What it takes to earn $70K as a water operator in California

The promise of job security and work-life balance drew Fernando Gonzalez to become a water operator. Now that he’s worked as one for a few years, he sees his job as much more than fining people for using too much water.

On a given day, he’s patrolling neighborhoods spanning from farmland to Malibu mansions, looking for evidence that residents are wasting water. He hands out notices of leaky sprinklers or when residents run sprinklers right after a rainstorm, sure, but the most rewarding part of his job is interacting with customers about how they can save water, and why it’s so important.

“We’re more of a teaching tool than we are a kind of enforcement,” Gonzalez, 43, tells CNBC Make It. “We’d rather spend more time with customers and actually give them pointers on how they can conserve, rather than just hand out blank fines and collect the money and run.”

The stakes have never been higher as Southern California and the rest of the southwestern U.S. continues its 20-plus years in a megadrought. It’s the driest period for the region in over 1,200 years, according to Nature Climate Change.

“Climate change has made a big difference to to how our hydrological cycle is being affected,” Gonzalez says. “You see the lakes running low. You see the the wildlife being affected. You can see that animals are coming down out of the mountains into urban areas to eat because their food sources are being affected up where they normally live.”

Fernando Gonzalez, 43, makes $70,000 a year as a water operator based in Calabasas, Calif.

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Gonzalez sees the direct line between the work he does and affecting behavior change that can help conserve California’s precious water resources, even though talking to residents and news teams about climate change isn’t what he signed up for at all: “I never thought I’d be using my voice as a tool,” he says. But this is the reality of what we have to do in order to conserve water.”

Here’s how Gonzalez earns $70,000 a year, or nearly $100,000 with overtime, as a water operator in Calabasas, Calif.

Getting the job

Gonzalez was born and raised in California and helped run his dad’s pool cleaning business until age 25. During that time, he learned a lot about water chemistry and that he loved working outdoors. In his 20s, he changed careers to work as a plant manager in industrial sales and distribution, but realized he didn’t like working a desk job and wanted something different.

When Gonzalez noticed his clients who worked for a water agency were always in a good mood, could spend a lot of time with their families and even had energy for hobbies, he wanted in.

In 2017, Gonzalez enrolled in community college, took six courses and got certified by the California State Water Resource Control Board to work as a water operator.

Fernando Gonzalez is on the frontlines of combatting the historic “megadrought” in the southwestern U.S., and works with customers across parts of Los Angeles County to conserve water in the desert.

Tristan Pelletier | CNBC Make It

The biggest surprise during his studies was learning about the legal regulation of how water moves throughout the state of California to Los Angeles County. “It really brought to light the scarcity of the water here in Southern California,” he says. “I found out the water comes from Northern California, and we don’t actually store any water here in the south. So that made it real on the water conservation effort.”

Learning about the chemistry of water treatment — how acid, chlorine and different chemicals affect water — was a challenge, but Gonzalez learned to like it. “If you have a passion for something, you always find a way,” he says. “And I found that I had a passion for this, and it really did hit home for me.”

Water operators are required to hold either a water distribution license or a treatment license. Gonzalez currently holds both. He was hired at Las Virgenes Municipal Water District, which serves about 75,000 residents in western Los Angeles County, in January 2020.

A day on the job

Fernando Gonzalez says job security, work-life balance and the ability to work outdoors drew him to becoming a water operator. He also enjoys interacting with customers and teaching them how to conserve water.

Tristan Pelletier | CNBC Make It

The typical neighborhoods he works in can range from traditional single-family lots to farms with horses, as well as celebrity mansions owned by the likes of Kim and Kourtney Kardashian, Dwyane Wade and Kevin Hart — many of whom have been issued notices of excess water usage.

Fines range from $50 to $100, which are often “not enough of a deterrent for people who have the means and the money to just pay their way out of it,” he says.

And violations can bring up uncomfortable conversations with homeowners who worry that if they don’t water their lawns, their plants will die, and their property value could drop.

But Gonzalez reminds them that if the California drought gets worse, water use could be restricted to only human consumption. The consequences could be much worse than dull lawns. “It’s unfortunate, but there is going to be a casualty to the drought, and we prefer the casualty be the lawn over the people,” he says.

If a customer exceeds their water budget too many times, the district installs a flow restrictor — a washer with a 1/16-inch hole in the center that allows just under two gallons of water per minute to go to the house.

Properties that go over their water allotment too many times have a flow restrictor installed, which is a washer with a 1/16-inch hole in the center that allows just under two gallons of water to flow per minute.

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The restrictors make customers re-prioritize their water use: “You’ll have to actually start making kind of decisions on what’s more important — watering your lawn or taking a shower — because you can’t do both at the same time with the restrictor in,” Gonzalez says.

