[Episode #221] – Fossilflation

What causes inflation? And how is it connected to the energy transition?

Standard business press narratives often discuss inflation as if it has a mind of its own, seldom exploring its root causes. However, the connection between inflation and fossil fuel prices is both undeniable and significant. In fact, as you’ll hear at the end of today’s interview, endless interventions by the Fed may be an unavoidable consequence of the energy transition, from now until the project is complete.

So why aren’t we having a conversation about how Putin’s invasion of Ukraine ultimately led to your having to pay more for everything, as inflation was transmitted through from fossil fuels to everything else? Why did Congress give us the Inflation Reduction Act in 2022, instead of the Fossil Fuel Reduction Act? And what is the role of the Fed in the energy transition?

In this conversation, climate economist Gernot Wagner of the Columbia Business School rejoins us to help us understand the relationships between fossil fuels and inflation. We discuss why the Fed acts as it does, and we explore the Inflation Reduction Act in the US and the REPowerEU policy package in the EU, and the complex interconnections between monetary policy, industrial policy, and energy policy.

Guest:

Dr. Gernot Wagner is a climate economist at Columbia Business School. His research, teaching, and writing focus on climate risks and climate policy. Prior to joining Columbia as senior lecturer and serving as faculty director of the Climate Knowledge Initiative, Gernot taught at NYU, Harvard, and Columbia. He was the founding executive director of Harvard’s Solar Geoengineering Research Program. Prior to his time at Harvard, Gernot worked at the Environmental Defense Fund, the Boston Consulting Group, and the Financial Times. He has been a term member of the Council on Foreign Relations, a Senior Fellow at the Jain Family Institute, and is a CESifo Research Network Fellow, a Faculty Affiliate at the Columbia Center for Environmental Economics and Policy, a Member of the New York City Panel on Climate Change, a Coordinating Lead Author of the Austrian Panel on Climate Change, and he serves on the board of CarbonPlan.org.

On Mastodon: https://fediscience.org/@gwagner

On Bluesky: https://bsky.app/profile/gwagner.com

On LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/gwagner/

On the Web:  https://gwagner.com/

Geek rating: 6

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[Episode #220] – Climate Capitalism

What is the recipe for an energy transition at the scale needed to limit global warming below the crucial 2°C threshold?

Bloomberg journalist Akshat Rathi has identified some of the key ingredients, based on his interviews with ten of the world’s most influential personalities working on climate solutions. In his new book, Climate Capitalism, Akshat recounts their stories and makes a case for how capitalism and the dynamism of the private sector are essential components of the global race to zero emissions.

We take a deep dive into Rathi’s work, confronting the criticisms of capitalism, examining how its varied implementations around the world produce different results, and exploring potential reforms for improvement. We conclude by weaving in some ideas drawn from topics discussed previously on the show, including “command capitalism,” how the energy transition requires long-term planning with a system thinking perspective, and the tension between forces driving for international cooperation versus competition.

It's a thoughtful look at the state of the global energy transition from someone with a front-row seat to the investment flows around the world, and we know you’ll find it an illuminating and inspiring discussion.

Guest:

Akshat Rathi is a senior climate reporter for Bloomberg News and is the host of Zero, a weekly climate podcast for Bloomberg Green.

He has a PhD in chemistry from the University of Oxford, and a BTech in chemical engineering from the Institute of Chemical Technology in Mumbai. He has written for Quartz and The Economist, and his work has been cited in global publications including New York Times, Washington Post, New Yorker, The Guardian, Wall Street Journal and Financial Times.

On Twitter: @AkshatRathi

On LinkedIn: AkshatRathi

On the Web:  https://akshatrathi.com/

Geek rating: 4

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[Episode #219] – Nuclear Illusions

In Episode #209, we peeled back the layers on civilian nuclear power, revealing its history as a facade for the nuclear weapons industry with a corresponding legacy of deception.

Yet, the allure of small modular reactors (SMRs) has recently been touted as the nuclear industry's saving grace and a beacon of hope with the potential to sidestep a muddled past. Despite all the fanfare and substantial investments, the crumbling of prominent SMR initiatives exposes the continuation of the industry's tradition of overpromising and underdelivering, a pattern all too familiar to those who've been watching closely.

Joining us in this episode is Jim Green from Friends of the Earth Australia, a seasoned nuclear journalist with three decades of experience in critiquing nuclear energy. Jim offers an unparalleled depth of insight into the industry's persistent shortcomings and the realities behind the SMR hype. Together, we delve into the track record of conventional nuclear power, the latest trends in nuclear plant construction and retirements worldwide, and examine the companies at the forefront of the SMR push, offering a candid exploration of the nuclear power industry's claims versus its actual performance.

