The global energy trade is enormously complex, and its geopolitical implications are vast, but they are only made more complex by energy transition. If the US exports gas to Europe and Asia, might you expect it to largely displace coal in their power plants? Think again! What will be the geopolitical ramifications on our relationship with Russia, as we send more of our gas to China and India? And as the US weans itself off of coal, and seeks to export more coal abroad, will it be stymied by energy transition in foreign countries, as well as political impediments at home?
And what of US “energy independence?” Does it mean that the US is actually self-sufficient in energy, or even just in fossil fuels, in the sense that we may not need imports anymore? And what is the value of it anyway, especially if it also means increased dependence on export markets abroad?
Tune in as we explore some of the fascinating questions about the implications of energy transition on energy trade in this interview, and be prepared to be surprised by some of our guest’s answers!
Alex Gilbert is cofounder of SparkLibrary, an energy research and data firm based in Washington, D.C. His expertise lies in cross- and inter-disciplinary analysis of energy markets and regulations, with specialties in electricity, natural gas, and nuclear power. Previously, Alex analyzed US energy markets for private sector clients at Haynes and Boone, LLP. Gilbert has a Masters of Energy Regulation and Law from Vermont Law School and actively publishes in energy policy journals.
As variable renewables gain ever-larger shares of the grid power supply mix, integrating them on the grid is raising new questions about the best ways to do it. Storage systems are one obvious answer, but their deployment as utility-scale assets is still in the early days. Right now, if a utility-scale solar plant is producing more power than the grid can use, and there isn’t a storage system available to absorb the excess, the standard procedure is to curtail the plant — just turn it off. It hurts the revenues of plant owners, but at least it won’t damage the grid.
But now there are some new ways to the problem of integrating more variable renewables: Make them flexible! Instead of always running wind and solar plants full bore, or curtailing them, just turn them down a bit. Or make them completely flexible, able to ramp up and down at will, after deliberately providing enough room on their host grids to allow that.
Our guest in this episode is an expert on the subject who has helped the California Independent System Operator, or CAISO, think about new, flexible modes of operation for solar plants. It’s a very geeky and oftentimes technical interview, but we know the grid geeks who listen to this show will love it!
Arne Olson is a Senior Partner with E3, an energy consultancy based in San Francisco. He’s an expert in bulk electric system operations and the investment needs brought about by expanding clean and renewable energy production. He has consulted extensively for utilities, electricity system operators, asset owners, project developers, electricity consumers, and regulators. In 2013 he led the technical analysis and drafting of the landmark report, Investigating a Higher Renewables Portfolio Standard for California, prepared for the five largest utilities in California, documenting the challenges of and solutions for achieving a 50 percent renewable grid in California by 2030. Arne has 25 years of experience in energy analysis, and he is a frequent speaker at energy conferences on the role renewable energy will play in decarbonizing the grid. Prior to joining E3 in 2002, he served for six years in the Energy Policy Division of the Washington State Energy Office and its successor agencies.
Are investments in energy transition, especially for public dollars in the form of incentives or subsidies, worth it? Do investments in energy efficiency truly pay off, or does efficiency just make energy cheaper because we’re using less of it, encouraging customers to use more of it—a phenomenon known as the rebound effect, the backfire hypothesis, and the Jevons Paradox? Is public support for rooftop solar systems worth it, once we add up all its costs and benefits, or would it be better to support utility-scale solar projects, or something else entirely, like efficiency? Do wind and solar farms, and electric vehicles, always deliver climate benefits, or does it depend on the power mix of the grid to which they’ll be connected? And even if we determine answers to these questions, for how long are those answers valid?
These are all difficult questions, but our guest in this episode has investigated all of them, and she shares her insights at length in this wonky but accessible discussion. If you worry that the rebound effect might mean efficiency isn’t worth it, you definitely need to listen to this one.
Dr. Inês M.L. Azevedo is Full Professor in the Department of Engineering and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University, where she is the PI and co-Director for the Climate and Energy Decision Making Center. Her research interests focus on how to transition to a sustainable, low carbon, affordable and equitable energy system, combining engineering and technology analysis with economic and decision science, and she has published extensively on those subjects.
If you wanted to build a standalone microgrid in Africa, powered by local renewable resources, and make it reliable enough to run a neonatal intensive care clinic, how would you do it? Work through a development bank like the World Bank to get funding? Work with the government in the host country to manage the funds and the project? Build it around lithium-ion batteries? Use Western contractors to do the installation?
In this episode, we learn how Michael Liebreich, the founder of Bloomberg New Energy Finance, helped create a successful project in Sierra Leone by doing none of those things. His experience is full of useful and surprising lessons, and offers a very interesting model for other aspiring renewable microgrid project developers. We’ll also talk with him about his insights on energy transition as one of its veterans, including his experience in trying to transition London to use more electric transportation, as well as his views on career direction and diversity in the energy industry.
