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[Episode #226] – Load Growth Shenanigans

In recent months, reports have circulated that data centers, cryptocurrency miners, and AI technologies are suddenly increasing electricity demand, allegedly straining power grids. These declarations have prompted calls for the hasty approval of new gas-fired power plants to bolster generation capacity. But should we believe these claims?

We remain skeptical.

As the energy transition progresses towards "electrifying everything," there is little doubt that significant loads will transfer to the power grid. However, we have yet to see evidence that this shift is outpacing grid capacity. In fact, we have good reason to believe that much of the projected demand has been overestimated - in part because utilities have a long history of projecting demand that never materialized.

In today’s episode, we try to separate power demand fact from fiction with Mike O’Boyle, Senior Director of Electricity at Energy Innovation, a San Francisco-based energy transition think tank. Over the past several months, Mike and his colleagues have been urging regulators to resist the panicked rush towards new gas infrastructure and consider cleaner alternatives. We’ll explore the origins of the alleged cloud electricity demand surge narratives, assess the real picture of modern computing demand, and discuss viable solutions. As we will uncover, much of the prevailing discourse is not about a genuine power shortage but rather the efforts of certain political figures to boost tax revenues, often at the expense of public welfare — and is ultimately a lapse in regulatory oversight meant to protect the public interest.

Guest:

Mike O’Boyle is Senior Director, Electricity at Energy Innovation. He directs the firm’s Electricity program which focuses on designing and quantifying the impacts of policies needed to affordably and reliably decarbonize the U.S. electricity grid. He has worked with Congressional staff and U.S. state policymakers—including those in California, Hawaii, Minnesota, New York,  and Oregon — to help improve the link between public policy goals and the motivations of electric utilities. He is a frequent contributor to Forbes, and has written for Canary Media, The Hill, New York Times, and Utility Dive, and has authored reports covering a wide range of power sector topics. Mike graduated cum laude from Arizona State University Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, where he focused on energy and international law. He also has a B.A. from Vanderbilt University in philosophy and Asian Studies, with a minor in economics.

On Twitter: @oboylemm

On the Web:  Mike’s page at Energy Innovation

Geek rating: 6

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[Episode #225] – Demand Side Solutions

Energy transition is often depicted as a choice between different supply-side technologies such as wind or solar versus oil and coal. However, the demand side of the energy transition — focusing on efficiency improvements to buildings, adopting walking and biking over driving, and electrifying consumer appliances — deserves just as much attention.

Would you believe that widespread adoption of demand-side measures like these could cut the UK’s energy demand in half without sacrificing services or quality of life? That’s one of the key insights our guest in this episode has to share.

Nick Eyre is one of the most well-informed experts on the demand side of the energy transition. He is Professor of Energy and Climate Policy, and Senior Research Fellow in Energy, at the Environmental Change Institute at Oxford University in England. He serves as the Director of the Centre for Research into Energy Demand Solutions, which is UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI's) primary investment in energy use research. He is also a Co-Director of the Oxford Martin Programme on Integrating Renewable Energy, which is undertaking research on the combined, technical, economic, social and policy issues in moving to electricity systems with very high levels of variable renewables.

For the past five years, Nick has led a comprehensive project involving hundreds of researchers to review nearly 500 publications on the demand side of energy. This project concluded at the end of 2023, and he joins us today to share its key insights. He’ll help us understand the most important demand-side decarbonization strategies in 2024, and what we can do to accelerate their deployment. It’s a really comprehensive, yet very accessible (and not too geeky) discussion that offers at least a few practical insights that all of our listeners could readily consider applying in their own lives.

Guest:

Nick Eyre is Professor of Energy and Climate Policy, and Senior Research Fellow in Energy, at the Environmental Change Institute. He is Director of the Centre for Research into Energy Demand Solutions, which is UKRI’s main investment into research on energy use. He is also a Co-Director of the Oxford Martin Programme on Integrating Renewable Energy, which is undertaking research on the combined, technical, economic, social and policy issues in moving to electricity systems with very high levels of variable renewables.