Guest:

Jim Green is the National Nuclear-Free Campaigner with Friends of the Earth Australia, a member of the Nuclear Consulting Group (nuclearconsult.com), and former editor of the World Information Service on Energy’s ‘Nuclear Monitor’ newsletter. He has a First Class Honours degree in Public Health and a Doctorate in Science and Technology Studies for his thesis on the debates over the replacement of Australia’s nuclear research reactor.

On Twitter: @jimgreen333

On the Web: http://nuclear.foe.org.au

Geek rating: 3

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[Episode #218] – Accelerating Decarbonization in the US

How can we accelerate the decarbonization of the entire US economy?

In this episode, we discuss the energy-related decarbonization strategies outlined in a new report from the National Academies, titled “Accelerating Decarbonization in the United States: Technology, Policy, and Societal Dimensions,” with Dr. Sue Tierney, a Senior Advisor at Analysis Group and a renowned expert in energy and environmental economics, regulation, and policy. Dr. Tierney played a key role in the Committee on Accelerating Decarbonization in the United States, which developed and coordinated this landmark study. We explore how decarbonizing the US requires much more than simply substituting renewables for fossil fuels in power generation and EVs for oil-burning cars. A broad array of solutions must be deployed, but they face numerous barriers and risks to implementation.

Trillions of dollars have been allocated for these energy and technology solutions through three significant laws passed in 2022: the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), and the Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors (CHIPS) Act. However, effectively mobilizing these funds requires willing collaboration from a diverse group of local, municipal, and state actors, including elected officials, regulators, agency staffers, as well as community and business leaders.

Listen in to learn why delivering a successful energy transition, along with a host of other benefits such as justice, equity, health, jobs, and sustainability writ large, necessitates understanding the barriers to implementation and identifying the types of policies and programs needed to keep the US on track to achieving net zero.

Guest:

Dr. Sue Tierney is a Senior Advisor at Analysis Group and is an expert on energy and environmental economics, regulation, and policy, particularly in the electric and gas industries.  Previously, she was the Assistant Secretary for Policy at the U.S. Department of Energy, and in Massachusetts, she was the Secretary of Environmental Affairs, Commissioner at the Department of Public Utilities, and head of the state’s Energy Facilities Siting Council. She currently chairs the Board of Resources for the Future and the National Academies’ Board on Energy and Environmental Systems, and serves on the boards of other NGOs and foundations.  She was a member of the National Academies’ Committee on Accelerating Decarbonization in the U.S. and the Committee on the Future of Electric Power. Her Ph.D. is in regional planning from Cornell University

On Twitter: @analysisgroup

On the Web:  Analysis Group

Geek rating: 6

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[Episode #217] – Passivhaus in Scotland

Discussions about energy transition often overlook the crucial role of reducing the energy consumed to maintain comfortable temperatures in the spaces where we live and work. Remarkably, generating heat, the largest end-use of energy, accounts for 40% of global fossil CO2 emissions, with the majority of this heat used in buildings. About half of the energy used in buildings is for their heating and cooling, and because fossil fuels still meet the bulk of heating energy demand, this contributes to about one-fourth of global energy-related carbon emissions annually.

Addressing this challenge by improving building efficiency and reducing thermal losses is arguably the most critical step we can take to facilitate the energy transition. However, strong policies or targeted programs to this end are largely absent worldwide.

A transformative solution is the adoption of the Passivhaus standard for new and existing buildings. Retrofits to meet this standard could drastically reduce energy requirements for buildings, accelerating our progress toward the energy transition.

In this episode, we are joined by Es Tresidder, a Passivhaus consultant who works with an architecture firm to advance the use of the Passivhaus standard and techniques. He walks us through the Passivhaus standard and how to meet it. He also shares the story of the ‘deep retrofit’ performed on his own house in the rainiest and coldest part of Scotland, transforming it into a home that is far healthier and more comfortable, all while significantly reducing its energy consumption.

Guest:

Dr. Es Tresidder is a Passivhaus designer based in Fort William. He works as a Passivhaus and energy specialist for John Gilbert Architects, one of the leading environmental architecture practices in the UK. His work at John Gilbert Architects currently focusses on their larger and more complex projects – Passivhaus schools, leisure centres and retrofits. Es has a PhD in low energy building design optimization, using genetic algorithms to optimize building designs for efficiency and cost. In 2023 he finished a retrofit, to Passivhaus EnerPHit standard, of his own home in Fort William, Scotland. Once certified he believes this will be the first EnerPHit of a modern timber-frame house in the UK, and potentially the world.

On Mastodon: @EsTresidder

On Twitter: @EsTresidder

On the Web:  Highland Passive

Geek rating: 2

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[Episode #216] – COP28 and the Outlook for Oil

Following from the December COP28 climate summit, we find ourselves at a pivotal juncture with the world’s governments clearer than ever about “transitioning away from fossil fuels.” Now, what is next for the oil sector and for all of us—the consumers of oil? Is COP’s sweeping announcement setting a ceiling for the global ambition on climate, or merely a floor?

