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Main article: Energy efficiency

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Topics from 1 to 10 | in all: 11

At CES, Schneider Electric unveils its own upgrade to the traditional fusebox

23:23 | 8 January

As renewable energy and energy efficiency continue to make gains among cost-conscious consumers, more companies are looking at ways to give customers better ways to manage the electricity coming into their homes.

At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Schneider Electric unveiled its pitch to homeowners looking for a better power management system with the company’s Energy Center product.

Think of it as a competitor to products from startups like Span, which are attempting to offer homeowners better ways to integrate renewable energy power generation to their homes and provide better ways to route the electricity inside the home, according to Schneider Electric’s executive vice president for its Home and Distribution division, Manish Pant.

The new product is part of a broader range of Square D home energy management devices that Schneider is aiming at homeowners. The company provides a broad suite of energy management services and technologies to commercial, industrial, and residential customers, but is making a more concerted effort into the U.S. residential market beginning in 2020, according to Pant.

Schneider will be looking to integrate batteries and inverters into its Energy Center equipment over the course of the year and is currently looking for partners.

In some ways, the home energy market is ripe for innovation. Fuse boxes haven’t changed in nearly 100 years and there are a few startups that are looking to provide better ways to integrate and manage various sources for electricity generation and storage as they become more cost competitive.

Lumin, and Sense (which is backed by Schneider Energy) also have energy efficiency products they’re pitching to homeowners.

 

 


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Brilliant adds a dimmer switch and smart plug to its smart home ecosystem

21:13 | 6 January

Until now, Brilliant only offered its relatively high-end smart switches with a touchscreen, but at CES this week, the company is expanding its product lineup with a new dimmer switch and smart plug. Both require that you already own at least one Brilliant Control, so these aren’t standalone devices but instead expansions to the Brilliant Control system.

The main advantage here is that once you have bought into the Brilliant system for your smart home setup, you won’t need to get a new Brilliant Control for every room. Because the Controls start at $299 for a single switch, that would be a very pricey undertaking. At $69.99, the dimmer is competitively priced (and offers a discount for bundles with multiple switches), as is the plug, at $29.99. This will surely make the overall Brilliant system more attractive to a lot of people.I’ve tested the Control in my house for the last few weeks and came away impressed, mostly because it brings a single, flexible physical control system to the disparate smart plugs, locks and other gadgets I’ve accumulated over the last year or so. I couldn’t imagine getting one for every room, though, as that would simply be far too expensive. Brilliant’s system works with Alexa and Google Assistant, and includes third-party integrations with companies like Philips Hue, LIFX, TP-Link Lutron, Wemo, Ecobee, Honeywell, August, Kwikset, Schlage, Ring, Sonos and others. The different Brilliant devices communicate over a Bluetooth Mesh and connect to the internet over Wi-Fi.

“Before Brilliant, an integrated whole-home smart home and lighting system meant either spending tens of thousands of dollars on an inflexible home automation system, or piecing together a jumble of disparate devices and apps,” said Aaron Emigh, co-founder and CEO of Brilliant. “With our new smart switch and plug-in combination with the Brilliant Control, we are realizing our mission to make it possible for every homeowner to experience the comfort, energy efficiency, safety and convenience of living in a true smart home.”

One nice feature of the dimmer is that it includes a motion sensor, which will allow for a lot of interesting usage scenarios. You’ll also be able to double-tap the switch to trigger a smart home or lighting scene.

The plug is obviously more straightforward, but it’s worth noting that it’s a plug you’d install in an electrical box, not a Wemo-style plug that you simply plug in. As with all Brilliant devices, that means you either have to be comfortable with doing some very basic electrical work yourself (and Brilliant offers very straightforward instructions) or have somebody install it for you.

Both the plug and dimmer switch are now available for pre-order and will ship in Q1 2020.

CES 2020 coverage - TechCrunch

 


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Oceans of opportunity: surveying 2020’s seafaring startup potential

00:05 | 4 January

Space attracts a lot of attention as an area of frontier tech investment and entrepreneurship, but there’s another vast expanse that could actually be more addressable by the innovation economy — Earth’s oceans.