Gonzalez approaches his work with empathy: People aren’t wasting water to be malicious. Usually, customers just pay their water bill and don’t think twice about it. It isn’t until someone like him visits their property, finds a leak and works with them to get it repaired that they realize they’re wasting water.

“It’s a win for everybody,” Gonzalez says. “Conservation-wise, it’s less wasted water, and the customer wins because their water bill will go down.”

Overall, “one of the biggest rewards for me is still the customer service aspect of it, of helping the community with what I do,” he says.

The future of water

Gonzalez also works on the Pure Water Project, an initiative that uses emerging technologies to treat recycled water for irrigation. The ultimate goal is to bring the treated water up to safe drinking standards one day.

In the mornings, Gonzalez will work in a lab to monitor the facility’s three-step filtration process, make adjustments to the system, and measure the impact of how pure the water comes out.

“Climate change has made a big difference to to how our hydrological cycle is being affected,” says Fernando Gonzalez. “You can see that animals are coming down out of the mountains into urban areas to eat because their food sources are being affected up where they normally live.”

Tristan Pelletier | CNBC Make It

Bringing in $144,000 a year as a female truck driver

After years as nuclear powerhouse, France makes play in offshore wind

This image, from Sept. 2022, shows French President Emmanuel Macron speaking with workers on board a boat during a visit to the Saint-Nazaire Offshore Wind Farm.

Stephane Mahe | AFP | Getty Images

A facility described as “France’s first commercial-scale offshore wind project” is fully operational, multinational utility EDF said this week.

The news represents a significant step forward for the country’s offshore wind sector, with more projects set to come online in the years ahead.

In a statement Wednesday, EDF said the 480-megawatt Saint-Nazaire Offshore Wind Farm would help to “support the French State’s energy transition goals, which include targets to generate 32% of its energy from renewable sources by 2030.” EDF’s majority shareholder is the French state.

Located in waters off the south west coast of France, the Saint-Nazaire project consists of 80 turbines. Its first electricity was generated in June 2022.

Looking ahead, EDF said the wind farm would “supply the equivalent of the consumption of 700,000 people with electricity every year.”

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While the Saint-Nazaire project represents a significant shot in the arm for France’s nascent offshore wind sector, the country has for decades been something of a powerhouse when it comes to nuclear.

According to the World Nuclear Association, France is home to 56 operable reactors. “France derives about 70% of its electricity from nuclear energy,” it adds.

In wind power, the country has an established onshore sector. Its offshore industry is by contrast miniscule, with a cumulative capacity of just 2 MW in 2021, according to figures from industry body WindEurope.

This is set to change in the coming years. “Offshore installations are finally set to take off as of 2022, and we expect 3.3 GW of offshore wind installations from now until 2026,” WindEurope’s Wind Energy in Europe report, which was published in Feb. 2022, said.

In a statement, EDF Renewables’ CEO Bruno Bensasson expressed pride in commissioning what he called “France’s first industrial offshore wind farm.”

“Over the past 10 years, this project has contributed to the construction of the offshore wind power industry in France and has mobilized a significant number of jobs during construction and now in the operating phase,” he later added.

Why your next Domino’s pizza delivery may arrive in a GM Chevy Bolt EV

Domino’s will roll out 800 custom-branded 2023 Chevy Bolt electric vehicles at locations across the U.S. in the coming months.

Domino’s

Domino’s Pizza will be rolling out a fleet of 2023 Chevy Bolt electric vehicles, 800 of the GM EVs in total across the U.S. in the coming months, as it looks to not only reduce its environmental impact but also attract new delivery drivers.

The pizza chain restaurant has previously set a goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, and CEO Russell Weiner said optimizing how it delivers pizza is key.

“Domino’s was founded in 1960 as a delivery company, and we go to bed every night and wake up every morning saying ‘how can we get better?'” Weiner told CNBC’s Jim Cramer on “Mad Money” last week. “This is a way we can get better; better service for our customers and better for the environment.”

The Chevy Bolt EV will provide the company with zero tailpipe emissions and lower average maintenance costs than nonelectric vehicles, as well as a reduction in fueling costs, according to Domino’s. The new vehicles, which have a 259-mile range, will be custom-branded with Domino’s logos.

An initial 100 vehicles have been arriving at select franchise and corporate stores across the U.S. in November, with the additional 700 arriving over the coming months. Domino’s had 6,643 stores across the U.S. as of Sept. 11, with 402 of those being corporate locations.

The adoption of this fleet of EVs is not the first time Domino’s has looked to optimize how pizza is delivered.

In 2014, the company introduced the DXP delivery vehicle, a custom-build Chevrolet Spark that featured a built-in warming oven and special compartments to hold items like sodas.

