California’s largest utility is bankrupt as a result of its liability for starting some of California’s largest and deadliest wildfires. Now the utility, its shareholders and investors, and the state itself are trying to figure out how to reorganize the company, manage its wildfire risk, and the pay for its future liabilities in an era of a warming climate and enduring droughts. But that’s just where this story starts, not where it ends. In reality, all of the state’s utilities need a backstop for their wildfire liabilities, and de-energizing transmission lines isn’t the only solution. In fact, these questions go beyond the borders of a single state, and touch on a host of deeper issues, including insurance underwriting rules, building and planning and zoning rules, and even how the grid itself will be operated. And it turns out that many of the same solutions that help us in the energy transition can also help us mitigate the risks of wildfires, and adapt to our new climate reality. We are fortunate to have Michael Wara as our guest in this episode—a bona fide expert on the subject who is a member of the state-appointed wildfire commission in California—to help us think through this complex web of issues and understand how to start plotting a new path into the future.
As we continue looking for ways to decarbonize our energy systems, we often have to decide whether it’s better to try reworking our market rules so that the markets will do a better job of procuring clean energy, as we discussed in Episode #90, or whether it makes sense to just mandate the procurement of clean energy resources. The former is a job for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), but the latter is the domain of the states. In fact, our guest in this episode, a senior attorney with NRDC and the Sustainable FERC Project, argues that because states are really the only ones with the authority to regulate energy in order to obtain a more environmentally beneficial outcome and combat climate change, their mandates are a necessary pathway to decarbonizing the grid. And that, to some extent, market price distortion is in the mind of the beholder.
Energy transition has been under way for the better part of two decades now, and it’s easy to forget how much the world has changed over the time. We now have a host of energy technologies and consumer tools that didn’t even exist 15 years ago. Utility business models have been turned upside-down and we’re still not sure what they’ll look like in the future. Equally, there has been a transformation in education as it tries to catch up with a rapidly-changing world and an ever-more-urgent call to action on climate change. Viewed up close, the transition now underway can look pretty slow sometimes, but if you back up and review what has transpired over the past 15 years, it has actually been incredibly rapid, at least compared to the historical pace of change.
Few people have been as involved in energy transition over the past 15 years, and have seen it as up close and personal as our guest in this episode. Robyn Beavers has had a remarkable career working in energy transition that included stints at Google, NRG, the Department of Energy, and Vestas, and she did it all starting as a young woman in an industry dominated by men. In this interview she shares some of her insights on how it all has unfolded, and how she has managed to be incredibly successful with navigating the gender disparity. She also explains how her new venture is working to turn the built environment into dynamic energy assets. If you’re a young person interested in breaking into the world of energy, you don’t want to miss this episode!
In this tenth part of our series on climate science, we explore a new paper outlining a climate scenario that would limit warming to 1.5 °C without relying on negative emission technologies. It does so by detailing numerous pathways that could lead the world toward much lower total primary energy consumption, including a heavy focus on the demand side, quantifying the impact of behavioral changes and different ways of providing energy services, rather than simply focusing on consuming energy.
This doesn’t mean that actually following the pathways outlined in this model will be easy, or that staying under 1.5 degrees of warming is going to happen automatically. In fact, some of the behavioral changes that would be needed might be as difficult as implementing a carbon tax (or, for that matter, implementing CCS at scale). But this outlook does respond to our main complaints with the existing body of climate and energy scenarios—that they generally depend on negative emissions technologies like CCS, and that they don’t adequately take into account measures and policies that are already reducing our energy demand and accelerating the energy transition. Our guest in this episode is one of the co-authors of the paper: Charlie Wilson, a researcher at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, and an Associate Professor in Energy & Climate Change at the University of East Anglia in the UK. His expertise on consumer adoption of technology, behavior and policy as they relate to energy and climate change mitigation gives him a unique perspective on this research that we think you’ll find illuminating and thought-provoking.
In this ninth part of our mini-series on climate science, we turn to one of the key suspects in extreme weather events we have experienced in recent years—the shifting shape of the North Atlantic jet stream. And the fingerprints of the changing jet stream can be found in tree ring data. The guest in this episode has studied three centuries of European tree rings and found that the shape of the jet stream, along with clear deviations from historical weather, began in the 1960s, pointing to a connection to the changing climate. Other researchers have come to similar conclusions by studying things like the difference between Arctic and mid-latitude temperatures over time. And they conclude that increases in greenhouse gas emissions will make the jet stream increasingly wavy in the future, exacerbating such extreme weather events.
In this episode, energy expert Eric Gimon answers questions submitted by Energy Transition Show subscribers on a wide range of topics, including the non-climate effects of climate change; whether we even need to keep investing in climate research; what the reliable indicators of the global energy transition might be; how much seasonal storage we’ll need; whether science adequately informs energy policy; the outlook for market reforms that value storage; the outlook and potential role for solar thermal plants equipped with storage; and we finish with a deep dive down the rabbit hole of resource adequacy and reserve margins.
In this eighth part of our mini-series on climate science, we tackle the subject of ice and melting, and how much sea-level rise it may produce. What if that viral story about a starving polar bear may not even have been accurate? What does it really mean when we say that a worst-case climate model projects 11 feet of sea level rise, and is that even a plausible scenario? What does it mean to say that sea ice is melting at the fastest rate in 1,500 years? How much sea level rise might actually result from ice shelves breaking off? And how can we relate the latest studies on melting glaciers and ice caps to degrees of global warming or meters of sea level rise? These aren’t easy questions to answer, but our guest in this episode has about as good a shot at answering them as anyone. His nuanced and deeply informed view of what’s happening to our glaciers and ice caps in this 90-minute interview is refreshing, thoughtful, and provocative, and offers an educational counterpoint to the usual simple projections of climate doom.
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!
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.