Seafaring startups aren’t attracting quite as much attention as their spacefaring cousins, but 2019 still saw a flurry of activity in this sector and 2020 could be an even big year for everything aquatic.

Sounding the depths of data collection

One big similarity between space tech and seafaring opportunities is that data collection represents a significant percent of the potential market. Data collection in and around Earth’s oceans has increased dramatically in recent years thanks to the availability, efficacy and cost of sensor technologies — in 2017, it was estimated that as much ocean data had been gathered in the past two years as in all of human history. But relatively speaking, that barely scratches the surface.

Ocean observation has largely been driven by scientific and research goals, which means there’s bound to be a pretty hard cap on available funding. But ocean data has value in all kinds of private’s sector pursuits, including the potential for autonomous commercial cargo transportation (more on that later), as well as predicting weather and climate conditions that impact shipping routes, agriculture and more.

Various methods exist for collecting data about Earth’s oceans, including space-based satellite observation. Startups like Terradepth, Saildrone and Promare have all proposed various autonomous seafaring data collection vehicle designs that could leverage robotics to bring ocean observation at scale closer to home. These firms are using technology that’s been made affordable for startup budgets through miniaturization and efficiency gains evolved through the progress of the smartphone and other computing industries.

This past year, Xprize awarded millions in prize money to teams that competed in the Ocean Discovery competition for autonomous ocean floor mapping, which is resulting in spin-out ventures that have a head start on success.

As in space, data collection and observation can take many forms, so we can expect to see many industry-specific approaches emerge to capitalize on what are surprisingly large market opportunities, even for seemingly narrow types of data. Continued efforts to refine and improve robotics technologies like sensing and vision should drive even more growth in autonomous ocean observation in 2020.

Autonomous logistics

Oceanfaring drones aren’t just about data collection, however; a huge portion of the global logistics market still relies on giant cargo vessels. The drive to automate container ships is nothing new, but it’s reaching a point where we’re actually starting to see autonomous cargo vehicles embark, including this Chinese cargo ship that set out from Guangdong at the end of this year and a ship called the Yara Birkeland has begun trials out of Rotterdam and expects to be operating fully autonomously by 2022.

 


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Carbon dioxide emissions are set to hit a record high this year (it’s not fine, but not hopeless)

06:21 | 4 December

Carbon dioxide emissions, one of the main contributors to the climate changes bringing extreme weather, rising oceans, and more frequent fires that have killed hundreds of Americans and cost the U.S. billions of dollars, are set to reach another record high in 2019.

That’s the word from the Global Carbon Project, an initiative of researchers around the world led by Stanford University scientist Rob Jackson.

The new projections from the Global Carbon Project are set out in a trio of papers published in “Earth System Science Data“, “Environmental Research Letters“, and “Nature Climate Change“.

That’s the bad news. The good news (if you want to take a glass half-full view) is that the rate of growth has slowed dramatically from the previous two years. However, researchers are warning that emissions could keep increasing for another decade unless nations around the globe take dramatic action to change their approach to energy, transportation and industry, according to a statement from Jackson.

“When the good news is that emissions growth is slower than last year, we need help,” said Jackson, a professor of Earth system science in Stanford’s School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences (Stanford Earth), in a statement. “When will emissions start to drop?”

Globally, carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel sources (which are over 90 percent of all emissions) are expected to grow 0.6 percent over the 2018 emissions. In 2018 that figure was 2.1 percent above the 2017 figure, which was, itself, a 1.5 percent increase over 2016 emissions figures.

Even as the use of coal is in drastic decline around the world, natural gas and oil use is climbing, according to researchers, and stubbornly high per capita emissions in affluent countries mean that reductions won’t be enough to offset the emissions from developing countries as they turn to natural gas and gasoline for their energy and transportation needs.

“Emissions cuts in wealthier nations must outpace increases in poorer countries where access to energy is still needed,” said Pierre Friedlingstein, a mathematics professor at the University of Exeter and lead author of the Global Carbon Budget paper in Earth System Science Data, in a statement.