Domino’s has also been piloting driverless delivery with robotics company Nuro, delivering pizzas with an autonomous on-road vehicle at the chain’s Woodland Heights location in Houston, Texas. Other start-ups, such as Refraction AI, have been testing autonomous vehicles suited for pizza delivery.

Domino’s has also looked to move beyond traditional car delivery, launching an e-bike delivery program in 2019 at stores in major metropolitan cities like Baltimore and Miami. It now delivers pizza by electric bike and scooter in 24 international markets.

EVs help finding new workers

Rolling out the new fleet of GM EVs also is expected to help the company with its driver recruitment efforts.

“It just allows us to tap into a different driver pool,” Weiner said. “If you think about today, what we do is hire folks with cars, but that’s getting really competitive with what’s going on.”

There are many people who work in Domino’s stores or potential workers who have driver’s licenses, and Weiner said, “all they need is a car… it’s a great way for us to bring in incremental labor at a time when that market is tight.”

While some of the company’s stores require delivery driver applicants to use their own vehicle, some do provide a car.

Weiner said that the company’s hiring metrics including applications and new hires per week are back to pre-Covid numbers, but he added, “there’s still gaps to fill, and that’s part of why we’re doing things like this to bring the inflow and give a few more options.”

On the company’s third quarter earnings call with analysts on Oct. 13, Weiner said staffing remains a constraint, “but my confidence in our ability to solve many of our delivery labor challenges ourselves has grown over the past few quarters.”

Domino's CEO on the company's purchase of over 800 Chevy Bolt EVs for pizza deliveries

Renault plans to harness geothermal energy and help heat plant

A Renault logo photographed in Bavaria, Germany. The French automotive giant says it’s targeting carbon neutrality in Europe by 2040 and globally by 2050.

Igor Golovniov/Sopa Images | Lightrocket | Getty Images

The Renault Group is working with French utility Engie on the development of a geothermal energy project at the automaker’s Douai facility, with the collaboration set to last 15 years.

In a statement, Renault said Thursday a subsidiary of Engie would start drilling work at Douai — which was established in 1970 and focuses on bodywork assembly — in late 2023.

The plan centers around taking hot water from a depth of 4,000 meters, or more than 13,100 feet.

According to Renault, this water will be used to help meet the Douai site’s “industrial and heating process needs from 2025.” The temperature of the water will be between 130 and 140 degrees Celsius.

“Once implemented, this geothermal technology would provide a power of nearly 40 MW continuously,” the company said.

“In summer, when the need for heat is lower, geothermal energy could be used to produce carbon-free electricity,” it added.

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The Renault Group’s CEO, Luca de Meo, described the program planned for Douai as “one of the most ambitious decarbonisation projects on a European industrial site.”

According to the International Energy Agency, geothermal energy refers to “energy available as heat contained in or discharged from the earth’s crust” which can be utilized to produce electricity and provide direct heat.

Elsewhere, the U.S. Department of Energy says geothermal energy “supplies renewable power around the clock and emits little or no greenhouse gases.”

News about Renault’s geothermal project with Engie was accompanied by details of other projects centered around decarbonizing operations at a number of the automotive giant’s industrial facilities.

Looking at the bigger picture, Renault says it’s targeting carbon neutrality in Europe by the year 2040 and globally by 2050.

Despite these aims, a top executive at the firm recently told CNBC that the firm saw the internal combustion engine as continuing to play a crucial role in its business over the coming years.

Earlier this month, it was announced the Renault Group and Chinese firm Geely had signed a non-binding framework agreement to establish a company focused on the development, production and supply of “hybrid powertrains and highly efficient ICE [internal combustion engine] powertrains.”

Speaking to CNBC’s Charlotte Reed, Renault Chief Financial Officer Thierry Pieton sought to explain some of the reasoning behind the planned partnership with Geely.

“In our view, and according to all the studies that we’ve got, there is no scenario where ICE and hybrid engines represent less than 40% of the market with a horizon of 2040,” he said. “So it’s actually … a market that’s going to continue to grow.”

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Renault’s continued focus on the internal combustion engine comes at a time when some big economies are looking to move away from vehicles that use fossil fuels.

The U.K., for example, wants to stop the sale of new diesel and gasoline cars and vans by 2030. It will require, from 2035, all new cars and vans to have zero tailpipe emissions.

The European Union, which the U.K. left on Jan. 31, 2020, is pursuing similar targets. Over in the United States, California is banning the sale of new gasoline-powered vehicles starting in 2035.

Offshore floating desalination plant aims to produce drinking water from the ocean

Ocean Oasis’ Gaia system has been designed to use wave power to desalinate water.

