Why have coal-mining communities continued to white-knuckle their interests in coal long after it was clear the industry was well into decline and would never come back? How were politicians able to misdirect blame toward a “War on Coal” narrative rather than economic factors?
In this episode, Jamie Van Nostrand, a longtime lawyer who has worked both for utility regulators and utility companies, sheds light on these questions. In addition to his current role as a regulator, Jamie has served as a professor of utility law and regulation in several states, including West Virginia, the poster child of coal-industry denial about the energy transition. In Jamie’s 2022 book, The Coal Trap: How West Virginia Was Left Behind in the Clean Energy Revolution, he explains how the politics of West Virginia, and the actions of coal industry proponents and lobbyists, contributed to a culture of denial about the need for a clean energy transition. This denial has come at a great cost to West Virginians, who have missed out on energy transition during a ‘lost decade’ and are now facing unnecessarily high grid power costs for many years ahead. Jamie shares his insights in this episode and explains how the situation in West Virginia can serve as a cautionary tale for other communities facing similar challenges. It’s a fascinating book, and Jamie’s explanations in this extra-long episode are illuminating.
The time may have arrived for Virtual Power Plants (VPPs) to fully realize their potential. In a VPP, groups of distributed energy resources (DERs) like EVs, batteries, and heat pumps can be managed to consume power when it is inexpensive, avoid consuming power when it is expensive, and even provide power back to the grid when supplies are limited.
While VPPs have been around for many years, operating commercially in places like Australia, the US power grid has not seen wide-scale integration. This is now changing because VPPs can help the grid do more with less - supporting new loads without requiring expensive new investments in grid expansion.
In this episode, Jigar Shah, Director of the Loan Programs Office at the US Department of Energy, joins us to share his vision of a much-expanded role for VPPs on the power grid and why he thinks the sector is ready to scale up. You’ll hear how a handful of VPPs and programs to support them have been launched in the US. You’ll also hear how the US Department of Energy is exploring ways to accelerate the development and integration of VPPs, including making financing available through Jigar’s office to support the adoption of VPP-enabled DERs under the Title 17 Clean Energy Financing program.
And because Jigar is with the Department of Energy, sharing information that should be accessible to everyone, we decided to make this one of our occasional lagniappe shows and put it in front of the paywall so that premium and free listeners alike can enjoy it. Hey free listeners, now you can see what you’ve been missing!
Most energy transition reporting narrowly focuses on technology stories. When journalists do occasionally write about energy transition policy and politics, they tend to limit the framing to a particular type of energy technology, such as drilling for oil or putting up a new wind farm.
What if this technological tunnel vision is causing us to overlook the most important aspects of the energy transition? If the most transformative and enduring aspects of transition end up being policy and investment, especially at the local level, these topics rarely get the discussion they deserve. Instead of focusing on flashy technologies like hydrogen and nuclear power, should we also give equal attention to unglamorous solutions like insulation and wider sidewalks? What if the things we need most have no natural champions in industry or political leadership? If so, who will advocate for them?
Our guest in this episode is a researcher who has thought deeply about rebalancing the energy transition conversation. Dr. Marie Claire Brisbois of the University of Sussex draws from her work on power, politics and influence to suggest important changes that we need to make to our institutions of governance and our investment strategies to realize the energy transition’s full potential. It’s a thoughtful, out-of-the-box discussion that will give you much to think about!
Is the Arctic permafrost in a warming feedback loop that will unleash a methane bomb, pushing the planet past a tipping point and into inevitable climate doom?
But the warming permafrost does release greenhouse gases, and they do matter. Understanding the Arctic permafrost's role in the global climate cycle is important. And there absolutely is alarming evidence of climate change in the Arctic, to which we must pay attention.
In this episode, permafrost researcher Dr. Gustaf Hugelius of Stockholm University explains what the best scientific evidence says about the thawing of Arctic permafrost and its significance to the climate. We also debunk some of the hyperbolic claims that have been made about it. You’ll learn why, although there are climate feedback loops acting in the Arctic, they are much more predictable and modest in effect than they have been made out to be. You’ll also learn that there are no well-defined “tipping points,” nor is there likely to be a ’methane bomb’ emerging from the permafrost.
So if you’ve been worrying that a tipping point emanating from the Arctic is going to render the whole project of climate action futile, you need to listen to this episode. It’s not so.
Energy transition skeptics continue to argue that certain critical minerals and materials, such as "rare earth" metals, place a fundamental limitation on scaling up wind, solar, storage and EVs. But is that true? Or, are these material availability doubts being expressed as a bad-faith tactic to undermine the momentum toward energy transition success?
Until now, we didn't have enough information to make a conclusion about the material demands of the transition in the context of resource estimates and production forecasts. But a recent study published in January 2023 has provided some solid answers. A group of researchers estimated future demand for 17 key clean electricity generation materials in climate mitigation scenarios, and compared these projections with available resource estimates. The study also investigated whether there are any concerns about producing enough of these critical materials to meet energy transition demand.
In this episode, one of the authors of the paper, Energy Transition Show alumnus Zeke Hausfather, walks us through the methodology and the findings, gives us the data, and shows why there don’t seem to be any important limits to material availability for the energy transition. We leave no argument unanswered in this discussion, so if you’ve been concerned about mineral availability, you won’t be when you’re done listening to it!
As the European Union and the United States work toward stronger climate policies, their two divergent approaches are creating tension. The EU has opted for a mix of rewards and penalties to incentivize green industries while also taxing carbon emissions from domestic industries - a “carrots and sticks” approach. On the other hand, the US is only offering rewards because Congress can't assemble a sufficient majority to agree on taxing carbon emissions from its industries; in other words, a carrots-only approach.