Michael Liebreich is Chairman and CEO of Liebreich Associates, but he is perhaps best known as Founder and Senior Contributor to Bloomberg New Energy Finance – the world’s leading provider of information and research on clean energy and transport. He is a Visiting Professor at Imperial College, a member of the UK Department for International Trade’s Capital Investment Advisory Board and most recently joined Sustainable Development Capital LLP (SDCL) as a Senior Adviser. Previously, he was a board member of Transport for London and a member of the high-level group for the UN’s Sustainable Energy for All initiative. Michael currently serves on numerous advisory boards, is speaker, writer, philanthropist, and occasional angel investor. Michael also skied for Great Britain at the 1992 Albertville Olympics.
If you wanted to design a set of policies that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, right now, where would you start? How would you figure out which sectors of the economy to target in order to have the maximum impact? Which policies would you choose? How would you go about designing them?
And which sectors of the economy would you target in order to reduce emissions the most? Transportation, maybe? Improving the efficiency of our buildings? Would you believe those two sectors rank at the very bottom of the list?
In this episode, we interview one of the authors of a new book by Energy Innovation titled Designing Climate Solutions, which is like a how-to manual for climate policy, identifying the major sectors of the economy that we should target to eliminate as much greenhouse gas as quickly as possible, and the specific policies that can achieve those reductions. We guarantee you will find some surprises in this one!
Robbie Orvis is the Director of Energy Policy Design at Energy Innovation and a co-author of their new book, Designing Climate Solutions. Robbie works on the Energy Policy Solutions and Power Sector Transformation programs, where he conducts analysis on which policies can best meet climate and energy goals, including co-leading a project for the Chinese government providing policy guidance for its 13th Five Year Plan and climate strategy. Robbie’s power sector work focuses on policy design for wholesale electricity markets and energy efficiency programs. Robbie holds a Master of Environmental Management from Yale University and a B.S. from UC Berkeley.
Germany gets a lot of criticism for its Energiewende (energy transition). For not phasing out coal quickly enough. For paying “too much” for solar early in the worldwide solar boom they helped create. Why are they phasing out nuclear at a time when the rest of the world is trying to maintain their existing nuclear capacity because it’s carbon-free? For having the highest electricity prices in Europe. Surely these are all signs that its energy transition has been a failure, right?
To the contrary: Germany’s energy transition is proceeding along on plan and on schedule; they plan to phase out their coal entirely in just four years; and they plan to run their entire grid on renewables. Germans’ energy bills are about on par with those of Americans, and the transition enjoys widespread popular support. Our guest in this episode directs a think tank in Berlin that aims to make the Energiewende a success, and explains why the critics are wrong.
Dr. Patrick Graichen is the Director of Agora Energiewende, a think tank and policy laboratory based in Berlin that develops scientifically based and politically feasible approaches for ensuring the success of the German energy transition. Previously, Dr. Graichen served at the Federal Ministry for Environment and was the Head of the Unit for Energy and Climate Change Policy, where he was in charge of negotiating the design of the economic instruments of the Kyoto Protocol, the Integrated Energy and Climate Programme of the Federal Government (2007), the EU’s Climate and Energy Package (2008), as well as the legislative procedures in the area of the energy law. He has studied economics and political science, and holds a Ph.D. in municipal energy policy at the Interdisciplinary Institute for Environmental Economics, University of Heidelberg.
For large corporations, especially those in the industrial sector, buying renewable energy, reducing consumption and becoming more sustainable are surprisingly difficult things to do. Industries like manufacturing, mining, construction, and producing raw materials like cement are all extremely energy intensive, and in many cases, there simply are no good alternatives to using conventional processes based on fossil fuels.
But that doesn’t mean that businesses engaged in those industries can’t find ways to start reducing their own carbon footprints, investing in renewables, investing in research and development into ways of doing more with less, and sharing their knowledge with their peers, in order to accelerate the progress of entire industries. In this episode, we talk with a company that might at first glance seem like an unlikely one to be pursuing sustainability efforts, but which is establishing itself as a leader in corporate sustainability strategies: Ingersoll Rand, a mid-sized manufacturer operating in construction, mining, industrial and commercial markets. You may be surprised at how much they are able to do to become more sustainable and integrate more renewable energy into their operations.
Scott Tew is the founder of the Center for Energy Efficiency & Sustainability at Ingersoll Rand (CEES) which supports all of the company’s strategic brands — Club Car, Ingersoll Rand, Trane and Thermo King — and is responsible for forward-looking sustainability initiatives aimed at transitioning to more efficient and climate-friendly solutions, and minimizing resource use within company facilities. Tew serves as a thought leader in linking public policy, economic impacts and a value-stream approach to sustainability. He holds graduate and undergraduate degrees in environmental science and ecology from Livingston University.