Ocean Oasis

Plans to use marine energy to desalinate water received a further boost this week, after a Norwegian firm presented a system that will be put through its paces in waters off Gran Canaria.

In a statement Monday, Oslo-headquartered Ocean Oasis said its wave-powered prototype device, which it described as being an “offshore floating desalination plant,” was called Gaia.

The plant — which has a height of 10 meters, a diameter of 7 meters and weighs roughly 100 tons — was put together in Las Palmas and will undergo testing at the Oceanic Platform of the Canary Islands.

Ocean Oasis said its technology would enable “the production of fresh water from ocean waters by harnessing the energy of the waves to carry out a desalination process and pump potable water to coastal users.”

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The company said the development of its prototype had received financial backing from a range of organizations including Innovation Norway and the Gran Canaria Economic Promotion Society.

The main investor in Ocean Oasis is Grieg Maritime Group, which is headquartered in Bergen, Norway.

Desalination

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With the above in mind, projects looking to desalinate water in a more sustainable way will become increasingly important in the years ahead.

The idea of using waves to power desalination is not unique to the project being undertaken in the Canaries. In April, for example, the U.S. Department of Energy revealed the winners of the last stage of a competition focused on wave-powered desalination.

Back on the Canary Islands, Ocean Oasis said it would be looking to construct a second installation after testing at the PLOCAN facility had taken place. “In this phase, the prototype will be scaled with the capacity to produce water for consumption,” the company said.

While there is excitement about the potential of marine energy, the footprint of wave and tidal stream projects remains very small compared to other renewables.

In data released in March 2022, Ocean Energy Europe said 2.2 megawatts of tidal stream capacity was installed in Europe last year, compared to just 260 kilowatts in 2020.

For wave energy, 681 kW was installed, which OEE said was a threefold increase. Globally, 1.38 MW of wave energy came online in 2021, while 3.12 MW of tidal stream capacity was installed.

By way of comparison, Europe installed 17.4 gigawatts of wind power capacity in 2021, according to figures from industry body WindEurope.

Young people just became official climate policy stakeholders at COP27

COP27 was another milestone for young climate activists as they became official climate policy stakeholders under the ACE Action Plan.

Photo by Dominika Zarzycka/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Young people have long been at the forefront of discussions and activism around climate change.

This year’s COP27 was another milestone for them — they became official stakeholders in climate policy under the ACE action plan, which was created at COP27 in Egypt over the last few weeks.

Young people’s voices and opinions will now be much more impactful when it comes to the design and implementation of climate policies, explains Hailey Campbell, one of the negotiators who made it happen.

“Official recognition as stakeholders in the ACE Action Plan gives young people the international backing we need to demand our formal inclusion in climate decision-making and implementation,” she told CNBC’s Make It.

Campbell is also the ACE co-contact point for YOUNGO, the youth constituency for the United Nations’ framework convention for climate change and the co-executive director of the U.S.-based organization Care About Climate.

What is the ACE action plan?

ACE stands for Action for Climate Empowerment and is outlined in article 12 of the 2015 Paris Agreement. Improving education and awareness around climate change by making research easily accessible is one of its aims. Another goal of the article, and the new plan developed at COP27 to support it, is making sure governments and organizations around the world work together on policies and take opinions from the public and stakeholder groups into account when making decisions.

Srishti Singh from the Indian Youth Climate Network, who worked alongside Campbell at COP27, told CNBC’s Make It that the new ACE plan is key when it comes to different groups being considered in climate policy.

“Strengthening ACE in climate policy means better participation of stakeholders at local, regional, and global levels, including youth,” she said.

Young participants meet on a discussion panel in Youth and Children Pavilion during the COP27 UN Climate Change Conference.

Photo by Dominika Zarzycka/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

What does this mean for climate policy?

In short, being official stakeholders means young people get a bigger seat at the table. Campbell hopes that now, they will be able to shape policies that affect their future and work “with those who will not be here to see the impacts of decisions made today.”

The youth constituency should also see additional funding and support to take part in future COP conferences and other events about climate change, she adds.

Especially in recent years, young people have been some of the most vocal about strong climate targets and policies. Millions joined school strikes around the world, others took part in U.N. youth climate summits or made headway as activists, like 19-year old Greta Thunberg, or reached political leadership positions liked 28-year old Ricarda Lang, who is the co-leader of the German Green party.

This year’s COP27 also saw the first ever official youth representative, Omnia El Omrani, fight for the inclusion of young people’s voices, the launch of a climate youth negotiator program that aims to empower young climate activists from the global south, and the inaugural youth climate forum.

