[Episode #191] – Shale’s Swan Song

Since 2007 the US transitioned from an oil production has-been that was more than four decades past its previous peak, to the world's top oil and gas producer, and the top exporter of liquefied natural gas (LNG). The shale boom delivered many benefits to the US and the world, including over a decade of reprieve from the impending threat of peak oil.

But now shale producers face numerous challenges — such as running out of decent prospects where they can drill new wells.

The implications of the US shale boom winding down are as numerous as the benefits, and it’s vitally important we understand how this shift will influence the world oil market and shape the entire project of the energy transition.

In this episode, we are joined by longtime oil journalist Derek Brower, the US Energy Editor for the Financial Times, who has been a frontline reporter through the shale boom's entire story. We recount the history of how the US fracked its shales to become the leading oil producer, and how a decade of volatile oil prices has changed the character of the oil industry, as well as the various ways we use oil. We’ll also review the headwinds the shale industry now faces and why its prospects for additional growth are dim. And we’ll consider what the end of the shale boom means for the global oil trade and its geopolitics; for the ongoing efforts to eliminate demand for Russian oil in the West; and for the energy transition as a whole.

Geek rating: 7

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[Episode #190] – Financing Utility Scale RE in Developing Countries

Multilateral development banks (MDBs) like the World Bank are increasingly under pressure to invest more in renewable energy projects in emerging markets. The lack of financing for such projects is a problem at the small, distributed scale as we discussed in Episode #189, and it’s also a problem for utility-scale projects as we discuss in this episode.

In this conversation, Brad Handler, a Program Manager and Researcher at the Sustainable Finance Lab of the Payne Institute at the Colorado School of Mines who tracks various such projects and initiatives, walks us through some recent Energy Transition Mechanisms (or ETMs) and Just Energy Transition (or JET) refinancing projects that aim to close coal plants in the developing world long before the end of their expected lifespans, and replace their generation with renewable power. A former Wall Street Equity Research Analyst with 20 years of experience covering the oil sector, Brad has a deep understanding of how finance in the traditional energy sector works, giving him an excellent perspective on how energy transition financing could work. He does a wonderful job of explaining the oftentimes opaque and complex world of sustainable finance so that it’s comprehensible.

Closing coal plants remains the number-one priority globally for reducing carbon emissions. So although these are still very early days for refinancing projects, it’s worthwhile to examine how and where development banks are finally taking some real steps to accelerate the energy transition in emerging economies, derisking the sector and motivating much more conventional private sector capital to participate.

Geek rating: 5

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[Episode #189] – Financing the Transition

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), almost all of the growth in global clean energy spending is happening in advanced economies and China, while the two-thirds of the global population that live in emerging market and developing economies are receiving less than one-fifth of the total. The reason? The high cost of capital.

But why is the cost of capital so much higher in emerging economies than in advanced economies? Why is it still so much harder and more expensive to finance clean energy projects than it is to finance fossil fuel projects in those countries? And what can be done about it?

In this episode, we speak with a solar project developer working in Costa Rica to try to answer these questions. Building on our previous discussion from Episode #21, we try to explain why so little progress has been made, especially by the multilateral development banks (like the World Bank), in reducing the cost of financing for renewable energy projects in emerging economies. We review the different roles that various financial institutions play in financing the energy transition, and we ask what needs to change to unlock the flow of capital into energy transition solutions (especially distributed solar). We also put the risk and reward of investing in those projects in a fresh context, and call upon banks of all kinds to start acting in more creative and ambitious ways to take bolder action and get capital deployed where it is most needed, and where it can do the most good.

Geek rating: 6

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[Episode #188] – Getting to a 100% Clean Grid

How much of a role might wind, solar, nuclear, transmission, power plants equipped with carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology, or direct air capture of CO2 play on a 100% clean power grid? Which mix of those technologies would provide the cheapest pathways to a clean grid?

And once we have met 90% of the need for grid power with clean generation, what will we need to meet the last 10% of the demand for grid power? Will it be ‘overbuilt’ wind and solar? Dispatchable geothermal, hydropower, and bioenergy generators? Seasonal storage using hydrogen or batteries? Conventional fossil-fueled plants with CO2 capture? Or might it be some mix of flexible demand technologies? Or some or all of the above?

For that matter, how certain can we even be about modeling the possible solutions years or even decades ahead? Are there solutions that might play a large role in the future but that we can’t yet model very well? How confident should we be that whatever the solutions turn out to be, we will end up with not only a grid that is completely free of carbon emissions but also one that is fully reliable?

In this episode, we speak with a senior researcher at the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) who has been researching and modeling grid power for many years. In this quite technical discussion, we review two new NREL reports that address these questions and show that producing a 100% clean power grid is not only technically feasible by a variety of pathways but also commercially feasible and ultimately, cheaper than continuing to run the fossil-fueled power grid we have today.

Geek rating: 9

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[Episode #187] – Transition in Vermont, Part 2

This is Part 2 of the first series in a new format we are piloting for the Energy Transition Show. Instead of exploring a particular topic with one guest who has a non-commercial perspective, as most of our shows so far have done, this new format aims to tell the stories about how the energy transition is proceeding in some of the places Chris visits in his travels. Through interviews with multiple local experts, including those who are working in the energy sector, we hope this new format will help to demonstrate how the unique challenges and opportunities in every place will determine its particular path through the energy transition.

