It is widely assumed that the ongoing migration of rural peoples to mega-cities all over the world will help reduce humanity’s per-capita energy footprint, while giving people a higher standard of living and accelerating energy transition. But the world is full of old, inefficient cities in desperate need of an eco-makeover, and of experts who understand the principles of “smart urbanization” and who can help identify how to transform a city from brown and dumb to smart and green. What’s the potential for replacing concrete with living things in cities? How can autonomous and electric vehicles help make cities cleaner and more livable? Why isn’t China promoting its phenomenal success with e-bikes to the rest of the world? Is China’s commodity demand going to continue to weaken as it moves away from a manufacturing economy? And will the emissions it was generating just move elsewhere when it does? All these questions and more are answered in this wide-ranging conversation with an expert on smart urbanization and China.
CC Huang works to advance sustainable development in the United States and China. She is currently working with Equilibrium Capital to accelerate investment in sustainable technologies and the Energy Foundation China on urban development strategy. She led the creation of the Green and Smart Urban Development Guidelines, which are now being used to train government officials and guide large-scale urban development projects in China, inform urban planning in Mexico City, and to promote sustainability principles in Sweden. She has written for or been featured in Science, Forbes, Fortune China, Next City, and Caijing, among others. She has also worked at Energy Innovation, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and the Natural Resources Defense Council. She obtained her MPA from Princeton University and completed her BA at George Washington University.
Although it’s clear enough that energy transition is necessary and reasonable, and although we know that transition is mainly happening on the grid at first, there is still much uncertainty about exactly where on the grid different strategies can be tried, how much they can accomplish, and what they’ll cost, relative to the alternatives….not to mention how the rest of the grid will respond as different measures—like storage, demand response, rooftop solar, controlled dispatch, and so on—are implemented. What’s needed to answer all these difficult questions? Better models, including serious math, by serious researchers.
Fortunately, one of those researchers is willing and able to explain several years of her work in grid modeling at NREL and elsewhere. So tune in and put on your thinking caps, because this episode (Geek Rating 10!) is not for the faint of heart.
Marissa Hummon is a senior energy scientist with Tendril, a provider of customer-facing software to the energy industry, based in Boulder, Colorado. Previously, she spent five years at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in the Energy Analysis group. She earned her BA in Physics from Colorado College and her PhD in Applied Physics from Harvard University. Marissa started her career in grid integration of renewables by looking at some of the core problems with modeling the intermittency and variability of renewable technologies. Before joining Tendril she worked on quantifying the value of demand response and storage technologies in wholesale electricity markets. At Tendril she is leading the development of a residential demand response product that balances the home owner’s comfort and the utilities’ production costs.
As the world continues to struggle with the effects of climate change, energy transition is more important than ever as a key pathway to stopping global warming. But will it be enough? Many serious climate researchers think it won’t be, and urge deliberate attempts to directly alter the Earth’s climate by using a number of technologies, loosely grouped under the heading of geoengineering. But geoengineering has not won much support from the climate and environmental communities, and still struggles to gain enough legitimacy to attract sufficient research funding to attempt serious pilot projects that might tell us whether geoengineering holds real promise as a safe, cost-effective, and powerful tool in a portfolio of climate change mitigation strategies.
So what is the real potential of geoengineering to address climate change? How much would it cost? How risky is it, and what justification might there be for taking that risk? And what sorts of attitudinal shifts might be needed within the climate and environmental communities to embrace geoengineering as one of a portfolio of strategies? We attempt to answer all of those questions and more in this interview with a veteran science journalist and author of a recent book on geoengineering.
Energy and water are inextricably linked: It takes energy to supply water, and it takes water to supply energy. And those processes consume vast amounts of both. Yet we have only really begun to study the energy-water nexus and gather the data that policymakers will need to understand the risk that climate change poses to both power and water. As rainfall and temperatures continue to depart from historical norms, forcing conventional power plants to throttle back or shut down, we may need to invest more heavily in wind and solar PV just to keep the lights on. Even more radical solutions may become necessary, like switching to more dry-cooled power plants, and desalinating brackish groundwater. Ideally, we would treat the challenges of the energy-water nexus in an integrated way, deliberately reducing our energy and water demands simultaneously as part of our energy transition strategies, but our governments aren’t typically set up for that, and much more basic research and analytical work is needed.
Jordan Macknick is an Energy and Environmental Analyst at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). Jordan leads NREL analysis research on the interface of energy, water, and land issues in policy planning. In addition, his research addresses energy deployment in developing countries, technology characterizations, and global energy and carbon systems. Prior to joining NREL in 2009, he worked as a research associate at the International Institute of Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Austria. He holds a BA in mathematics and environmental studies from Hamline University and a Master’s of Environmental Science from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.
What if we didn’t have to work around the grid we have today, with all of its inertia and incumbents and inflexibility? If we could start over and design the grid from scratch, what would it look like? And once we understood that, how might it change the way we are going about energy transition now, in order to reach that goal more quickly and directly? If what we really want is a grid that is fair, equitable, reliable, efficient, resilient, sustainable, and which serves our climate and social goals, what are the first principles we might work from, and what mechanisms might get us where we want to go? This freewheeling conversation aims to help all of us “think outside the box” a bit more, and imagine what the possibilities might be if we could just start over.
Jim Kennerly is a Principal Analyst with Sustainable Energy Advantage in Massachusetts, a consulting firm specializing in renewable energy markets and policy, where he focuses on solar and distributed energy markets and policy. Formerly, he was a Senior Policy Analyst at the North Carolina Clean Energy Technology Center at NC State University, where he researched distributed energy economics, utility regulation and rate design with funding from the U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative, and also worked on the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE) project. Jim also served as a regulatory analyst to the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association and a consultant to the U.S. EPA’s ENERGY STAR program at ICF International.
Should we tweak our markets to keep nuclear plants alive, or forget about markets and pay for them another way… and do we really need them at all to keep the grid functioning? Is nuclear power really declining because of overzealous environmentalists, or are there other reasons? Is it possible to balance a grid with a high amount of variable renewables and no traditional baseload plants? Is cost-benefit analysis the right way to approach energy transition? How much “decoupling” can we do between the economy and energy consumption, and how can we correctly measure it? Why are we so bad at forecasting energy and economic growth, and how can we do it better? How will energy transition affect the economy?
We explore all of these questions and more, and try to separate fact from falsehoods in this wide-ranging interview. It might even change your mind about a few things.
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.
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.
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.
Christine Eibs-Singer is the Director of Global Advocacy at Power for All, an organization that advances renewable, decentralized electrification solutions as the fastest, most cost-effective and sustainable approach to universal energy access. She also serves as Senior Advisor to the Sustainable Energy for All initiative, with a focus on energy access finance. Christine has been in the energy access space for 20+ years, starting as the co-founder of E+Co in the mid-90s, the pioneer energy enterprise investment company.
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.
Eric Gimon is an active researcher and policy adviser on the power sector transformation to a clean, reliable and affordable low-carbon future. His career path has spanned 15 years of researching quantum gravity and high energy physics at some of the world’s top research institutions, to work at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and UC Berkeley, to an AAAS fellowship with the Department of Energy, and finally to a personal transition to climate and energy policy. Eric is currently a Senior Fellow with Energy Innovation: an energy and environmental consulting NGO. His interests and writing cover everything from residential energy management systems to large grids and wholesale electricity markets.
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)
Adam James, Deputy Director of Global Strategy and Policy at SolarCity, former global demand analyst for Greentech Media, and the founder and CEO of the Clean Energy Leadership Institute (CELI), an organization devoted to providing young people with the tools they need to impact clean energy policy.