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[Episode #130] – 5-Year Anniversary Show

In this anniversary episode, we welcome back Jonathan Koomey to talk about some of the interesting developments and raucous debates we have seen over the past year. We’ll consider how expectations have changed for coal and gas-fired electricity generation; we’ll discuss the changed outlook for natural gas appliances; we’ll talk about the growing support for “just transition” strategies integrating climate and environmental justice objectives to ensure that energy transition leaves no one behind; we’ll summarize the latest developments in the ongoing debate over climate scenarios; we’ll discuss some of the new models around what an 80, 90, or 100% renewable energy system might look like; and we’ll review a slew of stories about corruption investigations into legacy energy companies, several of which we first covered two and three years ago.

Geek rating: 7

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[Episode #129] – Deep Decarbonization Policy for the US

We have seen numerous models showing how a mostly- or fully-decarbonized energy system can work, but how do we actually plot a path from where we are now to a deeply decarbonized energy system in the future? What are the specific policy pathways that we need to follow? And how can we make sure that we’re making the right moves now to put ourselves on those paths?

In this episode, we speak with renowned economist Dr. Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University about why deep decarbonization must be our goal for the global economy, as well as some of the main pathways to that goal. Based on numerous studies, including the output of the multi-country Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project, as well as several major papers which are in the process of being published under the auspices of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), we discuss how energy transition is actually very affordable and practical, and will ultimately deliver a better world on numerous fronts. Dr. Sachs shares with us not only his vision for a global energy transition, but some deep insights, based on his 40 years of study, about the importance of strong leadership in achieving it, and some of the interesting parallels between this moment and the Great Depression.

Geek rating: 3

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[Episode #128] – Energy Basics Parts 7–9 – The Electricity Business and Power Markets

This episode is part of our Energy Basics mini-series. Parts 1-3 of the series can be found in Episode #119, and Parts 4-6 can be found in Episode #126.

If you have found yourself occasionally challenged to follow some of the more technical conversations we have here, or even if you just want to brush up on the fundamentals, this mini-series is for you! We hope these episodes will give you a bit more familiarity with the terms and concepts of energy, and help to fill in some of the knowledge that you were never offered in school.

Each of these three mini-episodes are about 20 minutes in length. Part 7 is available to all listeners. Parts 8 and 9 are available to full subscribers only. You can jump between each part using the chapter functionality in your podcast app.

Episode 128.1 - Energy Basics Part 7 – The Electricity Industry – The evolution of electric utilities; state regulation of utilities; utility restructuring. [00:00 to 30:19]

Episode 128.2 - Energy Basics Part 8 – Electric Utilities Today – The various kinds of electric utilities today; governance; relationship between transmission and distribution utilities. [30:20 to 59:06]

Episode 128.3 – Energy Basics Part 9 – Power Markets and Grid Balancing – How wholesale power markets work; introduction to retail electricity markets; how transmission and distribution grid operators keep supply and demand in balance. [59:07 to 1:26:34]

Geek rating: 1

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[Episode #127] – Hard-to-Decarbonize Sectors

When it comes to energy transition solutions, wind and solar and big battery projects regularly make headlines, but we don’t often hear much about the hard-to-decarbonize sectors, like aviation, shipping, trucking, cement manufacturing, and steelmaking. Reducing emissions from these sectors is challenging for a number of reasons, but we must find ways to do it, because they account for about a third of global carbon emissions. And fortunately, there is a great deal of effort now being focused on these sectors, through an array of partnerships between governments, non-governmental organizations, and private industry. In this episode, we speak with the CEO of the Rocky Mountain Institute, a clean energy “think and do tank” founded by energy luminary Amory Lovins which has been working on energy transition for the better part of four decades, about some of the ways that we can decarbonize these sectors.

Geek rating: 2

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[Episode #126] – Energy Basics Parts 4–6 – Electricity, Generation and Grid Management

This is part of our mini-series on the Energy Basics. Parts 1-3 can be found in Episode #119.

If you have found yourself occasionally challenged to follow some of the more technical conversations we have here, or even if you just want to brush up on the fundamentals, this mini-series is for you! We hope these episodes will give you a bit more familiarity with the terms and concepts of energy, and help to fill in some of the knowledge that you were never offered in school.

Each of these three mini-episodes are about 20 minutes in length. Part 4 is available to all listeners. Parts 5 and 6 are available to full subscribers only. You can jump between each part using the chapter functionality in your podcast app.

Episode 126.1 - Energy Basics Part 4 – Basics of Electricity – What electricity is; electricity units; Volts and amps; AC and DC. [00:00 to 23:51]

Episode 126.2 - Energy Basics Part 5 – Electricity Generation – How various kinds of electricity generators and power stations work. [23:52 to 55:53]

Episode 126.3 – Energy Basics Part 6 – Grid Management – How the electricity transmission and distribution systems are structured and managed. [55:54 to 1:24:54]

Geek rating: 1

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[Episode #125] – Beyond Planet of the Humans

Planet of the Humans, by filmmakers Michael Moore, Jeff Gibbs, and Ozzie Zehner, has been roundly criticized by everyone involved in energy transition, and rightly so, because it’s more than a decade out of date. But it did manage to confuse some people about the true state of energy transition, and misled them into believing that wind and solar are some kind of hoax perpetrated on an unsuspecting public by evil billionaires. Even worse, some opponents of energy transition started using the film for their own purposes.

