[Episode #182] – 7th Anniversary Show

For our Seventh Anniversary show, energy researcher Jonathan Koomey rejoins us to review major stories over the past year, and to take stock of how the energy transition has progressed.

We talk about how the global energy crunch we covered in 2021, in Episode #158, has evolved into a full-fledged global energy crisis in 2022. We reflect on the theme of Episode #181, “Command Capitalism,” and consider the increasing interventions governments are making in energy markets to manage the crisis. We muse on the episodes we did over the past year on the trajectory and speed of the energy transition. We consider the outlook for storage systems, in light of the episodes we did on that subject. We discuss how incumbents have resisted the energy transition, as we covered in our episode on utility corruption, and ask whether incumbents are gaining or losing ground. We review the highlights of our shows on the latest IPCC report and on climate modeling. And Jon shares some of his latest work in energy modeling.

It's a smörgåsbord of energy transition goodness, so strap on a napkin and join us!

Geek rating: 8

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[Episode #181] – Command Capitalism

2022 has brought an unprecedented series of energy market interventions as leaders try to stave off domestic unrest in the face of numerous energy supply shocks. Some of the tumult we’ve seen in energy markets this year can be pinned on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and subsequent reactions by the West. But the war in Ukraine and associated sanctions really only exacerbated numerous fundamental trends that were already well established - trends that were positioning governments to take a stronger hand in their energy affairs. We are experiencing some very fundamental supply and demand problems in all sorts of energy fuels and other commodities around the world, and governments have little choice but to intervene wherever they can to maintain stability.

Where is this all taking us? Can capitalism survive the energy transition? Or are we headed into a new era?

Our guest in today’s episode has an answer: Kevin Book of ClearView Energy Partners believes we are seeing a new approach to economic management that he calls “command capitalism.” It may help us manage some of the challenges of the global energy crunch and the energy transition in a more direct way than we could through “free market” means… but it could also wrest control of our destinies away from regulators and energy ministries, with uncertain consequences.

Geek rating: 9

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[Episode #180] – Transition in Alberta

Full Episode

Alberta is the seat of the Canadian oil & gas industry, as well as a major coal producer, so it has historically struggled to align with the energy transition - focusing more on pipelines than turbines. But Alberta is changing. Now, the province has implemented numerous policies designed to support the transition, installing a significant amount of wind and solar power generation capacity. According to the Alberta Electric System Operator, 14% of the province’s electricity generation in 2020 was from renewable energy sources such as wind, hydro and solar.

In this episode, we are joined by energy expert Dr. Sara Hastings-Simon to discuss the challenges and opportunities for energy transition in Alberta. She is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy and School of Public Policy at the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada, where she directs the Masters of Sustainable Energy Development program. She is an expert in energy, innovation, and climate policy, and her work is focused on understanding how energy and industrial transitions happen within different sectors of the economy, and how policy responses can improve outcomes. She is also the co-host of the Energy vs. Climate podcast, which will run this conversation on their podcast feed as well.

We talk about the recent history of the various efforts to build pipelines and LNG facilities to export more Canadian oil and gas; the outlook for exports of hydropower; the progress of Canada’s coal phase-out; and the potential for expanding renewable generation in the province, including geothermal. Sara also shares her perspective on how Canada’s carbon tax regime has played out.

Geek rating: 5

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[Episode #179] – Offshore Wind in the US

Although offshore wind has been booming for decades in Europe, it has gotten a slow start in the US. But that’s about to change. From a single 30 MW offshore wind farm today, offshore wind capacity in the US is expected to reach 1 GW in just two years, and grow by a factor of 40 over the next two decades to 30 GW under a new target set by the US Government.

In today’s episode, we speak with Patrick Gilman, a Program Manager in the US Department of Energy's Wind Energy Technologies Office. For the past 14 years, Patrick has led a wide range of analysis, research and development, and deployment activities to help advance wind’s role in the US energy sector. We talk about the global state of the offshore wind sector; the technical and practical potentials for offshore wind in the US; how offshore wind can reduce the need for transmission capacity and balance out the production from land-based wind and solar farms; and how it can create good jobs and stimulate manufacturing. We’ll also look at some of wind's unique advantages over land-based resources, like easier paths to deploying transmission capacity. Wind might even be a good way to produce hydrogen we can use to decarbonize the hard-to-decarbonize sectors.

Join us for this comprehensive look at the present and future of offshore wind in the US. It may be the most exciting sector in energy over the next two decades.

Geek rating: 5

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[Episode #178] – How the Transition Will Unfold

The energy transition is an extremely complex undertaking, with every country, company, and individual taking action in various, largely uncoordinated ways, and often in pursuit of different targets. This has led some observers to warn that the transition will be messy, and its outcome uncertain. But is that really a problem, or just another challenge to be met and overcome?

In this episode, we speak with a researcher who has studied the history of technological innovations with a focus on the evolution of solar power. Dr. Gregory Nemet is a Professor at the University of Wisconsin where he teaches energy systems analysis, policy analysis, and international environmental policy. His research focuses on understanding the process of technological change and the ways in which public policy can affect it, and he offers some helpful insights on how the transition will unfold.

He suggests that we needn’t just plunge blindly into the uncertain future and hope everything works out, nor should we hesitate to proceed until we are confident that we have a workable plan. Rather, he believes we can have quite a lot of confidence about how to proceed, without knowing exactly what all the steps are, and without knowing exactly where we’ll end up. In any case, simply staying along our current course is not an option. We discuss the general discourse about the energy transition, where it is confused about the fundamental nature of this transition, and how it will unfold. Whether you’re a full-throated transitionista or a skeptic, this episode is guaranteed to be thought-provoking.

