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[Episode #89] – Energy Access and Health

How can solutions like Project Bo—the solar-powered microgrid we discussed in Episode #85—be extended to help people elsewhere in the developing world who have similar health and medical needs? How the funding can be arranged? How should projects like this be scoped and designed to ensure their long-term viability? What kinds of energy supply and energy consuming devices are best suited to address the needs for remote medical clinics? What kinds of partner organizations can be helpful in implementing these kinds of projects? And what can philanthropic and aid organizations learn from recent experiences to ensure that their support has an enduring impact?

Our guest in this episode not only helped make Project Bo a reality, but she also has a uniquely deep understanding of the intersection of health and energy systems in the developing world. She has worked on energy access in many impoverished countries around the world, and she has a unique perspective on the global state of health and energy, including how and where philanthropic funding for health and energy projects works, and doesn’t work. And you may be surprised to learn which energy solutions she thinks can really make a big difference in women’s health in the developing world today…it’s probably not what you think!

Geek rating: 2

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[Episode #88] – Energy Trade in Transition

The global energy trade is enormously complex, and its geopolitical implications are vast, but they are only made more complex by energy transition. If the US exports gas to Europe and Asia, might you expect it to largely displace coal in their power plants? Think again! What will be the geopolitical ramifications on our relationship with Russia, as we send more of our gas to China and India? And as the US weans itself off of coal, and seeks to export more coal abroad, will it be stymied by energy transition in foreign countries, as well as political impediments at home?

And what of US “energy independence?” Does it mean that the US is actually self-sufficient in energy, or even just in fossil fuels, in the sense that we may not need imports anymore? And what is the value of it anyway, especially if it also means increased dependence on export markets abroad?

Tune in as we explore some of the fascinating questions about the implications of energy transition on energy trade in this interview, and be prepared to be surprised by some of our guest’s answers!

Geek rating: 8

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[Episode #87] – The Value of Flexible Solar

As variable renewables gain ever-larger shares of the grid power supply mix, integrating them on the grid is raising new questions about the best ways to do it. Storage systems are one obvious answer, but their deployment as utility-scale assets is still in the early days. Right now, if a utility-scale solar plant is producing more power than the grid can use, and there isn’t a storage system available to absorb the excess, the standard procedure is to curtail the plant — just turn it off. It hurts the revenues of plant owners, but at least it won’t damage the grid.

But now there are some new ways to the problem of integrating more variable renewables: Make them flexible! Instead of always running wind and solar plants full bore, or curtailing them, just turn them down a bit. Or make them completely flexible, able to ramp up and down at will, after deliberately providing enough room on their host grids to allow that.

Our guest in this episode is an expert on the subject who has helped the California Independent System Operator, or CAISO, think about new, flexible modes of operation for solar plants. It’s a very geeky and oftentimes technical interview, but we know the grid geeks who listen to this show will love it!

Geek rating: 10

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[Episode #86] – Is Transition Worth It?

Are investments in energy transition, especially for public dollars in the form of incentives or subsidies, worth it? Do investments in energy efficiency truly pay off, or does efficiency just make energy cheaper because we’re using less of it, encouraging customers to use more of it—a phenomenon known as the rebound effect, the backfire hypothesis, and the Jevons Paradox? Is public support for rooftop solar systems worth it, once we add up all its costs and benefits, or would it be better to support utility-scale solar projects, or something else entirely, like efficiency? Do wind and solar farms, and electric vehicles, always deliver climate benefits, or does it depend on the power mix of the grid to which they’ll be connected? And even if we determine answers to these questions, for how long are those answers valid?

These are all difficult questions, but our guest in this episode has investigated all of them, and she shares her insights at length in this wonky but accessible discussion. If you worry that the rebound effect might mean efficiency isn’t worth it, you definitely need to listen to this one.

Geek rating: 8

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[Episode #85] – Foreign Aid for Microgrids

If you wanted to build a standalone microgrid in Africa, powered by local renewable resources, and make it reliable enough to run a neonatal intensive care clinic, how would you do it? Work through a development bank like the World Bank to get funding? Work with the government in the host country to manage the funds and the project? Build it around lithium-ion batteries? Use Western contractors to do the installation?

In this episode, we learn how Michael Liebreich, the founder of Bloomberg New Energy Finance, helped create a successful project in Sierra Leone by doing none of those things. His experience is full of useful and surprising lessons, and offers a very interesting model for other aspiring renewable microgrid project developers. We’ll also talk with him about his insights on energy transition as one of its veterans, including his experience in trying to transition London to use more electric transportation, as well as his views on career direction and diversity in the energy industry.

