Energy transition on the power grid is much more complicated than simply replacing fossil fuel and nuclear generators with wind and solar generators. Maintaining high-quality, reliable power will require a lot more than simply adding batteries to a high-renewables grid. Engineers have to maintain stable voltage, current, and real power… which involves manipulating elusive factors like reactive power and frequency, while implementing technologies to compensate for various kinds of instability. It’s very technical, and we don’t claim to really understand it, but in this episode we’re going to take an initial whack at it anyway with the help of a systems engineer with ABB, in an attempt to understand a little bit more about the arcane art of power engineering, and in particular, voltage stability.
How do we know at what level our consumption is sustainable, and when we’re in planetary overshoot? How do we quantify what the planet’s capacity is to meet human demands, and how much of that capacity is renewable, and how much of it is just being permanently depleted? And once we had a way to quantify that, what would we do with that information? Would we use it to inform our actions and avert overpopulation and disaster? Would we ignore it at our peril? Or would reality just unfold in some messy fashion along a default path somewhere in between? Is a deliberate transition to a sustainable energy system even possible?
Our guest in this episode created a scientific methodology called “ecological footprint analysis,” a kind of ecological accounting, to inform policymakers about our resource demands on the world as compared with Earth’s ability to meet those demands. Earth Overshoot Day, which the Global Footprint Network calculates every year, arrived on August 2, meaning “that in seven months, we emitted more carbon than the oceans and forest can absorb in a year, we caught more fish, felled more trees, harvested more, and consumed more water than the Earth was able to produce in the same period.” After listening to this discussion, you’ll never quite think of energy transition the same way again.
“Deep decarbonization” is all the rage in energy circles, but what does it really mean for actually retrofitting and remodeling buildings? Is it just about replacing oil and gas-fired boilers and furnaces with electric equivalents? Or does it actually mean something far more complex and interesting? Our guest in this episode is a registered engineering technologist in building construction technologies and an award-winning expert on the integration of the building sciences and health sciences who believes the best solutions come from an integrated design approach that takes all elements of buildings and human experience into account, not just how we heat our buildings. This lengthy, wide-ranging, and often humorous discussion covers everything from building science, to regional and national politics, to human physiology and psychology, to the ways that we teach architecture and building design, and much more…and it will leave you with an entirely new concept of what “deep decarbonization” really means. Plus: we finally delve into the arcane but important concepts of exergy and entropy.
It’s the two-year anniversary of the Energy Transition Show, so we thought we’d take a break from the deep dives and just have a little fun skiing around on the surface for a change. Dr. Jonathan Koomey returns to the show for a freewheeling discussion about some of the interesting questions and debates swirling around the energy transition today, and hopefully help us glue together many of the themes that have emerged from our first 51 shows.
How do you go about an energy revolution? Is 100% renewables the right goal? How much seasonal storage will a high-renewables grid need? What will it cost? Is there a future for nuclear power? Or CCS? What should get the credit for declining U.S. emissions? How do we model the best pathways to a future of clean and sustainable energy? Can the IPCC modeling framework be fixed? What kind of carbon mitigation pathways should we be projecting? And how should we communicate the important messages on climate and energy transition? We tackle all these questions in one big omnibus episode.
Following the interview, Chris shares some of his reflections on Hurricane Harvey in an extended postscript, which we’ve made available in the free, abridged version as well as the full, subscriber version of this show.
Modeling the future of our climate is a complex task that not too many people understand. What do we know about how the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (or IPCC) modeling actually works? Why has the modeling community decided to model emissions separately from socioeconomic scenarios? When we hear that the RCP8.5 emissions scenario is considered a “business as usual” scenario, what assumptions are we making about all that business? And are those assumptions reasonable? Is there a climate scenario that represents an optimistic view of energy transition over the coming decades? And if so, what does it assume about the energy technologies that we will switch away from, and switch to?
