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Energy Transition Show Podcasts

[Episode #194] – Materials Requirements of the Transition

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!

Geek rating: 5

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[Episode #193] – Harmonizing EU and US Climate Policies

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.

Geek rating: 2

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[Episode #192] – When is Hydrogen ‘Clean’?

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.

Geek rating: 10

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[Episode #191] – Shale’s Swan Song

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.

Geek rating: 7

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[Episode #190] – Financing Utility Scale RE in Developing Countries

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.

Geek rating: 5

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[Episode #189] – Financing the Transition

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.

Geek rating: 6

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[Episode #188] – Getting to a 100% Clean Grid

How much of a role might wind, solar, nuclear, transmission, power plants equipped with carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology, or direct air capture of CO2 play on a 100% clean power grid? Which mix of those technologies would provide the cheapest pathways to a clean grid?

And once we have met 90% of the need for grid power with clean generation, what will we need to meet the last 10% of the demand for grid power? Will it be ‘overbuilt’ wind and solar? Dispatchable geothermal, hydropower, and bioenergy generators? Seasonal storage using hydrogen or batteries? Conventional fossil-fueled plants with CO2 capture? Or might it be some mix of flexible demand technologies? Or some or all of the above?

For that matter, how certain can we even be about modeling the possible solutions years or even decades ahead? Are there solutions that might play a large role in the future but that we can’t yet model very well? How confident should we be that whatever the solutions turn out to be, we will end up with not only a grid that is completely free of carbon emissions but also one that is fully reliable?

In this episode, we speak with a senior researcher at the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) who has been researching and modeling grid power for many years. In this quite technical discussion, we review two new NREL reports that address these questions and show that producing a 100% clean power grid is not only technically feasible by a variety of pathways but also commercially feasible and ultimately, cheaper than continuing to run the fossil-fueled power grid we have today.

Geek rating: 9

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[Episode #187] – Transition in Vermont, Part 2

This is Part 2 of the first series in a new format we are piloting for the Energy Transition Show. Instead of exploring a particular topic with one guest who has a non-commercial perspective, as most of our shows so far have done, this new format aims to tell the stories about how the energy transition is proceeding in some of the places Chris visits in his travels. Through interviews with multiple local experts, including those who are working in the energy sector, we hope this new format will help to demonstrate how the unique challenges and opportunities in every place will determine its particular path through the energy transition.

We are kicking off this new show format with some stories about Vermont for a simple reason: When it comes to the energy transition, Vermont stands out as a place that punches way above its weight. It has innovated numerous policies and mechanisms to reduce its energy consumption and carbon emissions that have been emulated by other US states. And it continues to serve as a model to the rest of the country for effective energy transition strategies.

You’ll learn more about all of these accomplishments, as well as what makes Vermont such an exemplar in the energy transition, in this two-part miniseries based on interviews with eight local experts.

Part 1 was in Episode #186, in which we discussed the supply side of Vermont’s energy picture. In this second part, we look at the demand side.

Interviews with guests featured in this episode were recorded from October 11-15, 2021.

Geek rating: 4

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[Episode #186] – Transition in Vermont, Part 1

This is the first show in a new format we are piloting for the Energy Transition Show. Instead of exploring a particular topic with one guest who has a non-commercial perspective, as most of our shows so far have done, this new format aims to tell stories about how the energy transition is proceeding in some of the places Chris visits in his travels. Through interviews with multiple local experts, including those who are working in the energy sector, we hope this new format will help to demonstrate how the unique challenges and opportunities in every place will determine its particular path through the energy transition.

We are kicking off this new show format with some stories about Vermont for a simple reason: When it comes to the energy transition, Vermont stands out as a place that punches way above its weight. It has innovated numerous policies and mechanisms to reduce its energy consumption and carbon emissions that have been emulated by other US states. And it continues to serve as a model to the rest of the country for effective energy transition strategies.

You’ll learn more about all of these accomplishments, as well as what makes Vermont such an exemplar in the energy transition, in this two-part miniseries based on interviews with eight local experts.

In this first part, we talk about the supply side of Vermont’s energy picture. In the second part, we’ll look at the demand side.

Interviews with guests featured in this episode were recorded from October 11-15, 2021.

Geek rating: 4

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[Episode #185] – Designing the Mid-transition

Phasing out the old while simultaneously building up the new is always a challenge, and perhaps never more so than with the energy transition. Can we coordinate replacing fossil-fueled assets with clean, zero-carbon assets so that both systems remain functional and affordable during the transition? And how can we ensure that disadvantaged communities don’t get left behind in the process?

In this episode, we continue to explore the theme of the “messy middle” of the transition, building on our previous discussions in Episode #177 and #181. Not only should we expect a large degree of direct government intervention in the process of the transition, because it’s just too difficult and complex to leave everything up to the action of markets, it can be a welcome intervention. Someone needs to plan how to orchestrate the retirement of dirty assets with the construction of clean replacements while keeping everything running. For example: Can we leave it up to the private sector to ensure that enough gasoline filling stations stick around to meet the needs of people still driving internal combustion engine vehicles while we’re in the process of building up enough EV charging infrastructure to meet the needs of drivers who are going electric? Probably not. Some elements of the transition will be far more successful if they are planned and guided.

In this conversation, Emily Grubert points out some of the challenges of the “mid-transition,” as she and her co-author Sara Hastings-Simon call it, and how policymakers ought to be thinking about how to orchestrate it so that no one gets left behind.

 

Geek rating: 8

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