[Episode #150] – Resilient and Reliable Power

As areas like California and Texas struggle amid wildfires, extreme freezes, high winds and other challenges, and take measures to keep the lights on, it’s worth pausing to consider what “resilient” and “reliable” grid power means from the perspective of grid planning. What, specifically, should the operators of the bulk power system do to make their grids more reliable? Do wholesale power markets need to be reformed, to internalize the costs of power shutoffs and send price signals that project developers can respond to? How can new technologies, like demand response systems and microgrids, play new roles in making grids more resilient? And at an even more fundamental level… who is the grid for, anyway? Does the grid exist to serve people, or do people exist to serve the grid?

Energy Transition Show regular Lorenzo Kristov, a grid architect of over 20 years’ experience, has been thinking deeply about these questions and shares his thoughts with us in this episode. Inverting the usual logic of grid planning, he suggests that more active participation by customers and distributed energy resources can help improve both grid resilience and reliability, while democratizing grid power and grid governance. This thoughtful, heady interview will leave even veteran grid experts with more than a few new ideas to consider!

Geek rating: 9

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[Episode #149] – Green Hydrogen and Carbon Prices

We’ve all heard about the potential of “green” hydrogen — hydrogen produced from carbon-free sources — to help decarbonize the ways we use energy by making variable renewable power from wind and solar available on-demand. The European Union is counting on green hydrogen to meet its carbon reduction goals under the Paris Agreement.

But the cost of green hydrogen is still considerably higher than the “gray” hydrogen made using fossil fuels, which currently dominates global hydrogen use. If truly carbon-free green hydrogen is going to reach price parity with its dirtier cousins, two things need to happen: production costs must fall, and some form of carbon pricing will need to increase the price of gray hydrogen, leveling the playing field.

But what carbon price can serve this purpose, and how much will the cost of producing green hydrogen need to fall? And when do these repricings need to occur for Europe to achieve its carbon reduction goals under the Paris Agreement?

Our guest in this episode, Mark Lewis, Head of Climate Change Investment Research at BNP Paribas Asset Management in Paris, shares his answers to these questions with us, using the European Emissions Trading System (ETS) as a basis.

Also in this episode: We make several exciting announcements, including announcing that host Chris Nelder will now be working full time on the podcast!

Geek rating: 5

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[Episode #148] – Energy and Emissions after COVID

What trajectory of global energy consumption and carbon emissions can we expect as the world starts to recover from the COVID pandemic in the years ahead? Will we go right back to our activities and travel habits as they were before the pandemic? Or have structural changes already taken place that put us on a different path?

In this episode, we speak with the co-head of the World Energy Outlook series at the Paris-based International Energy Agency (IEA), who helps design and direct the construction of their energy scenarios and their guidance to the world’s governments. We discuss three major reports that IEA has issued over the past six months on energy demand and emissions as a result of COVID, and have a look at how much energy demand dropped in 2020, how the fuel demand in various sectors and countries changed, and what the world might expect in 2021 and beyond.

Geek rating: 4

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[Episode #147] – Hydrogen Innovations and Applications

Hydrogen projects are under way around the world, and some of them are aiming to achieve real commercial scale. But tracking this rapidly-evolving sector is challenging, because it’s happening everywhere at once. So in this episode we build on the foundation we laid in Episodes #142 and #143, in which we surveyed the entire hydrogen sector, to focus in on some of the notable commercial projects that aim to expand hydrogen production and bring down its costs, as well as some potential applications for hydrogen. We also try to identify a bit more specifically where it has any clear advantages over other technologies.

With the help of senior hydrogen advisor Gniewomir Flis of Agora Energiewende, a German energy transition think-tank, this episode offers a look at some significant projects that are underway to expand green hydrogen production capacity, especially in Europe and the Middle East, as well as projects that aim to deploy hydrogen in everything from shipping to power generation.

Geek rating: 4

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[Episode #146] – Why Local Solar Costs Less

Conventional wisdom in the energy transition has long held that public investment should be directed toward utility-scale projects, because they’re cheaper than rooftop solar systems, kilowatt for kilowatt. Being cheaper, utility-scale systems would clearly deliver more bang for the buck.