Professor Eyre acts as scientific advisor on climate change to Oxford City Council. He is interested in the role of public policy in reducing energy demand and carbon emissions, and the transition to zero carbon energy systems. This includes the integration of renewable energy into energy systems, energy market reform, policy instruments for energy efficiency and the role of local government and communities.

Professor Eyre was one of the UK’s first researchers on mitigation of carbon emissions, and was co-author of a presentation to the Cabinet on this issue in 1989. In 1997, he wrote the first published study on how the Government’s 20% carbon emission reduction target might be delivered. He has advised successive governments and a wide range of Parliamentary inquiries. He managed a large European Commission programme on the external costs of energy and was lead author of the report used as the basis for the UK Government’s first estimate of the social cost of carbon. From 1999 to 2007 he was Head of Policy and then Directory of Strategy at the Energy Saving Trust.

On LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/nick-eyre-96951a33

On the Web:  Nick’s faculty page at Oxford

Geek rating: 3

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[Episode #224] – US Hydrogen Tax Credits

Clean hydrogen is expected to be an essential pathway to decarbonizing the economy. The US Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 offered a generous tax credit known as “45V” for clean hydrogen production, but left it to the US Treasury Department and the IRS to define the rules for earning the credit. So they sought input on the rules by issuing an RFI (Request for Information), and aspiring hydrogen industry players, think-tanks, policy advisors, and the public submitted their guidance. After the proposed rules were issued, tens of thousands of additional comments were filed. A final comment period on the rules ended on May 10.

Eric Gimon of Energy Innovation, a San Francisco-based clean energy think tank and a major contributor to the 45V discourse, previously discussed their guidance for the IRS in Episode #192.

In this episode, Eric rejoins us to discuss the proposed final rules, and their team’s comments on them. On the whole, they are optimistic that the rules will spur robust investments in the burgeoning US green hydrogen sector. With potentially hundreds of billions of dollars in tax credits on the line, it’s important to get the details right, so we explore them in depth in this 90-minute discussion—which earned a rare off-the-charts Geek Rating of 11. We also address concerns and criticisms raised by prospective hydrogen producers whose projects may not align with the new regulations.

Guest:

Eric Gimon consults as a technical expert, research scholar, and policy adviser with Energy Innovation, where he works with the Electricity team to develop innovative thinking on policy solutions for clean, reliable, and affordable electric power in the U.S. More specifically, Eric works on questions of renewable energy integration, both in the context of today’s challenges as well as for future pathways

On Twitter: @EricGimon

On the Web: Eric’s writing on Power Sector Transformation at Energy Innovation

Geek rating: 2

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[Episode #223] – Fiscal Implications of the US Transition

The dialogue surrounding so-called 'just transition' initiatives in the US has primarily focused on the workforce: How can communities reliant on well-paying fossil fuel sector jobs find new opportunities for those facing unemployment? Are there state or federal retraining programs available to facilitate their transition into new roles? Moreover, what industries can offer new, equally good jobs?

What hasn’t been studied nearly as much is the fiscal impact of losing industrial activity related to fossil fuel extraction, processing and delivery. How much public revenue is really at stake in the energy transition? Which states face the highest jeopardy? And how can communities dependent on fossil fuel revenues navigate their transitions while continuing to support essential public infrastructure, such as schools and libraries, once these funds dry up?

In today’s conversation, we speak with an expert who has studied the fiscal impact of the energy transition extensively: Daniel Raimi, a fellow at Resources for the Future (or RFF), an independent, nonprofit research institution based in Washington, DC. Daniel shares with us the results of his extensive, on-the-ground research into the fiscal implications of the energy transition for communities that derive a large share of their public revenue from fossil fuel industries. We also talk through a number of ways fossil-fueled revenues could be replaced by clean energy industries and other policies. We consider the importance of green industrial policy in the equation, and we wrap it up with a speculative discussion about the destiny of fossil fuel communities in the net-zero world of 2050 that we’re striving to reach.