Some countries are making progress. Both the UK and Denmark have managed to achieve economic growth while simultaneously reducing their carbon emissions. In the third quarter of the year, renewable power supplied more energy to homes and businesses in the United Kingdom than fossil fuels for the first time in the nation’s history, according to a report cited by “The Economist”.

Costs of wind and solar power are declining so dramatically that they are cost competitive with natural gas in many parts of the wealthy world and cheaper than coal, according to a study earlier in the year from the International Monetary Fund.

Still, the U.S., the European Union and China account for more than half of all carbon dioxide emissions. Carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. did decrease year-on-year — projected to decline by 1.7 percent — but it’s not enough to counteract the rising demand from countries like China, where carbon dioxide emissions are expected to rise by 2.6 percent.

And the U.S. has yet to find a way to wean itself off of its addiction to cheap gasoline and big cars. It hasn’t helped that the country is throwing out emissions requirements for passenger vehicles that would have helped to reduce its contribution to climate change even further. Even so, at current ownership rates, there’s a need to radically reinvent transportation given what U.S. car ownership rates mean for the world.

U.S. oil consumption per person is 16 times greater than in India and six times greater than in China, according to the reports. And the United States has roughly one car per-person while those numbers are roughly one for every 40 people in India and one for every 6 in China. If ownership rates in either country were to rise to similar levels as the U.S. that would put 1 billion cars on the road in either country.

About 40 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions were attributable to coal use, 34 percent from oil, 20 percent from natural gas, and the remaining 6 percent from cement production and other sources, according to a Stanford University statement on the Global Carbon Project report.

“Declining coal use in the U.S. and Europe is reducing emissions, creating jobs and saving lives through cleaner air,” said Jackson, who is also a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment and the Precourt Institute for Energy, in a statement. “More consumers are demanding cheaper alternatives such as solar and wind power.”

There’s hope that a combination of policy, technology and changing social habits can still work to reverse course. The adoption of new low-emission vehicles, the development of new energy storage technologies, continued advancements in energy efficiency, and renewable power generation in a variety of new applications holds some promise. As does the social adoption of alternatives to emissions intensive animal farming and crop cultivation.

“We need every arrow in our climate quiver,” Jackson said, in a statement. “That means stricter fuel efficiency standards, stronger policy incentives for renewables, even dietary changes and carbon capture and storage technologies.”

 

 


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Powering the brains of tomorrow’s intelligent machines

19:30 | 19 July

Sense and compute are the electronic eyes and ears that will be the ultimate power behind automating menial work and encouraging humans to cultivate their creativity. 

These new capabilities for machines will depend on the best and brightest talent and investors who are building and financing companies aiming to deliver the AI chips destined to be the neurons and synapses of robotic brains.

Like any other herculean task, this one is expected to come with big rewards.  And it will bring with it big promises, outrageous claims, and suspect results. Right now, it’s still the Wild West when it comes to measuring AI chips up against each other.

Remember laptop shopping before Apple made it easy? Cores, buses, gigabytes and GHz have given way to “Pro” and “Air.” Not so for AI chips.

Roboticists are struggling to make heads and tails out of the claims made by AI chip companies.  Every passing day without autonomous cars puts more lives at risk of human drivers. Factories want humans to be more productive while out of harm’s way. Amazon wants to get as close as possible to Star Trek’s replicator by getting products to consumers faster.

A key component of that is the AI chips that will power them.  A talented engineer making a bet on her career to build AI chips, an investor looking to underwrite the best AI chip company, and AV developers seeking the best AI chips, need objective measures to make important decisions that can have huge consequences. 

A metric that gets thrown around frequently is TOPS, or trillions of operations per second, to measure performance.  TOPS/W, or trillions of operations per second per Watt, is used to measure energy efficiency. These metrics are as ambiguous as they sound. 

