The IPCC published the final part of its Sixth Assessment (“AR6”), the Working Group III report, on April 4, 2022. The IPCC's Working Group III report contains assessments of how the energy transition can reduce emissions in the context of an updated outlook for global warming. Together, the three reports of AR6 comprise over 6,000 pages of material, so we have chosen to focus our coverage on the Working Group III report, which we present in two episodes.
In this first episode on AR6, we speak with one of the lead authors of the Working Group III report, energy researcher Benjamin Sovacool of the University of Sussex. We discuss some major advances in AR6 over the AR5 report of eight years ago; the gaps between our national climate action ambitions, what is really needed to limit warming to 1.5 or 2°C, and some ways that those gaps can be closed; how market-based financial approaches can be harnessed to reduce carbon; the importance of equity and “just transition” strategies; the challenge of path dependency and technology lock-in; how political economy can inhibit taking action on climate; the roles that non-government actors and individuals can play in the transition; and the various ways of decarbonizing transportation and providing better low-carbon mobility.
Our second episode on AR6, Episode #173, will review the updated figures for the remaining carbon budget, and consider the pathways and probabilities for limiting warming to 1.5 and 2°C.
Ever since Russia invaded Ukraine, policymakers and energy professionals alike have been challenged to figure out how Western countries could stop funding Russia’s war machine by halting imports of their fossil fuels. But, considering that Russia is the world’s largest exporter of oil, halting imports is simply not something that can be done quickly.
It is, however, something that must be done as quickly as possible. Numerous proposals and plans have been put forward to outline how various countries could displace the need for Russian energy exports. And generally, those proposals amount to accelerating the energy transition.
In this episode, we delve into some of those proposals and try to understand how much of a role they could play in displacing Russian fossil fuel exports, how long these measures will take, and how the entire global arrangement of trade and political alliances may have to be rearranged to accommodate them.
We tackle this huge topic in a two-hour conversation with three experts. To represent how Europe could proceed, we welcome back to the show Tim Gould of the International Energy Agency (IEA). To represent the UK perspective, we welcome back to the show Simon Evans of Carbon Brief. And to represent the US perspective, we welcome to the show Rachael Grace, Senior Director of Policy at Rewiring America.
Scholarship on the energy transition has given a good deal of attention to battery storage, because it can help make variable renewables more dispatchable over longer periods of time, and because it’s a core part of electric vehicles. Numerous models have projected that we’ll need a very large amount of battery storage starting several decades from now, when renewables approach 80% of grid power supply, meaning long-duration and seasonal storage will become more necessary.
But what if that isn’t true? Many of those models assume that heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) loads, which account for about half of total power demand, will need to be met by electricity stored in batteries. But what if we could provide heat directly, by saving or recovering waste heat, and then using it as heat, without going through the conversions (and energy losses) of converting heat to electricity and then back to heat? What if using waste heat and other low-temperature sources were actually a far more efficient way to meet those demands?
In this episode, we discuss thermal storage for the first time on this show, to understand the state of the art and its potential, as well as where much more research on thermal storage is needed. Our guest is Daniel Møller Sneum, a postdoctoral researcher from Technical University of Denmark, an expert on thermal and district energy who wrote his PhD about flexible district energy systems. We’ll only scratch the surface of the thermal storage topic in this episode, but we hope that it helps our listeners begin to learn about this important and badly under-studied sector.
We know energy transition is needed to achieve our climate goals - 1.5˚ or some increasingly dire impacts are on the table. We know the transition is technically possible, economically affordable, and pragmatically doable. We know the policies needed to get the transition done. We know the opponents of transition and how to win against them.
Despite all that we know, there are a lot of unanswered questions about the feasibility of energy transition from a historical and empirical perspective. Can the transition happen fast enough? For each fuel source? In every country?
Our guest in this episode, Dr. Jessica Jewell of the Center for Climate and Energy Transformations at the University of Bergen in Norway, has done extensive research on the feasibility of energy transition. She is also closely involved with the climate scenarios that have been used in the IPCC modeling and is exceptionally well-qualified to help us understand the feasibility question. We discuss research she has co-authored on the speed of solar, wind and nuclear adoption, as well as the speed of phasing out fossil fuels to see if those things are happening quickly enough to limit warming to 1.5°C. We’ll also ask whether the scenario modeling that has been done to date is really what is needed to get a handle on these questions, and how to improve it.
Everyone understands that storage will play an important role in the energy transition, as we move from conventional thermal power plants that can be dispatched at will to energy systems predominantly supplied by variable renewables.
But important questions remain: how much storage will be needed? What type of storage is best? When will storage be most important? There hasn’t been a lot of great scholarship on these practical implications for deploying storage across the grid so far, but a multi-year project called the Storage Futures Study that was just completed by researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) advances the literature considerably. The seven component reports of the Storage Futures Study explore when and where a range of storage technologies are cost-competitive, depending on how they're operated and what services they provide for the grid, as well as the role and impact of relevant and emerging energy storage technologies in the US power sector across a range of potential future cost and performance scenarios through the year 2050.