Guest:

Daniel Raimi is a fellow at RFF and a lecturer at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan. He works on a range of energy policy issues with a focus on tools to enable an equitable energy transition. He has published extensively in academic journals and been quoted in national media outlets. He has presented his research for policymakers, industry, and other stakeholders, including before the US Senate Budget Committee and the Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee of the US House’s Natural Resources Committee. He is also the author of The Fracking Debate (2017). He cohosts Resources Radio, a weekly podcast from RFF.

On Twitter: @danielraimi

On the Web:  Daniel’s page at RFF

Geek rating: 2

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[Episode #222] – Green Industrial Policy

In this final episode of our three-show miniseries on green industrial policy (Episodes #220, #221 and #222), we look at it from the perspective of an economist who has written a book on the subject and advocated for it in the EU.

Dr. Alessio Terzi is an economist with the European Commission who works at the intersection of academia, policy, and think-tanks. He is the author of numerous articles in major news publications, as well as a book, titled Growth for Good.

In today’s conversation, we discuss why technological transformation is the essential pathway to solving our climate problems, and how integral capitalism and growth are to that process. We explore the concept of degrowth and some critiques of conventional capitalism, along with ways that capitalism can be adapted to answer the climate challenge. Finally, Dr. Terzi presents his "blueprint for green capitalism," offering a nuanced perspective on leveraging economic tools to foster a successful energy transition.

This episode is a thoughtful, 90-minute excursion into economic theory and green industrial policy that aims to answer some of the contemporary questions about the wisdom of using the tools of capitalism and growth to make the energy transition successful.

Guest:

Dr. Alessio Terzi is an economist working at the intersection of academia, policy and think-tanks. He is an economist at DG ECFIN of the European Commission, a Lecturer in Public Policy at Cambridge University, and an Adjunct Professor in Economics at Sciences Po and at HEC Paris. Prior to this, he was an Affiliate Fellow at Bruegel, and a Fulbright Scholar at the Harvard Kennedy School. He also worked in the European Central Bank’s EU institutions division and in sovereign risk analysis for BMI Research (Fitch Ratings). He is the author of numerous articles in major news publications and the book, Growth for Good.

On Twitter: @terzibus

On LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/alessio-terzi-39b89120/

On the Web:  https://www.alessioterzi.eu/

Geek rating: 5

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[Episode #221] – Fossilflation

What causes inflation? And how is it connected to the energy transition?

Standard business press narratives often discuss inflation as if it has a mind of its own, seldom exploring its root causes. However, the connection between inflation and fossil fuel prices is both undeniable and significant. In fact, as you’ll hear at the end of today’s interview, endless interventions by the Fed may be an unavoidable consequence of the energy transition, from now until the project is complete.

So why aren’t we having a conversation about how Putin’s invasion of Ukraine ultimately led to your having to pay more for everything, as inflation was transmitted through from fossil fuels to everything else? Why did Congress give us the Inflation Reduction Act in 2022, instead of the Fossil Fuel Reduction Act? And what is the role of the Fed in the energy transition?

In this conversation, climate economist Gernot Wagner of the Columbia Business School rejoins us to help us understand the relationships between fossil fuels and inflation. We discuss why the Fed acts as it does, and we explore the Inflation Reduction Act in the US and the REPowerEU policy package in the EU, and the complex interconnections between monetary policy, industrial policy, and energy policy.

Guest:

Dr. Gernot Wagner is a climate economist at Columbia Business School. His research, teaching, and writing focus on climate risks and climate policy. Prior to joining Columbia as senior lecturer and serving as faculty director of the Climate Knowledge Initiative, Gernot taught at NYU, Harvard, and Columbia. He was the founding executive director of Harvard’s Solar Geoengineering Research Program. Prior to his time at Harvard, Gernot worked at the Environmental Defense Fund, the Boston Consulting Group, and the Financial Times. He has been a term member of the Council on Foreign Relations, a Senior Fellow at the Jain Family Institute, and is a CESifo Research Network Fellow, a Faculty Affiliate at the Columbia Center for Environmental Economics and Policy, a Member of the New York City Panel on Climate Change, a Coordinating Lead Author of the Austrian Panel on Climate Change, and he serves on the board of CarbonPlan.org.