What are the operations being performed on? What’s an operation? Under what circumstances are these operations being performed? How does the timing by which you schedule these operations impact the function you are trying to perform?  Is your chip equipped with the expensive memory it needs to maintain performance when running “real-world” models? Phrased differently, do these chips actually deliver these performance numbers in the intended application?

Image via Getty Images / antoniokhr

What’s an operation?

The core mathematical function performed in training and running neural networks is a convolution, which is simply a sum of multiplications. A multiplication itself is a bunch of summations (or accumulation), so are all the summations being lumped together as one “operation,” or does each summation count as an operation? This little detail can result in difference of 2x or more in a TOPS calculation. For the purpose of this discussion, we’ll use a complete multiply and accumulate (or MAC), as “two operations.” 

What are the conditions?

Is this chip operating full-bore at close to a volt or is it sipping electrons at half a volt? Will there be sophisticated cooling or is it expected to bake in the sun? Running chips hot, and tricking electrons into them, slows them down.  Conversely, operating at modest temperature while being generous with power, allows you to extract better performance out of a given design. Furthermore, does the energy measurement include loading up and preparing for an operation? As you will see below, overhead from “prep” can be as costly as performing the operation itself.

What’s the utilization?

Here is where it gets confusing.  Just because a chip is rated at a certain number of TOPS, it doesn’t necessarily mean that when you give it a real-world problem, it can actually deliver the equivalent of the TOPS advertised.  Why? It’s not just about TOPS. It has to do with fetching the weights, or values against which operations are performed, out of memory and setting up the system to perform the calculation. This is a function of what the chip is being used for. Usually, this “setup” takes more time than the process itself.  The workaround is simple: fetch the weights and set up the system for a bunch of calculations, then do a bunch of calculations. Problem with that is that you’re sitting around while everything is being fetched, and then you’re going through the calculations.  

Flex Logix (my firm Lux Capital is an investor) compares the Nvidia Tesla T4’s actual delivered TOPS performance vs. the 130 TOPS it advertises on its website. They use ResNet-50, a common framework used in computer vision: it requires 3.5 billion MACs (equivalent to two operations, per above explanation of a MAC) for a modest 224×224 pixel image. That’s 7 billion operations per image.  The Tesla T4 is rated at 3,920 images/second, so multiply that by the required 7 billion operations per image, and you’re at 27,440 billion operations per second, or 27 TOPS, well shy of the advertised 130 TOPS.  

Screen Shot 2019 07 19 at 6.13.46 AM

Batching is a technique where data and weights are loaded into the processor for several computation cycles.  This allows you to make the most of compute capacity, BUT at the expense of added cycles to load up the weights and perform the computations.  Therefore if your hardware can do 100 TOPS, memory and throughput constraints can lead you to only getting a fraction of the nameplate TOPS performance.

Where did the TOPS go? Scheduling, also known as batching, of the setup and loading up the weights followed by the actual number crunching takes us down to a fraction of the speed the core can perform. Some chipmakers overcome this problem by putting a bunch of fast, expensive SRAM on chip, rather than slow, but cheap off-chip DRAM.  But chips with a ton of SRAM, like those from Graphcore and Cerebras, are big and expensive, and more conducive to datacenters.  

There are, however, interesting solutions that some chip companies are pursuing:

Compilers:

Traditional compilers translate instructions into machine code to run on a processor.  With modern multi-core processors, multi-threading has become commonplace, but “scheduling” on a many-core processor is far simpler than the batching we describe above.  Many AI chip companies are relying on generic compilers from Google and Facebook, which will result in many chips companies offering products that perform about the same in real-world conditions. 

Chip companies that build proprietary, advanced compilers specific to their hardware, and offer powerful tools to developers for a variety of applications to make the most of their silicon and Watts will certainly have a distinct edge. Applications will range from driverless cars to factory inspection to manufacturing robotics to logistics automation to household robots to security cameras.  

