The Brief | January 19, 2023

The Brief: Dissing Davos, solar mini-grids in Madagascar, sustainable lithium extraction, Shell’s EV charging acquisition

Roodgally Senatus
ImpactAlpha Editor

Roodgally Senatus

Greetings, Agents of Impact!

Featured: Davos Watch

What if they threw an elite global forum in a Swiss ski resort and no one cared? At least for those of us who aren’t there, it is definitely cooler to skip Davos than to attend the global confab of CEOs and (a few) presidents and prime ministers. Case in point: the tone-deafness of John Kerry. In a short column for SemaforPeter Goodman, author of “DAVOS MAN: How the Billionaires Devoured the World,” called the World Economic Forum “a giant business meeting, a chance for the heads of multinational oil giants to sit opposite Persian Gulf potentates — fronted by the performance art of earnest panel discussions aimed at solving the problems of the day.” The dismissive sentiment is spilling over to the annual UN-backed “conference of parties” global climate summits. Ten months before it convenes in the United Arab Emirates, COP28 is at risk of becoming a platform for fossil fuel interests. Sultan Al Jaber, head of Abu Dhabi National Oil Co., last week was named president of the climate talks. “If he does not step down as CEO, it will be tantamount to a full-scale capture of the U.N. climate talks by a petrostate national oil company and its associated fossil fuel lobbyists,” said Tasneem Essop of Climate Action Network International. Where is it safe anymore for the well-meaning elite bent on saving the world? 

  • Missing from the agenda. The program at this year’s forum did nothing to mitigate Davos’ reputation as a club for the global elite (the richest 1% have captured nearly two-thirds of all new wealth created in the world since 2020, according to Oxfam). There are sessions on quiet quitting, AI and white collar jobs, and green jobs needed for the energy transition, but little that addresses frontline workers, hourly wages or worker ownership. Indeed, the only mention of ‘ownership’ is a panel on global real estate. Also scrubbed from the agenda this year is ESG, the environmental, social and governance practices that have become the unlikely target of the latest culture wars.
  • Climate competition. The prospect of a green trade war sparked by the U.S. Inflation Reduction Act has shaken the bedrock Davos doctrine of globalization and collaboration. The law showers incentives and subsidies for domestic manufacturing of everything from batteries to hydrogen hubs to reduce emissions and increase U.S. competitiveness in critical next-gen sectors. European officials fear the measures will drive innovative companies to locate in the U.S. at the expense of other regions. Kerry, the U.S. climate envoy, said criticism of the U.S. policy was unfair. “Do it, too,” he urged the Davos crowd.
  • Mobilizing philanthropy. And of course there were pledges. Just 2%, or some $16 billion, of the $810 billion in philanthropic funding in 2021 went to climate efforts. A new initiative launched at the WEF, called  Giving to Amplify Earth Action, or GAEA, hopes to double philanthropic funding for climate action and scale up “public, private, philanthropic partnerships,” or PPPPs. More than 25 charitable organizations, including The Rockefeller Foundation, Temasek Trust’s Philanthropy Asia Alliance, and the African Climate Foundation, joined the initiative. Kerry was direct, if less than eloquent, in pointing out the path to a net-zero future: “Money, money, money, money, money, money, money.”
  • Keep reading, “What if they threw an elite global forum in a Swiss ski resort and no one cared?” by Amy Cortese and David Bank on ImpactAlpha.

Dealflow: Clean Energy Transition

WeLight raises €19 million to bring solar mini-grids to rural Madagascar. The majority of Madagascar’s population lacks access to electricity. Triodos Investment Management, the European Investment Bank and EDFI ElectriFI will invest $20.5 million in WeLight, based in the capital Antananarivo, to develop a fleet of solar mini-grids in rural villages in Madagascar over two years. The mini-grids will provide low-cost and reliable access to electricity for the first time to at least 45,000 households, schools, public spaces and businesses in 120 villages. WeLight’s existing backers, such as AXIAN GroupSagemcom and Norfund, will provide the remaining €9 million ($9.7 million) in debt for the  €28 million ($30.2 million) project. WeLight currently manages 40 mini-grids that supply clean electricity to 9,000 households in Africa.

  • Energy inclusion. “Mini-grids provide low-income households access to electricity and boost socioeconomic development,” said Fadoua Boudiba of Triodos. The Dutch investment manager invested in WeLight via three funds: Triodos Groenfonds, Hivos-Triodos Fonds and Triodos Emerging Markets Renewable Energy Fund.
  • Share this post

Summit Nanotech secures $50 million for sustainable lithium extraction. The scramble is on to commercialize sustainable lithium, which can overcome a major obstacle to the wholesale transition to electric vehicles (see, “EnergyX and its rivals raise resources for the race for sustainable lithium). Summit Nanotech, along with Energy Exploration Technologies and other companies, use membrane, filters or other methods to efficiently extract lithium from brine. Canada-based Summit says its process is cost effective and minimizes the use of chemicals and freshwater. The woman-led company re-injects brine back into the earth post-extraction. Summit’s technology “addresses the growing global need for lithium with a rapidly scalable, low-cost and environmentally friendly approach, which can unlock value in a wide variety of high-volume brines,” said Nanika Chaubey of Evok Innovations, which was lead investor in the Series A round with BDC Capital’s Climate Tech Fund.

  • Climate finance. Summit Nanotech has a pilot project in Chile with several clients. Other investors in the round include Capricorn Investment Group through its technology impact fund, the Grantham Foundation and Helios Climate Ventures. Summit has raised $72 million to date.
  • Check it out

Dealflow overflow. Other investment news crossing our desks:

  • Spain’s Iberdrola sold a minority stake in its 1.3 gigawatt portfolio of solar plants and onshore wind farms to Norway’s $1.3 trillion sovereign wealth fund for $650 million.
  • Shell USA will acquire electric vehicle charging company Volta in an all-cash transaction valued at approximately $196 million.
  • Carbon-based storage tech venture Noon Energy raised $28 million in Series A financing to unlock low-cost long-duration clean energy storage.
  • Mumbai Oncocare Centre scored $10 million from Tata Capital Healthcare Fund to provide low-cost and quality personalized care to cancer patients in India.

Agents of Impact: Follow the Talent

John E. Morton, ex-of the U.S. Treasury Department, rejoins Pollination as a member of the firm’s executive committee and as managing director and global head of advisory… Narina Mnatsakanian, ex- of Van Lanschot Kempen, joins UBS Asset Management as head of impact investing… Palatine promotesGreg Holmes to investment director on its impact fund team.

The Environmental Law Instituteseeks a director for a climate judiciary project in Washington, D.C… Monique Davis, ex-of YWCA, joins Center Creek Capital Group as social impact programs manager… New York Life Insurance looking for a senior associate and impact investing analyst in New York… Resonance has several openings, including a financial controller for its impact labs, a relationship manager for its youth investment fund, and a finance intern… The Newark Academyis hiring a director of sustainability in N.J. 

Sustainable Solutions recruiting a corporate sustainability operations manager in Royersford, Pa… The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy seeks a stakeholder engagement supervisor in Washington, D.C… The Hive Fund for Climate and Gender Justice is looking for two climate and economic ju​​stice senior program officers and a strategic partnerships dire​​ctor… Cox Enterprisesis recruiting a director of ESG data and reporting in Atlanta… Sun Lifeis hiring a sustainability strategy manager in Toronto.

Thank you for your impact.

– Jan. 19, 2023