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[Episode #155] – Marine Energy

Marine energy—a collection of diverse technologies designed to capture energy from the ocean in various ways—has languished far behind more mature renewable technologies like wind, solar, and geothermal energy for decades. The reasons for its slow progress are as diverse as the technologies themselves, but there are some indications that a few of these technologies have learned from the failures of the past, and are finally becoming mature enough to reach commercial scale. Should they succeed in doing so, they offer the tantalizing potential to provide virtually limitless amounts of clean power, 24x7, using a wide variety of applications—from power supplied by cable to onshore grids, desalination of fresh water, standalone devices operating out in the deep ocean, devices that can convert the electricity they generate into synthetic liquid fuels for transportation by ship, and carbon capture technologies.

But if we are to use the marine environment sustainably, we have to do so informed by solid scientific research into the impact our technologies will have on the marine environment and its wildlife residents. Our guest in this episode is one such researcher. An oceanographer by training, with deep expertise in the environmental effects of wave and tidal energy and offshore wind installations, Dr. Andrea Copping leads a team at the Pacific Northwest National Lab (PNNL) in Richland, Washington which integrates laboratory, field, and modeling studies into a coherent body of evidence to support siting and consenting decisions. She also leads OES-Environmental, an international project on environmental effects of marine energy development around the world, under the auspices of IEA Ocean Energy Systems.

Join us in this wide-ranging discussion about the many different forms of marine energy, and how some of them might yet emerge as major players in the portfolio of energy transition solutions.

Geek rating: 5

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[Episode #154] – Japan’s Nuclear Dilemma

Japan was once the third-largest operator of nuclear power facilities in the world, but that came to a sudden end with the largest earthquake to ever hit the country on March 11th, 2011, which caused a massive tsunami that led to the meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, and then to the closure of all 54 of the country’s nuclear plants. In the decade hence, Japan has struggled to plot a new course to get its energy, see-sawing between attempts to restart the plants and relying more on coal and natural gas, while at the same time trying to improve efficiency, conserve energy, and find ways to reduce its emissions to help meet its decarbonization targets under the Paris climate agreement.

Now, the country’s leadership is taking bold steps toward building more renewables and seeking to cut back on its use of fossil fuels, while just a handful of its nuclear plants have been restarted and the future of the rest is very much in contention. It’s a confusing political landscape, and one of the most challenging cases in the world for energy transition, but it also could prove to be one of the most cutting-edge leaders, especially if it can exploit its offshore potential for renewables.

In this episode, Bloomberg reporter Stephen Stapczynski, who has reported on Japan’s energy sector for years, paints for us a coherent picture of Japan’s nuclear past, where it stands now, and how it will obtain its energy in the future.

Geek rating: 2

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[Episode #153] – Grid-forming Inverters

This one is for the power geeks!

As the energy transition proceeds, and grids have to accommodate more and more inverter-based generators like wind and solar systems, how will grid operators maintain system inertia? For that matter…what if we start operating grids without inertia?

One way to manage it is through “grid-forming inverters,” which can generate the necessary signals for conventional grid-following inverters and thus mimic the operation of synchronous generators.

In this episode, we “turn it up to 11” and speak with a researcher who has been exploring these questions at the University of Colorado in Boulder and at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), who explains how these resources might work at high penetrations of renewables on power grids, and what kinds of additional research are still needed to transform the grid to one that is friendly to inverter-based resources (or IBRs).

And if you’re not quite ready for such a technical deep dive, try listening to Episodes #119, #126, #94, and #55 (in that order) first, then try coming back to this one.

Geek rating: 11

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[Episode #152] – No Limits

Are there fundamental limits to the energy transition that will slow it down, or prevent us from decarbonizing our energy systems? Critics and skeptics of the energy transition have pointed to issues like the problems of producing key minerals, or the costs of renewable energy, or path dependency in emerging economies. Some have questioned whether renewables resources even exist in sufficient quantities to displace the existing energy system, or whether there is enough land to site the requisite new wind and solar capacity.

In this show, we tackle these questions one by one, and explain why there are no fundamental limits that will bring the energy transition to a hard stop in the decades ahead. Quite the opposite, in fact. The safest assumption now is that renewables will continue to grow exponentially, and we should be thinking about the implications of that, rather than asking how the current system can struggle to persist. We’ll also explain why the transition will actually encourage economic growth, rather than restrict it.

