[Episode #71] – Australia at the Cutting Edge

Since we last covered Australia one year ago in Episode 39, a lot has changed…it has deployed the largest utility-scale battery system in the world, made numerous technical upgrades to prevent future outages, and placed some incredible leaders in key agencies where they are working hard to accelerate the country’s energy transition. It is also actively investing in new energy technologies that aren’t even commercial yet, to see how they can perform. In short, Australia is breaking new trail on multiple fronts in energy transition, and demonstrating some truly interesting findings to the rest of the world, for how a grid might function self-sufficiently, at scale, with significant shares of variable renewable power and large battery storage systems.

Our guide to the current state of affairs today is Ivor Frischknecht, a subscriber to this show and the CEO of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA). A widely acknowledged expert and innovator in the energy industry, with deep knowledge of the grid’s needs in Australia, and a far-reaching vision for what it can become, he’s one of the top experts on the energy transition Down Under, and can explain it all in a very accessible way.

Geek rating: 6

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[Episode #70] – Who Should Control Wholesale Markets?

As older coal and nuclear generators are pushed off the grid by cheaper, nimbler, cleaner renewables and other technologies, the owners of conventional generators are becoming increasingly nervous about their futures, and seeking new ways to protect their legacy assets. From attempting to change market rules or simply pursuing new subsidies, the effort to retire dirty and unwanted old generators and replace them with newer, cleaner sources of electricity faces a series of challenges. And how those challenges are resolved will have broad implications for how the electric grid of the future will operate, and who will own it.

In this episode we take a deep dive into the intersections between federal authority, wholesale markets, and state policies, explore some of the legal questions therein, and try to understand what they suggest about the process of energy transition, and the pathways for unlocking new ways of using energy and designing electricity markets…and yes, this episode definitely deserves its Geek Rating!

Geek rating: 10

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[Episode #69] – Western Grid Regionalization

California and 12 other US states, plus parts of Canada and Mexico, are considering whether to expand the California wholesale grid and balancing area to include the entire region, in order to increase the flow of reliable, affordable, and renewable power across the West. This shift to a regional independent system operator, or ISO, would also expand resource flexibility, improve transmission planning and grid reliability, and enable a far larger share of renewable energy across the system. But it’s not without risk: Would a unified Western market kill the market for power projects sold under virtual PPAs outside its borders? Would it give project developers—or even coal plants—operating within the Western grid but outside California a competitive edge over California’s own renewable project developers? Would it become a loophole through which coal power starts being imported into California, after many years of effort trying to get rid of coal in the Golden State? Would California or any of the other Western states lose control over their own power production and consumption? And what about the five states that could join the Southwest Power Pool instead—what will they do?

These are complex questions with no easy answers, but our guest in this episode is an expert on the subject and ably walks us through all the pros and cons…and points the way to a potentially very different future for power markets in the American West.

Geek rating: 8

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[Episode #68] – Environmental Economics

In an economy as large and complex as the United States, how can we tell when our efforts at energy transition are working? How do we calculate our carbon emissions? How do we know why emissions fell, especially if increased efficiency can rebound into more consumption, an effect known as the Jevons Paradox? How should we calculate the cost of damage due to climate change, and how we should choose the discount rates we use in evaluating investments to stop it? And even if we knew the answers to all these difficult questions, how should we act, given how little certainty we have about the future of the climate, and of the trajectory of energy transition itself? Can economic theory even help us plot a sensible path toward energy transition and climate change mitigation? Our guest in this episode has published extensively on all of these thorny questions, and we’ll discuss that research with him, along with his current research into solar geoengineering.

Geek rating: 7

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[Episode #67] – Transition’s Disruptors Part 2

What do the frackers and Tesla have in common? They have both succeeded in disrupting their industries by adopting new technologies, applying financial innovation, appealing to changing consumer preferences, and taking advantage of (or disrupting) their regulatory environments. Indeed, these disruptive forces are in play throughout the energy transition, and whether it’s electricity, or heat, or mobility, the outcome is generally the same: nimbler, more efficient, cleaner, and safer upstarts steal away market share from rent-seeking incumbents who control captive markets. The transition upstarts are hot; the moguls of oil provinces and monopoly utilities are not.

This is Part Two of a sprawling discussion that lasted over two hours with veteran energy, mining and commodities analyst Liam Denning of Bloomberg. We explore the ways in which these disruptive forces are working for transition and the risks that the incumbents face…and how to spot the winners and losers of energy transition from a mile away. In this episode, we talk about changing consumer preferences, the role that regulations play in alternately supporting and stymieing disruptors, and how the falling cost of energy as more renewables come into the system will affect energy markets and business models.

Part One of this interview was in Episode 66.

