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[eLab Extra #2] – Hawaii’s Energy Transition

Full Episode

This is a special, free "extra" episode recorded at RMI’s eLab Annual Summit in December 2016 in Austin, Texas.

How is Hawaii managing one of the most rapid energy transitions in history to variable wind and solar generators, while maintaining a balanced, isolated grid and actually reducing long-term costs? It’s no accident: They have developed a transition roadmap and they are working hard to adopt the latest technology while preserving social equity…not just for grid power, but for electric vehicles as well, toward a goal of reaching 100% renewable electricity by 2045. Lorraine Akiba of the Hawaii PUC shares her perspective in an interview from RMI’s eLab Annual Summit 2016.

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Geek rating: 5

Guest:

 Lorraine Akiba is a Commissioner with the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission. She previously practiced environmental law, and has held leadership positions at a number of national and state professional legal organizations. She is a member of the Advisory Council to the Board of Directors of the Electric Power Research Institute; a member of the U.S. DOE and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Future Electric Utility Regulation Advisory Group; and she serves on the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners Board of Directors and its Energy Resources and Environment Committee. She also is a member of the State and Local Energy Efficiency Action Network (SEE Action) Financial Solutions Working Group.

On the Web: State of Hawaii Public Utilities Commission

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[eLab Extra #1] – Next Generation Demand Response

Full Episode

This is a special edition of the Energy Transition Show with Chris Nelder, recorded in December 2016 at RMI’s eLab Annual Summit in Austin, Texas.

Can utilities disrupt themselves, or does it take an outside force? How can demand response technologies—including simply informing customers of their electricity usage—help reduce demand peaks on the electricity system and reduce costs for all ratepayers? And what kinds of infrastructure, like Advanced Metering Infrastructure, are needed to enable a highly efficient grid and an informed customer base. Richard Caperton of Opower (a business unit of Oracle) shares his perspective on all of these questions in an interview from RMI’s eLab Annual Summit 2016.

Geek rating: 6

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Guest:

 Richard Caperton is the Director of Policy and Regulatory Affairs in Oracle’s Utilities Global Business Unit. He leads the company’s regulatory work in the eastern half of the United States, and is responsible for engagements with the federal government and the wholesale power markets. Richard also guides the company’s global regulatory strategy on demand response and electricity market design. Prior to joining Opower, Richard was the Managing Director for Energy at the Center for American Progress, where he worked on energy tax and finance and electric utility issues. He has also worked in government relations at the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association and served as a policy fellow at the Alliance for Climate Protection. He currently serves on the board of the Clean Energy Leadership Institute and is an adjunct professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies.

On Twitter: @richardcaperton

On the Web: Richard Caperton’s LinkedIn page

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[Episode #33] – Fracking Follies

Full Episode

The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) regularly updates its estimates for how much oil and gas might be recovered in the future, and at what rate. With the application of new technology from year to year, those estimates generally keep going up. But it’s important to remember that they are just estimates — and the devil is always in the details.

Our guest in this episode is a career geoscientist who has diligently delved into those devilish details. In his new reports, he finds that EIA’s Annual Energy Outlook 2016 seems to significantly overstate how much oil and gas might be recovered using fracking technology, with estimates for shale gas and tight oil production that exceed the estimates for how much of those resources are even technically recoverable. In this extended and technically detailed interview, we discuss EIA’s most recent forecasts and try to understand what’s realistic for future US hydrocarbon production.

Geek rating: 9

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Guest:

David Hughes is an earth scientist who has studied the energy resources of Canada for four decades, including 32 years with the Geological Survey of Canada as a scientist and research manager. He developed the National Coal Inventory to determine the availability and environmental constraints associated with Canada’s coal resources. As Team Leader for Unconventional Gas on the Canadian Gas Potential Committee, he coordinated the publication of a comprehensive assessment of Canada’s unconventional natural gas potential.

