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[Episode #77] – Perspectives of an Energy Transition Veteran

Energy transition has been under way for the better part of two decades now, and it’s easy to forget how much the world has changed over the time. We now have a host of energy technologies and consumer tools that didn’t even exist 15 years ago. Utility business models have been turned upside-down and we’re still not sure what they’ll look like in the future. Equally, there has been a transformation in education as it tries to catch up with a rapidly-changing world and an ever-more-urgent call to action on climate change. Viewed up close, the transition now underway can look pretty slow sometimes, but if you back up and review what has transpired over the past 15 years, it has actually been incredibly rapid, at least compared to the historical pace of change.

Few people have been as involved in energy transition over the past 15 years, and have seen it as up close and personal as our guest in this episode. Robyn Beavers has had a remarkable career working in energy transition that included stints at Google, NRG, the Department of Energy, and Vestas, and she did it all starting as a young woman in an industry dominated by men. In this interview she shares some of her insights on how it all has unfolded, and how she has managed to be incredibly successful with navigating the gender disparity. She also explains how her new venture is working to turn the built environment into dynamic energy assets. If you’re a young person interested in breaking into the world of energy, you don’t want to miss this episode!

Geek rating: 7

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Guest:

Robyn Beavers is the CEO and co-founder of Blueprint Power, a project she incubated while being the VP of Investments and Technology at Lennar, a real estate company. Prior to that, she founded the Station A skunkworks project for NRG in San Francisco, which focused on distributed energy systems. Previously, she was the Director of Commercialization, Water and Power at DEKA, where she worked to commercialize power generation products invented by founder Dean Kamen, who invented the Segway. Before that, she launched WindMade, an NGO sponsored by Vestas, Lego and Bloomberg which worked to help large companies invest in wind generation. Prior to that, she was a Fellow at the U.S. Department of Energy, where she helped to launch the Property Assessed Clean Energy, or PACE program, which provided seed funding for state energy offices to help homeowners finance solar systems. She began her career in 2004 at Google, first as an Executive Assistant to the founders at Google, where she helped implement green building practices at the company’s flagship headquarters, and then as the founder of the Green Business and Operations Strategy group, where she proposed, sold, and managed the installation of a 1.7 MW photovoltaic solar array at Google headquarters in 2007, making it one of the largest corporate solar installations in the world at the time.

On Twitter: @robynbeavers

On the Web:

Blueprint Power

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[Episode #76] – Carbon Clampdown

The European Emissions Trading System (EU-ETS) has famously been dysfunctional for most of the past decade, unable to support a carbon price that would be an effective tool for energy transition. But that’s about to change: the EU is embarking on a plan to fix its carbon trading market. But will this be enough? According to calculations by our guest in this episode, there is reason to hope that the emissions trading surplus will be removed by 2023 and carbon prices will rise back to a meaningful level, but that may still not be high enough to meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement. So what can be done about it? Will the prospect of Brexit ruin the EU-ETS market? Can carbon prices rise high enough to sustain carbon capture and sequestration technologies? Will we even need carbon prices in the future, given the falling costs of wind and solar? Are asset managers finally getting smart about understanding the risk of stranded fossil fuel assets in their portfolios? And are risk assessors finally beginning to grapple with climate risk?

Mark Lewis, now Head of Research and Managing Director at Carbon Tracker, returns in this episode to dig into details of European carbon market reform and explain what it all means…as well as outlining a fresh way of looking at services delivered by different energy sources, and the implications of this perspective for the oil sector in particular.