Geek rating: 4

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[Episode #84] – Designing Climate Solutions

If you wanted to design a set of policies that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, right now, where would you start? How would you figure out which sectors of the economy to target in order to have the maximum impact? Which policies would you choose? How would you go about designing them?

And which sectors of the economy would you target in order to reduce emissions the most? Transportation, maybe? Improving the efficiency of our buildings? Would you believe those two sectors rank at the very bottom of the list?

In this episode, we interview one of the authors of a new book by Energy Innovation titled Designing Climate Solutions, which is like a how-to manual for climate policy, identifying the major sectors of the economy that we should target to eliminate as much greenhouse gas as quickly as possible, and the specific policies that can achieve those reductions. We guarantee you will find some surprises in this one!

Geek rating: 5

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[Episode #83] – Revisiting Germany’s Energiewende

Germany gets a lot of criticism for its Energiewende (energy transition). For not phasing out coal quickly enough. For paying “too much” for solar early in the worldwide solar boom they helped create. Why are they phasing out nuclear at a time when the rest of the world is trying to maintain their existing nuclear capacity because it’s carbon-free? For having the highest electricity prices in Europe. Surely these are all signs that its energy transition has been a failure, right?

To the contrary: Germany’s energy transition is proceeding along on plan and on schedule; they plan to phase out their coal entirely in just four years; and they plan to run their entire grid on renewables. Germans’ energy bills are about on par with those of Americans, and the transition enjoys widespread popular support. Our guest in this episode directs a think tank in Berlin that aims to make the Energiewende a success, and explains why the critics are wrong.

Geek rating: 2

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[Episode #82] – The Business Case for Renewable Energy

For large corporations, especially those in the industrial sector, buying renewable energy, reducing consumption and becoming more sustainable are surprisingly difficult things to do. Industries like manufacturing, mining, construction, and producing raw materials like cement are all extremely energy intensive, and in many cases, there simply are no good alternatives to using conventional processes based on fossil fuels.

But that doesn’t mean that businesses engaged in those industries can’t find ways to start reducing their own carbon footprints, investing in renewables, investing in research and development into ways of doing more with less, and sharing their knowledge with their peers, in order to accelerate the progress of entire industries. In this episode, we talk with a company that might at first glance seem like an unlikely one to be pursuing sustainability efforts, but which is establishing itself as a leader in corporate sustainability strategies: Ingersoll Rand, a mid-sized manufacturer operating in construction, mining, industrial and commercial markets. You may be surprised at how much they are able to do to become more sustainable and integrate more renewable energy into their operations.

Geek rating: 1

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[Episode #81] – Principles of Energy Transition

This episode features something a little different: Chris is the interviewee, and our guest is the interviewer. Dr. David Murphy, a professor of environmental studies at St. Lawrence University, returns to the show to interview Chris about energy transition in this live event, which was held at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, on February 13, 2018. This was a fun, loose, casual conversation that newcomers to the subject of energy transition should find very accessible.

Dave is working on a textbook about energy transition for his classes, and based on that work, he framed up our conversation around what he sees as some of the key principles of energy transition, which he identifies as follows: Foster resilience, save first, energize people, embrace fair market power, renewable and net energy positive, and match means with ends.

We’d like to thank Devin Moeller, a subscriber to the show and an instructor in the Department of Geography & Environmental Studies at UCCS, for organizing the event and inviting us to participate.

Geek rating: 2

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[Episode #80] – Building Infrastructure as a Service

If you owned a building, or a long-term lease on a commercial space, would you rather shop for your own building infrastructure—things like HVAC systems—or would you rather buy it as a subscription service from a trusted utility or power provider? Our guest in this episode offers the latter, and it’s an intriguing model for how we might upgrade the equipment for commercial and industrial buildings. There are reasons why 68% of the HVAC equipment in commercial buildings in the US is nearly three decades old and in need of replacement, and those reasons are about the cost, complexity, and difficulty involved in that kind of procurement. Wouldn’t it be better if you could call up your local utility and ask them to upgrade your equipment, using their network of trusted and reputable equipment experts and installers, and then just paid them a small amount for the use of that equipment every month, rather than having to pay thousands of dollars for it up front and taking all of the performance risk upon yourself? From high-efficiency lighting, to HVAC controls and sensors, to other energy-consuming building equipment, Sparkfund offers a subscription approach to procurement backed by a no-risk guarantee, which could unlock a huge opportunity to improve the efficiency of our commercial and industrial building systems more quickly than we do under the status quo.

Geek rating: 2

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