Emily Grubert is a civil engineer and environmental sociologist who studies how we can make better decisions about large infrastructure systems, particularly related to decarbonization of the US energy system. Specifically, she studies socioenvironmental impacts associated with future policy and infrastructure and how community and societal priorities can be better incorporated into multicriteria policy and project decisions. Grubert is an Associate Professor of Sustainable Energy Policy and, concurrently, of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Earth Sciences at the University of Notre Dame.
Phasing out the old while simultaneously building up the new is always a challenge, and perhaps never more so than with the energy transition. Can we coordinate replacing fossil-fueled assets with clean, zero-carbon assets so that both systems remain functional and affordable during the transition? And how can we ensure that disadvantaged communities don’t get left behind in the process?
In this episode, we continue to explore the theme of the “messy middle” of the transition, building on our previous discussions in Episode #177 and #181. Not only should we expect a large degree of direct government intervention in the process of the transition, because it’s just too difficult and complex to leave everything up to the action of markets, it can be a welcome intervention. Someone needs to plan how to orchestrate the retirement of dirty assets with the construction of clean replacements while keeping everything running. For example: Can we leave it up to the private sector to ensure that enough gasoline filling stations stick around to meet the needs of people still driving internal combustion engine vehicles while we’re in the process of building up enough EV charging infrastructure to meet the needs of drivers who are going electric? Probably not. Some elements of the transition will be far more successful if they are planned and guided.
In this conversation, Emily Grubert points out some of the challenges of the “mid-transition,” as she and her co-author Sara Hastings-Simon call it, and how policymakers ought to be thinking about how to orchestrate it so that no one gets left behind.
In the middle of February 2021, an Arctic cold front wreaked havoc on Texas, causing a blackout that plunged more than 4 million customers into darkness and cold during single-digit temperatures. The crisis led to the deaths of nearly 200 people and an estimated $50 billion changed hands, saddling millions of customers, including ones in neighboring states, with unexpected excess costs.
What happened in Texas is an incredibly complex story involving many factors, from a simple lack of weatherization, to flaws in the state’s electricity market structure, to failed governance. And untangling that story, and identifying ways to prevent such a crisis from ever happening again, is a complex task. To help us with it, we invited several Energy Transition Show alumni—journalist Russell Gold of the Wall Street Journal, professor Emily Grubert of the Georgia Institute of Technology, and legal scholar Ari Peskoe of Harvard Law School—to join us in a four-way conversation that explores all the angles.
Methane (natural gas) is a greenhouse gas with a much more powerful warming effect than carbon dioxide, so finding and eliminating gas leaks is an important part of addressing the climate challenge. But until now, we’ve had poor information about gas leakage within cities, as well as how to correctly attribute the leakage all along the chain from well to consumer.
In this episode we discuss a study, The Gas Index, with two of its authors. It is the first study that has provided granular estimates for life cycle methane leakage for a large number of cities, and the first to draw together recent assessments of leakage within cities, including leakage that occurs within buildings. It shows that cities’ gas systems are leaking about 72% more than had been previously estimated by the EPA.
We also consider the role of natural gas in the energy transition, and some of the tradeoffs we will have to consider as we deal with the problem of methane leakage.