[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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[Episode #37] – Corporate Buyers of Renewables

Although it’s not widely talked about, one of the hottest sectors buying renewables now is the corporate sector. Fortune 500 companies are buying solar and wind power, and renewable energy credits, at a record pace. But why? What’s in it for them? What are the economic risks and rewards of going to the extra trouble to buy green power? How do arrangements like “virtual power purchase agreements” work? How do we manage balancing between wholesale markets in a future of strong interstate corporate procurement? And what’s the outlook for corporate buying of renewables? Our guest answers all of these questions and more in this wonkilicious episode, guaranteed to keep CFOs on the edge of their seats.

Geek rating: 6

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[Episode #36] – Climate Science Part 1 – Climate Change Overview

With President Trump fully embracing fossil fuels and indicating that he intends to abandon US efforts to address climate change (and even the scientific inquiry underlying those efforts), there is no time like the present to refresh what we know about climate change, what we can do about it, and what kinds of research still need to be done to improve our understanding. This episode is the first of what will become a mini-series of episodes on the science of climate change, and it starts by looking at the debate over climate change, the counter-arguments of climate change skeptics and the rebuttals to those arguments, and what recent scientific observations can tell us. It also suggests that ultimately, there may be a lot more willingness amongst the rank and file of all political parties to take action on climate, regardless of ideological perspectives on the left and right.

Geek rating: 5

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[Episode #35] – Green Bonds

What are green bonds, and how can they help mobilize private capital to fund energy transition and climate change mitigation measures? What kinds of things can green bonds be used to fund? What are the various roles for private, corporate, and sovereign issuers? Why does the green bond market need to grow by roughly 10x over the next few years to $1 trillion a year globally, and is there even enough capital out there willing to accept single-digit returns to buy that amount of green bonds? Are green bonds an answer to the stranded assets problem in the fossil fuel sector? And what can the appetite for green bonds tell us about monetary policy and appropriate discount rates for climate change mitigation measures? We get deep into all of these questions with the CEO of the Climate Bonds Initiative, an international NGO working to mobilize debt capital markets for climate solutions.

Geek rating: 5

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[eLab Extra #7] – How NREL Supports Energy Transition

This is a special, free "extra" episode recorded at RMI’s eLab Annual Summit in December 2016 in Austin, Texas.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) based in Golden, Colorado provides a wide range of research, guidance, and policy support to the whole government stack in the U.S., from the local and city level all the way up to the federal and tribal level. From supporting the rebuild of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, to informing policies with things like calculating the Value of Solar (VOS) and figuring out better ways of doing demand response, NREL is helping to lead the way on energy transition. We interview Elizabeth Doris of NREL at RMI’s eLab Summit 2016.

Geek rating: 2

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[eLab Extra #6] – Building EV Charging Infrastructure

This is a special, free "extra" episode recorded at RMI’s eLab Annual Summit in December 2016 in Austin, Texas.

Should utilities be allowed to own EV charging infrastructure, or should that be reserved for private charging companies? How many Level 3 high-voltage chargers do we need at workplaces and shopping areas? And how do we build charging infrastructure now that won’t become stranded assets if and when we transition to fleets of autonomous vehicles? We interview Jonathan Levy of Vision Ridge Partners at RMI’s eLab Summit 2016 to find out.

Geek rating: 2

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[eLab Extra #5] – EVs and More in Austin, TX

This is a special, free "extra" episode recorded at RMI’s eLab Annual Summit in December 2016 in Austin, Texas.

Through a variety of programs, Austin Energy, the eighth largest publicly-owned electric utility in the U.S., has led the way to an EV future in Texas, installing the first EV charging infrastructure in the region, offering rebates for installing charging stations and the ability to charge up at 250 charging stations throughout the city for a low flat rate using 100% renewable energy. Karl Popham, the Electric Vehicle & Emerging Technologies Manager at Austin Energy, explains how he did it and what other similarly positioned utility leaders can do in an interview from RMI’s eLab Annual Summit 2016.

Geek rating: 3

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[eLab Extra #4] – Transition in New York and the World

This is a special, free "extra" episode recorded at RMI’s eLab Annual Summit in December 2016 in Austin, Texas.

What are some of the ways that New York is building its resilience capacity while executing its Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) energy transition plan, particularly as a response to the damage it suffered in Superstorm Sandy? Is it possible to have a successful energy transition without also securing justice and equity, particularly for the underserved and disadvantaged among us? And what is the future for energy transition in the U.S. in the era of President Trump? Eleanor Stein of America’s Power Plan, who was Project Manager for New York’s REV initiative, shares her insights from a lifetime of work on climate and justice issues at RMI’s eLab Annual Summit 2016.

Geek rating: 1

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[Episode #34] – Transition in the North Sea and Netherlands

The North Seas Countries’ Offshore Grid Initiative would knit together the power grids of the countries adjacent to the North Sea, and enable a far greater share of renewables—especially offshore wind—on the northern European grid than would be possible otherwise. It would also make it possible to use Norway’s substantial hydro capacity as a giant battery to balance out the variability of wind and solar on the grid. And in the longer term, it could be a key part of a European “supergrid” that would connect the transmission grids of all of Europe, and potentially even tap the massive solar capacity of the Middle East and northern Africa. These are big, bold ideas, and implementing them won’t be easy or cheap, but the benefits would be enormous… so much so that building these transmission links might be inevitable. But the planning alone has already gone on for at least seven years, and while some of the countries that would connect to the North Seas Offshore Grid are already building parts of their contribution to it, there is still much work to be done…and building the physical infrastructure might be the easy part! In this episode we talk with a Dutch expert who has been directly involved in evaluating and planning for these supergrids to see where they now stand, what their potential costs and benefits are, and what we might expect in the future.

Geek rating: 4

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