Over the past decade, Hughes has researched, published and lectured widely on global energy and sustainability issues in North America and internationally. Hughes is president of Global Sustainability Research, a consultancy dedicated to research on energy and sustainability issues. He is also a board member of Physicians, Scientists & Engineers for Healthy Energy (PSE Healthy Energy) and is a Fellow of Post Carbon Institute. Hughes contributed to Carbon Shift, an anthology edited by Thomas Homer-Dixon on the twin issues of peak energy and climate change, and his work has been featured in Nature, Canadian Business, Bloomberg, USA Today, as well as other popular press, radio, and television.

On the Web: David Hughes’ page at Post Carbon Institute

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[Episode #32] – Resources and Economy

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The notion of “decoupling” energy consumption from economic growth has become vogue in policy circles, but how much evidence is there that it’s really happening? If the energy intensity of our economy is falling, are we sure that it’s becoming more efficient, or might we just be offshoring energy-intensive industries to somewhere else…along with those emissions? If energy reaches a certain percentage of total spending, does it tip an economy into recession? Is there a necessary relationship between energy consumption and monetary policy? Is there a point at which the simple fact that we live on a finite planet must limit economic growth, or can economic growth continue well beyond our resource consumption? Can the declining EROI of fossil fuels tell us anything about the future of the economy? And can we have economic growth using clean, low-carbon fuels, or might transitioning to an economy that produces zero net new carbon emissions put the economy into recession and debt?

To help us answer these thorny questions, we turn to an expert researcher who has looked at the relationship between energy consumption and the economy over long periods of time and multiple economies, and found some startling results with implications for the Federal Reserve, for economic policymakers, and for all those who are involved in energy transition.

Geek rating: 8

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Guest:

Dr. Carey King performs interdisciplinary research related to how energy systems interact within the economy and environment. He is a Research Scientist at The University of Texas at Austin, and Assistant Director at the Energy Institute. He also has appointments with the Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy within the Jackson School of Geosciences and the McCombs School of Business. He has both a B.S. with high honors and Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Texas at Austin. He has published technical articles in the academic journals Environmental Science and Technology, Environmental Research Letters, Nature Geoscience, Energy Policy, Sustainability, and Ecology and Society. He has also written commentary for American Scientist and Earth magazines discussing energy, water, food, and economic interactions. Dr. King has several patents as former Director for Scientific Research of Uni-Pixel Displays, Inc.

On Twitter: @CareyWKing

On the Web:  Carey King’s website

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[Episode #31] – Transition in Ireland

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Ireland is one of the most advanced countries in energy transition, getting over a quarter of its electricity from renewables. It also has one of the most ambitious targets—to obtain 40% of its electricity generation from renewables by 2020—and the resources to be more than 100% powered by renewables, given time and technological development. On the flip side, it also has a severe dependence on imported fossil fuels, and relies on some of the dirtiest power plants in the world.

In this episode, we explore this curious mix of reality, ambition, and potential with the leader of Ireland’s Green Party, a bona fide energy wonk and a longtime supporter of energy transition. From Ireland’s domestic renewable resources to the tantalizing possibility of the North Seas Offshore Grid initiative, it’s all here.

Geek rating: 4

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Guest:

 Eamon Ryan is the leader of Ireland’s Green Party; the former Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources; and is currently a member of the Communications, Climate and Energy committee in the Irish Parliament. He also currently works for E3G, a European climate organization, and chairs the digital policy group in the Institute of International and European Affairs.

On Twitter: @eamonryan

On the Web: Eamon Ryan’s website

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[Episode #30] – The Future of Wind

Full Episode

The cost of wind power has been falling steadily again since the 2008 price spike, and newer projects have been coming in at 2 cents per kilowatt-hour, making them very competitive with natural gas fired power and ranking among the very lowest-cost ways to generate electricity. But can wind prices keep falling, or have they bottomed out?

