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Topic: Coal

[Episode #186] – Transition in Vermont, Part 1

This is the first show in a new format we are piloting for the Energy Transition Show. Instead of exploring a particular topic with one guest who has a non-commercial perspective, as most of our shows so far have done, this new format aims to tell stories about how the energy transition is proceeding in some of the places Chris visits in his travels. Through interviews with multiple local experts, including those who are working in the energy sector, we hope this new format will help to demonstrate how the unique challenges and opportunities in every place will determine its particular path through the energy transition.

We are kicking off this new show format with some stories about Vermont for a simple reason: When it comes to the energy transition, Vermont stands out as a place that punches way above its weight. It has innovated numerous policies and mechanisms to reduce its energy consumption and carbon emissions that have been emulated by other US states. And it continues to serve as a model to the rest of the country for effective energy transition strategies.

You’ll learn more about all of these accomplishments, as well as what makes Vermont such an exemplar in the energy transition, in this two-part miniseries based on interviews with eight local experts.

In this first part, we talk about the supply side of Vermont’s energy picture. In the second part, we’ll look at the demand side.

Recording date: October 11-15, 2021

Air date: November 23, 2022

Geek Rating: 4


Guests

Geek rating: 4

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[Episode #185] – Designing the Mid-transition

Phasing out the old while simultaneously building up the new is always a challenge, and perhaps never more so than with the energy transition. Can we coordinate replacing fossil-fueled assets with clean, zero-carbon assets so that both systems remain functional and affordable during the transition? And how can we ensure that disadvantaged communities don’t get left behind in the process?

In this episode, we continue to explore the theme of the “messy middle” of the transition, building on our previous discussions in Episode #177 and #181. Not only should we expect a large degree of direct government intervention in the process of the transition, because it’s just too difficult and complex to leave everything up to the action of markets, it can be a welcome intervention. Someone needs to plan how to orchestrate the retirement of dirty assets with the construction of clean replacements while keeping everything running. For example: Can we leave it up to the private sector to ensure that enough gasoline filling stations stick around to meet the needs of people still driving internal combustion engine vehicles while we’re in the process of building up enough EV charging infrastructure to meet the needs of drivers who are going electric? Probably not. Some elements of the transition will be far more successful if they are planned and guided.

In this conversation, Emily Grubert points out some of the challenges of the “mid-transition,” as she and her co-author Sara Hastings-Simon call it, and how policymakers ought to be thinking about how to orchestrate it so that no one gets left behind.

 

Geek rating: 8

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[Episode #184] – EROI of RE

Do renewable energy sources generate enough energy ‘profit’ to make them worth continued investment? And is any energy profit large enough to run our modern world, as renewables displace fossil fuels?

Some skeptics of the energy transition have claimed that renewables can’t run our world because the net energy they deliver to society is too low. They make this argument drawing from past data for the Energy Returned on Investment (or EROI) for various fuels, which showed high EROIs for extracting fossil fuels, and low EROIs for very early generations of wind and solar technology. However, the historical EROI literature has been plagued with methodological inconsistencies so how reliable is this legacy data for guiding modern outlooks?

In a new paper we discuss in today’s episode, a group of researchers has cleaned up and rectified recent EROI data so that the various fuels can be compared on an apples-to-apples basis. Their new results paint a very different picture from the old literature.

Not only do renewables have sufficiently high EROIs to power our society, they are much higher than the EROIs of the fossil fuels they are replacing! In fact, these results suggest that only through the energy transition can we maintain a functioning society.

To walk us through this new paper, its lead researcher, Dr. David Murphy, an environmental scientist at St. Lawrence University in New York, returns to the show.

In addition to reviewing the results of this new paper, we’ll also talk about some of the other mistaken arguments that are frequently made against the energy transition, and explain why they are wrong.

Geek rating: 9

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[Episode #183] – Global Energy Crisis

What began as a “global energy crunch” one year ago, as we discussed with Will Kennedy in Episode #158, has now become a global energy crisis. It is putting energy consumers into severe financial distress and forcing governments around the world to intervene in all sorts of unprecedented ways, as we discussed in Episode #181, “Command Capitalism.” For much of Europe, it will be a very tough winter.

In this episode, Will returns to the show to explore the turmoil in energy and capital markets around the world, as well as how governments are responding to the crisis. We’ll also try to anticipate what will happen next.

As we sketch out, this crisis will ultimately accelerate the energy transition because that is truly the only way out of this mess. But it won’t be a straight path, it won’t be quick, and it won’t be easy.

This is a deep, dense, 90-minute-long conversation, so if you’re not a full subscriber yet, this would be a good time to join us! There are also more than 100 source references in the show notes for this episode, so be sure to log into our website using your subscriber credentials and check them out.

Geek rating: 8

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[Episode #181] – Command Capitalism

2022 has brought an unprecedented series of energy market interventions as leaders try to stave off domestic unrest in the face of numerous energy supply shocks. Some of the tumult we’ve seen in energy markets this year can be pinned on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and subsequent reactions by the West. But the war in Ukraine and associated sanctions really only exacerbated numerous fundamental trends that were already well established - trends that were positioning governments to take a stronger hand in their energy affairs. We are experiencing some very fundamental supply and demand problems in all sorts of energy fuels and other commodities around the world, and governments have little choice but to intervene wherever they can to maintain stability.

Where is this all taking us? Can capitalism survive the energy transition? Or are we headed into a new era?

