[Episode #135] – Internalizing Climate Risk

Climate change poses a host of risks to the global economy. From ‘natural’ disasters causing property damage, to climate mitigation measures rendering fossil fuel assets unburnable, to potential impacts of climate change on agricultural production, energy, food, insurance, real estate, and other sectors, it’s clear that private sector companies and all kinds of investments stand to suffer significant losses as a consequence of climate change.

Yet few regulations exist to require these risks to be recognized on balance sheets, or disclosed to investors, unlike many other everyday risks that are subject to such disclosure and protection. A home built in a floodplain and destroyed in a flood, or at a wildland interface and destroyed by a wildfire, has not seen its cost of insurance go up to reflect the rising risk of another loss due to climate change. Pension funds have not been required to evaluate the risk of their investments in oil, gas, and coal companies losing value due to future restrictions on carbon emissions. And entities like the U.S. Federal Reserve have been free to continue lending to fossil fuel producers even as they warn about the damage that climate change is doing to the global economy.

Clearly, it is long past time to recognize the risk of climate change across all sectors of the economy. We must begin implementing ways of measuring those risks, testing portfolios for their risk tolerance, divesting public money from the fossil fuel sector, and start implementing economy-wide ways of pricing carbon emissions.

To that end, in 2019 the U. S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) formed the Climate-Related Market Risk Subcommittee, and tasked it with producing a report to consider what climate-related risks might be; examine whether adequate information about climate risks is available; identify any impediments to evaluating and managing climate-related financial and market risks; ask whether the market can do a better job of integrating climate-related scenarios and use them to stress-test investments; incorporate disclosures of climate risk into financial and market risk assessments and reporting; identify how risks can be managed and disclosed in order to protect the stability of the financial system; and ensure that information about climate-related financial and market risks are internalized into the market.

On September 9, 2020, that report was released. In this episode, we speak with the chairman of the subcommittee, Bob Litterman, founding partner and Risk Committee Chairman of Kepos Capital. Bob has had a decades-long career in risk management, and has been a champion of recognizing and integrating climate risk for many years. We’ll ask him about what the report says, why it’s important, and how its findings might be used to integrate awareness of climate risk into financial metrics and enterprise governance.

Geek rating: 6

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[Episode #134] – Storage Grows Up

Battery storage in the US has grown ten-fold in just five years, and its growth is only accelerating. Just a single utility procurement announced in May of this year was for four times as much utility battery capacity as existed in the entire US five years ago.

But battery storage isn’t just getting bigger. It’s also stretching well beyond utility-scale frequency control into new applications and market segments. In fact, fully one-third of the installed battery capacity in the US now is actually on the customer side of the meter, where it is being used to do things like mitigate demand charges and provide resilience—for example, allowing a microgrid to keep functioning when grid power is shut off in a wildfire event.

And then there are all the other kinds of non-battery storage, which are finding new momentum as well. It’s an exciting time of rapid evolution in the storage sector. To help us understand it all, Jason Burwen, the Vice President of Policy at the Energy Storage Association who last joined us back in Episode #8, returns to the show for this very wonky but highly informative look at the changing market, policy environment, and technologies of storage.

Geek rating: 9

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[Episode #133] – Stranded Assets

A decade ago, it was very conventional for asset managers to have exposure to the oil and gas sector as part of a diversified portfolio. Calls for them to divest from carbon assets because climate policy could render fossil fuel reserves unburnable mostly fell on deaf ears. But now the oil & gas sector has turned in a decade of underperformance, vaporizing tens of billions of dollars and becoming the worst-performing sector in the world. Now banks, asset managers, and even oil operators have now joined the ranks of those worrying aloud about the increasing risk of stranded assets. Now, the warnings about stranded assets are converging with calls for companies and investors to apply ESG filters to their activities, and investors are demanding divestment from carbon-heavy assets.

One think-tank saw all this coming: Carbon Tracker. In fact, they put the concept of stranded fossil fuel assets on the map over a decade ago. In this episode we speak with its founder, Mark Campanale, about what investors have learned from the experience of the past decade, what they still need to do going forward, and some of the more interesting efforts that are under way to encourage divestment from carbon and reorient capital toward energy transition solutions.

Geek rating: 7

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[Episode #132] – The Future of Solar

How did the solar industry grow up so quickly over the past 15 years, and what does its future look like? In this episode, we talk with the founder of the solar team at Bloomberg New Energy Finance, who’s had a front-row seat to the industry’s development, about the many booms and busts it has seen over the past 15 years, and about what we should expect from the sector going forward. Does solar need a big new innovation to keep growing and displacing fossil-fueled power plants, or does it just need to keep going on its existing trajectory? How much cheaper can solar get? For that matter, is continuing to get cheaper even desirable? And how much can solar do to help lift the developing world out of poverty? We answer these and many more questions in this episode.

Geek rating: 5

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[Episode #131] – Decarbonizing the US by 2050

Is it possible to decarbonize the economy of the United States, and get to net-zero emissions by 2050? A team of researchers from 15 countries who are part of the Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project think so, based on their deep modeling of the US economy as part of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN). We introduced this work at a high level in Episode #129, during our conversation with Dr. Jeffrey Sachs, the Director of the SDSN. In this episode, we take a deep dive into the modeling itself with one of the modelers involved in the project. We’ll look at the specific energy technologies, devices, and grid management strategies that will make decarbonization by 2050 possible, and see why they think that decarbonizing the US is not only achievable by 2050, but practical, and very, very affordable.