These and many other questions are answered in this two-hour discussion on emissions modeling by an expert climate modeler from the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), who co-chairs the working group on future scenarios for impacts, adaptation and vulnerability indicators of the International Committee On New Integrated Climate Change Assessment Scenarios. It’s a wonktastic deep dive into an esoteric subject… and it just may leave you feeling a lot more hopeful about the prospects for energy transition, and for our planet.
Many outlooks for a mostly renewable U.S. power grid include a lot more high-voltage transmission lines. But is this a realistic hope, considering how few of these lines we’ve built in recent years, and the many barriers they always seem to face? One might think not, considering the many obstacles a typical transmission project has to overcome. Then again, we can always change the rules and invent new ways of siting transmission lines, because when there’s a will, there’s a way. Our guest in this episode is a professor at the University of Minnesota Law School and an expert in regulatory challenges to integrating more renewable energy into the nation’s electric transmission grid, as well as issues around siting interstate electric transmission lines and pipeline, and she’s going to help us sort it all out.
When we hear about the emissions scenarios used in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports, do we really understand what they’re assuming about future fossil fuel combustion? And what do these emissions scenarios imply about the steps needed to achieve climate policy goals and decarbonize our energy system? For example, when you hear about the worst-case warming scenario known as RCP8.5, do you know that it is based on projections for a 10-fold increase in global coal consumption through the end of this century? Or that many of the estimates of future fossil fuel combustion in these scenarios are based on very old assumptions about how the energy system could develop in the future? And how can we square scenarios like these with our contemporary reality, in which coal is in decline and the world is turning to renewables because they have become the cheapest options for generating power? How should we actually think about the influence that the global energy system will have on the climate over the next century? In this fifth part of our mini-series on climate science, researcher (and Energy Transition Show producer) Justin Ritchie helps us understand what the IPCC scenarios really mean, and how they can be improved to offer better policy guidance.
In this fourth episode of our climate science mini-series, we dive into the carbon cycle to understand how the greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels accumulate in the atmosphere. We also discuss how climate science is taught, the concepts that students struggle to understand, and what the science of human reasoning and teaching can tell us about how best to communicate this enormously complex subject to a lay audience. Our guest is Dr. Sara Harris, a professor at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, who is an expert at teaching climate science, and who has published a book titled Understanding Climate Change: Science, Policy and Practice, as well as a self-paced free online course called “Climate Change: The Science.”
Europe has been the global leader in energy transition for decades, offering to the rest of the world many useful examples of both policies that work and those that don’t. As a result, European countries now have some of the world’s most energy efficient economies, and the largest shares of renewable energy. But getting there wasn’t easy, and still isn’t. From the very first efforts to develop policies that would support energy transition decades ago, right up to the present, there have been incumbents in the energy industry establishment who fought transition every step of the way, both overtly and through subversion. To help us understand this long and complex history, our guest in this episode is Claude Turmes, a Member of the Greens for Luxembourg in the European Parliament who has had a front-row seat in Europe’s energy transition policy formulation for over 15 years, and the author of a new book about it titled Energy Transformation: An Opportunity for Europe.
[This episode has been released ahead of schedule to coincide with the publication of the paper it covers. Enjoy! --Ed.]
Is it really feasible to run the world on 100% renewables, including supply and demand matching at all times and places? Would doing so require vast amounts of seasonal storage? Are exotic new technologies like next-generation flexible nuclear power plants or coal plants equipped with carbon capture and storage (CCS) equipment needed to balance out variable renewables at a reasonable cost?
In this episode, Dr. Christopher Clack offers a very detailed, deep critique of the 100% wind, water and solar model proposed by Stanford’s Mark Jacobson in 2015, and explains where the model falls short. We also discuss a recent paper by Jesse Jenkins from MIT and Samuel Thernstrom from the Energy Innovation Reform Project, which reviewed some recent papers on what “deep decarbonization” might imply for our future energy mix. This 90-minute, super-wonky chat over a few pints of IPA is guaranteed to leave you reeling…and hopefully, more informed about the best policy pathways to a mostly renewable future.