Our guest in today’s episode has an answer: Kevin Book of ClearView Energy Partners believes we are seeing a new approach to economic management that he calls “command capitalism.” It may help us manage some of the challenges of the global energy crunch and the energy transition in a more direct way than we could through “free market” means… but it could also wrest control of our destinies away from regulators and energy ministries, with uncertain consequences.

Geek rating: 9

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[Episode #180] – Transition in Alberta

Full Episode

Alberta is the seat of the Canadian oil & gas industry, as well as a major coal producer, so it has historically struggled to align with the energy transition - focusing more on pipelines than turbines. But Alberta is changing. Now, the province has implemented numerous policies designed to support the transition, installing a significant amount of wind and solar power generation capacity. According to the Alberta Electric System Operator, 14% of the province’s electricity generation in 2020 was from renewable energy sources such as wind, hydro and solar.

In this episode, we are joined by energy expert Dr. Sara Hastings-Simon to discuss the challenges and opportunities for energy transition in Alberta. She is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy and School of Public Policy at the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada, where she directs the Masters of Sustainable Energy Development program. She is an expert in energy, innovation, and climate policy, and her work is focused on understanding how energy and industrial transitions happen within different sectors of the economy, and how policy responses can improve outcomes. She is also the co-host of the Energy vs. Climate podcast, which will run this conversation on their podcast feed as well.

We talk about the recent history of the various efforts to build pipelines and LNG facilities to export more Canadian oil and gas; the outlook for exports of hydropower; the progress of Canada’s coal phase-out; and the potential for expanding renewable generation in the province, including geothermal. Sara also shares her perspective on how Canada’s carbon tax regime has played out.

Geek rating: 5

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[Episode #171] – Rejecting Russia

Ever since Russia invaded Ukraine, policymakers and energy professionals alike have been challenged to figure out how Western countries could stop funding Russia’s war machine by halting imports of their fossil fuels. But, considering that Russia is the world’s largest exporter of oil, halting imports is simply not something that can be done quickly.

It is, however, something that must be done as quickly as possible. Numerous proposals and plans have been put forward to outline how various countries could displace the need for Russian energy exports. And generally, those proposals amount to accelerating the energy transition.

In this episode, we delve into some of those proposals and try to understand how much of a role they could play in displacing Russian fossil fuel exports, how long these measures will take, and how the entire global arrangement of trade and political alliances may have to be rearranged to accommodate them.

We tackle this huge topic in a two-hour conversation with three experts. To represent how Europe could proceed, we welcome back to the show Tim Gould of the International Energy Agency (IEA). To represent the UK perspective, we welcome back to the show Simon Evans of Carbon Brief. And to represent the US perspective, we welcome to the show Rachael Grace, Senior Director of Policy at Rewiring America.

Geek rating: 7

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[Episode #169] – Is the Energy Transition Feasible?

We know energy transition is needed to achieve our climate goals - 1.5˚ or some increasingly dire impacts are on the table. We know the transition is technically possible, economically affordable, and pragmatically doable. We know the policies needed to get the transition done. We know the opponents of transition and how to win against them.

Despite all that we know, there are a lot of unanswered questions about the feasibility of energy transition from a historical and empirical perspective. Can the transition happen fast enough? For each fuel source? In every country?

Our guest in this episode, Dr. Jessica Jewell of the Center for Climate and Energy Transformations at the University of Bergen in Norway, has done extensive research on the feasibility of energy transition. She is also closely involved with the climate scenarios that have been used in the IPCC modeling and is exceptionally well-qualified to help us understand the feasibility question. We discuss research she has co-authored on the speed of solar, wind and nuclear adoption, as well as the speed of phasing out fossil fuels to see if those things are happening quickly enough to limit warming to 1.5°C. We’ll also ask whether the scenario modeling that has been done to date is really what is needed to get a handle on these questions, and how to improve it.

Geek rating: 7

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[Episode #166] – IEA’s Climate Scenarios

As the energy transition continues to accelerate, it’s more important than ever that we update our models—both our empirical and mental models—of where we’re heading. Things that we used to take for granted, like oil and gas demand increasing every year, are no longer assured. And governments the world over are gradually tightening their restrictions on fossil fuel use and emissions, so it’s important to keep our data on climate policies and pledges current.

In this episode, we are joined by Christophe McGlade, Head of the Energy Supply Unit at IEA, to discuss the latest updates to the IEA’s Announced Pledges Scenario in light of the pledges announced at the COP26 conference in November 2021. We also revisit IEA’s other main scenarios, and review what the world needs to do to put us on a trajectory to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees. Other topics covered in this interview include an exploration into the gap between what emissions scenarios imply about stranded fossil fuel assets and how the oil and gas industry is actually proceeding with the blessing of governments; the role of the oil and gas industry in the energy transition; the role of negative emissions technologies in the IEA’s scenarios; and the IEA’s plan to make more of its data available for free.

Geek rating: 7

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[Episode #163] – Transition in Russia Part 2

This is the second part of our nearly four-hour interview with Professor Thane Gustafson on his new book, Klimat: Russia in the Age of Climate Change, about Russia’s attitude toward climate change, and how the nation will fare in the energy transition.

In part one of this interview, which we featured in Episode #162, we discussed Russia’s oil sector. In this second part, we talk about Russia’s other energy resources, including natural gas, coal, nuclear technology, and renewables, as well as its hopes to pivot to hydrogen production for export to Europe and how it might deal with the pending European carbon border adjustment mechanism. We’ll also discuss Russia’s perspective on climate change and its role in addressing it, and wrap up the conversation with the outlook for Russia’s fortunes and climate vulnerabilities as the global energy transition and climate action proceed.

Geek rating: 6

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