[Episode #26] – Geoengineering

As the world continues to struggle with the effects of climate change, energy transition is more important than ever as a key pathway to stopping global warming. But will it be enough? Many serious climate researchers think it won’t be, and urge deliberate attempts to directly alter the Earth’s climate by using a number of technologies, loosely grouped under the heading of geoengineering. But geoengineering has not won much support from the climate and environmental communities, and still struggles to gain enough legitimacy to attract sufficient research funding to attempt serious pilot projects that might tell us whether geoengineering holds real promise as a safe, cost-effective, and powerful tool in a portfolio of climate change mitigation strategies.

So what is the real potential of geoengineering to address climate change? How much would it cost? How risky is it, and what justification might there be for taking that risk? And what sorts of attitudinal shifts might be needed within the climate and environmental communities to embrace geoengineering as one of a portfolio of strategies? We attempt to answer all of those questions and more in this interview with a veteran science journalist and author of a recent book on geoengineering.

Geek rating: 5

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[Episode #25] – The Energy-Water Nexus

Energy and water are inextricably linked: It takes energy to supply water, and it takes water to supply energy. And those processes consume vast amounts of both. Yet we have only really begun to study the energy-water nexus and gather the data that policymakers will need to understand the risk that climate change poses to both power and water. As rainfall and temperatures continue to depart from historical norms, forcing conventional power plants to throttle back or shut down, we may need to invest more heavily in wind and solar PV just to keep the lights on. Even more radical solutions may become necessary, like switching to more dry-cooled power plants, and desalinating brackish groundwater. Ideally, we would treat the challenges of the energy-water nexus in an integrated way, deliberately reducing our energy and water demands simultaneously as part of our energy transition strategies, but our governments aren’t typically set up for that, and much more basic research and analytical work is needed.

Geek rating: 6

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[Episode #24] – Starting Over

What if we didn’t have to work around the grid we have today, with all of its inertia and incumbents and inflexibility? If we could start over and design the grid from scratch, what would it look like? And once we understood that, how might it change the way we are going about energy transition now, in order to reach that goal more quickly and directly? If what we really want is a grid that is fair, equitable, reliable, efficient, resilient, sustainable, and which serves our climate and social goals, what are the first principles we might work from, and what mechanisms might get us where we want to go? This freewheeling conversation aims to help all of us “think outside the box” a bit more, and imagine what the possibilities might be if we could just start over.

Geek rating: 9

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[Episode #23] – Facts and Falsehoods in Energy Transition

Should we tweak our markets to keep nuclear plants alive, or forget about markets and pay for them another way… and do we really need them at all to keep the grid functioning? Is nuclear power really declining because of overzealous environmentalists, or are there other reasons? Is it possible to balance a grid with a high amount of variable renewables and no traditional baseload plants? Is cost-benefit analysis the right way to approach energy transition? How much “decoupling” can we do between the economy and energy consumption, and how can we correctly measure it? Why are we so bad at forecasting energy and economic growth, and how can we do it better? How will energy transition affect the economy?

We explore all of these questions and more, and try to separate fact from falsehoods in this wide-ranging interview. It might even change your mind about a few things.

Geek rating: 8

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[Episode #22] – Can Economics Guide the Energy Transition?

Is conventional, free-market economic theory really up to the task of energy transition and combating climate change? Can we let the so-called invisible hand of the market guide us through the troubled waters ahead, or will we need firm policy direction and deliberate, top-down planning to secure the best outcomes? How useful can free markets be, in transitioning us away from coal, and meeting our climate targets and securing enough carbon-free power to run our societies? Will they be any help at all in supporting technologies like carbon capture and sequestration, or geoengineering? Can negative discount rates help us pay for climate change mitigation projects? And what does the future hold for oil? We discuss all of these questions and more with veteran energy editor Ed Crooks of the Financial Times.

Geek rating: 6

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[Episode #21] – The Role of Development Banks in Energy Transition

Multilateral Development Banks (MDBs) like the World Bank, the African Development Bank and the Asian Development Bank are publicly committed to ending energy poverty and enabling energy access to the developing world. But their conventional processes and approaches to risk management make it difficult for them to invest in the decentralized renewable energy solutions that have the best chance of lifting people out of energy poverty. So what can be done about it? To find out, we talk with a pioneer in the energy investment and energy access space and ask her some pointed questions about how development bank funding works, and how it needs to be changed.

Geek rating: 5

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[Episode #20] – Grid evolution

Utilities face a host of rapid changes in a what used to be a staid business: new business models, changing supply and demand forecasts, new distributed architectures, new types of resources, new participants in the power grid that they don't control…yet they still must maintain a highly reliable power grid that operates within fairly narrow parameters.

Meanwhile, difficult questions remain to be solved, about how we’re going to manage our grid power transition, who the winners and losers will be, what destination we’re headed for, what role consumers and “prosumers” will play in the future, and what our reasons are for executing transition the way we do.

We tackle all of these issues in this wide-ranging, very geeky conversation about the “blocks and squiggles” of the grid of the future. Grid power transition, the rebound effect, energy efficiency, utility business models, cutting-edge grid power management considerations, regulation and rate design, electric vehicles as distributed energy resources… they’re all here.

Geek rating: 10

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[Episode #19] – Distributed renewables in Latin America and beyond

Finance geeks, this episode is for you! Latin America has had one of the fastest-growing renewable energy markets on the planet for the past several years, but nobody ever talks about it. We aim to correct that in this wide-ranging interview with Adam James, Deputy Director of Global Strategy and Policy with SolarCity.  Who’s got the hottest auction design? Who’s growing at eye-popping rates?  Who screwed up their incentive program so badly that nobody wants to invest there anymore? And what are some outside-the-box ideas about how to get capital flowing into distributed energy systems in the developing world? Plus: oblique Prince references! (RIP)

Geek rating: 8

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[Episode #18] – The Collapse of Coal

The last of the big-time U.S. coal companies has gone bankrupt, and in the hills of Appalachia, they’re looking for their next move. How will the former coal miners find new careers and build new industries? How will the liabilities of coal companies ever get paid? And how did we get into this situation in the first place? We talk with one of the best coal reporters in the business (and a West Virginian native) to find out.

Geek rating: 5

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[Episode #17] – Denmark’s Energy Transition

In percentage terms, Denmark is the world leader in energy transition, as well as the king of wind power. Wind now supplies 42% of all Denmark’s electricity, and by 2020, the country plants to get fully half of its power from wind. It’s also the only developed country in the world with a serious plan to achieve 100% of its energy – just not electricity, but all energy – from renewables, and plans to do it by 2050. In this episode we talk with energy journalist Justin Gerdes about his new e-book on Denmark’s energy transition, Quitting Carbon: How Denmark Is Leading the Clean Energy Transition and Winning the Race to the Low-Carbon Future.

Geek rating: 2

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