[Episode #97] – How State Policies Can Drive Decarbonization

As we continue looking for ways to decarbonize our energy systems, we often have to decide whether it’s better to try reworking our market rules so that the markets will do a better job of procuring clean energy, as we discussed in Episode #90, or whether it makes sense to just mandate the procurement of clean energy resources. The former is a job for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), but the latter is the domain of the states. In fact, our guest in this episode, a senior attorney with NRDC and the Sustainable FERC Project, argues that because states are really the only ones with the authority to regulate energy in order to obtain a more environmentally beneficial outcome and combat climate change, their mandates are a necessary pathway to decarbonizing the grid. And that, to some extent, market price distortion is in the mind of the beholder.

Geek rating: 9

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Guest:

Miles Farmer is a senior attorney with NRDC’s Eastern Energy team and the Sustainable FERC Project. He focuses on making the electricity system cleaner and more efficient, advocating before state public service commissions, regional grid operators, and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Farmer is especially interested in areas where state energy policies intersect with federal power markets and in improving the design and structure of future power markets.

On Twitter: @MilesFarmer

On the Web: Miles’ page at NRDC

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[Episode #96] – Sustainable Mobility

Energy transition is happening quickly and disruptively in the transportation sector. But it is generally an open question whether the transition currently at hand is producing socially beneficial results. As we grapple with a sudden influx of new modes of mobility and business models, and contemplate the dawning of an entirely new mobility paradigm, are we just letting technology take us wherever it wants to go, or are we guiding technologies toward sustainable mobility? For that matter, what does sustainable mobility even mean? How can we weigh up all the pros and cons of new mobility modes—not just the social effects like safety and equity, but the environmental impacts, the total impact on the energy system, and the socioeconomic strategies we bring to our urban development and civic planning activities more generally? Can we hedge our bets against sudden and massive dislocations produced by autonomous vehicles? We explore all those questions and more in this episode with a researcher from Oxford University who has studied them deeply.

Geek rating: 2

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Guest:

Debbie Hopkins is Associate Professor in Human Geography at the University of Oxford. Her position is split between the Sustainable Urban Development program, the Transport Studies Unit, and the School of Geography and the Environment. Debbie is a research affiliate of the Centre for Sustainability, University of Otago, New Zealand and Associate Editor of the Journal of Sustainable Tourism. Debbie has co-edited two books on transitions: Low Carbon Mobility Transitions (Goodfellow) in 2016, and Transitions in Energy Efficiency and Demand (Routledge) in 2018, both of which build upon her research interests across climate change, low-carbon futures and sociotechnical transitions. At Oxford, she leads research into expectations of automation in freight, everyday experiences of UK truckers, and novel methodologies for researching mobile work.

On Twitter: @debbiehopkins_
On the Web: Debbie Hopkins’ page at Google Scholar

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[Episode #95] – Powering the world with RE

Can we run the world on renewables alone? Various researchers have tried to model how a given country might run a grid using mostly renewables, oftentimes finding that carbon-negative technologies, advanced nuclear power, and even coal power plants equipped with CCS will be a part of the solution set. But no one has produced a comprehensive model that shows how we can run the world on renewables alone, while accurately modeling the weather and grid conditions at a very discrete scale, at hourly resolution, using data on the renewable resources in each region, and determining how that would work while selecting the least-cost resources… until now.

In this episode we speak with a researcher from Lappeenranta University of Technology in Finland, one of an international team of 14 scientists who have spent the past four and a half years performing research, data analysis, and technical and financial modeling to prove that a global transition to 100% renewable energy is economically competitive with the current fossil and nuclear-based system, and could reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the energy system to zero even before 2050. This first-of-its-kind study outlines how the world could limit warming to 1.5°C with a cost-effective, global, 100% renewable energy system that does not use negative carbon technologies, and provides all the energy needed for electricity, heat, transport and desalination by 2050.