New compute paradigms:

Simply jamming a bunch of memory close to a bunch of compute results in big chips that sap up a bunch of power.  Digital design is one of tradeoffs, so how can you have your lunch and eat it too? Get creative. Mythic (my firm Lux is an investor) is performing the multiply and accumulates inside of embedded flash memory using analog computation. This empowers them to get superior speed and energy performance on older technology nodes.  Other companies are doing fancy analog and photonics to escape from the grips of Moore’s Law.

Ultimately, if you’re doing conventional digital design, you’re limited by a single physical constraint: the speed at which charge travels through a transistor at a given process node. Everything else is optimization for a given application.  Want to be good at multiple applications? Think outside the VLSI box!

 


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Arm announces its new premium CPU and GPU designs

07:00 | 27 May

Arm, the company that designs the basic chip architecture for most of the world’s smartphones, today announced the launch of its next suite of designs for premium phones. It’ll be a while before you’ll see the first phones that use chips based on this design, but typically we see the first actual chips before the end of the year. With this launch, the company is announcing the Cortex-A77 CPU, the Mali-G77 GPU and a more energy efficient and powerful machine learning processor.

Given recent trends, it’s no surprise that the new Cortex-A77 doesn’t only focus on overall performance improvements, though the company’s promise of 20% IPC performance improvement over the last generation is nothing to sneer at. Thanks to a combination of hardware and software optimizations, the Cortex-A77 now promises significantly better machine learning performance, too.

Why focus on that when the company also offers a machine learning processor? Arm argues that most smartphones today don’t use a dedicated neural processor. Indeed, the company argues that 85 percent of smartphones today run machine learning workloads with only a CPU or a CPU+GPU combo. And even when an accelerator is available, the CPU has to hand that over to the accelerator, no matter whether that’s a GPU or a dedicated machine learning chip.

Like with every new generation of Arm CPUs, the Cortex A77 also promises to be more power efficient and offer better raw processing performance. Indeed, Arm says that it has been able to improve performance by 4x since 2013.

Another area Arm is betting on is mobile gaming — and by extension, mobile VR and AR experiences. The new Mail-G77 GPU architecture is the first one based on the company’s Valhall GPU design and promises a 1.4x performance improvement over the G76. It’s also 30 percent more energy efficient and — and I’m guessing you can spot a theme here — 60% faster at running machine learning inference and neural net workloads.

For the machine learning processor, Arm notes that it already offers Project Trillium, its heterogeneous machine learning compute platform that runs in combination with the company’s CPUs. Since announcing Trillium last year, the company has managed to bring up energy efficiency by 2x and scaled performance up to 8 cores and 32 TOP/s.

“Every new smartphone experience begins with more hardware performance and features to enable developers to unleash further software innovation,” the company notes in today’s announcement. “For developers, the CPU is more critical than ever as it not only handles general-compute tasks as well as much of the device’s ML compute which must scale beyond today’s limits. The same holds true for more immersive untethered AR/VR applications, and HD gaming on the go.”

 


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This $550M fund is bringing green tech from the West to China, despite trade tensions

09:20 | 1 March

Escalating trade frictions between the U.S. and China have a range of businesses and investors in both countries sweating, but some believe there remains a bright spot where the antagonists can find common ground — fighting environmental issues.

One of them is the U.S.-China Green Fund, which does exactly as the name suggests — financing projects in the U.S. (and the west in general) and China that yield both financial and environmental returns. The fund recently closed its maiden fund of 3.7 billion yuan ($550 million) and has already started to raise a second and larger yuan fund, it told TechCrunch.

“The U.S.-China Green Fund believes that cleantech and environmental products are a positive, apolitical sector of focus for U.S.-China cooperation,” said Annie Liang, the fund’s director of U.S. external affairs. “Currently, trade tensions have elevated some concerns from companies in both countries but have not affected our investments.”

With the fresh capital, the firm will continue to back companies that could address China’s environmental challenges, areas that it believes are far and remote from the kind of cybersecurity concerns that underpin the current wave of bilateral tensions.

“We are looking for win-win opportunities — improving the environment in China, which will benefit the rest of the world and also help Western companies tap into large markets in China,” added Liang.