As oil is phased out sector-by-sector, how can the electrification of vehicles handle demand for road transport? And what about the sectors where substitutes are still a work in progress, like petrochemicals, aviation and shipping? Is it really feasible to phase out oil completely, as we discussed with the IEA in the previous episode?

In this episode, we explore these questions with Anand Gopal, the Executive Director of Policy Research at Energy Innovation, an energy transition think tank based in San Francisco. We review the findings from several of Energy Innovation’s recent reports, we discuss the outlook for oil demand, and we get Anand’s first-person observations from this year’s COP.

Geek rating: 9

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[Episode #215] – IEA’s New Oil & Gas Outlook

In December 2023, a landmark declaration emerged from the COP28 climate conference: For the first time, the world’s climate delegates agreed that a global "transition away" from fossil fuels is essential. This historic pronouncement marked a significant shift in tone from previous climate conferences and formalized the energy transition as a global priority, underscoring the urgency of the climate crisis.

But what are the implications for the oil and gas industry? To address this question we turn to the latest analysis from the International Energy Agency (IEA), which has some clear guidance about what must be done to prevent global warming from exceeding 1.5°C above pre-industrial temperatures.

In November 2023, Chris traveled to the IEA’s headquarters in Paris, France to discuss their perspectives with two of their lead modelers: Tim Gould, the co-head of the IEA’s World Energy Outlook reports who you’ll remember from Episodes #148 and #171, and Christophe McGlade, the Head of the IEA’s Energy Supply Unit who you’ll remember from Episode #166.

In this 98-minute conversation, we focus on the IEA’s updated outlook for oil and gas, drawing on findings from their World Energy Outlook 2023, their November 2023 oil market report, their updated Net Zero Roadmap, and a new groundbreaking report, The Oil and Gas Industry in Net Zero Transitions. We explore how the energy transition is cutting into demand for oil and gas, and the serious implications for producers. We also show why the industry must pivot to working on energy transition solutions, or prepare for their own obsolescence.

Geek rating: 8

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[Episode #214] – Countering Climate Doomerism

Renowned climate scientist Dr. Michael E. Mann joins us to discuss his new book,
Our Fragile Moment: How Lessons from Earth's Past Can Help Us Survive the Climate Crisis,
and to answer some of the hottest questions in climate science discussions today:

  • Are we doomed?
  • Is the world facing polar ice breakdown if we reach the same CO2 concentrations that existed in the geological past when the planet was free of ice?
  • Is there evidence of “tipping points” in the climate system that will activate “feedback loops” of runaway warming?
  • Will the planet keep warming after our carbon emissions go to zero?
  • Was the Paris target breached when the world exceed 1.5°C of warming for some months of 2023?
  • Are climate scientists using models that underestimate future warming?
  • Is there a chance of limiting warming to only 1.5° or 2°C?

Geek rating: 8

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[Episode #213] – Offshore Wind in the UK

It’s been a difficult year for the offshore wind sector, with numerous projects and power purchase agreements getting canceled. Contracts and incentives simply haven’t kept pace with rising costs, forcing developers to shelve money-losing projects.

So is the offshore wind sector hitting a wall, or merely some temporary speed bumps on the path to a bright future?

We're think it's the latter, as do industry and government insiders.

In this episode, we take stock of the offshore wind sector, with a focus on the UK. This is our second show based on Chris’ travels to the UK in the Autumn of 2023. The first was Episode #212, about the energy transition on the Isle of Eigg. In this episode, Chris interviews two key players in the UK’s offshore wind industry, and tours a Scottish port, witnessing firsthand the foundations for a new offshore wind project being readied for installation. We also discuss the failure of the UK’s Contract for Difference (CfD) incentive auction for offshore wind this year, and its impact on the offshore wind supply chain. And we conclude with a look at what the government is doing to ensure the next auction is a success.

Geek rating: 3

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[Episode #212] – Transition in Eigg

Twenty-six years ago, on a wee island with just 65 residents off the west coast of Scotland, the seeds of a fascinating energy transition project were planted. That began a long process which ultimately made it possible for the island’s inhabitants to become the world’s first community to launch an off-grid electric system powered by wind, water and solar.

In the Autumn of 2023, Chris traveled to that island—the Isle of Eigg—to see it for himself, and interview some of the key people who were involved in making it happen. You’ll learn all about how it happened and what the island’s residents plan to do next in their pursuit of greater self-determination and self-sufficiency.

This is our second show in the new, place-based format we piloted in Episodes #186 and #187. Instead of exploring a particular topic with one guest who has a noncommercial perspective, as most of our shows have done so far, this new format aims to tell the stories about how the energy transition is proceeding in some of the places Chris is visiting in his ongoing travels as a peripatetic podcaster. There will be more episodes in this format to come, and we hope you enjoy them.

Geek rating: 4

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