On Mastodon: https://fediscience.org/@gwagner

On Bluesky: https://bsky.app/profile/gwagner.com

On LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/gwagner/

On the Web:  https://gwagner.com/

Geek rating: 6

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[Episode #220] – Climate Capitalism

What is the recipe for an energy transition at the scale needed to limit global warming below the crucial 2°C threshold?

Bloomberg journalist Akshat Rathi has identified some of the key ingredients, based on his interviews with ten of the world’s most influential personalities working on climate solutions. In his new book, Climate Capitalism, Akshat recounts their stories and makes a case for how capitalism and the dynamism of the private sector are essential components of the global race to zero emissions.

We take a deep dive into Rathi’s work, confronting the criticisms of capitalism, examining how its varied implementations around the world produce different results, and exploring potential reforms for improvement. We conclude by weaving in some ideas drawn from topics discussed previously on the show, including “command capitalism,” how the energy transition requires long-term planning with a system thinking perspective, and the tension between forces driving for international cooperation versus competition.

It's a thoughtful look at the state of the global energy transition from someone with a front-row seat to the investment flows around the world, and we know you’ll find it an illuminating and inspiring discussion.

Guest:

Akshat Rathi is a senior climate reporter for Bloomberg News and is the host of Zero, a weekly climate podcast for Bloomberg Green.

He has a PhD in chemistry from the University of Oxford, and a BTech in chemical engineering from the Institute of Chemical Technology in Mumbai. He has written for Quartz and The Economist, and his work has been cited in global publications including New York Times, Washington Post, New Yorker, The Guardian, Wall Street Journal and Financial Times.

On Twitter: @AkshatRathi

On LinkedIn: AkshatRathi

On the Web:  https://akshatrathi.com/

Geek rating: 4

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[Episode #219] – Nuclear Illusions

In Episode #209, we peeled back the layers on civilian nuclear power, revealing its history as a facade for the nuclear weapons industry with a corresponding legacy of deception.

Yet, the allure of small modular reactors (SMRs) has recently been touted as the nuclear industry's saving grace and a beacon of hope with the potential to sidestep a muddled past. Despite all the fanfare and substantial investments, the crumbling of prominent SMR initiatives exposes the continuation of the industry's tradition of overpromising and underdelivering, a pattern all too familiar to those who've been watching closely.

Joining us in this episode is Jim Green from Friends of the Earth Australia, a seasoned nuclear journalist with three decades of experience in critiquing nuclear energy. Jim offers an unparalleled depth of insight into the industry's persistent shortcomings and the realities behind the SMR hype. Together, we delve into the track record of conventional nuclear power, the latest trends in nuclear plant construction and retirements worldwide, and examine the companies at the forefront of the SMR push, offering a candid exploration of the nuclear power industry's claims versus its actual performance.

Guest:

Jim Green is the National Nuclear-Free Campaigner with Friends of the Earth Australia, a member of the Nuclear Consulting Group (nuclearconsult.com), and former editor of the World Information Service on Energy’s ‘Nuclear Monitor’ newsletter. He has a First Class Honours degree in Public Health and a Doctorate in Science and Technology Studies for his thesis on the debates over the replacement of Australia’s nuclear research reactor.

On Twitter: @jimgreen333

On the Web: http://nuclear.foe.org.au

Geek rating: 3

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[Episode #218] – Accelerating Decarbonization in the US

How can we accelerate the decarbonization of the entire US economy?

