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[Episode #165] – Oil & Gas in Transition

Oil prices are at a 7-year high, with demand getting back toward pre-pandemic levels as the world attempts to restore economies from the impacts of covid. Oil & gas companies are feeling bullish for the first time in years, forecasting strong demand for their product for decades to come, despite the pressures of energy transition and increasingly strong climate policies. In fact, they’re bold enough to blame high oil and gas prices on the energy transition, and using those prices as an argument against it. So are they right? Or are they simply in denial about the future of their business?

In this episode, Bloomberg energy opinion columnist Liam Denning returns to sort through the various factors that are working for and against continued investment in the oil and gas sector, to understand just how much the energy transition is affecting the ever-changing outlook for their business. We also discuss the tight and delicate balance between supply and demand at this point in time, and consider where it might be going in the coming years, particularly in light of climate policy targets.

This is our deepest dive into oil and gas to date, so don’t miss it!

Geek rating: 8

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[Episode #164] – Political Economy of Energy Transitions

The energy transition is about much more than just switching one fuel for another—like replacing coal with renewables. Transition happens in the context of our societies, which are strongly influenced by the economic interests of various actors and their political power; aspects of global trade; and the impact of those technologies on the ecological environment. And ultimately, these facets of the transition can have even more influence over the outcome than the characteristics of technologies themselves. We could have the best energy transition solutions in the world, but if we can’t get them actually deployed because incumbents on the losing end of energy transition resist, the transition will fail.

One way we can understand those influences is by looking at their histories, as well as their contemporary political economies. But these aspects of the energy transition haven’t received nearly as much attention or study as the technologies themselves, so we're taking a look in Episode #164.

In this episode, we speak with Peter Newell, a researcher at the University of Sussex in the UK, about his new book titled Power Shift: The Global Political Economy of Energy Transitions. It offers a helpful, five-part framework for understanding the political economy of the energy transition, and draws upon history, academic literature, the author’s own experience with renewable energy projects, as well as other sources to offer some useful insights about the forces that resist the energy transition, as well as how to make the energy transition a success—not only in economic terms, but also in terms of environmental and social justice.

Geek rating: 3

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[Episode #163] – Transition in Russia Part 2

This is the second part of our nearly four-hour interview with Professor Thane Gustafson on his new book, Klimat: Russia in the Age of Climate Change, about Russia’s attitude toward climate change, and how the nation will fare in the energy transition.

In part one of this interview, which we featured in Episode #162, we discussed Russia’s oil sector. In this second part, we talk about Russia’s other energy resources, including natural gas, coal, nuclear technology, and renewables, as well as its hopes to pivot to hydrogen production for export to Europe and how it might deal with the pending European carbon border adjustment mechanism. We’ll also discuss Russia’s perspective on climate change and its role in addressing it, and wrap up the conversation with the outlook for Russia’s fortunes and climate vulnerabilities as the global energy transition and climate action proceed.

Geek rating: 6

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[Episode #162] – Transition in Russia Part 1

This is the first part of our nearly four-hour interview with Professor Thane Gustafson on his new book, Klimat: Russia in the Age of Climate Change, about Russia’s attitude toward climate change, and how the nation will fare in the energy transition.

In this episode, we discuss Russia’s oil sector, including the state of its oil fields and equipment, the politics of oil internally, the outlook for global oil demand and the questions swirling around “peak oil demand,” and the country’s prospects for new oil production.

In the second part, which will run as Episode #163, we’ll talk about Russia’s other energy resources, including natural gas, coal, nuclear technology, and renewables, as well as its hopes of pivoting to hydrogen production for European export and how it might deal with the pending EU carbon border adjustment mechanism. We’ll also discuss Russia’s perspective on climate change and its role in climate policy, and wrap up this conversation with an assessment of Russia’s fortunes as the energy transition proceeds.

Geek rating: 6

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[Episode #161] – Expanding Transmission

It has been nearly impossible to get new transmission built across the US in recent years, thanks to a combination of local opposition from host communities, jurisdictional issues, and the resistance of major utilities, alongside other factors. But with the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (previously known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill) now committed to law, there are fresh hopes that new transmission lines can be built in the US to unlock the truly massive renewable resources that are currently unable to get to market… resources that are critical to helping the US decarbonize its economy. There are also new techniques for building transmission, and potentially new regulations that can overcome resistance to new lines.

In this episode, we revisit the topic of transmission and see what needs to happen to get new transmission projects moving in the US. We also ask whether a macro grid based on big transmission lines is still really the cheapest and best solution, or if more distributed solutions might be worth reevaluating in light of updated cost data and some contemporary grid modeling.

Our guest in this episode is Liza Reed, the research manager for low carbon technology policy at the Niskanen Center in Washington, D.C., an expert in High Voltage Direct Current, electricity transmission, and technology innovation. She shares with us the latest thinking about transmission, and helps us tie together some of the threads we have discussed in previous episodes, to paint a picture of how more transmission can bring hundreds of gigawatts of renewable power to market in the US.

Geek rating: 8

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[Episode #160] – Coal Plant Buyouts

Economic factors and existing policies have done a pretty good job of stopping the construction of new coal plants around the world, but what is needed to push existing plants off the grid? Our guest in this episode has been working to phase out coal from a variety of angles for the past 13 years, and believes the only approach that might still work is to just buy out existing plants and shut them down. But how? Where will the money come from? And if the money is public, how can we make sure that coal buyouts benefit the public, and not the big banks? How will we obtain the lowest price for the plants? How quickly can we execute the buyouts and retirements? How can we make sure that the power is replaced by clean power plants and not by natural gas-fired plants?