These contrasting approaches to climate policy have agitated trade discussions between the US and Europe, as shown by the recent passage of the $369 billion Inflation Reduction Act in the US, which European leaders worry might make their trade position weaker.
But another policy is now rising to the forefront as a source of trade tension: Europe's Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (or CBAM), which will impose tariffs on goods imported to Europe based on their embedded carbon emissions. The CBAM works to prevent "carbon leakage" by ensuring that European producers who pay carbon taxes won't be disadvantaged compared to others who don't.
In this conversation, we are joined by Noah Kaufman, an economist and research scholar at SIPA’s Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University who served in the White House under both President Biden and President Obama, to discuss the challenges of accounting for the embedded carbon emissions in various goods, as well as how the EU and the US can find common ground and harmonize their climate policies.
The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 introduced two tax credits to encourage the development of a domestic clean hydrogen industry in the United States. These tax credits can potentially be worth billions of dollars and are based on a sliding scale, depending on how ‘clean’ the hydrogen production is. The less greenhouse gas emitted during production, the larger the tax credit.
However, measuring and accounting for the greenhouse gas emissions from a hydrogen production facility can be complicated, especially when the electrolyzer producing the hydrogen is in a different location on the power grid from the renewable power plant that powers it. So complicated that you pretty much have to be a grid power expert to even begin figuring these calculations out.
To address such sticky questions of hydrogen production tax credit eligibility, the US Internal Revenue Service (IRS) requested comments to shape how they will measure and account for related emissions. One of the respondents was the San Francisco-based clean energy think-tank Energy Innovation, which submitted a very thoughtful, 25-page response outlining some of the key issues the IRS should understand, the criteria it should consider, and some policy recommendations, as well suggestions for preventing attempts to game the tax credit system.
In this highly technical episode, we welcome back to the show Eric Gimon, one of the Energy Innovation authors, to review their response to the IRS. And this discussion reveals not just how to ensure that the billions of dollars of tax credits will go to projects that actually reduce emissions, but also important insights about everything from how we go about building new renewable power plants, to the varying carbon intensity of the power grid, to the business case for building electrolyzers to produce green hydrogen.
Since 2007 the US transitioned from an oil production has-been that was more than four decades past its previous peak, to the world's top oil and gas producer, and the top exporter of liquefied natural gas (LNG). The shale boom delivered many benefits to the US and the world, including over a decade of reprieve from the impending threat of peak oil.
But now shale producers face numerous challenges — such as running out of decent prospects where they can drill new wells.
The implications of the US shale boom winding down are as numerous as the benefits, and it’s vitally important we understand how this shift will influence the world oil market and shape the entire project of the energy transition.
In this episode, we are joined by longtime oil journalist Derek Brower, the US Energy Editor for the Financial Times, who has been a frontline reporter through the shale boom's entire story. We recount the history of how the US fracked its shales to become the leading oil producer, and how a decade of volatile oil prices has changed the character of the oil industry, as well as the various ways we use oil. We’ll also review the headwinds the shale industry now faces and why its prospects for additional growth are dim. And we’ll consider what the end of the shale boom means for the global oil trade and its geopolitics; for the ongoing efforts to eliminate demand for Russian oil in the West; and for the energy transition as a whole.
Multilateral development banks (MDBs) like the World Bank are increasingly under pressure to invest more in renewable energy projects in emerging markets. The lack of financing for such projects is a problem at the small, distributed scale as we discussed in Episode #189, and it’s also a problem for utility-scale projects as we discuss in this episode.
In this conversation, Brad Handler, a Program Manager and Researcher at the Sustainable Finance Lab of the Payne Institute at the Colorado School of Mines who tracks various such projects and initiatives, walks us through some recent Energy Transition Mechanisms (or ETMs) and Just Energy Transition (or JET) refinancing projects that aim to close coal plants in the developing world long before the end of their expected lifespans, and replace their generation with renewable power. A former Wall Street Equity Research Analyst with 20 years of experience covering the oil sector, Brad has a deep understanding of how finance in the traditional energy sector works, giving him an excellent perspective on how energy transition financing could work. He does a wonderful job of explaining the oftentimes opaque and complex world of sustainable finance so that it’s comprehensible.
Closing coal plants remains the number-one priority globally for reducing carbon emissions. So although these are still very early days for refinancing projects, it’s worthwhile to examine how and where development banks are finally taking some real steps to accelerate the energy transition in emerging economies, derisking the sector and motivating much more conventional private sector capital to participate.
According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), almost all of the growth in global clean energy spending is happening in advanced economies and China, while the two-thirds of the global population that live in emerging market and developing economies are receiving less than one-fifth of the total. The reason? The high cost of capital.
But why is the cost of capital so much higher in emerging economies than in advanced economies? Why is it still so much harder and more expensive to finance clean energy projects than it is to finance fossil fuel projects in those countries? And what can be done about it?
In this episode, we speak with a solar project developer working in Costa Rica to try to answer these questions. Building on our previous discussion from Episode #21, we try to explain why so little progress has been made, especially by the multilateral development banks (like the World Bank), in reducing the cost of financing for renewable energy projects in emerging economies. We review the different roles that various financial institutions play in financing the energy transition, and we ask what needs to change to unlock the flow of capital into energy transition solutions (especially distributed solar). We also put the risk and reward of investing in those projects in a fresh context, and call upon banks of all kinds to start acting in more creative and ambitious ways to take bolder action and get capital deployed where it is most needed, and where it can do the most good.