[Episode #49] – Climate Science Part 5 – Business As Usual

When we hear about the emissions scenarios used in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports, do we really understand what they’re assuming about future fossil fuel combustion? And what do these emissions scenarios imply about the steps needed to achieve climate policy goals and decarbonize our energy system? For example, when you hear about the worst-case warming scenario known as RCP8.5, do you know that it is based on projections for a 10-fold increase in global coal consumption through the end of this century? Or that many of the estimates of future fossil fuel combustion in these scenarios are based on very old assumptions about how the energy system could develop in the future? And how can we square scenarios like these with our contemporary reality, in which coal is in decline and the world is turning to renewables because they have become the cheapest options for generating power? How should we actually think about the influence that the global energy system will have on the climate over the next century? In this fifth part of our mini-series on climate science, researcher (and Energy Transition Show producer) Justin Ritchie helps us understand what the IPCC scenarios really mean, and how they can be improved to offer better policy guidance.

Geek rating: 5


[Episode #48] – Climate Science Part 4 – Teaching the Carbon Cycle

In this fourth episode of our climate science mini-series, we dive into the carbon cycle to understand how the greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels accumulate in the atmosphere. We also discuss how climate science is taught, the concepts that students struggle to understand, and what the science of human reasoning and teaching can tell us about how best to communicate this enormously complex subject to a lay audience. Our guest is Dr. Sara Harris, a professor at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, who is an expert at teaching climate science, and who has published a book titled Understanding Climate Change: Science, Policy and Practice, as well as a self-paced free online course called “Climate Change: The Science.”

Geek rating: 2


[Episode #47] – Transition in Europe

Europe has been the global leader in energy transition for decades, offering to the rest of the world many useful examples of both policies that work and those that don’t. As a result, European countries now have some of the world’s most energy efficient economies, and the largest shares of renewable energy. But getting there wasn’t easy, and still isn’t. From the very first efforts to develop policies that would support energy transition decades ago, right up to the present, there have been incumbents in the energy industry establishment who fought transition every step of the way, both overtly and through subversion. To help us understand this long and complex history, our guest in this episode is Claude Turmes, a Member of the Greens for Luxembourg in the European Parliament who has had a front-row seat in Europe’s energy transition policy formulation for over 15 years, and the author of a new book about it titled Energy Transformation: An Opportunity for Europe.

Geek rating: 2


[Episode #46] – Is 100% Renewables Realistic?

[This episode has been released ahead of schedule to coincide with the publication of the paper it covers. Enjoy! --Ed.]

Is it really feasible to run the world on 100% renewables, including supply and demand matching at all times and places? Would doing so require vast amounts of seasonal storage? Are exotic new technologies like next-generation flexible nuclear power plants or coal plants equipped with carbon capture and storage (CCS) equipment needed to balance out variable renewables at a reasonable cost?

In this episode, Dr. Christopher Clack offers a very detailed, deep critique of the 100% wind, water and solar model proposed by Stanford’s Mark Jacobson in 2015, and explains where the model falls short. We also discuss a recent paper by Jesse Jenkins from MIT and Samuel Thernstrom from the Energy Innovation Reform Project, which reviewed some recent papers on what “deep decarbonization” might imply for our future energy mix. This 90-minute, super-wonky chat over a few pints of IPA is guaranteed to leave you reeling…and hopefully, more informed about the best policy pathways to a mostly renewable future.

Geek rating: 9


[Episode #45] – Climate Science Part 3 – Paleoclimate

In this third episode of our mini-series on climate science, we talk with paleoclimate scientist Robert Kopp of Rutgers University about what Earth’s past climate can tell us about its future, especially where it concerns sea level rise. We also discuss his research on the relationship between climate science and the economy, and how a transdisciplinary approach using natural sciences, social sciences, engineering, and urban planning can help us tackle the challenges that climate change poses to the world’s coastlines…and how tools like the social cost of carbon and appropriate discount rates can help address those challenges, from New Jersey to Florida, no matter what Trump does with federal policy. Finally, we discuss how ratings agencies and risk adjustors need to start factoring in climate risk, and why they haven't so far.

