Conventional wisdom in the energy transition has long held that public investment should be directed toward utility-scale projects, because they’re cheaper than rooftop solar systems, kilowatt for kilowatt. Being cheaper, utility-scale systems would clearly deliver more bang for the buck.
Our returning guest in this episode, energy modeler Christopher Clack, says according to his recent modeling, the opposite is actually true — that investing more into local solar will deliver more public benefits than investing in utility-scale projects. And even more surprisingly, he says that building rooftop solar and distributed storage systems will actually result in more utility-scale solar as well, plus bring greater societal benefits such as more jobs, increased economic development, increased resilience, and more equitable access to the benefits of renewables. By modeling a dizzying set of factors simultaneously, Clack is able to show that combining many factors leads to synergistic effects that have been heretofore undiscovered in the literature… factors that we will attempt to describe in this extremely deep dive into energy modeling.
In the middle of February 2021, an Arctic cold front wreaked havoc on Texas, causing a blackout that plunged more than 4 million customers into darkness and cold during single-digit temperatures. The crisis led to the deaths of nearly 200 people and an estimated $50 billion changed hands, saddling millions of customers, including ones in neighboring states, with unexpected excess costs.
What happened in Texas is an incredibly complex story involving many factors, from a simple lack of weatherization, to flaws in the state’s electricity market structure, to failed governance. And untangling that story, and identifying ways to prevent such a crisis from ever happening again, is a complex task. To help us with it, we invited several Energy Transition Show alumni—journalist Russell Gold of the Wall Street Journal, professor Emily Grubert of the Georgia Institute of Technology, and legal scholar Ari Peskoe of Harvard Law School—to join us in a four-way conversation that explores all the angles.
We have a very special guest for you in this episode: Jeremy Grantham, the legendary investor who co-founded GMO, a Boston-based institutional money management firm, more than 40 years ago. With more than $60 billion in assets under management, GMO has produced steady returns for its investors through market booms and busts, largely thanks to the steady hand of Grantham and his investing philosophy, which holds that sooner or later, most valuations return to the mean.
In this interview, we talked about Grantham’s investing philosophy; the history of investment bubbles; how he values investments; what’s happening in the markets as new retail traders using the Robinhood app and participating in Reddit-based trading groups drive stocks like Game Stop wild; what the Fed should do as the world recovers from the pandemic; his views on the massive expansion of the US national debt; how the world’s governments are responding to the challenge of climate change; the role of venture capital in energy transition; and his outlook for energy transition in general.
This is part two of our three-hour interview with Dr. Simon Evans of Carbon Brief about their extensive survey of the developing hydrogen economy.
In part one of this interview, which we featured in Episode #142, we discussed the current expectations for the hydrogen economy, the various projections for hydrogen production and use; the different methods of producing hydrogen and the names we use to refer to them; the state of the global hydrogen business today; the potential roles that hydrogen might play in tackling climate change; and the questions around what hydrogen costs today and may cost in the future.
In this second part, we’ll talk about the various potential applications of hydrogen sector by sector and by use, and attempt to start sorting out where hydrogen might really have an edge, and where it might be just a potential application that might never become a commercial reality.
Everyone seems to be excited about hydrogen lately, pointing out its many potential applications and claiming that a global hydrogen economy is a key strategy in energy transition. But how much of what we’re hearing is real, and how much of it is hype? What are all the ways that hydrogen is being produced, what is the global capacity for producing it now, what kind of investment would be needed to its production up to the needed levels, and where does hydrogen have a clear and tangible edge over competing technologies or energy sources?
In this episode, we present part one of a two-part, three-hour interview with Dr. Simon Evans, the deputy editor and policy editor for Carbon Brief, in which he shares their findings from dozens of interviews they conducted with experts who are knowledgeable about hydrogen’s potential, as well as from dozens of research reports and other resources.
In this first part of the interview, we’ll talk about the expectations for Hydrogen Economy 2.0; the various projections for hydrogen production and use; the different methods of producing hydrogen and the names we use to refer to them; the state of the global hydrogen business today; the potential roles that hydrogen might play in tackling climate change; and the questions around what hydrogen costs today and may cost in the future.