Geek rating: 6

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Guest:

Dmitrii Bogdanov is a researcher and doctoral student at the Solar Economy Laboratory at LUT – the Lappeenranta University of Technology in Finland. For the past 5 years he has worked on renewable energy systems and energy transition. His focus is on optimal transition pathways and the role of the emerging technologies (PtX, battery storage, HVDC, electric vehicles) and new concepts (prosumers, vehicle-to-grid) in energy transition. At the Solar Economy Laboratory, he is responsible for study methodology and model development, regional studies, and global studies along with his colleagues and their professor, Christian Breyer.

On the Web:  Dmitrii’s page on ResearchGate

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[Episode #94] – Integrated Decentralized Power Systems

As more distributed energy resources arrive unbidden onto the power grid, they are increasingly requiring us not to just think about new utility business models, but to radically rethink what a utility might look like. What if millions of distributed resources become the dominant resources, and the grid assumes a subordinate role as a residual supplier of energy? What if the control of the system is also decentralized, through the actions of millions of devices? What if the roles of transmission system operators and the distribution system are diminished as their responsibilities are distributed across all those devices? And how will utilities, power market operators, regulators, legislators, and local officials deal with a radical shift in their roles and responsibilities? These are the questions that our guest in this episode—an 18-year veteran of wholesale power market design at the California ISO—thinks about, and he shares those deep thoughts with us in this wonky yet heady discussion.

Geek rating: 9

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Guest:

Lorenzo Kristov is an independent consultant focusing on power system transition to integrate high levels of renewable generation and distributed energy resources (DER). From 1999 to 2017 Lorenzo worked at California ISO as a principal in market design and infrastructure policy, where he was a lead designer of the locational marginal pricing (LMP) market system the ISO implemented in 2009. Areas of expertise include: wholesale market design; DER participation in wholesale markets; coordination of transmission-distribution system operations; distribution system operator (DSO) models and distribution-level markets; microgrids and energy resilience strategies; whole-system grid architecture.

On the Web: Lorenzo’s profile on LinkedIn

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[Episode #93] – Energy Transition in India and Southeast Asia, Part 2

This is Part 2 of our two-and-a-half hour interview with Tim Buckley, of the Institute of Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, based in Australia. We featured Part 1 in Episode 91, in which we primarily discussed the future of coal fired power in India. In this second part, we expand on the India story and look more broadly at energy transition across Southeast Asia, and consider the outlook for coal, renewables, and nuclear power in China, Japan, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Malaysia, among others. As he did in Part 1, Tim shares with us in this episode a fascinating set of data on the future of energy in Southeast Asia that is oftentimes at sharp variance with the projections that we hear from energy watchdogs like the International Energy Agency. Tim tells a much more hopeful story about energy transition in the developing world. For example: If you think that China’s building more coal plants means that its coal consumption is going to go up, think again! Energy transition is moving ahead, and will move ahead, much more quickly in Southeast Asia than any of our major agencies project, and that is great news for the climate.

Geek rating: 4

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Guest:

Tim Buckley is Director of Energy Finance Studies for the Institute of Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA), with a key focus on the Indian electricity sector transformation. Tim has 30 years’ financial markets experience, covering Australia, Asian and global equities. He provides financial analysis in the electricity sector for IEEFA, studying energy efficiency and renewables across China and India, and stranded asset risk in Australia. Tim was co-founder of Arkx Investment Management, a global listed clean energy equities fund, and prior to that, was Managing Director at Citigroup and Head of Australasian Equity Research.

On Twitter: @TimBuckleyIEEFA

On the Web:  Tim’s publications for IEEFA

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[Episode #92] – Financing Coal Plant Retirements

The coal power sector in the US is continuing to shrink due to poor economics, but this doesn’t mean we’re retiring coal fired power plants quickly enough to reduce carbon emissions at a rate that achieves our climate goals. So what’s the best way to get rid of coal plants before they reach the end of their expected lifespans, particularly while the Trump administration and the Republican party continue trying to find ways to keep coal plants open? Democratic state Representative Chris Hansen of Colorado has proposed a solution: Refinancing the debt that utilities still owe on their coal-fired plants with cheaper, public bonds, and then shutting down the plants. It’s an idea that would retire coal plants and reduce carbon emissions, save utility customers money, create better investment opportunities for the utilities, and replace that power with cheaper, clean, solar and wind power. Everybody wins! It’s a powerful idea whose time may have come in Colorado, where fossil fuels still make up 78% of the state’s electricity mix, and major utilities in the state, like Xcel Energy, have declared their intention to transition to 100% clean power in the coming decades. Will Hansen’s bill have the right approach to help achieve those goals? We dive into all the important details in this episode and find out!

