Adaptation and Resilience – Part I

At the beginning of this year, Cleantech Group made an intentional effort to put a stronger focus on innovation for adaptation to and resilience against climate-related events. Our research team has been hard at work dissecting topics including grid resilience, crop inputs, wildfire resilience, and climate risk analysis systems

On September, 10th, we will host a one-day event in Boston focused exclusively on adaptation and resilience, bringing together local leadership and the innovators most poised to offer solutions to these challenges, titled Adaptation and Mitigation: New Innovation & Venturing Opportunities for a 2° World.  

Recently, along with my colleagues Holly Stower and Alex Crutchfield, I had the opportunity to share our team’s starting thoughts on the adaptation and resilience challenge in a webinar (complimentary download). Here are some of the highlights. 

For All the Recent Progress, Adaptation is Still a Side Topic in Climate 

Climate change isn’t just about reducing emissions (mitigation), it’s also about preparing for the impacts we can’t avoid (adaptation). While mitigation often takes center stage, adaptation remains a side topic in many discussions. This is concerning because the cost of adaptation is expected to skyrocket. By 2030, the annual financing gap for adaptation could reach a staggering $212B. 

Currently, most adaptation funding comes from governments and public institutions. Private sector involvement, which will be the ultimate deciding factor, is still lagging. 

Here’s where innovation comes in. New technologies can help us shift from simply reacting to climate events to proactively preparing for them. This is particularly important in sectors like insurance, which are already feeling the heat (literally) from climate risks. While insurers are adapting out of necessity, many other vulnerable industries are not. 

The need for innovative adaptation solutions is clear. More risk-sharing between demand owners and developers of novel technologies is likely to be a critical enabler of confidence in business models underpinning adaptation technologies and can help unblock the financing barriers.  

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Wildfires: New Technologies Support Proactivity 

Wildfires are taking a massive bite out of the U.S. economy, with annual costs estimated between $394B and $893B – that’s 2-4% of the U.S. GDP. Unlike most natural disasters, wildfires are heavily influenced by human activity. This means they can be predicted, controlled, and even prevented in some cases. 

The problem? Funding traditionally goes towards firefighting, not proactive measures. This lack of investment in prevention hinders innovation. Companies developing early detection technologies struggle to access capital. 

Another hurdle: the fragmented market. Insurance companies, municipalities, and property owners all shoulder the burden of wildfire expenses but at different parts of the prevention-firefighting-rebuilding continuum. This makes it difficult to implement preventative solutions. 

However, there’s a silver lining: the growing interest in advanced detection and suppression technologies.  

A 15-minute reduction in response time could significantly decrease the number of large, uncontained wildfires. Examples include:  

  • Dryad: Solar-powered gas sensors can be stood up in distributed networks and could feed early-warning indicators to a cloud platform, to identify fires in their earliest stages. 
  • Kettle’s high-detail models divide regions into granular “micro grids” as small as .5 square miles, in order to achieve highly accurate fire risk assessments and support delivery of climate-smart insurance and reinsurance. 
  • Burnbot’s autonomous controlled burns leverage robotics to remotely thin out potential wildfire fuels through controlled ignition and allow them to be contained within the unit in order to avoid runaway ignitions. 

Further along the burn cycle, new solutions are making live firefighting more efficient and safer:  

  • Rain is pairing early wildfire detection systems with autonomous aircraft to carry out surgical application of fire retardants for safter and more precise firefighting. 
  • Team Wildfire is taking brute force to the fight, using jet engine-equipped ground vehicles to suppress fires on the front lines. 

Innovation at the Physical-digital Intersect for Flood Resilience 

Just like wildfires, floods are now materially impacting GDPs around the world, and requiring sooner-than-expected infrastructure upgrades. In the EU, flood damage is on an alarming upward trend, even when variance in the statistics is accounted for. 

Taking software on-site is SewerAI, an innovator who is using computer vision during inspections to then model conditions within sewers and predict challenges under specific scenarios. The company has also developed a purpose-built sewer management system that supports engineers, contractors, and utilities in long-term management of sewer infrastructure.  

Incumbents are in the mix too.  

Dutch global engineering firm Royal HaskoningDHV has developed highly-precise software models to predict, assess, and manage flood risks. These models are being infused into the firm’s analyses of sites for global customers and ultimately allows for highly customized engineering plans to upgrade cities’ defensibility against flood risk. An important reminder of the importance of domain experience and close customer relationships in developing an effective software tool that will be globally scalable.  

Even with better flooding management in cities, rising sea levels means that coastal resilience will remain a challenge that decidedly requires physical-first solutions. Ccell is developing a comprehensive artificial reef system, with physical reef structures that can be paired with a suite of coastal modeling and monitoring systems to optimally govern wave patterns along coasts. 

Proactive approaches, research suggests, are five times more effective than simply reacting to floods. However, convincing stakeholders to invest in preventative measures (often with high upfront costs) can be difficult.  

Be on the lookout for Part II of Adaptation & Resilience later this week, where I’ll focus on grid resiliency, droughts, and extreme heat. 

Climate mitigation remains the best long-term form of adaptation​.

But, with the reality that the world will miss the 1.5°C target, adaptation and resilience as an innovation theme is becoming ever more important to protect people, property, and our livelihood, as well as enable people to live and industries to function in a new climate reality.

Join us on September 10 in Boston, MA for a one-day special event where leaders and innovators will discuss the interplay between adaptation and mitigation.