But we think everyone—including the filmmakers themselves—rather missed the point of what the film was really about, which isn’t energy transition at all. It’s something else entirely.

In this episode, we speak with Dutch energy analyst Auke Hoekstra about how the film isn't actually about renewable energy at all by focusing on the entire worldview of the filmmakers. You may have read some critiques of the film already, but we guarantee you haven’t heard this take on it!

Geek rating: 3

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[Episode #124] – Energy Transition Progress Report

As the world slowly starts to emerge from lockdown and get back to business, energy analysts and climate activists alike are wondering if we will use this opportunity to accelerate the energy transition, or if we will just go back to what we were doing before the pandemic and fire up the nearest coal-fired power plant or diesel engine.

Our guest in this episode, Nat Bullard of Bloomberg New Energy Finance, thinks the trends toward energy transition and climate action are already so firmly entrenched that we should expect them to maintain their leads as we begin to restart and rebuild the world’s economies...and he and his colleagues have ample data to prove it!

Further, he argues, the world is actually quite different now than it was in the last major economic crash a decade ago in some very important ways, particularly where it concerns energy transition. Unlike 2009, we’re not worrying about peak oil now; if anything, we’re more worried about too much cheap energy. Not just cheap oil, but more renewable power than we can use in certain places and times…so much so that wholesale and even retail grid power prices can go negative. And we’re seeing an investment community that is now much more interested in the winners of energy transition than the losers.

In this episode, we take the pulse of energy transition at this ever-so-uncertain moment, and find more than a few signs of hope and progress all over the world.

Geek rating: 6

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[Episode #123] – Sustainable Energy Transitions

Addressing the threat of climate change means executing a successful energy transition. But as the transition proceeds, we are increasingly having to confront the impacts of transition technologies, and consider the trade-offs of choosing those technologies over the conventional technologies that they are displacing - because nothing we can do is without an impact of some kind, and everything we build requires the use of raw materials. So the question of what is truly sustainable is beginning to take a larger importance in the formation of policies designed to advance energy transition.

But energy is still being taught primarily as part of the engineering discipline, leaving students from non-engineering disciplines in need of ways to learn something about energy, in order to help them be more effective in their work. Fortunately, professor Dustin Mulvaney of San Jose State University in California has a new textbook designed to address this need, titled “Sustainable Energy Strategies: Socio-Ecological Dimensions of Decarbonization.” It’s a very ambitious effort to survey many of the complex topics that are critical for people involved in energy transition to understand. In this episode, we talk with Dustin about why he wrote it, and we take a walk through each chapter in the book to understand the complex questions around what “sustainability” really means in the context of energy transition.

Geek rating: 5

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[Episode #122] – Hybrid Power Plants

The days of worrying about the intermittency of solar and wind farms are quickly receding into the past as battery storage systems are added to existing plants, and new renewable plants are increasingly equipped with large battery storage systems from the outset as so-called “hybrid” power plants. In fact, 25% of all new solar PV plants waiting to connect to bulk power systems are now hybrid plants incorporating battery systems, and on the California wholesale power market, 96% of solar PV and 75% of wind projects launched in 2019 were paired with batteries. All at prices that beat the cost of conventional power plants.

But figuring out the best way to deploy utility-scale battery storage systems isn’t just a matter of dispatchability and system balancing. In fact, it turns out that tax credit incentives and market rules are far more significant determinants. That’s one finding of a new research paper led by several researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, who modeled various ways of pairing battery storage systems with utility-scale wind and solar farms. In this episode, we explore the details of this modeling with one of the paper’s authors and speculate that it might actually be better to deploy large scale storage systems independently of wind and solar farms, if market rules were more supportive of the strategy.

Geek rating: 8

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[Episode #121] – Winning and Losing the Policy Game

Conventional thinking is that policy supports the advancement of clean energy gradually and progressively, with hard-won gains setting up further success over time. And sometimes, it does play out this way. But sometimes it doesn’t, too. Our guest in this episode, Dr. Leah Stokes of UC Santa Barbara, describes the policymaking around energy transition as a matter of “organized combat” between clean energy advocates and incumbents in the utility and fossil fuel sectors — a process of combat which produces winners and losers. And rather than be shy about that, she argues, advocates for climate action and energy transition need to learn from their opponents and get much more organized and serious about winning policy battles.

In this two-hour interview, we talk through the history of clean energy policymaking, and how it was rolled back or thwarted, in four U.S. states. Step by step and case by case, we can learn from her original research what the winning tactics are, and how to lock in victories when we win them. This episode is critical listening for anyone involved in policymaking, regulatory interventions, crafting legislation, or activism.

Geek rating: 3

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