In this episode, we discuss the energy-related decarbonization strategies outlined in a new report from the National Academies, titled “Accelerating Decarbonization in the United States: Technology, Policy, and Societal Dimensions,” with Dr. Sue Tierney, a Senior Advisor at Analysis Group and a renowned expert in energy and environmental economics, regulation, and policy. Dr. Tierney played a key role in the Committee on Accelerating Decarbonization in the United States, which developed and coordinated this landmark study. We explore how decarbonizing the US requires much more than simply substituting renewables for fossil fuels in power generation and EVs for oil-burning cars. A broad array of solutions must be deployed, but they face numerous barriers and risks to implementation.

Trillions of dollars have been allocated for these energy and technology solutions through three significant laws passed in 2022: the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), and the Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors (CHIPS) Act. However, effectively mobilizing these funds requires willing collaboration from a diverse group of local, municipal, and state actors, including elected officials, regulators, agency staffers, as well as community and business leaders.

Listen in to learn why delivering a successful energy transition, along with a host of other benefits such as justice, equity, health, jobs, and sustainability writ large, necessitates understanding the barriers to implementation and identifying the types of policies and programs needed to keep the US on track to achieving net zero.

Guest:

Dr. Sue Tierney is a Senior Advisor at Analysis Group and is an expert on energy and environmental economics, regulation, and policy, particularly in the electric and gas industries.  Previously, she was the Assistant Secretary for Policy at the U.S. Department of Energy, and in Massachusetts, she was the Secretary of Environmental Affairs, Commissioner at the Department of Public Utilities, and head of the state’s Energy Facilities Siting Council. She currently chairs the Board of Resources for the Future and the National Academies’ Board on Energy and Environmental Systems, and serves on the boards of other NGOs and foundations.  She was a member of the National Academies’ Committee on Accelerating Decarbonization in the U.S. and the Committee on the Future of Electric Power. Her Ph.D. is in regional planning from Cornell University

On Twitter: @analysisgroup

On the Web:  Analysis Group

Geek rating: 6

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[Episode #217] – Passivhaus in Scotland

Discussions about energy transition often overlook the crucial role of reducing the energy consumed to maintain comfortable temperatures in the spaces where we live and work. Remarkably, generating heat, the largest end-use of energy, accounts for 40% of global fossil CO2 emissions, with the majority of this heat used in buildings. About half of the energy used in buildings is for their heating and cooling, and because fossil fuels still meet the bulk of heating energy demand, this contributes to about one-fourth of global energy-related carbon emissions annually.

Addressing this challenge by improving building efficiency and reducing thermal losses is arguably the most critical step we can take to facilitate the energy transition. However, strong policies or targeted programs to this end are largely absent worldwide.

A transformative solution is the adoption of the Passivhaus standard for new and existing buildings. Retrofits to meet this standard could drastically reduce energy requirements for buildings, accelerating our progress toward the energy transition.

In this episode, we are joined by Es Tresidder, a Passivhaus consultant who works with an architecture firm to advance the use of the Passivhaus standard and techniques. He walks us through the Passivhaus standard and how to meet it. He also shares the story of the ‘deep retrofit’ performed on his own house in the rainiest and coldest part of Scotland, transforming it into a home that is far healthier and more comfortable, all while significantly reducing its energy consumption.

Guest:

Dr. Es Tresidder is a Passivhaus designer based in Fort William. He works as a Passivhaus and energy specialist for John Gilbert Architects, one of the leading environmental architecture practices in the UK. His work at John Gilbert Architects currently focusses on their larger and more complex projects – Passivhaus schools, leisure centres and retrofits. Es has a PhD in low energy building design optimization, using genetic algorithms to optimize building designs for efficiency and cost. In 2023 he finished a retrofit, to Passivhaus EnerPHit standard, of his own home in Fort William, Scotland. Once certified he believes this will be the first EnerPHit of a modern timber-frame house in the UK, and potentially the world.

On Mastodon: @EsTresidder

On Twitter: @EsTresidder

On the Web:  Highland Passive

Geek rating: 2

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