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[Episode #133] – Stranded Assets

A decade ago, it was very conventional for asset managers to have exposure to the oil and gas sector as part of a diversified portfolio. Calls for them to divest from carbon assets because climate policy could render fossil fuel reserves unburnable mostly fell on deaf ears. But now the oil & gas sector has turned in a decade of underperformance, vaporizing tens of billions of dollars and becoming the worst-performing sector in the world. Now banks, asset managers, and even oil operators have now joined the ranks of those worrying aloud about the increasing risk of stranded assets. Now, the warnings about stranded assets are converging with calls for companies and investors to apply ESG filters to their activities, and investors are demanding divestment from carbon-heavy assets.

One think-tank saw all this coming: Carbon Tracker. In fact, they put the concept of stranded fossil fuel assets on the map over a decade ago. In this episode we speak with its founder, Mark Campanale, about what investors have learned from the experience of the past decade, what they still need to do going forward, and some of the more interesting efforts that are under way to encourage divestment from carbon and reorient capital toward energy transition solutions.

Geek rating: 7

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[Episode #132] – The Future of Solar

How did the solar industry grow up so quickly over the past 15 years, and what does its future look like? In this episode, we talk with the founder of the solar team at Bloomberg New Energy Finance, who’s had a front-row seat to the industry’s development, about the many booms and busts it has seen over the past 15 years, and about what we should expect from the sector going forward. Does solar need a big new innovation to keep growing and displacing fossil-fueled power plants, or does it just need to keep going on its existing trajectory? How much cheaper can solar get? For that matter, is continuing to get cheaper even desirable? And how much can solar do to help lift the developing world out of poverty? We answer these and many more questions in this episode.

Geek rating: 5

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[Episode #131] – Decarbonizing the US by 2050

Is it possible to decarbonize the economy of the United States, and get to net-zero emissions by 2050? A team of researchers from 15 countries who are part of the Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project think so, based on their deep modeling of the US economy as part of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN). We introduced this work at a high level in Episode #129, during our conversation with Dr. Jeffrey Sachs, the Director of the SDSN. In this episode, we take a deep dive into the modeling itself with one of the modelers involved in the project. We’ll look at the specific energy technologies, devices, and grid management strategies that will make decarbonization by 2050 possible, and see why they think that decarbonizing the US is not only achievable by 2050, but practical, and very, very affordable.

Geek rating: 9

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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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