🔮 Elon the GOAT; invention, abatement; demographics and Mars++ #369

Hi, I’m Azeem Azhar. I convene Exponential View to help us understand how our societies and political economy will change under the force of rapidly accelerating technologies.

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My latest podcast conversation…

…was with EV member, Ronit Ghose, whose report Metaverse and Money: Decrypting the Future looks at the development of payment functions in Web3 and the metaverse. We talk about…

  • The metaverse as the evolution of the Internet,
  • An economic estimate of virtual and physical meshing together,
  • Decentralised vs. centralised metaverse.

You can listen to the podcast here, and read a high-level summary here.

Today’s edition is supported by our partner, Composer.

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The near future

🐐 The GOAT
With Tesla’s incredible results this quarter, we need to ask the question: is Elon the “greatest of all time”? His firm smashed expectations with revenues for the quarter coming in at $18.76bn and net income at $3.3bn, up from $2.3bn in the previous quarter. Tesla’s margins have also increased substantially, by roughly 10%. Their profits far, far exceed the losses.

Tesla, a physical car company not a weightless app, has achieved this rate of growth without any advertising, from word of mouth (ours and his). The firm delivered 308,000 vehicles in the first quarter. (By comparison, BMW roughly sells 600,000 per quarter. Five years ago Tesla shipped 103,181 cars in the entire year.)

Personally, I find the finish of Teslas rather unrefined, compared to some of the German competitors. The Audi eTron has a particularly nice feel to it. So it’s good that the German players are creating an industry rival. Mercedes just showed off their EQXX prototype, which has a 1000 km range, well above the range of any fuelled up ICE vehicle. The car is about 40% more energy efficient than a Tesla Model 3 (and 60% more efficient than the eTron). An interesting detail is that Mercedes “cut the time to develop the EQXX from 58 months to around 40 months by relying on simulations and digital design tools rather than physical tests and parts manufacturing” a fitting example for exponential growth in technology.

🔑 The mother of invention
In just a few weeks, the US Air Force has developed and manufactured an entirely new drone from the Ukrainian Armed Forces “for a set of requirements that very closely match what Ukrainians need right now in the Donbas.” It seems to be a loitering munition, which requires minimal training to be effective. American military programmes can take many years or decades to come to fruition, so this timeframe is remarkable, to say the least. (The name, Ghost Phoenix, is dreadful).

And an interesting hint that other elements of the US military are using the scathes of publicly available data and “AI tools” (whatever that means) to better track what is going on in Ukraine - to the advantage of the defenders. This could be a prototype for a new model of national security innovation.

The US Air Force’s agility contrasts sharply with the sclerotic nature of Russian military hardware. Russia’s state-of-the-art Kh-101 cruise missile, introduced a few years ago, relies on 1970s electronics. Worse, the Russian military is also “dependent upon complex electronics manufactured in the US, the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, Japan, Israel, China and further afield.” Even before sanctions bite and stocks dwindle, this will slow down the Zers’ ability to iterate, as outlined in this good report from RUSI, on Russia’s failed imperial ambitions.

📊 Rethinking abatement
Our friends at ClimateTechVC dig deeper into models for marginal abatement cost curves. Marginal abatement cost is the amount of money required for an incremental reduction in emissions. These curves (which we’ve covered before) came from McKinsey’s work about 15 years ago. EDF, the energy giant, has built a new set of curves that allow us to play with different potential scenarios to capture “innovation, cost declines and other sectoral changes.” Play with the model here.

Dept of our climate future

In every Sunday edition, we track key metrics that tell us a little about our shared climate future. Our member, Marshall Kirkpatrick, takes the time to curate a view of our climate future in this segment every week, and you can read Marshall’s curation: “This week’s stories are a great mix of new technologies, international collaboration, and policy changes coming together to scale up the global transition to a more sustainable economy.  Together they represent a big part of the work to be done.”

Transmission transformation: The US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) released a long-awaited set of proposed rules designed to modernise the energy transmission capabilities of the US grid, enabling the more efficient transmission of renewable energy. The rules would require at least 20 years of future demand to be anticipated in the development of new power lines. This sounds like a hopeful step in closing the exponential gap between technology and policy - unfortunately, calls for improved inter-regional transmissions from high-renewable to low-renewable areas, and steps to ease the process of connecting renewable energy to the grid were not included in the proposal, because conservatives wouldn’t want too much of a good thing. The rules are expected to be finalised by the end of the year, after public comments. POLITICO energy reporter Catherine Morehouse noted what was missing, but called it “an impressive consensus” that’s “addressing root causes” and “a pretty big win for FERC” with “a long road ahead.” Happy Earth Day.