Geek rating: 7

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Guest:

Representative Chris Hansen is a member of the Colorado House of Representatives, representing  District 6, in the east-central part of Denver. Chris’ academic achievements include a PhD in Economic Geography from Oxford University, a Research Fellowship at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, an undergraduate degree in Engineering from Kansas State University, and an MS from MIT. Chris has been in the environmental and energy space for almost 20 years, working with renewable energy and electricity companies, as well as governments at every level, and has worked to bring more renewable power to poor, rural areas of India. In addition to serving the state of Colorado in the House of Representatives, Chris teaches at the University of Colorado and has served on numerous boards and organizations in the Denver area.

On Twitter: @HansenForCO

On the Web:  Chris Hansen’s web site

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[Episode #91] – Energy Transition in India and Southeast Asia, Part 1

It has long been assumed that India, China, and other developing countries of Southeast Asia would power their vigorous economic growth for decades to come with coal. We heard over and over that China is building a new coal-fired power plant every three days, and about plans for multi-gigawatt sized coal-fired power plants in India. As long as coal was the cheapest form of power, addressing our climate emergency seemed like a lost hope.

But that nightmare is now evaporating thanks to the continuously declining costs for solar, wind, and battery storage. Although there are far too few policymakers (not to mention the major energy agencies, like EIA and IEA) who appear to be aware of it, the future of coal is fading by the day, as solar and wind take the lead as the lowest cost forms of power. And nowhere is this new reality more starkly evident than in India, where a remarkable pivot away from coal has been under way for about five years now, radically reshaping the outlook for India’s energy consumption, and stranding billions of dollars in investments in coal plants that will not be used as expected. At the same time, India is busily electrifying 18,000 villages, pushing forward on the electrification of transportation, and developing demand-side technologies that together are more likely to make India one of the world’s great success stories in energy transition than one of the world’s largest upcoming carbon emitters.

Our guest in this episode has been closely watching these markets for three decades, and is one of the sharpest observers of what’s happening in India and Southeast Asia. This episode is Part One of our two-and-a-half hour conversation with him, which mostly covers India and coal. Part Two of this interview will be featured in Episode 93.

Geek rating: 4

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Guest:

Tim Buckley is Director of Energy Finance Studies for the Institute of Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA), with a key focus on the Indian electricity sector transformation. Tim has 30 years’ financial markets experience, covering Australia, Asian and global equities. He provides financial analysis in the electricity sector for IEEFA, studying energy efficiency and renewables across China and India, and stranded asset risk in Australia. Tim was co-founder of Arkx Investment Management, a global listed clean energy equities fund, and prior to that, was Managing Director at Citigroup and Head of Australasian Equity Research.

On Twitter: @TimBuckleyIEEFA

On the Web:  Tim’s publications for IEEFA

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[Episode #90] – How Will Decarbonized Power Markets Work?

This one is for the grid geeks! With the Green New Deal now a hot topic in the US Congress, while wholesale power markets still struggle to figure out how to accommodate new kinds of resources even as coal plants and nuclear plants continue to retire, the question of how wholesale power markets should work, and how they should value new kinds of assets and services, is becoming increasingly urgent. What would a power market look like if it consisted mainly (or totally) of wind and solar, with their zero-marginal-cost power? And if we continue to use out-of-market payments to keep clean but uneconomic nuclear plants operating, what will be the effect on power markets? Will power markets ultimately crash under the weight of accumulated patches and workarounds, or can their design be adapted to new social priorities—like combating climate change—and new kinds of resources, like large-scale storage systems? Can we replace the market construct of locational marginal pricing with something more suited to the new reality of grid power? What kind of policies can keep us on track to support transition and facilitate the evolution of the fuel and technology mix toward a high renewables future? Will FERC Order 841 succeed in opening the doors to storage on the grid? Are real-time prices the future of rate design? And as we move toward a deeply decarbonized grid, what are the implications for our economic system?