Geek rating: 8

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Guest:

Mark Lewis is 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:  Carbon Tracker

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[Episode #75] – Transportation Transition

Vehicle electrification is gaining real momentum in 2018, from light duty passenger vehicles, to medium and heavy duty vehicles, port equipment, and even ferries. But this rapid transition in transportation isn’t without its risks, its critics, and its incumbent opposition. Will EVs take over the personal vehicle market, and if so, how quickly? How much of a role will ridesharing services play in the future? What’s the future of autonomous vehicles? How will the future of personal vehicle ownership look? Is there going to be enough supply of rare earth metals to support the EV revolution? Are lithium ion batteries going to become an environmental hazard or will we recycle them?  Are EVs cleaner than high-efficiency gasoline vehicles on a lifecycle basis? Will EVs or robotaxis increase the vehicle miles traveled, and if so, what will be the net effect on emissions in that scenario? How should we be planning to accommodate the loads of EV charging on the power grid? And what about the loads of the medium- and heavy-duty sectors? Can drivers and bicyclists and robotaxis learn to share the road? And what would a transition-friendly transportation infrastructure look like?

Our guest in this episode has researched all of these questions, and shares with us the best available knowledge on the rapidly evolving sector of new mobility. Costa Samaras is an associate professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University who has published numerous studies related to new mobility and the effect of EVs on emissions and on the power grid.

Geek rating: 7

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Guest:

Dr. Constantine “Costa” Samaras is an associate professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University. He directs the Center for Engineering and Resilience for Climate Adaptation and his research spans energy, climate change, automation, and defense analysis. Samaras analyzes how energy technology and infrastructure system designs affect energy use and national security, resiliency to climate change impacts, and life cycle environmental externalities. He is an affiliated faculty member in Carnegie Mellon’s Scott Institute for Energy Innovation, the College of Engineering’s Energy Science, Technology and Policy Program, and by courtesy, a faculty member in the H. John Heinz III College. Samaras is also an Adjunct Senior Researcher at the RAND Corporation. He has published numerous studies examining electric and autonomous vehicles, renewable electricity, transitions in the energy sector, conventional and low-carbon fuels, and was one of the Lead Author contributors to the Global Energy Assessment.

On Twitter:  @CostaSamaras

On the Web:

Costa’s faculty page at Carnegie Mellon

Costa’s research on Google Scholar

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[Episode #74] – Climate Science Part 10: How to limit warming to 1.5°C without CCS

In this tenth part of our series on climate science, we explore a new paper outlining a climate scenario that would limit warming to 1.5 °C without relying on negative emission technologies. It does so by detailing numerous pathways that could lead the world toward much lower total primary energy consumption, including a heavy focus on the demand side, quantifying the impact of behavioral changes and different ways of providing energy services, rather than simply focusing on consuming energy.

This doesn’t mean that actually following the pathways outlined in this model will be easy, or that staying under 1.5 degrees of warming is going to happen automatically. In fact, some of the behavioral changes that would be needed might be as difficult as implementing a carbon tax (or, for that matter, implementing CCS at scale). But this outlook does respond to our main complaints with the existing body of climate and energy scenarios—that they generally depend on negative emissions technologies like CCS, and that they don’t adequately take into account measures and policies that are already reducing our energy demand and accelerating the energy transition. Our guest in this episode is one of the co-authors of the paper: Charlie Wilson, a researcher at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, and an Associate Professor in Energy & Climate Change at the University of East Anglia in the UK. His expertise on consumer adoption of technology, behavior and policy as they relate to energy and climate change mitigation gives him a unique perspective on this research that we think you’ll find illuminating and thought-provoking.

Geek rating: 5

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Guest:

Dr. Charlie Wilson is a researcher at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, and a Reader (Associate Professor) in Energy & Climate Change at the University of East Anglia in the UK. His research interests lie at the intersection between technology, behavior and policy in the field of energy and climate change mitigation, working at both a systems level and a micro level.

On Twitter:  @TyndallCentre

On the Web:

Charlie Wilson’s page at the University of East Anglia

Charlie Wilson’s page at the Tyndall Centre

Social Influence and Low Carbon Innovations project

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[Episode #73] – Regulatory Capture

Utility regulators are playing an increasingly important role in steering the energy transition of the power grid. However, many regulators aren’t equipped to sort through arguments put forward by competing interests, because they often need to consider highly technical questions that only a power system engineer, or a market design expert could properly evaluate. Some regulators are simply political appointees who may or may not have the appropriate technical expertise, while others are elected by the public, who in turn may not be able to evaluate the technical expertise of the people they are electing. As a result, it is quite common for regulators to depend on the guidance of the companies they are supposed to regulate, and for those companies to seek as much leverage or control over their regulators as they can get—a problem known as regulatory capture.