Geek rating: 5


[Episode #44] – Different Strokes

One thing is sure about energy transition: There is no one-size-fits-all approach. As our previous episodes on individual countries showed, there are different opportunities and challenges in each place…even each US state has to find its own unique transition path. In this episode, we have a wide-ranging talk with Dr. Benjamin Sovacool of the University of Sussex about a tiny fraction of his voluminous research on energy transition topics, with a focus on the speed of energy transitions, the ways that the Nordic countries of Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Norway and Iceland are going about their transitions; his outlook for CCS technology and nuclear power; the potentials and pitfalls of nuclear power and the potential for distributed energy resources to displace nuclear; and we’ll surprise him with the first-ever Energy Transition Show lightning round, in which he’ll answer 15 key questions about energy transition (which were the subject of one of his books) in under two minutes!

Geek rating: 7


[Episode #43] – Legal Challenges of PURPA and FERC

What are the legal issues around new proposed subsidies for nuclear and coal plants? What are the new ways in which the authority of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has to be distinguished from the authority of the states? Are states with economically challenged power generators sliding toward unintentional re-regulation, or will FERC and the courts step in to protect structured markets? And why is PURPA, the federal law that has undergirded renewable procurement since 1978, under fresh attack? In this episode, we explore these deep, dark, yet important and very contemporary legal questions with a Senior Fellow in Electricity Law at the Harvard Law School Environmental Policy Initiative. In addition to our deep dive on PURPA and around-market reforms, we’ll also discuss some of the likely implications of Trump’s new direction in energy policy, implications for the Clean Power Plan, and how the federal government’s leadership role on climate might be changing.

Geek rating: 4


[Episode #42] – Can Renewables Power the World?

Is the net energy of renewables high enough to actually power human civilization? Or will replacing fossil fuels prove too difficult on an energetic basis? What is the state of the art in net energy analysis, and can biophysical economics yet prove to be policy relevant, and not just an arcane field of study that only interests academics? What’s the trajectory of EROI for various fuels, and what’s the right way to compare them?

If you’ve heard that the net energy of renewables is too low to run society, and that as a result energy transition is destined to fail…then you need to listen to this interview with net energy researcher Rembrandt Koppelaar and check out his new research. His findings will probably surprise you.

Geek rating: 8


[Episode #41] – Generator Survival Strategies

Owners of old nuclear and coal power generation in the US are on the ropes, because their plants can’t compete with cheaper natural gas and renewables. Some—especially those operating in competitive markets—are simply shutting down, while others are trying a whole host of survival strategies: seeking special payments and subsidies, “around-market reforms,” and even getting states to give up on competitive generation markets and go back to the old regulated utility business. So what are the pros and cons of these strategies, and what are the implications for consumers and for energy transition as a whole? Gavin Bade, an editor at Utility Dive who has written extensively on these topics, leads us through a tangle of legal, technical, and economic implications toward a more clear-eyed picture of how incumbent generators are trying to survive the transition.

Geek rating: 5


[Episode #40] – Climate Science Part 2 – Taking Planetary Temperatures

In this second episode of our mini-series on climate science, we begin to dive a bit deeper on narrower subjects, starting with a look at how we take the Earth’s temperature, on land, on the sea surface, and deeper in the ocean depths. Along the way, we discuss temperature measurements at the heart of the “Climategate” nothingburger, the 2013 “Pausebuster” paper proving the supposed “pause” or “hiatus” in global warming trends didn’t actually happen, and a recent kerfuffle over that paper. We also find out if the melting of permafrost and undersea methane clathrates could lead the planet into runaway global warming, and discuss some research on the net emissions effect of switching from coal to gas in power generation, including the thorny issue of fugitive emissions from natural gas production and distribution. And finally, we’ll take another look at the question of decoupling economic growth from energy consumption, and how emissions are counted in the first place. After listening to this interview, you’ll be well-equipped to listen critically to both the latest scientific findings on global temperatures, and to the arguments of global warming skeptics. Plus, we’ll talk about the implications of Trump’s proposed budget, which would gut the very agencies that deliver these crucial scientific measurements.

Geek rating: 6