This episode features something a little different: Chris is the interviewee, and our guest is the interviewer. Dr. David Murphy, a professor of environmental studies at St. Lawrence University, returns to the show to interview Chris about energy transition in this live event, which was held at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, on February 13, 2018. This was a fun, loose, casual conversation that newcomers to the subject of energy transition should find very accessible.
Dave is working on a textbook about energy transition for his classes, and based on that work, he framed up our conversation around what he sees as some of the key principles of energy transition, which he identifies as follows: Foster resilience, save first, energize people, embrace fair market power, renewable and net energy positive, and match means with ends.
We’d like to thank Devin Moeller, a subscriber to the show and an instructor in the Department of Geography & Environmental Studies at UCCS, for organizing the event and inviting us to participate.
Dr. David Murphy is an Associate Professor of Environmental Studies at St. Lawrence University. His scholarship examines the intersection of energy, the environment and economics with a focus on energy transition – broadly defined. His past work has included energy and environmental policy work for various agencies within the federal government, as well as net energy analysis work within academia. Much of Dr. Murphy’s recent research is focused on the energy transition, with a forthcoming textbook called “Renewable Energy in the 21st Century.” Dr. Murphy was previously a faculty member at Northern Illinois University and a research associate with Argonne National Laboratory.
If you owned a building, or a long-term lease on a commercial space, would you rather shop for your own building infrastructure—things like HVAC systems—or would you rather buy it as a subscription service from a trusted utility or power provider? Our guest in this episode offers the latter, and it’s an intriguing model for how we might upgrade the equipment for commercial and industrial buildings. There are reasons why 68% of the HVAC equipment in commercial buildings in the US is nearly three decades old and in need of replacement, and those reasons are about the cost, complexity, and difficulty involved in that kind of procurement. Wouldn’t it be better if you could call up your local utility and ask them to upgrade your equipment, using their network of trusted and reputable equipment experts and installers, and then just paid them a small amount for the use of that equipment every month, rather than having to pay thousands of dollars for it up front and taking all of the performance risk upon yourself? From high-efficiency lighting, to HVAC controls and sensors, to other energy-consuming building equipment, Sparkfund offers a subscription approach to procurement backed by a no-risk guarantee, which could unlock a huge opportunity to improve the efficiency of our commercial and industrial building systems more quickly than we do under the status quo.
Pier LaFarge is the Founder and CEO of Sparkfund, and is an experienced entrepreneur and changemaker. At ICF International, he co-founded a new ICF service offering focused on energy efficiency finance strategy. Pier also has experience in financial analysis, working on a major evaluation of loan financing modalities employed by the World Bank under its Climate Investment Fund program. In 2010, he founded Race to Replace, a statewide clean energy focused voter registration campaign in Vermont in partnership with League of Conservation Voters.
What are community choice aggregations, or CCAs, and why are they suddenly playing such a huge role in wholesale power markets? Since the first one launched in California in 2010, it was followed by Sonoma Clean Power in 2014, Lancaster Choice Energy in 2015, and both CleanPowerSF and Peninsula Clean Energy in San Mateo County in 2016. And now, in 2018, CCAs have taken a major share of power procurement in California, which is growing rapidly: There are now 16 CCAs across 18 counties in California, which currently provide about 12% of the state’s electricity, and by the middle of next year, they are expected to serve 40% of utility customers in California. They’re also spreading beyond California, to five other states, with another eight expected to launch in 2018 alone.
And while that’s great for local control of power procurement, it’s also causing concern: As customers have defected from investor owned utilities to CCAs in California, utility investment in large wind and solar plants in the states has crashed. And the state regulator is now worrying about whether future power procurement will be adequate, and whether CCAs will have sufficient oversight. But there is more to the story, and our guest in this episode is well equipped to address the many questions swirling around the role of CCAs in power markets, having been one of the people responsible for launching them!
Samuel Golding, President of Community Choice Partners, is a technical consultant and political organizer who has been focused on the Community Choice Aggregation market for the past 8 years, primarily in California. He was previously the Managing Director of Local Power Inc. — the consultancy which created Community Choice — and also a Senior Energy Analyst at KEMA, Inc.. As a consultant, Samuel’s clients represent the diversity of stakeholders that comprise the Community Choice industry, and have included operational Community Choice agencies, public power utilities, some of the largest municipal governments in California, labor unions, and social and environmental justice nonprofits. As a political organizer, he was instrumental in defeating Pacific Gas & Electric’s anti-CCA ballot initiative Proposition 16 in 2010, and since that time has served in a volunteer capacity on the Sierra Club California’s Energy and Climate Committee and the California Alliance for Community Energy.