In this episode, we delve into all those questions and more with an expert who has worked on power markets for over 30 years.

Geek rating: 9

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Guest:

Pete Fuller is the founder and Principal of Autumn Lane Energy Consulting, which provides strategic business and regulatory advisory services to the energy industry, primarily in the areas of competitive wholesale market design and participation, renewable energy and energy storage, and the intersection of state energy and environmental policy with wholesale markets.  Over his 30-plus years in the energy industry, he has held roles in engineering and power supply planning for Eastern Utilities Associates, and has represented independent power producers Mirant and NRG in the ISO New England, New York ISO and PJM stakeholder processes.  He has held leadership positions in the New England Power Pool, the New England Power Generators Association, and the Independent Power Producers of New York.  Since retiring from NRG a year ago, he has developed his consulting practice by focusing on the role of FERC’s Order 841 in facilitating energy storage in the organized markets, and on facilitating energy storage and renewable energy developers seeking to enter the markets.

On Twitter: @AutumnLnEnergy

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[Episode #89] – Energy Access and Health

How can solutions like Project Bo—the solar-powered microgrid we discussed in Episode #85—be extended to help people elsewhere in the developing world who have similar health and medical needs? How the funding can be arranged? How should projects like this be scoped and designed to ensure their long-term viability? What kinds of energy supply and energy consuming devices are best suited to address the needs for remote medical clinics? What kinds of partner organizations can be helpful in implementing these kinds of projects? And what can philanthropic and aid organizations learn from recent experiences to ensure that their support has an enduring impact?

Our guest in this episode not only helped make Project Bo a reality, but she also has a uniquely deep understanding of the intersection of health and energy systems in the developing world. She has worked on energy access in many impoverished countries around the world, and she has a unique perspective on the global state of health and energy, including how and where philanthropic funding for health and energy projects works, and doesn’t work. And you may be surprised to learn which energy solutions she thinks can really make a big difference in women’s health in the developing world today…it’s probably not what you think!

Geek rating: 2

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Guest:

Richenda Van Leuuwen is currently Chair, International Institutions at the non-profit Global LPG Partnership and a member of the World Bank’s Energy Program’s (ESMAP) Technical Advisory Group (TAG). From 2010-2016 she led Energy Access at the UN Foundation and its engagement with the UN Sustainable Energy for All Initiative. Richenda previously worked in private equity and as an impact investor in emerging markets renewable energy. She also served as CEO of the international women’s micro-entrepreneurship NGO, Trickle Up for nearly five years. She is a board director of SELCO India and Energy 4 Impact and a founding U.S. Women’s “Clean Energy Ambassador” (C3E initiative).

On Twitter: @vanleeuwenr

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[Episode #88] – Energy Trade in Transition

The global energy trade is enormously complex, and its geopolitical implications are vast, but they are only made more complex by energy transition. If the US exports gas to Europe and Asia, might you expect it to largely displace coal in their power plants? Think again! What will be the geopolitical ramifications on our relationship with Russia, as we send more of our gas to China and India? And as the US weans itself off of coal, and seeks to export more coal abroad, will it be stymied by energy transition in foreign countries, as well as political impediments at home?

And what of US “energy independence?” Does it mean that the US is actually self-sufficient in energy, or even just in fossil fuels, in the sense that we may not need imports anymore? And what is the value of it anyway, especially if it also means increased dependence on export markets abroad?

Tune in as we explore some of the fascinating questions about the implications of energy transition on energy trade in this interview, and be prepared to be surprised by some of our guest’s answers!

Geek rating: 8

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Guest:

Alex Gilbert is cofounder of SparkLibrary, an energy research and data firm based in Washington, D.C. His expertise lies in cross- and inter-disciplinary analysis of energy markets and regulations, with specialties in electricity, natural gas, and nuclear power. Previously, Alex analyzed US energy markets for private sector clients at Haynes and Boone, LLP. Gilbert has a Masters of Energy Regulation and Law from Vermont Law School and actively publishes in energy policy journals.

On Twitter: @gilbeaq

On the Web:  https://www.sparklibrary.com

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