Geek rating: 3

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[Episode #177] – Utility Corruption

Many people don’t know their local utility could be actively working against the energy transition and in opposition to public interests. In this episode, we review the manifold ways some utilities used customer money to distort public perceptions of the facts, and to lie about their own anti-social activities. We’ll explore stories of how corrupt utilities haved blocked progress on the energy transition, refused to reduce their own emissions, and made it difficult for consumer energy resources to participate on the power grid. These elements are illustrated through reviewing several notable cases of US utility sector corruption, and hearing how activists are asking the federal government to crack down on their abuses. We’ll also learn how the public and consumer advocates can help prevent such abuses.

Geek rating: 2

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[Episode #176] – Climate Scenarios vs. Reality

Why do so many decarbonization scenarios rely on carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) to play a major role in the world's energy transition portfolio when it really doesn’t even exist as a commercial technology? Why does the IPCC's climate mitigation strategy model countries as if they would implement the same policy for carbon pricing across all sectors, when we know that’s just not how the world operates? Why do models dodge attempts to reflect the fragmented, irrational, and irregular way that the world actually works, when we know for a fact that the transition is going to be a bumpy ride into a hazy future?

If globally coordinated carbon pricing never materializes, and CCS never has a real market opportunity as our integrated assessment models assume, where will that leave us in developing meaningful policies and taking action on climate change? And why aren’t other people asking this vital question?

In this episode, Dr. Ida Sognnaes, a Senior Researcher at the CICERO Center for International Climate Research, explains how the integrated assessment models (IAMs) used in IPCC reports are constructed, what assumptions modelers make, and how the very design of IAMs can bias them toward certain outcomes—including the role of CCS as a climate mitigation strategy. She also offers further evidence that the world is currently on a trajectory for between 2 and 3 degrees of warming by the end of the century, and shares her perspective on why the climate modeling community has been so reluctant to just say that plainly.

Geek rating: 8

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[Episode #175] – Community Support and Opposition

Why do people take a NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) attitude toward hosting energy transition solutions like wind, solar farms, and transmission lines in their communities? And what can be done about it? What do project developers and community planners need to understand about why a community accepts or rejects energy transition proposals? Are there specific methods that have proven effective in earning a community’s support, and are there common missteps that are guaranteed to derail a project? And what is the role of building and planning agencies in guiding the development of community projects?

In this episode, Dr. Sarah Mills of the University of Michigan offers some answers to these questions. Not only has she researched these questions by talking to people in energy transition infrastructure host communities across the American Midwest and the Great Lakes regions, with a particular focus on rural communities, Dr. Mills also acts as the chair of her local planning commission, and tries to help local governments set policies around the development of clean energy by integrating it into their land-use planning, zoning, and other policymaking. Sarah Mills is a true expert in the field, and she offers important insights in this conversation that every renewable energy project advocate needs to hear.

Geek rating: 3

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[Episode #174] – Decarbonizing Britain’s Grid

As the energy transition proceeds and variable renewable power from wind and solar displaces conventional generators, strict operational limits for the grid's voltage, frequency, and inertia must be maintained. To do this, grid operators are increasingly procuring so-called “stability services” and making other enhancements to the grid that ensure stability.

In this episode, we take a close look at how Great Britain is undertaking this stability challenge by interviewing Julian Leslie, Head of Networks and Chief Engineer at National Grid ESO, which runs the transmission grid for the country. Not only does National Grid ESO operate the fastest-decarbonizing electricity network in the world, it has also recently achieved several important technical accomplishments for the first time in the world, including implementing cutting edge tools that allow accurate measurements of inertia across its system; using grid-forming inverters to provide synthetic inertia; and using synchronous condensers without an associated prime mover. And in another world-first achievement, the company has actually written the specification for using grid-forming inverters into its grid code.

Julian explains all of these technical concepts in today’s conversation and lays out the deliberate strategy that the company is taking to ensure that it can deliver on Great Britain’s decarbonization objectives while maintaining system stability and saving British consumers a great deal of money.

This is a highly technical episode with a Geek Rating of 9, so if you want to brush up on grid power engineering concepts first before listening to this one, you could start with our Energy Basics miniseries—in particular, Episode #126 about how power generators and the grid works—then move on to Episode #55 on voltage stability, and then Episode #153 on grid-forming inverters. Then return to this one.

Geek rating: 9

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[Episode #173] – IPCC AR6 Part 2

In this second part of our IPCC Sixth Assessment report (“AR6”) Working Group III coverage, we welcome back our friend and AR6 contributing author Glen Peters of the CICERO Center for International Climate Research. Longtime listeners will remember Glen from his explanation of the ‘carbon budget’ in Episode #57, and on the various scenarios for global warming, what they mean, and the current trajectory for climate change in Episode #112.

Glen was a lead author of AR6 Chapter 3, titled “Mitigation pathways compatible with long-term goals,” so in this episode, we discuss the latest figures for the remaining carbon budget; explore the probabilities for limiting warming to 1.5 and 2°C, and we consider the changing views on the role of direct carbon dioxide removal (CDR) and carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) as parts of the climate toolkit. Glen also gives us a very helpful explanation of some of the new terms and metrics used in AR6, such as the Illustrative Mitigation Pathways (IMPs), the warming Classification levels (C1-C8) and the other policy scenarios.

This is super-geeky but essential-to-understand stuff for anyone working on climate policy!

Geek rating: 8

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