In this episode, we’re joined by Nate Blair, principal investigator of the study, to explain its findings and how their modeling was done. Nate is the Group Manager of the Distributed Systems and Storage Analysis group at NREL, and draws upon almost 30 years of experience in energy systems modeling and energy analysis, including nearly two decades of work at NREL where he held roles developing the System Advisor Model and PVWatts system modeling tools, as well as the ReEDS electric grid planning model. He has deep expertise in this type of modeling and walks us through all of the findings of this important new study.
More than a half a trillion dollars in green bonds were issued in 2021, raising hopes that investment into the energy transition and climate change solutions is finally starting to approach the scale that it needs to have to halt global warming. But how green is green?
In this episode, we speak with Christa Clapp, the co-founder of CICERO Shades of Green, a market leader in external reviews (also known as ‘second opinions’) of green bonds and companies. Fund managers and other investors can use these ratings to sort out the ‘light green’ from the ‘dark green’ (or the not green at all) and decide whether an investment meets their eligibility criteria and is likely to have a real impact on climate change.
As the energy transition continues to accelerate, it’s more important than ever that we update our models—both our empirical and mental models—of where we’re heading. Things that we used to take for granted, like oil and gas demand increasing every year, are no longer assured. And governments the world over are gradually tightening their restrictions on fossil fuel use and emissions, so it’s important to keep our data on climate policies and pledges current.
In this episode, we are joined by Christophe McGlade, Head of the Energy Supply Unit at IEA, to discuss the latest updates to the IEA’s Announced Pledges Scenario in light of the pledges announced at the COP26 conference in November 2021. We also revisit IEA’s other main scenarios, and review what the world needs to do to put us on a trajectory to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees. Other topics covered in this interview include an exploration into the gap between what emissions scenarios imply about stranded fossil fuel assets and how the oil and gas industry is actually proceeding with the blessing of governments; the role of the oil and gas industry in the energy transition; the role of negative emissions technologies in the IEA’s scenarios; and the IEA’s plan to make more of its data available for free.
Oil prices are at a 7-year high, with demand getting back toward pre-pandemic levels as the world attempts to restore economies from the impacts of covid. Oil & gas companies are feeling bullish for the first time in years, forecasting strong demand for their product for decades to come, despite the pressures of energy transition and increasingly strong climate policies. In fact, they’re bold enough to blame high oil and gas prices on the energy transition, and using those prices as an argument against it. So are they right? Or are they simply in denial about the future of their business?
In this episode, Bloomberg energy opinion columnist Liam Denning returns to sort through the various factors that are working for and against continued investment in the oil and gas sector, to understand just how much the energy transition is affecting the ever-changing outlook for their business. We also discuss the tight and delicate balance between supply and demand at this point in time, and consider where it might be going in the coming years, particularly in light of climate policy targets.
This is our deepest dive into oil and gas to date, so don’t miss it!
The energy transition is about much more than just switching one fuel for another—like replacing coal with renewables. Transition happens in the context of our societies, which are strongly influenced by the economic interests of various actors and their political power; aspects of global trade; and the impact of those technologies on the ecological environment. And ultimately, these facets of the transition can have even more influence over the outcome than the characteristics of technologies themselves. We could have the best energy transition solutions in the world, but if we can’t get them actually deployed because incumbents on the losing end of energy transition resist, the transition will fail.
One way we can understand those influences is by looking at their histories, as well as their contemporary political economies. But these aspects of the energy transition haven’t received nearly as much attention or study as the technologies themselves, so we're taking a look in Episode #164.
In this episode, we speak with Peter Newell, a researcher at the University of Sussex in the UK, about his new book titled Power Shift: The Global Political Economy of Energy Transitions. It offers a helpful, five-part framework for understanding the political economy of the energy transition, and draws upon history, academic literature, the author’s own experience with renewable energy projects, as well as other sources to offer some useful insights about the forces that resist the energy transition, as well as how to make the energy transition a success—not only in economic terms, but also in terms of environmental and social justice.
This is the second part of our nearly four-hour interview with Professor Thane Gustafson on his new book, Klimat: Russia in the Age of Climate Change, about Russia’s attitude toward climate change, and how the nation will fare in the energy transition.
In part one of this interview, which we featured in Episode #162, we discussed Russia’s oil sector. In this second part, we talk about Russia’s other energy resources, including natural gas, coal, nuclear technology, and renewables, as well as its hopes to pivot to hydrogen production for export to Europe and how it might deal with the pending European carbon border adjustment mechanism. We’ll also discuss Russia’s perspective on climate change and its role in addressing it, and wrap up the conversation with the outlook for Russia’s fortunes and climate vulnerabilities as the global energy transition and climate action proceed.