In China alone, the fund has poured 2.8 billion yuan ($420 million) into a portfolio of 13 companies with the likes of a marketplace for green home appliances serving more than 300,000 households and an energy performance service provider that’s completed 100-plus projects at public facilities like hospitals, hotels and supermarkets.

aipark

AIpark draws data from video cameras installed on the streets to mitigate traffic congestion. Photo: AIpark

Aside from the more conventional categories of energy efficiency and pollution prevention, the fund also eyes technology companies that could benefit the environment in less obvious ways. One example has been AIpark, a startup offering real-time parking maps that can eventually mitigate congestion and thus CO2 emissions.

A US-China effort

The cross-border investor is one-of-a-kind. It was borne out of a landmark joint effort by business leaders and diplomats from China and the U.S. — the world’s No.1 and No.2 carbon emitters — to build a climate-resilient future following Chinese President Xi Jinping’s 2015 meeting with former U.S. President Obama. Some of the fund’s notable founders include Henry Paulson, former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury and founder of the Paulson Institute, a think tank dedicated to U.S.-China relations. The other crucial founding member is China’s Office of the Central Leading Group for Financial and Economic Affairs, which is headed by Vice Premier Liu He and plays a key role in China’s economic policymaking.

Trade tensions aside, another potential roadblock exists stateside for the fund: President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement and his denial of climate change’s devastating effects on the earth. But the green fund is hopeful that the President’s stance is no object, for its focus goes well beyond merely capturing carbon emissions.

“There is still a large number of companies in the U.S. working on technologies focused on improving the environment,” says Douglas Cameron, the fund’s senior managing director. “Clearly, climate change is a critical factor in our investment decisions, but a lot of the technologies that we focus on are important independent of one’s position on that topic. Clean air, water, and safer agriculture are all within our investment universe, and we believe that supporting companies and technologies that address these environmental challenges are key to sustainable development in China.”

us china green fund

Investment partners at U.S.-China Green Fund. Photo: U.S.-China Green Fund

The fund’s immunity from the trade war gets one wondering whether it could be a channel to exploit loopholes and fund companies in more politically charged sectors. The firm ruled out the possibility.

“That was never part of our consideration,” said Zhou, who stressed that the firm’s dual mission is to “improve the bilateral relationship” on top of “addressing environmental pollution through market-oriented means and generating sustainable returns.”

Investment philosophies

The cross-border fund takes a two-pronged approach. The route in the west is straightforward: Identify sustainable technologies that can benefit China and invest as a late-stage venture capital because whatever solution it’s bringing into China should probably be proven. In return, these companies can tap the fund’s deep China know-how and expansive local connections, giving them access to a market where the likes of Uber and Google have struggled and remaining global players — Microsoft’s Bing and LinkedIn, just to name two — must constantly parse Beijing’s changing and obscure rules.

To ramp up its deal-sourcing capabilities in the U.S., the China-based investment firm plans to open an office in Chicago by May, where it will provide strategic and financial advisory for companies to enter the China market.

On the China side, the fund invests as a private equity firm in companies that may not seem environmental but “have strong channels to environmental markets and the ability to influence the environment.” The idea is that by backing well-oiled companies close to the source of pollution, the fund could influence their decisions on, say, the level of energy efficiency in apartment buildings and the kind of vehicles logistics companies dispatch.

Some identifiable targets are companies like Alibaba, which processes tens of millions of delivery orders every day. But the fund admits even an organization with the level of business and government ties like itself may have a hard time shaking up the giant’s practice.

huitongda

Huitongda helps rural farmers sell their farm produce online. Photo: Huitongda

Instead, the sort of investment it favors is “getting in early before the company is quite as well-known, and then the Alibaba and others can perhaps come in afterwards,” said Cameron. To that end, the fund always tries to take a board seat in its Chinese companies. One case in point is Huitongda, a startup that provides rural retailers with merchandising and marketing tools, generating 35 billion yuan ($5.24 billion) in revenues last year. Alibaba chimed in with $717 million right after the U.S.-China Green Fund made its offer.

