ages, shows that the changes in temperature couldn’t have been caused by humans or our CO2 emissions.

To avoid turning this article into feeling like 8th grade science all over again, I’ll simplify it even further… The ‘climate change’ we have been hearing about has been changing and evolving long before large populations and automobiles became a factor… but I’ll come back to this.

On the procurement side, one of our favorite topics at Una, decisions around raw material suppliers and supply chain routes also add to the embedded carbon profile. Chinese batteries, for example, have two to three times higher embedded emissions than their American counterparts.

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So, it’s clear that EVs start their lives with more carbon than an ICE vehicle. But the data shows there can be a mixed bag of change once they hit the road. An analysis by Bloomberg New Energy Finance found in 2023 that an average EV produced in the US will close the gap in 25,000 miles, or about 2.2 years.

From there, the ICE car will continue to pollute for its lifetime; although the EV has no tailpipe emissions it will have a small ongoing impact depending on the energy mix it draws from for charging. 

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How’s that energy mix looking? Here’s the US Energy Administration’s projection out to 2050, showing a sharp rise in solar and wind, steady use of gas and nuclear, and plummeting use of coal.

Keep in mind, this is large in part due to the Executive Orders I gave a heads up about in the past – the market certainly isn’t screaming for this change. What this means though, is that driving an EV in 2050 will be a lot greener than driving an EV right now in 2024. 

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The battery decarbonization challenge is more complicated, but luckily the brains at McKinsey have already proposed four solutions.

If producers can decarbonize mining and refining, active material (anode and cathode) production, logistics, and battery cell manufacturing, they’ll slash the emissions of your EV’s single worst contributor to the climate crisis.  

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For me, the key message to take away here is that we need to take a good look at the full cradle-to-grave impact of EVs.

We can’t just focus on that smooth, silent ride and forget about what it took to bring them to life. We need to be honest with ourselves in the role we play with the environment and our responsibilities to take care of it.

That being said, we’ve lost six times as many jobs in the energy demanding industries as opposed to the jobs gained in the new green energy sector – is the mitigation having unintended consequences that is damaging industries across the board? One might certainly think so and I would look to the automotive industry retracting in this space as an example. 

Image: FinalSpark

Technology News

What’s going on in the world of technology? Plenty. Here’s some news that caught my attention:

Swiss bioprocessor company is going full Matrix: Remember the big reveal in The Matrix where Keanu Reeves finds out the evil AI is using human beings as battery cells? Well, a Swiss company called FinalSpark is using lab-grown human brains as bioprocessors that are apparently 1 billion times more energy efficient than silicon chips.It sounds like a huge leap forward… but also like an ethical minefield.   

Car Dealership Software Provider Hacked: Eastern European hackers have demanded tens of millions in ransom payment after shutting down the dealer management systems across 15,000 car dealerships. The system software provider, CDK, is reportedly planning to pay the ransom to put a stop to the “mass chaos” hitting the industry. 

AI Systems Are Learning To Lie And Deceive:  A study recently found that state-of-the-art LLMs are “under suspicion of becoming able to deceive human operators and utilizing this ability to bypass monitoring efforts.”

Cool, sounds great…. *tosses phone out window*

Shawn Ryan The Sidekick 006

People to Follow

I wholeheartedly recommend following Shawn Ryan’s impactful work. As a former Navy SEAL and CIA contractor, Shawn created the hit Shawn Ryan Show podcast to document veterans’ untold stories of war, loss, and redemption; there’s incredible information and interviews shared by experts in fields that you’ll want to listen/watch. He also coaches vets on civilian transitions, and his show has raised over $1 million to support veteran entrepreneurship.

Beyond the podcast, Shawn advocates for veteran services and research for alternative mental health treatments. He is making a profound difference for the veteran community, and his platform and insights are well worth following.

Check him out here.

Quote of the Month

“So much of power is not what you do but what you do not do – the rash and foolish actions that you refrain from before they get you into trouble. Plan in detail before you act – do not let vague plans lead you into trouble.”

Robert Greene, The 48 Laws of Power

The Best of Social Media

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See you next time!

– Kris

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