In this episode we’ll delve into the problem of regulatory capture, and what might be done about it, with the help of Gary Wolfram, a professor and the Director of Economics and Political Economy at Hillsdale College in Hillsdale, Michigan. He has published extensively on public policy and taxpayer rights, on the role of government in capitalist market economies, and on the governance and incentive structures of utilities…and we promise that this interview will be a lot more accessible and interesting than this dry description may make it sound!

Geek rating: 6

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Guest:

Dr. Gary Wolfram is the William E. Simon Professor of Economics and Public Policy as well as the Director of Economics and Political Economy at Hillsdale College. Dr. Wolfram is a consultant specializing in taxation and policy analysis. Dr. Wolfram’s public policy experience includes serving as Congressman Nick Smith’s Chief of Staff, Michigan’s Deputy State Treasurer for Taxation and Economic Policy under Governor John Engler, and Senior Economist to the Republican Senate in Michigan.  He has taught at several colleges and universities, including Mount Holyoke College, The University of Michigan, and Washington State University.  He has contributed to national publications such as The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Human Events, American Spectator and National Review.

On Twitter: @gary_wolfram

On the Web: Gary Wolfram’s page at Hillsdale College 

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[Episode #72] – The Future of Solar

The cost of solar has dropped so quickly that we’re suddenly in a world nobody really anticipated. Utility power procurement is having to pivot to solar under $0.03/kWh…including dispatchable solar with storage, displacing not just coal and nuclear, but natural gas power plants, which everyone assumed we would continue building for decades to come.

So what’s next for solar? Are we ready to phase out its incentives? Do we still need solar advocacy? And are we at risk of solar becoming so cheap that even solar developers can no longer afford to build it? Does the sun actually need to be tamed?

Our guest in this episode has a unique point of view on these issues. Adam Browning is the co-founder and Executive Director of Vote Solar, a non-profit advocacy organization in the US with the mission of bringing solar energy into the mainstream, and he knows the history and the current prospects of solar better than most.

Geek rating: 5

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Guest:

Adam Browning is the co-founder and Executive Director of Vote Solar, a non-profit advocacy organization with the mission of bringing solar energy into the mainstream. Prior to Vote Solar, Adam spent eight years with the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency’s San Francisco office, where he won the Agency’s top pollution prevention award for developing a program that reduced air emissions of mercury. Adam received a BA with Distinction from Swarthmore College in 1992, and served with the Peace Corps in Guinea-Bissau, West Africa.

On Twitter: @adambrowning

On the Web: votesolar.org

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[Episode #71] – Australia at the Cutting Edge

Since we last covered Australia one year ago in Episode 39, a lot has changed…it has deployed the largest utility-scale battery system in the world, made numerous technical upgrades to prevent future outages, and placed some incredible leaders in key agencies where they are working hard to accelerate the country’s energy transition. It is also actively investing in new energy technologies that aren’t even commercial yet, to see how they can perform. In short, Australia is breaking new trail on multiple fronts in energy transition, and demonstrating some truly interesting findings to the rest of the world, for how a grid might function self-sufficiently, at scale, with significant shares of variable renewable power and large battery storage systems.

Our guide to the current state of affairs today is Ivor Frischknecht, a subscriber to this show and the CEO of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA). A widely acknowledged expert and innovator in the energy industry, with deep knowledge of the grid’s needs in Australia, and a far-reaching vision for what it can become, he’s one of the top experts on the energy transition Down Under, and can explain it all in a very accessible way.

Geek rating: 6

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Guest:

Ivor Frischknecht is the CEO of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA). Ivor is a widely acknowledged expert and innovator in the energy industry, who leads ARENA’s efforts to accelerate the commercialization and integration of renewable energy into Australia’s energy system, as well as playing a leading role in transforming the electricity sector. Before joining ARENA, Ivor was responsible for clean tech investments at venture capital firm, Starfish Ventures, which manages $400 million primarily on behalf of Australian pension funds, and as CEO and investor in cleantech in Silicon Valley, California.