A recent report from the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, the National Renewable Energy Lab, and other organizations offers some clues. Based on a survey of 163 of the world’s foremost wind energy experts, it examines in detail what factors have led to wind’s cost reductions in the past, and attempts to forecast what will drive further cost reductions in the future. It also looks at some of the reasons why previous forecasts have underestimated the growth and cost reductions of wind, and suggests that many agency forecasts may be underestimating them still. In this episode, one of the report’s principal authors explains the findings and offers some cautionary words about how much confidence we can have in our forecasts.

Geek rating: 4

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Guest:

Dr. Ryan Wiser is a Senior Scientist and Group Leader in the Electricity Markets and Policy Group at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Ryan leads and conducts research and analysis on renewable energy, including on the planning, design, and evaluation of renewable energy policies; on the costs, benefits, and market potential of renewable electricity sources; on electric grid operations and infrastructure impacts; and on public acceptance and deployment barriers. Ryan holds a B.S. in Civil Engineering from Stanford University and an M.S. and Ph.D. in Energy and Resources from the University of California, Berkeley.

On Twitter: @BerkeleyLabEMP

On the Web: Ryan Wiser page at LBNL

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[Episode #29] – Grid Simulation and Wind Potential

Full Episode

What combination of power generators on the U.S. grid produces reliable power at the lowest cost? Or, what’s the most renewable energy that can be deployed at a given grid power cost, and what kind of transmission capacity is needed to support it? How would the U.S. grid be different if it were one, unified grid with more high-voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission capacity? What’s the most productive design for a wind farm? How might weather and a changing climate affect future electricity production from wind and solar farms? And how much renewable power is really feasible on the U.S. grid?

These have been devilishly difficult questions to answer, but now advanced mathematical simulations are beginning to make it possible to answer them much more quickly…and if quantum computing becomes a reality, we could answer them instantly.

In an homage to Comedy Central’s Drunk History, this episode features a conversation conducted over several pints of IPA with a mathematician who recently developed such a simulator while he was working at NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) in Boulder, CO. His insights on how the grid of the future might actually function are fascinating, and will likely shatter some of your pre-existing beliefs. It also contains a few nuggets for the serious math geeks out there.

Geek rating: 8

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Guest:

Dr. Christopher Clack is the founder of Vibrant Clean Energy, LLC, a software and services company that focuses on optimization techniques and renewable energy integration into the electricity grid. Dr. Clack was previously a research scientist for the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) at the University of Colorado Boulder working with the Earth System Research Laboratory (ESRL) NOAA for half a decade, leading the development of the NEWS simulator. Dr. Clack received his first class BSc (Hons) in mathematics and statistics for the University of Manchester in the UK. He then went on to research applied mathematics and plasma physics at the University of Sheffield in the UK. During his PhD, Dr. Clack completed an area of study centered on nonlinear resonance theory within the framework of magnetohydrodynamics (MHD) that remained unsolved for twenty years. The theories derived have helped our understanding of the Sun as well as possibilities for fusion reactors, such as ITER.

On Twitter: @clacky007

On the Web: Vibrant Clean Energy

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[Episode #28] – Transition in Cities

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It is widely assumed that the ongoing migration of rural peoples to mega-cities all over the world will help reduce humanity’s per-capita energy footprint, while giving people a higher standard of living and accelerating energy transition. But the world is full of old, inefficient cities in desperate need of an eco-makeover, and of experts who understand the principles of “smart urbanization” and who can help identify how to transform a city from brown and dumb to smart and green. What’s the potential for replacing concrete with living things in cities? How can autonomous and electric vehicles help make cities cleaner and more livable? Why isn’t China promoting its phenomenal success with e-bikes to the rest of the world? Is China’s commodity demand going to continue to weaken as it moves away from a manufacturing economy? And will the emissions it was generating just move elsewhere when it does? All these questions and more are answered in this wide-ranging conversation with an expert on smart urbanization and China.