Geek rating: 5

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[Episode #66] – Transition’s Disruptors Part 1

What do the frackers and Tesla have in common? They have both succeeded in disrupting their industries by adopting new technologies, applying financial innovation, appealing to changing consumer preferences, and taking advantage of (or disrupting) their regulatory environments. Indeed, these disruptive forces are in play throughout the energy transition, and whether it’s electricity, or heat, or mobility, the outcome is generally the same: nimbler, more efficient, cleaner, and safer upstarts steal away market share from rent-seeking incumbents who control captive markets. The transition upstarts are hot; the moguls of oil provinces and monopoly utilities are not.
This is Part One of a sprawling discussion that lasted over two hours with veteran energy, mining and commodities analyst Liam Denning of Bloomberg. We explore the ways in which these disruptive forces are working for transition and the risks that the incumbents face…and how to spot the winners and losers of energy transition from a mile away. In this episode, we talk about the roles of technological and financial innovation. Part Two of this interview will air on Episode 67.

Geek rating: 5

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[Episode #65] – Climate Science Part 9 – Jet Stream

In this ninth part of our mini-series on climate science, we turn to one of the key suspects in extreme weather events we have experienced in recent years—the shifting shape of the North Atlantic jet stream. And the fingerprints of the changing jet stream can be found in tree ring data. The guest in this episode has studied three centuries of European tree rings and found that the shape of the jet stream, along with clear deviations from historical weather, began in the 1960s, pointing to a connection to the changing climate. Other researchers have come to similar conclusions by studying things like the difference between Arctic and mid-latitude temperatures over time. And they conclude that increases in greenhouse gas emissions will make the jet stream increasingly wavy in the future, exacerbating such extreme weather events.

Geek rating: 3

Guest: Valerie Trouet received her PhD in Bioscience Engineering at the KULeuven (Belgium) in 2004. After a post-doctoral research position in the Geography Department at the Pennsylvania State University (2005-2006), she worked as a research scientist at the Swiss Federal Research Institute WSL (2007-2010).  She now is an Associate Professor at the Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research at the University of Arizona and leads the Spatiotemporal Interactions between Climate and Ecosystems research group.  She is currently writing a broad audience book about tree rings, climate history, and human history under the working title “Treestory.”

On Twitter: @epispheric

On the Web:  Trouet Lab

Recording date: February 20, 2018

Air date: March 21, 2018

[Episode #64] – Ask Eric

In this episode, energy expert Eric Gimon answers questions submitted by Energy Transition Show subscribers on a wide range of topics, including the non-climate effects of climate change; whether we even need to keep investing in climate research; what the reliable indicators of the global energy transition might be; how much seasonal storage we’ll need; whether science adequately informs energy policy; the outlook for market reforms that value storage; the outlook and potential role for solar thermal plants equipped with storage; and we finish with a deep dive down the rabbit hole of resource adequacy and reserve margins.

Geek rating: 1-10

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[Episode #63] – Pathways to Deep Decarbonization

As energy transition proceeds we’ll need to move well beyond decarbonizing electricity generation and into transportation and space heating powered by renewables. But we’re only beginning to figure out the pathways by which we might do that, and since each region has its own particular sources of renewable energy and its own particular needs for energy, the solutions may vary quite a bit from place to place.

When do we figure out how to decarbonize space heating and transportation? What sorts of challenges will we face in adding those loads to the electricity grid? How much additional generation, transmission, distribution capacity, and storage will we need? How will we manage such a grid? And what if, once we have transferred some of those loads to the grid, it actually starts to look cheaper to not electrify everything? Our guest in this episode has studied such questions for years, and has some surprising insights into how deep decarbonization might actually evolve.

Geek rating: 3

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[Episode #62] – How Advance Cost Recovery Swindled the South

How did the legal innovation of “advance cost recovery” allow utilities in South Carolina, Georgia, Florida and Mississippi to torch more than $40 billion on nuclear and coal plants that went way over budget or never produced a single kilowatt-hour of electricity? And what if this story is more than just a few poor decisions about a handful of power plants, but instead a long history of reckless behavior, if not outright fraud and corruption, by contractors, utilities, their regulators, and legislators, which customers in the South will be paying off for years to come? And what can be done to prevent such boondoggles in the future?

Our guest in this episode is a reporter from the Pulitzer Prize winning newspaper, The Post and Courier, of Charleston, South Carolina, who has been contributing to a terrific series of articles about what went wrong with these power plants, by doing good old-fashioned investigative journalism. It’s a pretty incredible story they have uncovered and continue to tell in their newspaper every week as they work to uncover the truth and protect consumers. After you hear this jaw-dropper, you’ll probably never take the prospect of US nuclear or clean coal seriously ever again.

Geek rating: 2

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