When it comes to picking co-investors, the fund has been pally with financial institutions like banks and insurance companies as well as limited partners, many of whom are also its strategic partners. Another way to collaborate is through special purpose funds. For instance, Four Rivers was recently set up to restructure and upgrade the Chinese steel industry after it raised roughly 5 billion yuan ($750 million) from the U.S.-China Green Fund, Chinese steel group Bao Wu Steel, China’s state-owned China Merchants Group, and WL Ross & Co, a private equity firm run by the U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. Venture capitalists are on its list, too, as the green fund is willing to bet on early-stage, sustainability-focused startups with market potential in China, such as Huitongda.

Working with officials

Despite its varied links to the government, the fund insists to make decisions based on market forces. Unlike many other investors who are keen to reap policy rewards from areas like electric vehicles, the firm avoids businesses reliant on heavy subsidies. So if a company wants the fund’s money, it not only needs to be green but also profitable.

us china green fund

Bai Bo, CEO of U.S.-China Green Fund / Photo: U.S.-China Green Fund

“Once we are in, we will then start urging [the companies] to think in a more sustainable way, but we think they can do that in a way that’s also economically profitable,” said Cameron.

Where the government does come into play is their policy influence on industries pertaining to the environment. That urges the fund to closely study the whims of Beijing.

“The government in China plays a large role in determining the success or failure of certain industries and even companies. Therefore, it is important to develop a good relationship and trust with the government and make sure they understand that you are helping to accomplish their goal,” suggested Liang.

The fund has, for instance, advised the city of Zhangjiakou on how to deliver a low-carbon Winter Olympics in 2022. The challenge of working with officials is not so much their lack of appreciation for sustainability since many of them are now tasked to implement environmentally-friendly policies as part of China’s national goal to go green. The bigger issue is the high turnovers of officials — successors may come in with a brand-new agenda and drop their predecessors’ goals.

“However, if you meet the right officials, you may be surprised at their genuine concern for their constituents and projects and how quickly they can push to implement certain projects or policies,” Liang asserted.

 


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Munich Re buys IoT middleware startup, relayr, in deal worth $300M

12:08 | 4 September

Berlin based Internet of Things (IoT) startup relayr, whose middleware platform is geared towards helping industrial companies unlock data insights from their existing machinery and production line kit, has been acquired by insurance group Munich Re in a deal which values the company at $300 million.

relayr was founded back in 2013 with the initial aim of helping software developers hack around with hardware, at a time when developer interest in IoT was just taking off.

The startup went on to pass through startupbootcamp and crowdfunded a cute looking chocolate-bar shaped hardware starter kit before expanding into building a hardware agnostic cloud services platform to act as a central hub for data flows. relayr then further honed its focus to the needs of industrial IoT, and its platform — which is now used by around 130 businesses — offers end-to-end middleware combined with device management and IoT analytics, and can operate in the cloud, on-premise or a hybrid of both depending on customers needs.

We first covered the Berlin-based startup back in 2014 when it closed a $2.3M seed round. It’s raised $66.8M in total, according to Crunchbase, which includes a $30M Series C round in February led by Deutsche Telekom Capital Partners.

relayr did not disclose the investors in its 2014 seed at the time, saying only that they were unnamed U.S. and Switzerland-based investors. But Kleiner Perkins and Munich Re (via its HSB subsidiary which is acquiring relayr now) were named as investors in later rounds, along with Deutsche Telekom .

Insurance giants and telcos have a clear strategic interest in IoT — with the technology promising to drive network usage and utility on the telco side, and offering transformative potential for the insurance industry as data streams can be used to monitor equipment performance and predict (and even steer off) costly failures.

Munich Re said today that its HSB subsidiary is acquiring 100% of relayr in a deal that values the business at $300M. (It’s not clear if it’s all cash or a mix of cash and stock — we’ve asked). It says the deal will help it “shape opportunities in the fast-growing IoT market”, and is envisaging a joint business model with the combined pair developing not just tech solutions for clients but risk management, data analysis and financial instruments.