We know that including more youth creates more ambitious and just outcomes

Hailey Campbell

Co-Executive Director at Care About Climate and ACE Co-Contact Point of YOUNGO

Campbell says the goal was for young people to be at the center of policy-making.

“When we talk about representation, we don’t just want it at international negotiations and we don’t want to only be consulted. We want it at all levels of government and we want to be partners because action happens on the ground,” she said.

Her and her colleagues also hope to change the way older generations see climate change and its urgency.

“We know that including more youth creates more ambitious and just outcomes, so hopefully we will be able to advance quicker action on the climate crisis through our genuine involvement,” Campbell concluded.

How did they make it happen?

Most people on YOUNGO’s team had never formally learned negotiation skills. This included Bettina Duerr, a policy officer at Federation Internationales Des Mouvements Catholiques d’Action Paroissial.

“I did not have specific training or support in this role, but I used experiences from other contexts. Plus, our working group was really supportive throughout,” she told CNBC’s Make It.

“It helped that I was already in touch with the working group before COP27 and that we planned our strategy,” she added.

As well as learning from each other, previous networking had put the group in contact with experienced negotiators who gave them advice, Campbell added.

But their overall strategy boiled down to just three points, she explained. Those included writing out agreements they hoped to reach, partnering with other constituencies and making sure they had other groups in their corner, backing their ideas.

Duerr and Campbell both described the negotiations as intense, draining and stressful — but their commitment to the cause outweighed this.

“We’d stop anything we were doing to join last minute meetings with each other and with parties that wanted to champion our perspective,” Campbell said.

China played a great game on lithium and we’ve been slow to react: CEO

This image, from March 2021, shows a worker with car batteries at a facility in China.

STR | AFP | Getty Images

China is leading the way when it comes to lithium — and the rest of the world has not been quick enough to respond to its dominance, according to the CEO of American Lithium.

Speaking to CNBC’s “Squawk Box Europe” Monday, Simon Clarke discussed how China had secured its position of strength within the industry.

“I just think the Chinese have — I mean you have to take your hat off, they’ve played a great game,” he said.

“For decades, they’ve been locking up some of the best assets across the world and quietly going about their business and developing knowledge on building lithium-ion technology, soup to nuts,” he added. “And we’ve been very slow to react to that.”

He added that the U.S.’ Inflation Reduction Act, and a number of other measures, meant people were “starting to wake up to it.”

Alongside its use in cell phones, computers, tablets and a host of other gadgets synonymous with modern life, lithium — which some have dubbed “white gold” — is crucial to the batteries that power electric vehicles.

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China is certainly a dominant force within the sector.

In its World Energy Outlook 2022 report, the International Energy Agency said the country accounted for roughly 60% of the world’s lithium chemical supply. China also produces three-quarters of all lithium-ion batteries, according to the IEA.

With demand for lithium rising, major economies are attempting to shore up their own supplies and reduce dependency on other parts of the world, including China.  

The stakes are high. In a translation of her State of the Union speech, delivered in September, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said “lithium and rare earths will soon be more important than oil and gas.”

As well as addressing security of supply, von der Leyen also stressed the importance of processing.

“Today, China controls the global processing industry,” she said. “Almost 90% … of rare earth[s] and 60% of lithium are processed in China.”

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With the above in mind, a number of companies in Europe are looking to develop projects centered around securing supply.

Paris-headquartered minerals giant Imerys, for example, plans to develop a lithium extraction project in the center of France, while a facility described as the U.K.’s first large-scale lithium refinery is set to be located in the north of England.

Looking ahead, American Lithium’s Clarke forecast continued geopolitical competition within the sector.

“There’s a real initiative to wrest back some of the supply chain from … China,” he said.

“I think China is in such a dominant position, it’s going to be very hard to do that. But … I think you’re starting to see that approach happening.”

How Sono, Aptera and Lightyear are making solar powered EVs a reality

The world’s first commercial solar electric vehicles are hitting the U.S. and European markets in the next few years. German company Sono Motors, Southern California-based Aptera Motors, and Dutch company Lightyear are all producing electric vehicles with integrated solar panels, which can harness the sun’s power to provide around 15-45 additional miles on a clear day.

These vehicles also have regular, lithium-based batteries that can be charged using electricity from the grid, so for longer drives these cars essentially function like a standard EV. But for commuters and other short-distance drivers, the majority of their miles could be fueled almost entirely from the sun, free of charge.

Dan Kammen, professor of energy at U.C. Berkeley, said he expects this tech will make good financial sense for many consumers.

“Solar panels are so inexpensive and integrating them into the skins is so easy that once you get over that initial learning curve, those initial couple thousand vehicles out there, it’s hard for me to envision that this won’t be cost-effective,” Kammen said.

