Numlock News: September 20, 2019 • Turbines, Scooter Crash, Whisky

By Walt Hickey

Have a great weekend.

Also, I’m starting a book club! It’s an experiment, but it should be fun. Totally free, we’ll see if it works, readers vote on the books and there’s a weekly discussion thread. Check it out.

Crash

In the current quarter, micromobility companies — the ones that dump piles of rentable scooters and bikes onto random metropolises and let the city councils hash out the details — have raised $795 million from investors across seven deals, a total of $1.3 billion so far this year across 33 deals. That’s a slowing pace compared to 2018, when over the first three quarters such companies hauled in $4.8 billion in funding over the course of 48 deals. Maybe the market's crowded, maybe investors are cooling off on the model, or maybe it just takes more than a year to burn through five billion dollars. The real interesting stuff is going on in the macromobility space, like fixing the subway.

Alison Griswold, Oversharing

Data Centers

A school district in Altoona, Iowa goofed bad when the tax assessor failed to note that Facebook got a massive, 20-year property tax exemption in exchange for building a data center in town. As a result, it included the $894,285 they’d normally have to pay if they were treated like any other business in their town and the school budget, only to realize their error when it was far too late. Iowa in particular has been keen with doling out huge tax breaks so companies build data centers there, the largest being a $213 million tax break to Apple for a Waukee, Iowa facility that will bring only 50 jobs. Over 20 states have specific tax breaks for data centers, but they’re a bit of a sucker’s game, as they’re fairly low-maintenance compared to other businesses with the same property footprint and require fewer jobs.

Pat Garofalo, Boondoggle

Turbines

The largest wind turbines ever achieved have been selected for a project off the coast of Maryland. The 859-foot, 12-megawatt Haliade-X turbines are made by General Electric and were selected by Orsted A/S for a site off the coast of Maryland to be completed by 2022. The developer will also install them on a 1,100 megawatt project off the coast of Atlantic City by 2024, which will supply power to 500,000 homes. New Jersey is targeting 3.5 gigawatts of offshore wind power by 2030, and New York is aiming for 9 gigawatts by 2035, enough to power 6 million homes, and east coast states from New York to Virginia are getting in on offshore. Offshore turbines can be much bigger than onshore wind turbines, which by the end of 2019 will max out at about 590 feet.

Chris Martin, Bloomberg

I Don't Want to Miss a Thing

Last week, 130 scientists in Rome finished a plan for a NASA-European Space Agency collaboration to hurl a spacecraft at a near-earth asteroid to see what exactly goes down. NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test will launch a half-ton of metal in the summer of July 2021 at 65803 Didymos, which is a big asteroid orbited by a smaller asteroid. 16 months later, DART will crash into the smaller one at 14,700 miles per hour, which should do the trick of messing with the orbit of the moonlet a tiny amount. Right before impact, an Italian satellite called LICIACube will eject and take lots of pictures. (In layman’s terms, during this elaborate maneuver DART is Bruce Willis and LICIACube is Ben Affleck.) In 2023, the ESA will launch Hera, which will fly to Didymos and scope out the damage, which the finest minds in astrophysics anticipate will be “hella rad.”

Neel V. Patel, MIT Technology Review

International Malt of Mystery

Japanese whisky has become one of the most beloved liquors in the world in a fairly short time — the U.S. imported $40 million worth of Japanese whiskey up from $6 million in 2014 — but it has a secret. Lost in translation is the reality that Japan has basically no standards whatsoever as to what can be called “Japanese whiskey,” compared to the specific regulations about what is “bourbon” or “scotch.” Ponder this one for a second: Retail sales of Canadian whisky and Scotch have been stagnant in Japan from 2017 to 2018, however, Japan imported 70 percent more Canadian whisky and 141 percent more single and blended grain from Scotland over that period. Suntory and Nikka Whisky control 80 percent of the market and have eliminated aged statements because they were simply running out of aged stuff. In an extreme example, Kurayoshi Distillery sells an 18-year-old pure malt and also opened in 2017. Let’s just say Japanese whiskey probably goes great with poutine or haggis.

Brad Japhe, Bloomberg

Joker

Joker by Todd Phillips is doing great in early projections, on pace for an $82 million domestic opening weekend in early October. A more bearish estimate puts its opening at $77 million but more ambitious ones have it as high as $87 million. That would be a record, as last year’s Venom holds the top October opening with $80.2 million. I’m glad that the industry decided that October is “release your edgy comic IP movie” month, much like they decided August is “everything except one movie is terrible” month, December is “Harry Potter, Star Wars, and Oscar Bait” month, and January is “31 days, all of them garbage month.”

Pamela McClintock, The Hollywood Reporter

Batteries

As grids move to forms of power generation like solar and wind that operate intermittently, a key necessity is a way to store the excess generations in the windy and sunny times for use in the still and cloudy times. Lithium ion batteries are one solution, but the amount of lithium needed is currently cost prohibitive. One idea, from a company called Hydrostor, uses that excess energy to inject compressed air into underground storage caverns, then release it during times of energy need to drive turbines and generate electricity. The principle is already in use on a small scale, but making it work on an industrial scale is the challenge. The company has a 1 megawatt pilot project, a 2 megawatt one online in the coming weeks, and Australia funded a 5 megawatt pilot to be completed in 2020. The efficiency is lower — lithium ion batteries recover 90 percent of the energy they store, but the Hydrostor tech is only at about 60 percent — but then again I may not be an engineer, but digging a hole anywhere seems a lot easier than mining lithium.

Akshat Rathi, Quartz

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