We are kicking off this new show format with some stories about Vermont for a simple reason: When it comes to the energy transition, Vermont stands out as a place that punches way above its weight. It has innovated numerous policies and mechanisms to reduce its energy consumption and carbon emissions that have been emulated by other US states. And it continues to serve as a model to the rest of the country for effective energy transition strategies.

You’ll learn more about all of these accomplishments, as well as what makes Vermont such an exemplar in the energy transition, in this two-part miniseries based on interviews with eight local experts.

Part 1 was in Episode #186, in which we discussed the supply side of Vermont’s energy picture. In this second part, we look at the demand side.

Interviews with guests featured in this episode were recorded from October 11-15, 2021.

Geek rating: 4

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[Episode #186] – Transition in Vermont, Part 1

This is the first show in a new format we are piloting for the Energy Transition Show. Instead of exploring a particular topic with one guest who has a non-commercial perspective, as most of our shows so far have done, this new format aims to tell stories about how the energy transition is proceeding in some of the places Chris visits in his travels. Through interviews with multiple local experts, including those who are working in the energy sector, we hope this new format will help to demonstrate how the unique challenges and opportunities in every place will determine its particular path through the energy transition.

We are kicking off this new show format with some stories about Vermont for a simple reason: When it comes to the energy transition, Vermont stands out as a place that punches way above its weight. It has innovated numerous policies and mechanisms to reduce its energy consumption and carbon emissions that have been emulated by other US states. And it continues to serve as a model to the rest of the country for effective energy transition strategies.

You’ll learn more about all of these accomplishments, as well as what makes Vermont such an exemplar in the energy transition, in this two-part miniseries based on interviews with eight local experts.

In this first part, we talk about the supply side of Vermont’s energy picture. In the second part, we’ll look at the demand side.

Interviews with guests featured in this episode were recorded from October 11-15, 2021.

Geek rating: 4

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[Episode #185] – Designing the Mid-transition

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.

 

Geek rating: 8

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[Episode #184] – EROI of RE

Do renewable energy sources generate enough energy ‘profit’ to make them worth continued investment? And is any energy profit large enough to run our modern world, as renewables displace fossil fuels?

Some skeptics of the energy transition have claimed that renewables can’t run our world because the net energy they deliver to society is too low. They make this argument drawing from past data for the Energy Returned on Investment (or EROI) for various fuels, which showed high EROIs for extracting fossil fuels, and low EROIs for very early generations of wind and solar technology. However, the historical EROI literature has been plagued with methodological inconsistencies so how reliable is this legacy data for guiding modern outlooks?

In a new paper we discuss in today’s episode, a group of researchers has cleaned up and rectified recent EROI data so that the various fuels can be compared on an apples-to-apples basis. Their new results paint a very different picture from the old literature.

Not only do renewables have sufficiently high EROIs to power our society, they are much higher than the EROIs of the fossil fuels they are replacing! In fact, these results suggest that only through the energy transition can we maintain a functioning society.

To walk us through this new paper, its lead researcher, Dr. David Murphy, an environmental scientist at St. Lawrence University in New York, returns to the show.

In addition to reviewing the results of this new paper, we’ll also talk about some of the other mistaken arguments that are frequently made against the energy transition, and explain why they are wrong.

Geek rating: 9

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[Episode #183] – Global Energy Crisis

What began as a “global energy crunch” one year ago, as we discussed with Will Kennedy in Episode #158, has now become a global energy crisis. It is putting energy consumers into severe financial distress and forcing governments around the world to intervene in all sorts of unprecedented ways, as we discussed in Episode #181, “Command Capitalism.” For much of Europe, it will be a very tough winter.

In this episode, Will returns to the show to explore the turmoil in energy and capital markets around the world, as well as how governments are responding to the crisis. We’ll also try to anticipate what will happen next.

As we sketch out, this crisis will ultimately accelerate the energy transition because that is truly the only way out of this mess. But it won’t be a straight path, it won’t be quick, and it won’t be easy.

This is a deep, dense, 90-minute-long conversation, so if you’re not a full subscriber yet, this would be a good time to join us! There are also more than 100 source references in the show notes for this episode, so be sure to log into our website using your subscriber credentials and check them out.

Geek rating: 8

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[Episode #182] – 7th Anniversary Show

Full Episode

For our Seventh Anniversary show, energy researcher Jonathan Koomey rejoins us to review major stories over the past year, and to take stock of how the energy transition has progressed.

We talk about how the global energy crunch we covered in 2021, in Episode #158, has evolved into a full-fledged global energy crisis in 2022. We reflect on the theme of Episode #181, “Command Capitalism,” and consider the increasing interventions governments are making in energy markets to manage the crisis. We muse on the episodes we did over the past year on the trajectory and speed of the energy transition. We consider the outlook for storage systems, in light of the episodes we did on that subject. We discuss how incumbents have resisted the energy transition, as we covered in our episode on utility corruption, and ask whether incumbents are gaining or losing ground. We review the highlights of our shows on the latest IPCC report and on climate modeling. And Jon shares some of his latest work in energy modeling.

It's a smörgåsbord of energy transition goodness, so strap on a napkin and join us!

Geek rating: 8

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