The cars coming to market

The Sono Sion, which is expected to begin production in Europe in mid-2023, is priced starting at just $25,000. Its battery has a 190-mile range, and while the car also has 465 integrated solar half-cells on its exterior, the boxy, five-seat hatchback appears unassuming and practical.

“So this car gives you per year 5,700 miles free of charge, you know, free of any costs, because it comes from the sun. This is roughly 15 miles a day, which is perfect for commuters,” said Sono Motors co-CEO and co-founder Laurin Hahn. He said that when the Sion hits the U.S. market, it will make for an ideal second vehicle.

The Sono Sion is expected to begin production in Europe in mid-2023. The company says there are already 42,000 reservations for the vehicle.

Sono Motors

In terms of looks, Aptera’s vehicle is on the opposite end of the spectrum from Sono’s. Aptera’s zippy three-wheeler seats two, has motors in the wheels for greater efficiency, and is designed to be as aerodynamic as possible. It’s set to begin production in the U.S. next year.

“When you start with aerodynamics as the basis for your vehicle, you end up with something that looks very different than everything else on the road. I mean, our vehicle looks more like a bird or a fish than it does almost anything else on the road today,” said Aptera CEO Chris Anthony.

Production of Aptera Motors’ solar electric two-seater vehicle is set to begin next year in Carlsbad, California. The company says there are 37,000 pre-orders for the vehicle.

Aptera Motors

Depending on range and other optional features, the Aptera costs between $26,000 and $48,000. Because it’s so lightweight, Aptera’s premium model has a lithium-ion battery with a 1,000-mile range. Its base model has a 250-mile range, before the 30 or so miles from solar that Anthony said you’ll get on an average Southern California day.

Then there’s the Lightyear 0, which is expected to hit the roads in Europe by the end of this year. Like Aptera, the Lightyear has in-wheel motors and was designed with aerodynamic efficiency in mind. But while the vehicle’s body is sleek, the Lightyear seats five and looks much more like a typical car. Its lithium-ion battery gets 390 miles per charge, with an average of 20 or so additional miles from solar, up to nearly 45 miles.

The Lightyear 0 is expected to hit the roads in Europe by the end of this year. A mass-market vehicle, the Lightyear 2, is expected sometime in 2025.

Lightyear

“A lot of the reasons why people are not switching to EVs are charging and range, and they’re not at the same level as a combustion car today,” said Lightyear CEO Lex Hoefsloot. He said the company is targeting customers who would not normally have considered buying an electric vehicle. “So we’re going to a level where actually you have to recharge less than you would have to refuel when you had the combustion car.”

The Lightyear 0 will cost a whopping $250,000, but Hoefsloot said that’s because the initial model is a limited release. When production scales and the Lightyear 2 hits the market in 2025, Hoefsloot said, it will cost $30,000.

The future of solar electric cars

It may be awhile before we start seeing other automakers incorporating solar into their electric vehicles, though, since just slapping solar panels on many larger, heavier vehicles might not provide enough power to justify the added cost, however small.

Manufacturers nowadays have chosen the kind of lazy man’s approach to building electric cars, where if they want more range, they put in a bigger battery,” Hoefsloot said. “And more and more manufacturers are starting to realize that the bigger battery will still remain very expensive going into the future. So efficiency really is the way to increase that range without needing to pay for a large battery.”

Because top-of-the-line solar panels are only about 22% efficient, and the small surface area of these cars limits how many panels they can have, these first-generation solar electric cars won’t support long-distance drives. But as technologies such as solar glass, which can turn windows into solar panels, improve, Kammen sees a future where driving 80 or 100 miles on solar power alone is a possibility.

“It really builds into this idea that as we electrify transportation, we’re not actually going to be stressing the grid,” he said. “More vehicles themselves can be more and more autonomous. And in the end, I think we’re going to be selling electricity out of our solar cars back into the grid.”

Watch the video to learn more about the companies making solar cars a reality.

Is Patagonia the end game for profits in a world of climate change?

A Patagonia store signage is seen on Greene Street on September 14, 2022 in New York City.

Michael M. Santiago | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Many brands are aligning profits with purpose, but Patagonia’s decision in September to convert its for-profit business to one under which all the profits flow through to fighting climate change is the most complex move yet by a U.S.-based company in the realm of sustainable capitalism. Is it a model for other companies to pursue in the future?

For the family founded firm, it’s in some ways a natural evolution. Patagonia has long been on the vanguard of responsible business practices. As far back as 1985, Patagonia deployed portions of its profits to the environment, via an “Earth tax.”