Our guide for this discussion is Kingsmill Bond of the Carbon Tracker clean energy think tank based in London. We review several recent reports that he and his colleagues at Carbon Tracker have produced which specifically address these questions, and show how incredibly large our resources of renewable energy and key minerals really are. We’ll also discuss why emerging economies are more likely to leapfrog over the older conventional energy systems and go straight for the new technologies of the transition.

Finally, we share a number of exciting announcements about the future direction of this show and some new features we’re making available to annual subscribers!

Geek rating: 6

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[Episode #151] – Best of ETS Vol. 1

Full Episode

We are taking a break from our usual podcast production schedule in July 2021 while Chris prepares to focus on Energy Transition Show full-time. In lieu of a regular interview, we are offering this lagniappe episode. Episode #151 is a compilation of nearly three hours of material that was previously available only to our paid subscribers, excerpted from five of our most popular conversations during the past two years.

We look forward to resuming our regular interview schedule in August, with a refreshed brand and some exciting new features for our members!

Guest #1: Dr. Glen Peters has been a Senior Researcher at the CICERO Center for International Climate Research in Oslo, Norway, for nearly ten years. His current research focuses on the causes of recent changes in carbon dioxide emission trends at the global and country level, and how these changes link to future emission pathways consistent with global climate objectives. He is particularly interested in how emission scenarios are created, interpreted, and used, and how this relates to ongoing policy discussions. He has a background in mathematics and physics.

On Twitter: @Peters_Glen
On the Web:

CICERO home page
Google Scholar page
Blog at CICERO

Guest #2: Dmitrii Bogdanov is a researcher and doctoral student at the Solar Economy Laboratory at LUT – the Lappeenranta University of Technology in Finland. For the past 5 years he has worked on renewable energy systems and energy transition. His focus is on optimal transition pathways and the role of the emerging technologies (PtX, battery storage, HVDC, electric vehicles) and new concepts (prosumers, vehicle-to-grid) in energy transition. At the Solar Economy Laboratory, he is responsible for study methodology and model development, regional studies, and global studies along with his colleagues and their professor, Christian Breyer.

On the Web: Dmitrii’s page on ResearchGate

Guest #3: Mark Lewis is Head of Climate Change Investment Research at BNP Paribas Asset Management. Previously, he was Head of Research and Managing Director at Carbon Tracker, a non-profit company based in London which publishes research on the financial aspects of climate risk. Prior to Carbon Tracker, Mark was Managing Director and Head of European Utilities Research at Barclays (2015-18), Chief Energy Economist at Kepler Cheuvreux (2014-15), and Managing Director and Global Head of Energy Research at Deutsche Bank, where he worked for 14 years until 2013. In addition to his experience as a sell-side financial analyst, Mark spent one year as Deputy Head of investor relations at E.ON at the beginning of the Energiewende, and two years as a credit analyst covering the European utility sector at Standard & Poor’s. In total, Mark has over 20 years’ experience as a financial analyst covering global energy and environmental markets.

On Twitter: @MCL1965
On the Web: Mark’s page at BNP Paribas

Guest #4: Kingsmill Bond is the Energy Strategist for Carbon Tracker, a London-based clean energy think tank. He believes that the energy transition is the most important driver of financial markets and geopolitics in the modern era. Over a 25 year career as an equity analyst and strategist at institutions such as Deutsche Bank, Sberbank and Citibank, he has researched emerging markets, the shale revolution and the impact of US energy independence. At Carbon Tracker, he has written about the impact of the energy transition on financial markets, domestic politics and geopolitics, and authored a series of reports on the myths of the energy transition, looking at the many arguments made by incumbents to deny the reality of change.

On Twitter: @KingsmillBond

On the Web: Kingsmill’s page at Carbon Tracker

Guest #5: Jeffrey D. Sachs is a University Professor and Director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University, where he directed the Earth Institute from 2002 until 2016. He is also Director of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network and a commissioner of the UN Broadband Commission for Development. He has been advisor to three United Nations Secretaries-General, and currently serves as an SDG Advocate under Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

On the Web: jeffsachs.org

Geek rating: 5

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[Episode #150] – Resilient and Reliable Power

As areas like California and Texas struggle amid wildfires, extreme freezes, high winds and other challenges, and take measures to keep the lights on, it’s worth pausing to consider what “resilient” and “reliable” grid power means from the perspective of grid planning. What, specifically, should the operators of the bulk power system do to make their grids more reliable? Do wholesale power markets need to be reformed, to internalize the costs of power shutoffs and send price signals that project developers can respond to? How can new technologies, like demand response systems and microgrids, play new roles in making grids more resilient? And at an even more fundamental level… who is the grid for, anyway? Does the grid exist to serve people, or do people exist to serve the grid?