And what about the important related questions, like: What role should US government agencies like the Federal Reserve and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission play in implementing climate policy? What responsibility do major media organizations have to support the energy transition? And what about the so-called “just transition” away from coal? Is it real, or just a comforting talking point?

Join us in this discussion for some fresh new ideas and strategies that could help the world shut down the coal industry faster and more equitably, while delivering the best outcomes for the public.

Geek rating: 3

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[Episode #159] – The Cost of Decarbonization

Why do the major groups publishing energy forecasts consistently undershoot the progress of energy transition? For decades, public sector agencies, oil industry groups, energy industry consultancies, and even environmental nonprofits have been consistently too pessimistic in their outlooks. So why is it that standard energy forecasting models keep getting transition wrong?

A group of researchers at Oxford University may have an answer to that question with a study they recently published on the future trajectory of the energy transition. The problem, they say, is that standard models don't realistically account for learning curves in manufacturing, and exponential growth in deployment as it relates to transition. Their new approach shows that future cost and deployment curves can be predicted quite accurately for energy transition solutions like solar panels, wind turbines, batteries and hydrogen electrolyzers.

What makes their demonstration particularly exciting isn’t just that they’ve found a better approach to modeling energy transition learning curves; it’s what their model shows: that a rapid energy transition is actually as much as $14 trillion cheaper than not transitioning over the coming decades. In short, these researchers suggest there is no net cost to a sustainable energy transition, and that on the economic merits at least, it’s basically inevitable.

Join us in this episode for a discussion with one of the researchers on the Oxford team, Dr. Matthew Ives. He is an economist and complex systems modeler at Oxford University who is currently researching sensitive intervention points for accelerating progress towards the post-carbon transition. We explore exactly how their modeling was done, exactly where traditional modeling has gone wrong, and what it all means for the energy transition.

Geek rating: 5

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[Episode #158] – Global Energy Crunch

Since early July, a global energy crunch has unfolded, driving up prices for all energy fuels around the world, and then causing some power plants and manufacturing facilities to shut down. In turn, that has exacerbated problems across global supply chains, causing major delays and price increases for everything from gasoline to hard goods.

If you have been wondering why your heating bill is up, or your last tank of gasoline was so expensive, or why your local retailer is telling you that you’ll have to wait months for that new washing machine, this episode will give you at least the beginning of some answers. These are remarkable times in the energy markets, unlike anything that’s happened since the last major commodity spike of 2008.

And we are very pleased to have an analyst and editor who has been following energy and commodities since well before that last spike as our guide in this episode: Will Kennedy, executive editor for energy and commodities at Bloomberg News. Will leads us through the many, many facets of this complex picture, and then we wrap up the conversation by asking how the world’s energy leaders will respond to it as the COP 26 climate conference gets underway. This developing supply shock may give us a good clue about how the world responds to the challenges of the energy transition in the coming years.

Geek rating: 5

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[Episode #157] – Market Design for the Energy Transition

This one is for the electricity market geeks!

Most observers of electricity markets are well aware that adapting them to the new kinds of technologies and policies needed for the energy transition is an ongoing project with no simple answers. Even if there were simple answers, it would be hard to implement them, because there are so many different market designs in operation already that will have to find ways to accommodate these reforms.

But perhaps by thinking about the specific attributes of electricity contracts, and how various kinds of contracts serve different purposes, we can begin to understand the ways they can help meet the needs of diverse market participants and properly represent the value of disparate resources. In this episode, energy researcher Eric Gimon returns to the show to share his conceptual framework for how electricity markets can function in the energy transition, and how those concepts can be applied to the markets we have today. We start by addressing the zombie theory of “value deflation” in solar, and end up in a very heady conceptual space well deserving of this episode’s geek rating of 10!

Geek rating: 10

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[Episode #156] – 6-Year Anniversary Show

In this sixth-anniversary show, we welcome back energy researcher Jonathan Koomey to help us review some of the hot topics in energy transition over the past year.

Topics in this discussion include:

  • The energy elements of the bipartisan infrastructure bill that passed the Senate, and how they stack up against the actual infrastructure needs of the US.
  • Highlights from the new climate assessment report from the IPCC, and the disconnect between how that modeling framework is structured, and what policymakers and journalists really need. We also try to identify how climate scientists can be more helpful in communicating the path the world is currently on.
  • The case for and against divestment and other supply-side strategies to reduce the consumption of fossil fuels.
  • The zombie theory of ‘value deflation’ in solar, and why it’s mistaken.
  • Corruption in the nuclear industry, and why climate hawks must start getting more discerning about who they are backing in the struggle to take action on climate change.
  • The energy requirements of the Internet and Bitcoin mining.
  • A new tool to explore the EIA’s vast stores of data.

In the news segment, we review the ongoing efforts in Congress to electrify the US Postal Service vehicle fleet; we update two stories about corruption associated with the US nuclear industry; we hail the world’s first production of a batch of steel without using fossil fuels; we have a look at the world’s largest battery storage system; and we note a major blow to the credibility of “blue hydrogen.”

Geek rating: 8

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