It’s far from the only well-known U.S. brand to be structured in a way that allows profits to be donated to charitable causes. Newman’s Own, the food brand founded by Hollywood icon Paul Newman, is perhaps the most familiar. Since 1982, Newman’s Own has given 100% of profits to charity, now totaling half a billion dollars in contributions. But that business, with a pure non-profit structure, was more of a “first generation” model for sustainable business, says Tensie Whelan, founding director of the NYU Stern Center for Sustainable Business. “The Patagonia model is a little more sophisticated.” 

A business model already in Europe

Yet while Patagonia made headlines in the U.S. for being a novel marriage of capitalism and charity, similar corporate structures are already in use with several large family-controlled European companies, from Carlsberg to Ikea and Novo Nordisk. “Nothing new in this model,” said Morten Bennedsen, professor of family enterprise at INSEAD and the academic director of the Wendel International Centre for Family Enterprise.

Even in the U.S., one of the most iconic retail brands, has long had a No. 1 shareholder devoted to charitable causes and designed by the family founder: Hershey’s.

It is a model that is attractive for family firms that do not want to continue as classical family firms and want the long term stability and the increased professionalization that comes with enterprise foundations,” Bennedsen said. It often is very attractive from a corporate tax perspective, too, which has been noted of both the Ikea and Patagonia business models. “That is another driver of this,” he said.

One hundred percent of Patagonia profits are now committed to its new non-profit Holdfast Collective — which owns all of the company’s non-voting stock (98% of the total stock). A Patagonia spokeswoman said the move makes clear that it is possible to “do good for people and planet and still be a successful business.”

‘Unapologetically a for-profit’

Patagonia’s CEO went further in a September interview with CNBC’s “Squawk Box,” dismissing any idea that this change will lead it to focus less on beating the competition. “What people fail to understand about Patagonia, both the past and the future, is that we are unapologetically a for-profit business, and we are extremely competitive,” Ryan Gellert said. “We compete with every other company in our space aggressively. I don’t think we’ve lost that instinct,” he said. “This whole thing fails if we do not continue to run a competitive business.”

“How we build our products, how we sell them, and then the goal of releasing value to help the environment … the alignment of these goals gets lost if the story fails to recognize that Patagonia is a for-profit business with its profits being released to help the environment,” the spokeswoman said. “That’s an essential distinction.” 

Patagonia CEO Ryan Gellert breaks down the founder's decision to give away the company

There are less extreme options for values-driven founders than the paths chosen by Yvon Chouinard and Paul Newman. “Most founders like to maintain control and have for-profit (less altruistic) sensibilities,” Whelan said. 

B-Corp status, employee-ownership, and mutual organizations and cooperatives are all models that allow more focus on creating stakeholder value, in addition to shareholder value.

“We are seeing significant growth in these alternative models,” Whelan said.

Indeed, since 2011 the number of B-corps has steadily been on the rise, with the total number recently topping five thousand. 

For its part, Patagonia as a business will remain unchanged in terms of its day-to-day operations, but all of its profits (after reinvesting in the company, paying employees, etc.) will be handed over to the Holdfast Collective to fight climate change, an annual profit stream estimated at around $100 million per year.

“This was a process unlike any I’ve ever been a part of before,” said Greg Curtis, executive director of the Holdfast Collective. “It really started with what’s going to happen long term with the company, so that the purpose doesn’t change going forward. We want to recognize natural life spans … What does this actually mean for capitalism? What really motivates people – is it profit, is it purpose?” 

Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard poses in his store in a November 21, 1993 photograph. He founded the company in 1973 and wrote in a letter announcing the plan to give the company away: “If we have any hope of a thriving planet—much less a business—it is going to take all of us doing what we can with the resources we have. This is what we can do.”

Jean-marc Giboux | Hulton Archive | Getty Images

Jennifer Pendergast, executive director of the John L. Ward Center for Family Enterprises at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, said the Patagonia decision may serve as a role model for other family businesses, just like the Giving Pledge, created by Warren Buffet, and Bill and Melinda Gates, caused many billionaires to rethink how they donate their wealth. “That said, it isn’t so much the specific form that is used that is unusual. It is more their level of generosity,” Pendergast said. “It isn’t that hard to set up a non-profit to accept shares. It is hard to get a family to agree to disavow future wealth for the benefit of a worthy cause.”

Long-term friction between purpose and capitalism

The new structure does leave open some long-term questions about the integration of profits and purpose. Rather than having a for-profit company deciding on a yearly basis how much and how a portion of its profits will be committed to charitable practices, the structure of the Patagonian Purpose Trust and the Holdfast Collective codifies the commitment. “In our model, the entity that is receiving the economic value doesn’t have a vote, and the entity that has the vote gets very little economic value. There’s no incentive for Patagonia to ever make a decision that isn’t aligned with ensuring the purpose of the company going forward,” Curtis said.