Our returning guest in this episode, energy modeler Christopher Clack, says according to his recent modeling, the opposite is actually true — that investing more into local solar will deliver more public benefits than investing in utility-scale projects. And even more surprisingly, he says that building rooftop solar and distributed storage systems will actually result in more utility-scale solar as well, plus bring greater societal benefits such as more jobs, increased economic development, increased resilience, and more equitable access to the benefits of renewables. By modeling a dizzying set of factors simultaneously, Clack is able to show that combining many factors leads to synergistic effects that have been heretofore undiscovered in the literature… factors that we will attempt to describe in this extremely deep dive into energy modeling.

Geek rating: 9

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[Episode #145] – A Slow Take on the Texas Blackout

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.

Geek rating: 8

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[Episode #144] – Investing in Energy Transition

We have a very special guest for you in this episode: Jeremy Grantham, the legendary investor who co-founded GMO, a Boston-based institutional money management firm, more than 40 years ago. With more than $60 billion in assets under management, GMO has produced steady returns for its investors through market booms and busts, largely thanks to the steady hand of Grantham and his investing philosophy, which holds that sooner or later, most valuations return to the mean.

In this interview, we talked about Grantham’s investing philosophy; the history of investment bubbles; how he values investments; what’s happening in the markets as new retail traders using the Robinhood app and participating in Reddit-based trading groups drive stocks like Game Stop wild; what the Fed should do as the world recovers from the pandemic; his views on the massive expansion of the US national debt; how the world’s governments are responding to the challenge of climate change; the role of venture capital in energy transition; and his outlook for energy transition in general.

Geek rating: 5

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[Episode #143] – Hydrogen Economy 2.0 Part 2

This is part two of our three-hour interview with Dr. Simon Evans of Carbon Brief about their extensive survey of the developing hydrogen economy.

In part one of this interview, which we featured in Episode #142, we discussed the current expectations for the hydrogen economy, the various projections for hydrogen production and use; the different methods of producing hydrogen and the names we use to refer to them; the state of the global hydrogen business today; the potential roles that hydrogen might play in tackling climate change; and the questions around what hydrogen costs today and may cost in the future.

In this second part, we’ll talk about the various potential applications of hydrogen sector by sector and by use, and attempt to start sorting out where hydrogen might really have an edge, and where it might be just a potential application that might never become a commercial reality.

Geek rating: 3

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[Episode #142] – Hydrogen Economy 2.0 Part 1

Everyone seems to be excited about hydrogen lately, pointing out its many potential applications and claiming that a global hydrogen economy is a key strategy in energy transition. But how much of what we’re hearing is real, and how much of it is hype? What are all the ways that hydrogen is being produced, what is the global capacity for producing it now, what kind of investment would be needed to its production up to the needed levels, and where does hydrogen have a clear and tangible edge over competing technologies or energy sources?

In this episode, we present part one of a two-part, three-hour interview with Dr. Simon Evans, the deputy editor and policy editor for Carbon Brief, in which he shares their findings from dozens of interviews they conducted with experts who are knowledgeable about hydrogen’s potential, as well as from dozens of research reports and other resources.

In this first part of the interview, we’ll talk about the expectations for Hydrogen Economy 2.0; the various projections for hydrogen production and use; the different methods of producing hydrogen and the names we use to refer to them; the state of the global hydrogen business today; the potential roles that hydrogen might play in tackling climate change; and the questions around what hydrogen costs today and may cost in the future.

In part 2 of this interview, which will run as Episode #143, we’ll talk about the various potential applications of hydrogen sector by sector and use by use, and attempt to start sorting out where hydrogen might really have an edge, and where it might be just a potential application that might never become a commercial reality. So stay tuned for that!

Geek rating: 3

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[Episode #141] – Making Climate Policy Work

Why have nearly all attempts to price carbon failed, while targeted policies to achieve certain objectives, like phase out coal plants or increase wind and solar generation, succeeded? And how can we design climate policies that are truly effective?

In their new book, Making Climate Policy Work, Danny Cullenward and David Victor argue that policymakers and policy advocates rely too heavily on market forces to combat climate change, and instead should be focusing on smart, targeted industrial policy strategies aimed specifically at reducing greenhouse gases. Market-based climate policies are doing very little to reduce emissions today, they say, but with careful reforms, markets can be harnessed to help us make meaningful progress against the climate challenge.

In this episode we speak with one of the authors and try to distill a recipe for good climate policy from their book.

Geek rating: 5

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