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Topic: Coal

[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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[Episode #160] – Coal Plant Buyouts

Economic factors and existing policies have done a pretty good job of stopping the construction of new coal plants around the world, but what is needed to push existing plants off the grid? Our guest in this episode has been working to phase out coal from a variety of angles for the past 13 years, and believes the only approach that might still work is to just buy out existing plants and shut them down. But how? Where will the money come from? And if the money is public, how can we make sure that coal buyouts benefit the public, and not the big banks? How will we obtain the lowest price for the plants? How quickly can we execute the buyouts and retirements? How can we make sure that the power is replaced by clean power plants and not by natural gas-fired plants?

And what about the important related questions, like: What role should US government agencies like the Federal Reserve and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission play in implementing climate policy? What responsibility do major media organizations have to support the energy transition? And what about the so-called “just transition” away from coal? Is it real, or just a comforting talking point?

Join us in this discussion for some fresh new ideas and strategies that could help the world shut down the coal industry faster and more equitably, while delivering the best outcomes for the public.

Geek rating: 3

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[Episode #158] – Global Energy Crunch

Since early July, a global energy crunch has unfolded, driving up prices for all energy fuels around the world, and then causing some power plants and manufacturing facilities to shut down. In turn, that has exacerbated problems across global supply chains, causing major delays and price increases for everything from gasoline to hard goods.

If you have been wondering why your heating bill is up, or your last tank of gasoline was so expensive, or why your local retailer is telling you that you’ll have to wait months for that new washing machine, this episode will give you at least the beginning of some answers. These are remarkable times in the energy markets, unlike anything that’s happened since the last major commodity spike of 2008.

And we are very pleased to have an analyst and editor who has been following energy and commodities since well before that last spike as our guide in this episode: Will Kennedy, executive editor for energy and commodities at Bloomberg News. Will leads us through the many, many facets of this complex picture, and then we wrap up the conversation by asking how the world’s energy leaders will respond to it as the COP 26 climate conference gets underway. This developing supply shock may give us a good clue about how the world responds to the challenges of the energy transition in the coming years.

Geek rating: 5

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[Episode #149] – Green Hydrogen and Carbon Prices

We’ve all heard about the potential of “green” hydrogen — hydrogen produced from carbon-free sources — to help decarbonize the ways we use energy by making variable renewable power from wind and solar available on-demand. The European Union is counting on green hydrogen to meet its carbon reduction goals under the Paris Agreement.

But the cost of green hydrogen is still considerably higher than the “gray” hydrogen made using fossil fuels, which currently dominates global hydrogen use. If truly carbon-free green hydrogen is going to reach price parity with its dirtier cousins, two things need to happen: production costs must fall, and some form of carbon pricing will need to increase the price of gray hydrogen, leveling the playing field.

But what carbon price can serve this purpose, and how much will the cost of producing green hydrogen need to fall? And when do these repricings need to occur for Europe to achieve its carbon reduction goals under the Paris Agreement?

Our guest in this episode, Mark Lewis, Head of Climate Change Investment Research at BNP Paribas Asset Management in Paris, shares his answers to these questions with us, using the European Emissions Trading System (ETS) as a basis.

Also in this episode: We make several exciting announcements, including announcing that host Chris Nelder will now be working full time on the podcast!

Geek rating: 5

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[Episode #148] – Energy and Emissions after COVID

What trajectory of global energy consumption and carbon emissions can we expect as the world starts to recover from the COVID pandemic in the years ahead? Will we go right back to our activities and travel habits as they were before the pandemic? Or have structural changes already taken place that put us on a different path?

In this episode, we speak with the co-head of the World Energy Outlook series at the Paris-based International Energy Agency (IEA), who helps design and direct the construction of their energy scenarios and their guidance to the world’s governments. We discuss three major reports that IEA has issued over the past six months on energy demand and emissions as a result of COVID, and have a look at how much energy demand dropped in 2020, how the fuel demand in various sectors and countries changed, and what the world might expect in 2021 and beyond.

Geek rating: 4

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[Episode #145] – A Slow Take on the Texas Blackout

In the middle of February 2021, an Arctic cold front wreaked havoc on Texas, causing a blackout that plunged more than 4 million customers into darkness and cold during single-digit temperatures. The crisis led to the deaths of nearly 200 people and an estimated $50 billion changed hands, saddling millions of customers, including ones in neighboring states, with unexpected excess costs.

What happened in Texas is an incredibly complex story involving many factors, from a simple lack of weatherization, to flaws in the state’s electricity market structure, to failed governance. And untangling that story, and identifying ways to prevent such a crisis from ever happening again, is a complex task. To help us with it, we invited several Energy Transition Show alumni—journalist Russell Gold of the Wall Street Journal, professor Emily Grubert of the Georgia Institute of Technology, and legal scholar Ari Peskoe of Harvard Law School—to join us in a four-way conversation that explores all the angles.

Geek rating: 8

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[Episode #138] – Transition in China

China is both the greatest threat to the global climate, and, very possibly, our greatest hope for energy transition. It consumes more coal and produces more CO2 than any other nation on earth. It also has more installed capacity for wind and solar than any other nation, and the largest long-distance, high-voltage electricity transmission grid. It has more electric vehicles and more high speed rail than any other country. And it produces more steel, and cement, and housing, and just about everything else. If the energy transition is to be a success, it cannot happen without China.

But China remains opaque to non-Chinese speakers, and its conflicting information and narratives confound Western journalists. What is the actual trajectory of energy transition in China? Is it building more coal plants than anyone else… or is it leading the world in building wind and solar? What if the answer is… both? And can it meet its new target to get to net-zero emissions by 2060?

In this episode, expert Lauri Myllyvirta of the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air joins us to share his extensive research on coal and air pollution in Asia, with a focus on his insights into what is really happening in China.

Geek rating: 6

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