On Twitter (ARENA): @arena_aus

On the Web:  Ivor Frischknecht’s LinkedIn profile

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[Episode #70] – Who Should Control Wholesale Markets?

As older coal and nuclear generators are pushed off the grid by cheaper, nimbler, cleaner renewables and other technologies, the owners of conventional generators are becoming increasingly nervous about their futures, and seeking new ways to protect their legacy assets. From attempting to change market rules or simply pursuing new subsidies, the effort to retire dirty and unwanted old generators and replace them with newer, cleaner sources of electricity faces a series of challenges. And how those challenges are resolved will have broad implications for how the electric grid of the future will operate, and who will own it.

In this episode we take a deep dive into the intersections between federal authority, wholesale markets, and state policies, explore some of the legal questions therein, and try to understand what they suggest about the process of energy transition, and the pathways for unlocking new ways of using energy and designing electricity markets…and yes, this episode definitely deserves its Geek Rating!

Geek rating: 10

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Guest:

Michael Panfil is a senior attorney, Director of Federal Energy Policy of Environmental Defense Fund’s Clean Energy team, where he engages in federal litigation, regulatory, and policy efforts across the country to advocate for an environmentally friendly and economically efficient electricity sector. Michael’s work focuses on reducing emissions throughout the United States by advocating for the deployment of smarter technology, improved market operations, and sustainable practices.

On Twitter: @Michael_Panfil

On the Web: Michael Panfil’s page at EDF

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[Episode #69] – Western Grid Regionalization

California and 12 other US states, plus parts of Canada and Mexico, are considering whether to expand the California wholesale grid and balancing area to include the entire region, in order to increase the flow of reliable, affordable, and renewable power across the West. This shift to a regional independent system operator, or ISO, would also expand resource flexibility, improve transmission planning and grid reliability, and enable a far larger share of renewable energy across the system. But it’s not without risk: Would a unified Western market kill the market for power projects sold under virtual PPAs outside its borders? Would it give project developers—or even coal plants—operating within the Western grid but outside California a competitive edge over California’s own renewable project developers? Would it become a loophole through which coal power starts being imported into California, after many years of effort trying to get rid of coal in the Golden State? Would California or any of the other Western states lose control over their own power production and consumption? And what about the five states that could join the Southwest Power Pool instead—what will they do?

These are complex questions with no easy answers, but our guest in this episode is an expert on the subject and ably walks us through all the pros and cons…and points the way to a potentially very different future for power markets in the American West.

Geek rating: 8

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Guest:

Laura Wisland is the Senior Manager for Western States Energy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, where she focuses on developing state policies that will effectively increase the amount of renewable energy used in western states. She provides technical and policy analysis to legislative and regulatory agencies to successfully guide the integration of high levels of renewable energy onto electricity systems.

On the Web:  Laura Wisland’s blog at Union of Concerned Scientists

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[Episode #68] – Environmental Economics

In an economy as large and complex as the United States, how can we tell when our efforts at energy transition are working? How do we calculate our carbon emissions? How do we know why emissions fell, especially if increased efficiency can rebound into more consumption, an effect known as the Jevons Paradox? How should we calculate the cost of damage due to climate change, and how we should choose the discount rates we use in evaluating investments to stop it? And even if we knew the answers to all these difficult questions, how should we act, given how little certainty we have about the future of the climate, and of the trajectory of energy transition itself? Can economic theory even help us plot a sensible path toward energy transition and climate change mitigation? Our guest in this episode has published extensively on all of these thorny questions, and we’ll discuss that research with him, along with his current research into solar geoengineering.

Geek rating: 7

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Guest:

Dr. Gernot Wagner is a research associate and lecturer at Harvard University, a co-director of Harvard’s Solar Geoengineering Research Program, and a co-author of Climate Shock.

On Twitter: @GernotWagner

On the Web:  https://gwagner.com/

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