Top 10 clean energy stories from Canary’s first year

Readers flocked to clean energy firsts, incisive takes on novel tech, and news of an energy transition unfolding faster than expected.
By Julian Spector

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Just a year ago today, Canary Media hatched into this world. In an instant, our scrappy team of reporters went from unemployed to employed, and a new venue for independent clean energy journalism welcomed its first readers.

Since then, we’ve launched a custom-built website, published a few hundred newsletters, produced three regular podcasts, and written a whole panoply of stories on how the transition to clean energy actually happens.

To mark our one-year anniversary, we’ve compiled the 10 articles that resonated most with you, dear readers. Among their ranks, you’ll find notable firsts, critical evaluations of as-yet-unproven technologies and evidence-based predictions of the technologies poised for massive growth.

There’s never been more money flowing into climate technologies, and the global imperative to tackle emissions only gets more compelling by the day. It’s thrilling to wake up each morning and dig into which purported climate solutions actually make sense, as well as to uncover the obstacles blocking sensible ideas from succeeding in the real world. Your support — sharing the stories, telling your friends and colleagues to subscribe, donating to our nonprofit newsroom — makes it possible for us to push this work forward into Year 2.

Did we leave out your favorite story? What Canary reporting stuck with you most from our first year? Tell us in the comment section or tweet us @CanaryMediaInc.

10. The country’s first neighborhood microgrid is coming online in Chicago

Giving a whole city neighborhood the ability to create and control its own power is harder than it looks. Canary Media profiled a first-of-its-kind project that’s embedding generators, solar, storage and other tools in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood to protect it from grid outages. It’s a story about the head-spinning technical and regulatory obstacles and how they can ultimately be overcome to share the benefits of clean, localized energy.

9. Why is California wasting millions on hydrogen fuel pumps?

Not all clean technologies are created equal. Eric Wesoff digs into a $2.8 million hydrogen fueling station that’s been under construction in his neighborhood for a whopping six years. It’s a product of California’s long-running subsidies for hydrogen as a fuel for light-duty vehicles, which look increasingly dubious as electric vehicles surge.

In the race to become the clean cars of the future, fuel-cell models are the decisive losers,” Wesoff writes. So why is the state of California still squandering tens of millions of dollars on this technology?”

8. Electric trucks could handle millions of short-haul routes across North America

Long-distance trucking is hard to clean up, but guess what? Half the daily truck routes in the U.S. are 100 miles or shorter, and the electric trucks available today can do the job. That’s according to real-world testing the trucking industry performed in 2021. Transportation emits more greenhouse gas than any other U.S. sector; electrifying shorter truck trips is an achievable way to cut carbon.

7. Nuclear startup Oklo gets thumbs down from regulators. What does this mean for next-gen nuclear?

A promising microreactor startup gets rejected by the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission on procedural grounds. Then again, no new nuclear technology has been licensed and built since the regulator came into existence decades ago. Oklo’s experience reflects an industrywide roadblock to getting more electricity from nuclear, the largest source of carbon-free power but one that’s struggling to hang on.

6. Chart: How much oil does the U.S. actually import from Russia?

After Russia invaded Ukraine, the U.S. halted Russian oil imports. But what does that mean for our energy system? Maria Virginia Olano visualizes how the U.S. got more crude from Russia in 2021 than any country besides neighbors Canada and Mexico.

5. Goldman Sachs just made a record-setting investment in long-duration energy storage

When a storied financier sinks $250 million into a new technology to store gobs of renewable electricity, something has changed. Long-duration storage used to be considered quixotic, risky, far-off — the sort of thing reputable investors steer clear of. Canadian startup Hydrostor kept at it, honing a technique to pump air into caverns and store it below a layer of water. Now it’s got plenty of cash from Goldman Sachs to go ahead and build this tech at a truly massive scale, starting in renewables-rich California and Australia.

4. Used EV batteries are storing solar power at grid-scale and making money at it

Whenever you talk about the ongoing surge in electric vehicle adoption, people love to point out a problem: What do you do with the batteries when they can no longer propel cars? Canary Media tracked down one answer: Old EV battery packs can store solar power and use it to displace fossil-fueled electricity at night. A company called B2U Storage Solutions is doing just this, and doing it profitably, in California’s Mojave Desert. Check out our companion video to see for yourself.

3. These new double-duty heat pumps can warm both air and water

Space heating and water heating are the two big fossil fuel uses within the home. What if you could do both with one all-electric appliance? This story profiles Harvest Thermal, which makes combined electric air and water heaters that respond dynamically to grid conditions. They can preheat when electricity is cheap and lower in carbon. Then they offset grid usage in hours when power is expensive and dirty. It’s a consumer-facing tactic to clean up households by electrifying their energy needs.

2. U.S. schools can subscribe to an electric bus fleet at prices that beat diesel

Have you stopped slowly poisoning your children yet? Communities across the U.S. are finding they can replace dirty diesel buses with emissions-free electric models. It requires upfront spending and confronting complex utility processes and charging logistics. But several companies now bundle all those services so school districts can go electric while paying less than what it costs to own and operate a diesel bus fleet. Jeff St. John covers the state of play nationwide for one of the clearest slam-dunk clean energy breakthroughs.

1. The unstoppably good news about clean energy

Financial-analyst-turned-energy-strategist Kingsmill Bond walks readers through an empirical reason to feel hopeful about the spread of clean energy. Key technologies are already on documented learning curves, which means that as more solar, wind, batteries and hydrogen electrolyzers get deployed, their costs will continue to come down in predictable increments. When it comes to cleaning up the energy system, Bond contends that the ceiling of the possible is constantly rising.”

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Julian Spector is a senior reporter at Canary Media. He reports on batteries, long-duration energy storage, low-carbon hydrogen and clean energy breakthroughs around the world.