The last of the big-time U.S. coal companies has gone bankrupt, and in the hills of Appalachia, they’re looking for their next move. How will the former coal miners find new careers and build new industries? How will the liabilities of coal companies ever get paid? And how did we get into this situation in the first place? We talk with one of the best coal reporters in the business (and a West Virginian native) to find out.
In percentage terms, Denmark is the world leader in energy transition, as well as the king of wind power. Wind now supplies 42% of all Denmark’s electricity, and by 2020, the country plants to get fully half of its power from wind. It’s also the only developed country in the world with a serious plan to achieve 100% of its energy – just not electricity, but all energy – from renewables, and plans to do it by 2050. In this episode we talk with energy journalist Justin Gerdes about his new e-book on Denmark’s energy transition, Quitting Carbon: How Denmark Is Leading the Clean Energy Transition and Winning the Race to the Low-Carbon Future.
Justin Gerdes, independent journalist specializing in energy issues based in the San Francisco Bay Area. His work has appeared at Forbes.com, the Guardian, Yale Environment 360, MotherJones.com, Smithsonian.com, and Ensia, among others.
Improving efficiency is almost always easier and cheaper than generating new power, so efficiency should be our first target in energy transition. But it’s usually the last. And while there are very effective incentives for renewable energy, the incentives and programs for efficiency have been far less effective. In this episode we talk with efficiency guru and innovator Matt Golden about how to get away from efficiency incentive programs, and switch to performance-based markets for energy efficiency, plus how to standardize efficiency projects so that they are easier to understand, trust, and finance. Thanks to ideas like these, energy efficiency may be about to hit the big time.
Electric vehicles are all the rage right now, and hopes are high that we might finally be able to transition off of oil and on to electric cars…preferably, cars powered by clean renewable electricity and not by coal-fired grid power. But they’re still less than 1% of the new vehicle market, and they still face real challenges in consumer acceptance, a lack of charging infrastructure, and a dearth of options at the dealership. So what should we really expect from EVs in the near- and medium-term, and how realistic are the high hopes for switching a nation like the US, with nearly 260 million conventional light vehicles on the road today, over to EVs? We talk to EV expert Matthew Klippenstein to find out.
China is always a bit of an enigma to the West: It is the world’s largest user of coal and the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide; the world’s largest car market; it has the world’s largest shale gas resources; and it has been building entire “ghost cities” with no one living in them. But it is also the world leader in energy transition, with more wind and solar deployment than any other nation; it has a massive grid construction program and the world’s largest and most rapid high-speed rail construction program; and before long, it will probably have the world’s largest market for electric vehicles.
To understand the trajectory of the world’s energy transition effort, we have to understand what’s happening in China. But its official data are unreliable, and official statements can vary wildly from the facts on the ground. That’s why in this episode we talk with James West, a senior digital editor for Mother Jones and former senior producer for Climate Desk, who has traveled to China to get those stories firsthand.
Many have heard of peak oil, but few seem to understand what it really means, and fewer still know much of anything about the father of the idea, M. King Hubbert. In this episode we interview science journalist Mason Inman, who has written the first biography of Hubbert: The Oracle of Oil: A Maverick Geologist's Quest for a Sustainable Future, which hits the shelves April 11. Deeply researched and rich with detail about the debates over our energy future (and energy transition) from the 1940s through the 1980s, the book is a terrific read for anyone interested in peak oil theory, what it is about, and what it is not about (for example, oil prices!). Today’s debates about the future of energy aren’t too dissimilar from the debates of 60-70 years ago…and that should make us think hard about where we’re going.
Check out the interview that critics are calling “way too long!” with the author of the book that Publisher’s Weekly called “tedious!”
No, seriously: Check it out. It just may be the best material you’ll ever find on what “peak oil” really is.
Plus: I explain why I’m skeptical about IEA’s new report on the decoupling of carbon emissions and economic growth.
What’s the best way to bring energy to those in the developing world who lack it? Why do forecasts by agencies like IEA always seem to overstate the cost of solutions in the developing world? Why do big expensive programs run by NGOs and the World Bank so often fail to achieve their aims of alleviating energy poverty? Why do those programs always seem to favor big coal plants, nuclear plants, CCS projects, and other big-ticket items that never seem to get built? And what’s actually getting the job done, right now, in places like sub-Saharan Africa? What are the prospects for those efforts in the future? We answer these questions and more…like where Bill Gates goes wrong with his zero-carbon equation.
Everyone knows that India is the second-largest coal importing nation in the world, after China, and that it is the fastest-growing source of global CO2 emissions thanks to its rapid adoption of coal. And it is widely believed that India will remain the world’s fastest-growing market for coal for years to come. But sometimes what “everybody knows” is wrong. Renewables are now hitting grid parity, and are poised to snatch the lead away from coal in India. Plus: We round up the cheapest solar projects ever in the US and the world.
What kind of grid architecture and markets will we need in order to actually operate the distributed, decentralized grid of the future? What sorts of regulatory models will be needed? And what does it all mean, from a philosophical point of view, about how human society is organized? How can mere mortals begin to understand these subjects? Never fear: We’ve got you covered, in this ultra-geeky yet accessible episode.
A full-spectrum romp through the macroeconomic context: Stock markets; oil and gas prices; coal's collapse; the difficult LNG export market; what commodities are telling us about the health of the global economy; trends in oil and electricity demand and electric vehicles; currency valuations and trends; the outlook for renewables; and much more!