[Episode #22] – Can Economics Guide the Energy Transition?

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Is conventional, free-market economic theory really up to the task of energy transition and combating climate change? Can we let the so-called invisible hand of the market guide us through the troubled waters ahead, or will we need firm policy direction and deliberate, top-down planning to secure the best outcomes? How useful can free markets be, in transitioning us away from coal, and meeting our climate targets and securing enough carbon-free power to run our societies? Will they be any help at all in supporting technologies like carbon capture and sequestration, or geoengineering? Can negative discount rates help us pay for climate change mitigation projects? And what does the future hold for oil? We discuss all of these questions and more with veteran energy editor Ed Crooks of the Financial Times.

Geek rating: 6

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[Episode #21] – The Role of Development Banks in Energy Transition

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Multilateral Development Banks (MDBs) like the World Bank, the African Development Bank and the Asian Development Bank are publicly committed to ending energy poverty and enabling energy access to the developing world. But their conventional processes and approaches to risk management make it difficult for them to invest in the decentralized renewable energy solutions that have the best chance of lifting people out of energy poverty. So what can be done about it? To find out, we talk with a pioneer in the energy investment and energy access space and ask her some pointed questions about how development bank funding works, and how it needs to be changed.

Geek rating: 5

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[Episode #20] – Grid Evolution

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Utilities face a host of rapid changes in a what used to be a staid business: new business models, changing supply and demand forecasts, new distributed architectures, new types of resources, new participants in the power grid that they don't control…yet they still must maintain a highly reliable power grid that operates within fairly narrow parameters.

Meanwhile, difficult questions remain to be solved, about how we’re going to manage our grid power transition, who the winners and losers will be, what destination we’re headed for, what role consumers and “prosumers” will play in the future, and what our reasons are for executing transition the way we do.

We tackle all of these issues in this wide-ranging, very geeky conversation about the “blocks and squiggles” of the grid of the future. Grid power transition, the rebound effect, energy efficiency, utility business models, cutting-edge grid power management considerations, regulation and rate design, electric vehicles as distributed energy resources… they’re all here.

Geek rating: 10

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[Episode #19] – Distributed Renewables in Latin America and Beyond

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Finance geeks, this episode is for you! Latin America has had one of the fastest-growing renewable energy markets on the planet for the past several years, but nobody ever talks about it. We aim to correct that in this wide-ranging interview with Adam James, Deputy Director of Global Strategy and Policy with SolarCity.  Who’s got the hottest auction design? Who’s growing at eye-popping rates?  Who screwed up their incentive program so badly that nobody wants to invest there anymore? And what are some outside-the-box ideas about how to get capital flowing into distributed energy systems in the developing world? Plus: oblique Prince references! (RIP)

Geek rating: 8

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[Episode #18] – The Collapse of Coal

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The last of the big-time U.S. coal companies has gone bankrupt, and in the hills of Appalachia, they’re looking for their next move. How will the former coal miners find new careers and build new industries? How will the liabilities of coal companies ever get paid? And how did we get into this situation in the first place? We talk with one of the best coal reporters in the business (and a West Virginian native) to find out.

Geek rating: 5

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[Episode #17] – Denmark’s Energy Transition

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In percentage terms, Denmark is the world leader in energy transition, as well as the king of wind power. Wind now supplies 42% of all Denmark’s electricity, and by 2020, the country plans to get fully half of its power from wind. It’s also the only developed country in the world with a serious plan to achieve 100% of its energy – just not electricity, but all energy – from renewables, and plans to do it by 2050. In this episode we talk with energy journalist Justin Gerdes about his new e-book on Denmark’s energy transition, Quitting Carbon: How Denmark Is Leading the Clean Energy Transition and Winning the Race to the Low-Carbon Future.

Geek rating: 2

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[Episode #16] – Energy Efficiency Markets

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Improving efficiency is almost always easier and cheaper than generating new power, so efficiency should be our first target in energy transition. But it’s usually the last. And while there are very effective incentives for renewable energy, the incentives and programs for efficiency have been far less effective. In this episode we talk with efficiency guru and innovator Matt Golden about how to get away from efficiency incentive programs, and switch to performance-based markets for energy efficiency, plus how to standardize efficiency projects so that they are easier to understand, trust, and finance. Thanks to ideas like these, energy efficiency may be about to hit the big time.

Geek rating: 9

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[Episode #15] – The Outlook for Electric Vehicles

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Electric vehicles are all the rage right now, and hopes are high that we might finally be able to transition off of oil and on to electric cars…preferably, cars powered by clean renewable electricity and not by coal-fired grid power. But they’re still less than 1% of the new vehicle market, and they still face real challenges in consumer acceptance, a lack of charging infrastructure, and a dearth of options at the dealership. So what should we really expect from EVs in the near- and medium-term, and how realistic are the high hopes for switching a nation like the US, with nearly 260 million conventional light vehicles on the road today, over to EVs? We talk to EV expert Matthew Klippenstein to find out.

Geek rating: 2

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[Episode #14] – China’s Energy Future

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China is always a bit of an enigma to the West: It is the world’s largest user of coal and the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide; the world’s largest car market; it has the world’s largest shale gas resources; and it has been building entire “ghost cities” with no one living in them. But it is also the world leader in energy transition, with more wind and solar deployment than any other nation; it has a massive grid construction program and the world’s largest and most rapid high-speed rail construction program; and before long, it will probably have the world’s largest market for electric vehicles.

To understand the trajectory of the world’s energy transition effort, we have to understand what’s happening in China. But its official data are unreliable, and official statements can vary wildly from the facts on the ground. That’s why in this episode we talk with James West, a senior digital editor for Mother Jones and former senior producer for Climate Desk, who has traveled to China to get those stories firsthand.

Geek rating: 2

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[Episode #13] – The Oracle of Oil

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Many have heard of peak oil, but few seem to understand what it really means, and fewer still know much of anything about the father of the idea, M. King Hubbert. In this episode we interview science journalist Mason Inman, who has written the first biography of Hubbert: The Oracle of Oil: A Maverick Geologist's Quest for a Sustainable Future, which hits the shelves April 11. Deeply researched and rich with detail about the debates over our energy future (and energy transition) from the 1940s through the 1980s, the book is a terrific read for anyone interested in peak oil theory, what it is about, and what it is not about (for example, oil prices!). Today’s debates about the future of energy aren’t too dissimilar from the debates of 60-70 years ago…and that should make us think hard about where we’re going.

Check out the interview that critics are calling “way too long!” with the author of the book that Publisher’s Weekly called “tedious!”

No, seriously: Check it out. It just may be the best material you’ll ever find on what “peak oil” really is.

Plus: I explain why I’m skeptical about IEA’s new report on the decoupling of carbon emissions and economic growth.

Geek rating: 8

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