“IoT is already significantly changing our world and has the potential to disrupt the traditional insurance and reinsurance industry through new business models, services and competitors,” said Torsten Jeworrek, member of Munich Re’s board of management in a statement. “I am truly happy to announce this acquisition, as it supports our strategy to combine our knowledge of risk, data analysis skills and financial strength with the technological expertise of relayr. This is our basis to develop new ideas for tomorrow’s commercial and industrial worlds.”

“We are delighted to strengthen our relationship with Munich Re/HSB to push digitalization in commercial and industrial markets and strive for our mission to help commercial and industrial businesses stay relevant,” added relayr CEO, Josef Brunner. “The unique combination of the companies demonstrates the importance to deliver business outcomes to customers and the need to combine first-class technology and its delivery with powerful financial and insurance offerings. This transaction is a great opportunity to build a global category leader.”

The pair have been partnered since 2016, when the insurance firm invested in relayr’s Series B, but say they see the acquisition strengthening Munich Re’s financial and insurance offerings while also offering a route to expand relayr’s middleware business via leveraging the insurance group’s large client base.

“Back in 2016, HSB invested in relayr in an effort to harness the strategically significant business potential offered by IoT. relayr’s end-to-end IoT solutions for the industrial and commercial sectors are an ideal addition to our Group’s capabilities,” said Greg Barats, president and CEO of HSB, and the person responsible for Munich Re’s IoT strategy, in another supporting statement. “HSB has always focused on insurance and technology… relayr will help us to rapidly implement our global strategy to develop new IoT solutions for our clients. Digital transformation in the industrial and commercial sectors offers opportunities for new services and financial applications.”

relayr says it already offers industrial companies which are seeking to digitalise their businesses a “comprehensive range of services” — such as being able to extract and analyse data from machines and equipment to determine when a machine is likely to fail (and it touts cutting costs, increased energy efficiency and product quality improvement as among the benefits its platform offers) — but says the acquisition will allow it to develop its “innovative value stack”, by enabling new revenue models, cost reduction, and “increased effectiveness across industries”.

It also sees benefit in sitting under the established Munich Re umbrella — as a way to convince customers it will be a long-term business partner. It adds that it will continue to maintain its current focus on IoT for the industrial sector.

 


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DOE small biz voucher awards include vehicles and fuel cells

21:38 | 31 August

The US Department of Energy has awarded $8 million in Small Business Vouchers to 43 businesses, including ten projects aimed at making hydrogen fuel cells cheaper and more efficient, and six projects that will improve vehicle fuel efficiency, including better batteries.

In addition to funding from the DOE, participants in this second round of the SBV project will be working with 12 of the DOE’s national laboratories to accelerate the development of their technologies. For example, Nzyme2HC is paired with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory to generate hydrogen for fuel cells using, among other things, industrial waste. The SBV award allows Nzyme2HC to prototype and test the cleaner — and potentially cheaper — hydrogen fuel at NREL.

Vehicle technologies range from improved computer modeling and simulations to fuel innovations. Saratoga Energy is developing a process to manufacture graphite from carbon dioxide to be used in lithium-ion batteries for EVs, while Sylvatex is designing a nanoparticle fuel system to reduce emissions and incorporate renewables in petroleum with assistance from the Argonne National Laboratory.

The SBV project isn’t just for vehicles and related technology; other awards were in the Bioenergy, Buildings, Geothermal, Solar, Water, and Wind categories. Round one of the project launched in March with 33 vouchers totaling $6.7 million awarded. To get a piece of that funding pie in a future round, visit the project’s website to apply. More info will be available there in October 2016.

Featured Image: Kristen Hall-Geisler

 


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SCIenergy Partnering In Over $400 Million Fund For Efficient Building Retrofits

18:59 | 9 April
4645921994_bd35a593e4_b On the heels of its $12 million round of funding, SCIenergy, a provider of software and project development services for energy efficient building retrofits is partnering with an undisclosed investor to deploy a new $400 million fund for what it calls managed energy service agreements. Read More


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