Big solar: The US Bureau of Land Management (BLM) plans to approve the construction of 39 utility-scale solar projects, totalling more than 29 GW of capacity on federal lands by the end of 2025. “That’s more than twice France’s total installed solar capacity: it’s China-solar-scale stuff,” says Assaad Razzouk. It’s also more than 5X more the cumulative installation capacity of the US’s largest ever wind power auction held earlier this year, when 5.6 GW of installation capacity was purchased for $4.37 billion. For context, there are now 124 GW of installed solar capacity around the US in total. 29 GW of new solar on public lands in the next 3 years is a big deal: China-scale solar in the US!

Giant turbine printer comes online: GE’s new 3D printer the size of a three story building can print wind turbine tower sections up to 20 meters high (video). The system came online this week in Bergen, New York, as the first of its kind in the US: a giant experiment with new production methods to make wind turbine towers more efficient and sustainable. From towers to blades, wind turbine optimisation efforts around the world are focused on increasing the speed and efficiency of turbines for deployment at scale.

New materials for solar cells: Researchers collaborating across the globe after a conference talk have created a new type of solar cell that’s low cost, high efficiency, thin, lightweight and flexible. Perovskite solar cells, an alternative to silicon, can be printed from inks, but have been far less efficient in energy capture and less stable in normal environmental conditions. Now, researchers from City University of Hong Kong have found that new metal-containing material compounds called ferrocenes, developed by Imperial College London, can be put into printed perovskite cells. The resulting combination is almost as efficient as silicon, and capable of passing international stability tests.  Their research was published in the journal Science on Thursday.

Short morsels to appear smart while making babies

👶 What kind of policies help increase birth rates? Rely less on financial incentives, and more on gender equality and childcare support. See also, to advance gender equality in universities, we need to use evidence-based methods - this Nature paper proposes several.

🙇‍♂️Russia has a terrible demographic situation. Its population pyramid is a staccatoed record of its political history from post-Soviet alcoholism to Brezhnev stagnation and post-Soviet collapse.

📱President Obama said some sensible things about democracy, social networks and misinformation. (His top recommendation is similar to a key recommendation I make in the book.)

💊All the good drug names are gone. How do you choose new ones?

💡China’s recipe for innovation: a partially porous firewall plus collaboration with the United States, leading to a wave of resources, infrastructure and talent planned for by government initiatives.

🏠Internet of Things company Insteon has suddenly gone off the grid, leaving users’ connected homes… disconnected. In any case, don’t reset your devices.

📈Cryptocurrencies have generated huge gains across multiple countries, led by Ethereum and the United States.

NASA has laid out some plans for the next decade in planetary science. Meanwhile, the Perseverance rover captured a solar eclipse from Mars.

End note


With Covid seemingly abating and the world opening up, I’m out and about a little more. A couple of events I’ll be speaking at are:

🚲 Amsterdam, 1-2 June: I will be at the Micromobility Conference organised by Horace Dediu and his team. Readers of Exponential View receive 15% off tickets – get yours here.

🎺 Oxford, 10-12 June: I will speak at the KITE Festival of music and new ideas put together by our friends at Tortoise Media. Readers of Exponential View get 15% off.

Perhaps we’ll get a chance to connect.


What you’re up to – notes from EV readers

Denise Young’s latest episode on the New Climate Capitalism podcast explores the geopolitics of the clean energy mining boom.

Alex Robinson is hiring a Director of Projects and Partnerships at Hubbub, an environmental creative agency/nonprofit in London.

James Mawson and his team at Global Corporate Venturing are organising events for strategic investors on 18-19 May (UK) and 20-22 June (US). EV readers get a discount with the code EV10 - register here.

Sebastian Capanario published his new book “The Future of Wellbeing” (in Spanish), which explores how major scientific and technological innovations can be used to improve mental health.

To share your projects and updates, fill out your details here. Because of space constraints, we prioritise updates from paying members and startups I have invested in. (You can become the former by subscribing, if you have not already, and the latter by getting an intro to me via a trusted contact.)

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