[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

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[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

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[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

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[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

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[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

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[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

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[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

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[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

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[Episode #39] – Transition in Australia

Australia has the highest proportion of households with rooftop solar PV systems of any country in the world. It also has the second-dirtiest grid in the world, getting three-quarters of its power from coal. As such, Australia might as well be the global poster child of energy transition, with both a huge load of dirty power plants it needs to retire, and a huge set of distributed and variable solar and wind systems that it needs to integrate into its power grid, while keeping everything balanced, without being able to import or export electricity from other nations. It’s a fascinating case study in wholesale markets, renewable incentives, technical balancing issues, and yes, acrimonious political debate between Browns and Greens. To help us understand this complex picture, we speak with Dr. Jenny Riesz, a Principal at the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO), the operator of Australia’s largest gas and electricity markets and power systems. Dr. Riesz works on adapting AEMO’s processes and functions to ensure ongoing security and reliability as the power system transitions to renewables, and leads its work program on matters such as frequency control, analysis on declining inertia, and possible solutions such as Fast Frequency Response.

Geek rating: 9

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[Episode #38] – Getting from Here to There

There’s nothing to give you a little perspective on what’s happening on planet Earth like getting off it and seeing its beauty—and it’s human-caused destruction—from space. In this wide-ranging interview, former astronaut Jay Apt, a professor of technology and business at Carnegie Mellon University, shares some insights from his voluminous body of research on energy transition topics, including: what the power grid of the future could look like; how we’ll balance it with increasing levels of renewable energy; how to smooth out the fluctuations in wind farm power output; utility business model evolution and resource adequacy planning; what the optimal amount of storage on the PJM Interconnection might be; the economics of behind-the-meter battery systems; the potential future for EVs providing services to the grid; whether carbon capture and sequestration technology and geoengineering can play significant roles in addressing climate change; the new era of electricity de- and re-regulation; and of course, what it’s like to look down on Earth from space. You’ll never see an hour go by as quickly as this one.

Geek rating: 8

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