Geek rating: 3

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Guest:

CC Huang works to advance sustainable development in the United States and China. She is currently working with Equilibrium Capital to accelerate investment in sustainable technologies and the Energy Foundation China on urban development strategy. She led the creation of the Green and Smart Urban Development Guidelines, which are now being used to train government officials and guide large-scale urban development projects in China, inform urban planning in Mexico City, and to promote sustainability principles in Sweden. She has written for or been featured in Science, Forbes, Fortune China, Next City, and Caijing, among others. She has also worked at Energy Innovation, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and the Natural Resources Defense Council. She obtained her MPA from Princeton University and completed her BA at George Washington University.

On Twitter: @cc_huang

On the Web: http://energyinnovation.org/greensmart/

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[Episode #27] – Better Grid Modeling

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Although it’s clear enough that energy transition is necessary and reasonable, and although we know that transition is mainly happening on the grid at first, there is still much uncertainty about exactly where on the grid different strategies can be tried, how much they can accomplish, and what they’ll cost, relative to the alternatives….not to mention how the rest of the grid will respond as different measures—like storage, demand response, rooftop solar, controlled dispatch, and so on—are implemented. What’s needed to answer all these difficult questions? Better models, including serious math, by serious researchers.

Fortunately, one of those researchers is willing and able to explain several years of her work in grid modeling at NREL and elsewhere. So tune in and put on your thinking caps, because this episode (Geek Rating 10!) is not for the faint of heart.

Geek rating: 10

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Guest:

Marissa Hummon is a senior energy scientist with Tendril, a provider of customer-facing software to the energy industry, based in Boulder, Colorado. Previously, she spent five years at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in the Energy Analysis group. She earned her BA in Physics from Colorado College and her PhD in Applied Physics from Harvard University. Marissa started her career in grid integration of renewables by looking at some of the core problems with modeling the intermittency and variability of renewable technologies. Before joining Tendril she worked on quantifying the value of demand response and storage technologies in wholesale electricity markets. At Tendril she is leading the development of a residential demand response product that balances the home owner’s comfort and the utilities’ production costs.

On Twitter: @Tendril

On the Web: LinkedIn Profile for Marissa Hummon

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[Episode #26] – Geoengineering

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As the world continues to struggle with the effects of climate change, energy transition is more important than ever as a key pathway to stopping global warming. But will it be enough? Many serious climate researchers think it won’t be, and urge deliberate attempts to directly alter the Earth’s climate by using a number of technologies, loosely grouped under the heading of geoengineering. But geoengineering has not won much support from the climate and environmental communities, and still struggles to gain enough legitimacy to attract sufficient research funding to attempt serious pilot projects that might tell us whether geoengineering holds real promise as a safe, cost-effective, and powerful tool in a portfolio of climate change mitigation strategies.

So what is the real potential of geoengineering to address climate change? How much would it cost? How risky is it, and what justification might there be for taking that risk? And what sorts of attitudinal shifts might be needed within the climate and environmental communities to embrace geoengineering as one of a portfolio of strategies? We attempt to answer all of those questions and more in this interview with a veteran science journalist and author of a recent book on geoengineering.

Geek rating: 5

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Guest:

 Oliver Morton is a senior editor for Essays and Briefings at The Economist. He was previously the Chief News and Features Editor at Nature and editor of Wired UK. He is the author of The Planet Remade: How Geoengineering Could Change The World (2015), Mapping Mars: Science, Imagination and the Birth of a World (2002), which was shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award; and Eating the Sun: How Plants Power the Planet (2007). His work has been published in New Yorker, National Geographic, Discover, Time, American Scholar, New Scientist, New York Times, Financial Times, Guardian and Wall Street Journal. He has a degree in the history and philosophy of science from Cambridge University and lives with his wife in Greenwich, England. Asteroid 10716 Olivermorton is named in his honour.

On the Web: Oliver Morton’s blog, Heliophage

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