But when the founder and his family are no longer in control of Patagonia, there will be the issue of how the board of directors of the for-profit business is selected and run. “That will evolve, the board, and right now it is the family and its closest advisors,” Gellert said. But he added that no better option surfaced during a multi-year process to choose the best option for the future of the business. The company looked at a public offering, or selling stakes to investors, “but we would have lost control,” he said. “We had very little confidence in meetings with quite a few investors that the integrity would be protected.”

While this structure can be an option for both family and non-family controlled firms, Bennedsen said it works particularly well for family entrepreneurs who do not want to transition the firms within the family, and do not want to go public or sell the legacy firm.   

But expect the push and pull between profits and purpose to persist in any corporate undertaking.

“The tension between growth and environmental impact is one we know well,” Curtis said. “We would be ignoring our commitment to responsible growth if we just maxed out sales for the purpose of giving away more money.  Further, it is important to resist the assumption that our value comes from the money we give away. We don’t think about it like that,” he said. “Our value comes from being a for-profit business and a Benefit Corporation.”

“The challenge for his [Chouinard’s] family will be in later generations,” Pendergast said. “They will need to determine who will be the trustees of the shares held by the non-profit that will determine how that non-profit uses the proceeds they get from Patagonia. It is easy now because it appears he and his family are aligned in their goals. Further down the road, that could be more difficult.”

“At times there are some tensions,” Gellert said in his CNBC interview. “But the default for Patagonia is purpose. Patagonia needs capacity and profit, to take care of its people, to expand, to keep the supply chain moving, and that is all an important layer, but we want it to be better, and to continue to be innovative.”

Retail companies and their wares are replete with tales of the enthusiastic farmers who picked the beans for the expensive cappuccino and the sustainability of a particular bag, all of which helps the consumer to feel less like a mere consumer and more like a conscious buyer whose choices are making a difference. But there is reasonable cynicism and altruism fatigue in response to corporate sustainability branding. Nevertheless, “much of the Patagonia model is repeatable,” Whelan said.

The company is already a B Corp, has been a leader in sustainability practices across issues including its workforce and environmental footprint, and built a successful brand while upholding these values. “The fact that it was able to become and sustain a $3 billion business is a proof point of the business value of sustainability and the potential of stakeholder capitalism to be financially viable,” Whelan said. “The ‘giving away’ of the company may be an anomaly, but the sustainable and responsible business model is one that we are already seeing replicated.”

“The idea of committing to ESG goals and at the same time making profit is not a paradox anymore,” Bennedsen said.

New global climate deal struck at conference in Egypt

Climate reparations, or “loss and damage” funding, is a highly divisive and emotive issue that is seen as a fundamental question of climate justice.

Sean Gallup | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Government ministers and negotiators from nearly 200 countries finally secured an agreement Sunday aimed at keeping a critically important global heating target alive.

The new political deal reaffirms efforts to limit global temperature rise to the crucial temperature threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and the creation of a new “loss and damage” fund that would compensate poor nations that are victims of extreme weather worsened by climate change.

The two-week-long COP27 climate summit took place in Egypt’s Red Sea resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh against a backdrop of increasing extreme weather events, geopolitical conflicts and a deepening energy crisis.

Delegates struggled to build consensus on an array of issues, even as a flurry of U.N. reports published ahead of the conference made clear just how close the planet is to irreversible climate breakdown.

The scale of division between climate envoys saw talks run beyond Friday’s deadline, with campaigners accusing the U.S. of playing a “deeply obstructive” role by blocking the demands of developing countries. The final agreement was reached in the early hours of Sunday morning following tense negotiations throughout the night, with many delegates exhausted by the time the deal was announced.

Some of the major sticking points included battles over whether all fossil fuels or just coal should be named in the decision text and whether to set up a “loss and damage” fund for countries hit by climate-fueled disasters.

The highly divisive and emotive issue of loss and damage dominated the U.N.-brokered talks and many felt the success of the conference hinged on getting wealthy countries to agree to establish a new fund.

The summit made history as the first to see the topic of loss and damage funding formally make it onto the COP27 agenda. The issue was first raised by climate-vulnerable countries 30 years ago.

Lifting hopes of a breakthrough on loss and damage thereafter, the European Union said late Thursday that it would be prepared to back the demand of the G-77 group of 134 developing nations to create a new reparations fund.

The proposal was welcomed by some countries in the Global South, although campaigners decried the offer as a “poison pill” given the bloc said it was only willing to provide aid to “the most vulnerable countries.”

Rich countries have long opposed the creation of a fund to address loss and damage and many policymakers fear that accepting liability could trigger a wave of lawsuits by countries on the frontlines of the climate emergency.