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Our energy grids can’t handle the heat—in fact, they’re making it worse

June 30, 2021, 10:57 AM UTC

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The Pacific Northwest is trapped under a heat dome that has forced temperatures into record-shattering highs from Arizona in the U.S. to Canada’s British Columbia, where temperatures hit 47.5C (118F) on Tuesday. That’s hotter than the 41C temperature in Dubai today.

The extreme North American heat has buckled roads, melted electricity lines and caused scores of deaths. U.S. President Joe Biden rightly connected the blistering heatwave to climate change and used the scorcher to push for his $1.2 trillion infrastructure plan. (A little more detail on that below.)

“As climate change induces extreme weather events more and more frequently, we need to make investments to build a more resilient grid,” Biden said Tuesday. But it isn’t enough for energy grids to be resilient; they need to be green, too.

As temperatures rise, air conditioner installations will increase too, driving higher demand for electricity. This dynamic has already played out in the Northwest U.S., where spikes in energy demand for commercial AC units have led to a dozen blackouts this past week. Charging new ACs with grids built on fossil fuels will, of course, only make matters worse in the long-term.

Last week, before the heat struck the U.S., I spoke with founder and CEO of Envision Group, Lei Zhang, about the challenges of installing renewable energy systems in economies built on grids powered by oil, gas and coal.

Envision Group is the world’s fourth largest wind turbine manufacturer, in terms of installed capacity. The group also develops A.I.-guided power management systems that help grid operators predict and respond to variations in power supply and demand.

“The transition will not only be built on renewable energy tech alone,” Zhang said. “You need to build an advanced ecosystem, you need advanced software and you need to create a market for pricing flexibility. Ultimately, you need a holistic approach.”

You can read through the full Q&A with Lei Zhang—where we discuss greening energy grids and how to tackle so-called scope 3 carbon emissions, which come from a company’s value chain—here.

Fortune is also opening submissions for our annual Change the World list, where we recognize profit-making enterprises that enact a positive change on the world through their business—not through charity. If you have any thoughts on who should be included on the list, you can submit a nomination here.

Stay safe if you’re in the heat. More news below,

Eamon Barrett


Bonds abound

Countries in Asia Pacific will require $1.5 trillion of annual investment to achieve the UN’s sustainable development goals (SDGs) by 2030, according the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific. The UN SDGs include providing quality education and achieving gender equality, as well as tackling pollution and climate change. According to the UN, a third of the $1.5 trillion per year must go to funding clean energy and climate action projects. That price tag will see APAC emerge as a powerhouse for green bond issuance. APAC issuers accounted for 21% of global green bond sales worth $53.2 billion in the first quarter of 2021, up from 18% the year before. Nikkei

Pushing pollution

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) could become the first member among the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to set a carbon neutral goal, Bloomberg reports. The UAE is expected to make an announcement before the UN climate change conference convenes in Glasgow this November. Currently, the UAE only plans to meet half of its own energy needs with renewable by 2050 and, if the UAE does set a net-zero pledge, it might not include emissions from the oil it exports to other countries. Bloomberg

Not enough

Climate protesters—including members of the U.S. Congress—are protesting President Biden’s $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill for not including enough provisions on climate change. Biden himself admits that the bipartisan bill is “missing some critical initiatives on climate change” but hopes to patch some of those shortcomings by pushing a partisan reconciliation bill through the Senate. Reuters

A canal, a plan

Authorities managing the Panama Canal, a vital artery in global sea trade, are preparing a $2 billion spending package to tackle flooding and drought—contradictory problems that threaten the 50-mile long waterway. Some 4% of global trade passes through the Central American slipstream and drought has increased the risk of massive container ships running aground, à la the Ever Given in the Suez Canal last March. But even as water levels are receding, extreme weather has increased, creating storm surges that overwhelm the canal’s dams and locks. WSJ


The crime of ‘ecocide’ now has a definition—but what will it mean for polluters? by David Meyer

How the world’s largest bank could—and should—become a leader in green finance by Ogutu Keroboto and Anu Muhammad

Amazon has ‘come a long way’ but still faces a lot of questions on sustainability by Marcus Baram

What the pandemic revealed about the meat supply chain by Georgie Smith

Digging into Bitcoin’s energy problem by Fortune Editors

In a move toward sustainability, big beauty brands take a look in the mirror by Danielle Bernabe



With the world focused on reducing carbon emissions, methane is often overlooked as a dangerous greenhouse gas. It traps around 80 times as much heat as carbon dioxide. Human activity accounts for 60% of global methane emissions, and emissions from the fossil fuel industry—mostly leaks at natural gas facilities—contribute about 35% of that. But according to the UN 2021 global methane assessment, up to 80% of measures to curb methane emissions from oil and gas operations can be implemented at zero cost or at profit.

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