Historically, thermal concentrating solar plants were the only type of solar power equipped with storage. But as cheaper PV systems became dominant, thermal solar plants fell into disfavor. Now solar PV systems are beginning to integrate storage based on lithium-ion batteries, and this storage isn't just used to supply power when the sun is down; it is providing grid stabilization services too, which only adds complexity to an already-complicated picture for the future of storage - confounding attempts to model how much storage we’ll need, and of what kind, and when will we need it. Is a large amount of seasonal storage required on a high-RE grid, as some analysts have suggested? Or will other technologies reduce the amount of storage we’ll need? And can we even forecast that need, years or decades in advance? We’ll delve into all those questions and more in this deep dive into combined solar and storage systems.
Paul Denholm is a member of the Grid Systems Analysis Group in the Strategic Energy Analysis Center at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. He is a leading researcher in grid applications for energy storage and solar energy. He pioneered a variety of research methods for understanding the technical, economic, and environmental benefits and impacts of the large scale deployment of renewable electricity generation.
In this seventh episode of our mini-series on climate change, we explore what carbon budgets really mean, and what they indicate about the pathways that might allow us to keep global warming below two degrees C.
Amid all the unavoidable uncertainty in modeling warming and the effects of our actions, what do we really know about how much warming we might see in the future? If it turned out that our carbon budget is larger than we used to think it was, would that change our policy direction? And which policy paths should we advocate?
Our guest in this episode, Dr. Glen Peters, is a veteran researcher on climate change whose current research focuses on the causes of recent changes in carbon dioxide emission trends at the global and country level, and how these changes link to future emission pathways consistent with global climate objectives. And after listening to this nearly two-hour conversation, as well as our previous six episodes on climate science, you will have a much better idea of how much warming we may yet expect!
Dr. Glen Peters has been a Senior Researcher at the CICERO Center for International Climate Research in Oslo, Norway, for nearly ten years. His current research focuses on the causes of recent changes in carbon dioxide emission trends at the global and country level, and how these changes link to future emission pathways consistent with global climate objectives. He is particularly interested in how emission scenarios are created, interpreted, and used, and how this relates to ongoing policy discussions. He has a background in mathematics and physics.
The blockchain is one of the most discussed and hyped technologies, and it’s not just limited to crypto-currencies like Bitcoin. There are also plenty of serious people looking at how the tokens and distributed ledgers of blockchain technology might work in an energy context, and how they could help to enable new kinds of transactions and even whole new markets in energy - helping to accelerate energy transition by doing things cheaper, faster, and with greater security than conventional methods allow.
But these are very new ideas that are only just getting into the real development phase now, and understanding how they might work, and what their real potential is, is not easy. It’s a complex and largely abstract domain without much real-world experience to show for itself. And it has a dark side, too: The energy consumption alone of these new crypto-currencies is horrific. So is the blockchain going to turn out to be a huge new boon to energy transition, or will it turn out to be a bad idea that consumed a lot of energy without much tangible benefit?
To help us understand how the blockchain works and how it might actually benefit energy transition, our guest in this episode is enabling innovators to create new decentralized markets in energy, such as demand response, and creating new opportunities to bring low cost, low carbon and resilient energy to all. She is an expert in innovation, tech, communications, and environmental policy, and has a front-row seat in seeing how the blockchain is being integrated into energy markets.
Molly Webb is an expert in market acceleration and advocacy for global innovation in technology, climate change, smart cities and energy who has worked with The Climate Group and the UK think tank, Demos. She is a green innovation strategy advisor for Zennström Philanthropies, a jury member for numerous cleanweb and clean tech awards, and worked in software and IT product development in New York, Tokyo and London. Molly has an MSc in Environmental Policy at the London School of Economics.
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.
Martin Wästljung has a Masters in Energy Systems Engineering and a Masters in Renewable Electricity Generation from Uppsala University, Sweden. He works for ABB, a major power and automation supplier, in their Flexible AC Transmission Systems (FACTS) unit. FACTS supplies systems for improved power and voltage quality, which increase reliability, utilization and performance of the power system. His background includes working with power system studies related to voltage stability and control and power quality issues.
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.
Dr. William Rees is an ecological economist Professor Emeritus and former director of the University of British Columbia’s School of Community and Regional Planning. The originator of eco-footprint analysis, he has an extensive opus of peer-reviewed articles on the biophysical prerequisites for sustainability in an era of accelerating ecological change. Dr. Rees was a founding director and past-president of the Canadian Society for Ecological Economics, a founding director of the One Earth Initiative and is a Fellow of the Post-Carbon Institute.
“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.
Robert Bean is a registered engineering technologist in building construction technologies and a professional licensee in mechanical engineering. He is president of Indoor Climate Consultants Inc. and technical director for www.healthyheating.com. He has been awarded numerous industry awards for his work which focuses on the integration of the building sciences and health sciences and corresponding energy issues.
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.
Dr. Jonathan Koomey has been studying energy and climate solutions for more than 30 years. He’s a world-class researcher on the environmental effects of information technology, the economics of climate solutions, and exploring the future through computer modeling, among other topics. His latest book, the 3rd edition of Turning Numbers into Knowledge: Mastering the Art of Problem Solving, summarizes practical lessons he’s learned over the past three decades while doing analysis at the intersection of engineering, economics, environmental science, and public policy.
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.
Dr. Bastiaan J. van Ruijven is a Project Scientist with the Integrated Assessment Modeling group at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, CO and Visiting Research Scholar at the Boston University Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer-Range Future. Bas holds an MSc in Environmental Science (2004) and a PhD in Energy Science (2008) from Utrecht University in the Netherlands. Between 2008 and 2011, Bas was Policy Researcher at the IMAGE Integrated Assessment group at the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL).
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.
Alexandra Klass is a Distinguished McKnight University Professor at the University of Minnesota Law School. She is an expert in regulatory challenges to integrating more renewable energy into the nation’s electric transmission grid, and eminent domain issues surrounding interstate electric transmission lines and oil and gas pipelines. She is a co-author of Energy Law (Foundation Press 2017), Energy Law and Policy (West Academic Publishing 2015), and The Practice and Policy of Environmental Law (Foundation Press, 4th ed. 2017).
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.
Justin Ritchie is a PhD candidate at the University of British Columbia’s Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability as well as a producer for the Energy Transition Show. His academic work focuses on the economics of decarbonization, scenarios of transitions to future technologies and cognitive approaches to model-based science.