Energy Transition Show regular Lorenzo Kristov, a grid architect of over 20 years’ experience, has been thinking deeply about these questions and shares his thoughts with us in this episode. Inverting the usual logic of grid planning, he suggests that more active participation by customers and distributed energy resources can help improve both grid resilience and reliability, while democratizing grid power and grid governance. This thoughtful, heady interview will leave even veteran grid experts with more than a few new ideas to consider!

Geek rating: 9

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[Episode #149] – Green Hydrogen and Carbon Prices

We’ve all heard about the potential of “green” hydrogen — hydrogen produced from carbon-free sources — to help decarbonize the ways we use energy by making variable renewable power from wind and solar available on-demand. The European Union is counting on green hydrogen to meet its carbon reduction goals under the Paris Agreement.

But the cost of green hydrogen is still considerably higher than the “gray” hydrogen made using fossil fuels, which currently dominates global hydrogen use. If truly carbon-free green hydrogen is going to reach price parity with its dirtier cousins, two things need to happen: production costs must fall, and some form of carbon pricing will need to increase the price of gray hydrogen, leveling the playing field.

But what carbon price can serve this purpose, and how much will the cost of producing green hydrogen need to fall? And when do these repricings need to occur for Europe to achieve its carbon reduction goals under the Paris Agreement?

Our guest in this episode, Mark Lewis, Head of Climate Change Investment Research at BNP Paribas Asset Management in Paris, shares his answers to these questions with us, using the European Emissions Trading System (ETS) as a basis.

Also in this episode: We make several exciting announcements, including announcing that host Chris Nelder will now be working full time on the podcast!

Geek rating: 5

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[Episode #148] – Energy and Emissions after COVID

What trajectory of global energy consumption and carbon emissions can we expect as the world starts to recover from the COVID pandemic in the years ahead? Will we go right back to our activities and travel habits as they were before the pandemic? Or have structural changes already taken place that put us on a different path?

In this episode, we speak with the co-head of the World Energy Outlook series at the Paris-based International Energy Agency (IEA), who helps design and direct the construction of their energy scenarios and their guidance to the world’s governments. We discuss three major reports that IEA has issued over the past six months on energy demand and emissions as a result of COVID, and have a look at how much energy demand dropped in 2020, how the fuel demand in various sectors and countries changed, and what the world might expect in 2021 and beyond.

Geek rating: 4

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[Episode #147] – Hydrogen Innovations and Applications

Hydrogen projects are under way around the world, and some of them are aiming to achieve real commercial scale. But tracking this rapidly-evolving sector is challenging, because it’s happening everywhere at once. So in this episode we build on the foundation we laid in Episodes #142 and #143, in which we surveyed the entire hydrogen sector, to focus in on some of the notable commercial projects that aim to expand hydrogen production and bring down its costs, as well as some potential applications for hydrogen. We also try to identify a bit more specifically where it has any clear advantages over other technologies.

With the help of senior hydrogen advisor Gniewomir Flis of Agora Energiewende, a German energy transition think-tank, this episode offers a look at some significant projects that are underway to expand green hydrogen production capacity, especially in Europe and the Middle East, as well as projects that aim to deploy hydrogen in everything from shipping to power generation.

Geek rating: 4

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[Episode #146] – Why Local Solar Costs Less

Conventional wisdom in the energy transition has long held that public investment should be directed toward utility-scale projects, because they’re cheaper than rooftop solar systems, kilowatt for kilowatt. Being cheaper, utility-scale systems would clearly deliver more bang for the buck.

Our returning guest in this episode, energy modeler Christopher Clack, says according to his recent modeling, the opposite is actually true — that investing more into local solar will deliver more public benefits than investing in utility-scale projects. And even more surprisingly, he says that building rooftop solar and distributed storage systems will actually result in more utility-scale solar as well, plus bring greater societal benefits such as more jobs, increased economic development, increased resilience, and more equitable access to the benefits of renewables. By modeling a dizzying set of factors simultaneously, Clack is able to show that combining many factors leads to synergistic effects that have been heretofore undiscovered in the literature… factors that we will attempt to describe in this extremely deep dive into energy modeling.

Geek rating: 9

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