In part 2 of this interview, which will run as Episode #143, we’ll talk about the various potential applications of hydrogen sector by sector and use by use, and attempt to start sorting out where hydrogen might really have an edge, and where it might be just a potential application that might never become a commercial reality. So stay tuned for that!
Why have nearly all attempts to price carbon failed, while targeted policies to achieve certain objectives, like phase out coal plants or increase wind and solar generation, succeeded? And how can we design climate policies that are truly effective?
In their new book, Making Climate Policy Work, Danny Cullenward and David Victor argue that policymakers and policy advocates rely too heavily on market forces to combat climate change, and instead should be focusing on smart, targeted industrial policy strategies aimed specifically at reducing greenhouse gases. Market-based climate policies are doing very little to reduce emissions today, they say, but with careful reforms, markets can be harnessed to help us make meaningful progress against the climate challenge.
In this episode we speak with one of the authors and try to distill a recipe for good climate policy from their book.
Methane (natural gas) is a greenhouse gas with a much more powerful warming effect than carbon dioxide, so finding and eliminating gas leaks is an important part of addressing the climate challenge. But until now, we’ve had poor information about gas leakage within cities, as well as how to correctly attribute the leakage all along the chain from well to consumer.
In this episode we discuss a study, The Gas Index, with two of its authors. It is the first study that has provided granular estimates for life cycle methane leakage for a large number of cities, and the first to draw together recent assessments of leakage within cities, including leakage that occurs within buildings. It shows that cities’ gas systems are leaking about 72% more than had been previously estimated by the EPA.
We also consider the role of natural gas in the energy transition, and some of the tradeoffs we will have to consider as we deal with the problem of methane leakage.
In this lagniappe episode, we switch roles for the first time, with Chris as the guest and Utility Dive reporter Robert Walton as our guest host. Chris summarizes some of the insights he has gained from the past five years of research and writing about electric vehicles and vehicle-grid integration, including the various methods and speeds of charging, how we manage the loads of EV charging on utility grids, the roles that utilities can play in supporting transportation electrification, how fleet managers need to start preparing to electrify their own fleets, and what it all means for the future of utility grids.
Because it’s one of our lagniappe episodes, we’re running this show in its entirety in front of the paywall, so that non-subscribers can enjoy the whole thing as well. So listen in and learn how transportation electrification has the potential to make the largest impact of all on carbon emissions globally.
China is both the greatest threat to the global climate, and, very possibly, our greatest hope for energy transition. It consumes more coal and produces more CO2 than any other nation on earth. It also has more installed capacity for wind and solar than any other nation, and the largest long-distance, high-voltage electricity transmission grid. It has more electric vehicles and more high speed rail than any other country. And it produces more steel, and cement, and housing, and just about everything else. If the energy transition is to be a success, it cannot happen without China.
But China remains opaque to non-Chinese speakers, and its conflicting information and narratives confound Western journalists. What is the actual trajectory of energy transition in China? Is it building more coal plants than anyone else… or is it leading the world in building wind and solar? What if the answer is… both? And can it meet its new target to get to net-zero emissions by 2060?
In this episode, expert Lauri Myllyvirta of the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air joins us to share his extensive research on coal and air pollution in Asia, with a focus on his insights into what is really happening in China.
What will the Biden-Harris administration mean for America’s energy transition, its relationship with the rest of the world, and for global action on climate? Beyond everybody’s policy wish lists, what’s actually likely to happen, and what do this administration’s top priorities need to be to put the U.S. back on track with climate action?
In this episode, we look at the realpolitik of the current situation, and weigh up the challenges that face us in rebuilding America, as well as what it will take to restore our relationship with the rest of the world and show leadership on climate and energy transition once again. And we consider what the staffing of the new administration can tell us about what kind of character it will have, and what the Cabinet’s policy priorities are likely to be.
In this final episode of 2020, we turn the page and look forward to putting America back on track, and getting back to some semblance of normal life again.