Geek rating: 9

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[Episode #130] – 5-Year Anniversary Show

In this anniversary episode, we welcome back Jonathan Koomey to talk about some of the interesting developments and raucous debates we have seen over the past year. We’ll consider how expectations have changed for coal and gas-fired electricity generation; we’ll discuss the changed outlook for natural gas appliances; we’ll talk about the growing support for “just transition” strategies integrating climate and environmental justice objectives to ensure that energy transition leaves no one behind; we’ll summarize the latest developments in the ongoing debate over climate scenarios; we’ll discuss some of the new models around what an 80, 90, or 100% renewable energy system might look like; and we’ll review a slew of stories about corruption investigations into legacy energy companies, several of which we first covered two and three years ago.

Geek rating: 7

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[Episode #129] – Deep Decarbonization Policy for the US

We have seen numerous models showing how a mostly- or fully-decarbonized energy system can work, but how do we actually plot a path from where we are now to a deeply decarbonized energy system in the future? What are the specific policy pathways that we need to follow? And how can we make sure that we’re making the right moves now to put ourselves on those paths?

In this episode, we speak with renowned economist Dr. Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University about why deep decarbonization must be our goal for the global economy, as well as some of the main pathways to that goal. Based on numerous studies, including the output of the multi-country Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project, as well as several major papers which are in the process of being published under the auspices of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), we discuss how energy transition is actually very affordable and practical, and will ultimately deliver a better world on numerous fronts. Dr. Sachs shares with us not only his vision for a global energy transition, but some deep insights, based on his 40 years of study, about the importance of strong leadership in achieving it, and some of the interesting parallels between this moment and the Great Depression.

Geek rating: 3

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[Episode #128] – Energy Basics Parts 7–9 – The Electricity Business and Power Markets

This episode is part of our Energy Basics mini-series. Parts 1-3 of the series can be found in Episode #119, and Parts 4-6 can be found in Episode #126.

If you have found yourself occasionally challenged to follow some of the more technical conversations we have here, or even if you just want to brush up on the fundamentals, this mini-series is for you! We hope these episodes will give you a bit more familiarity with the terms and concepts of energy, and help to fill in some of the knowledge that you were never offered in school.

Each of these three mini-episodes are about 20 minutes in length. Part 7 is available to all listeners. Parts 8 and 9 are available to full subscribers only. You can jump between each part using the chapter functionality in your podcast app.

Episode 128.1 - Energy Basics Part 7 – The Electricity Industry – The evolution of electric utilities; state regulation of utilities; utility restructuring. [00:00 to 30:19]

Episode 128.2 - Energy Basics Part 8 – Electric Utilities Today – The various kinds of electric utilities today; governance; relationship between transmission and distribution utilities. [30:20 to 59:06]

Episode 128.3 – Energy Basics Part 9 – Power Markets and Grid Balancing – How wholesale power markets work; introduction to retail electricity markets; how transmission and distribution grid operators keep supply and demand in balance. [59:07 to 1:26:34]

Geek rating: 1

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[Episode #127] – Hard-to-Decarbonize Sectors

When it comes to energy transition solutions, wind and solar and big battery projects regularly make headlines, but we don’t often hear much about the hard-to-decarbonize sectors, like aviation, shipping, trucking, cement manufacturing, and steelmaking. Reducing emissions from these sectors is challenging for a number of reasons, but we must find ways to do it, because they account for about a third of global carbon emissions. And fortunately, there is a great deal of effort now being focused on these sectors, through an array of partnerships between governments, non-governmental organizations, and private industry. In this episode, we speak with the CEO of the Rocky Mountain Institute, a clean energy “think and do tank” founded by energy luminary Amory Lovins which has been working on energy transition for the better part of four decades, about some of the ways that we can decarbonize these sectors.

Geek rating: 2

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[Episode #126] – Energy Basics Parts 4–6 – Electricity, Generation and Grid Management

This is part of our mini-series on the Energy Basics. Parts 1-3 can be found in Episode #119.

If you have found yourself occasionally challenged to follow some of the more technical conversations we have here, or even if you just want to brush up on the fundamentals, this mini-series is for you! We hope these episodes will give you a bit more familiarity with the terms and concepts of energy, and help to fill in some of the knowledge that you were never offered in school.

Each of these three mini-episodes are about 20 minutes in length. Part 4 is available to all listeners. Parts 5 and 6 are available to full subscribers only. You can jump between each part using the chapter functionality in your podcast app.

Episode 126.1 - Energy Basics Part 4 – Basics of Electricity – What electricity is; electricity units; Volts and amps; AC and DC. [00:00 to 23:51]

Episode 126.2 - Energy Basics Part 5 – Electricity Generation – How various kinds of electricity generators and power stations work. [23:52 to 55:53]

Episode 126.3 – Energy Basics Part 6 – Grid Management – How the electricity transmission and distribution systems are structured and managed. [55:54 to 1:24:54]

Geek rating: 1

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