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Topic: Coal

[Episode #133] – Stranded Assets

A decade ago, it was very conventional for asset managers to have exposure to the oil and gas sector as part of a diversified portfolio. Calls for them to divest from carbon assets because climate policy could render fossil fuel reserves unburnable mostly fell on deaf ears. But now the oil & gas sector has turned in a decade of underperformance, vaporizing tens of billions of dollars and becoming the worst-performing sector in the world. Now banks, asset managers, and even oil operators have now joined the ranks of those worrying aloud about the increasing risk of stranded assets. Now, the warnings about stranded assets are converging with calls for companies and investors to apply ESG filters to their activities, and investors are demanding divestment from carbon-heavy assets.

One think-tank saw all this coming: Carbon Tracker. In fact, they put the concept of stranded fossil fuel assets on the map over a decade ago. In this episode we speak with its founder, Mark Campanale, about what investors have learned from the experience of the past decade, what they still need to do going forward, and some of the more interesting efforts that are under way to encourage divestment from carbon and reorient capital toward energy transition solutions.

Geek rating: 7

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[Episode #132] – The Future of Solar

How did the solar industry grow up so quickly over the past 15 years, and what does its future look like? In this episode, we talk with the founder of the solar team at Bloomberg New Energy Finance, who’s had a front-row seat to the industry’s development, about the many booms and busts it has seen over the past 15 years, and about what we should expect from the sector going forward. Does solar need a big new innovation to keep growing and displacing fossil-fueled power plants, or does it just need to keep going on its existing trajectory? How much cheaper can solar get? For that matter, is continuing to get cheaper even desirable? And how much can solar do to help lift the developing world out of poverty? We answer these and many more questions in this episode.

Geek rating: 5

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[Episode #131] – Decarbonizing the US by 2050

Is it possible to decarbonize the economy of the United States, and get to net-zero emissions by 2050? A team of researchers from 15 countries who are part of the Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project think so, based on their deep modeling of the US economy as part of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN). We introduced this work at a high level in Episode #129, during our conversation with Dr. Jeffrey Sachs, the Director of the SDSN. In this episode, we take a deep dive into the modeling itself with one of the modelers involved in the project. We’ll look at the specific energy technologies, devices, and grid management strategies that will make decarbonization by 2050 possible, and see why they think that decarbonizing the US is not only achievable by 2050, but practical, and very, very affordable.

Geek rating: 9

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[Episode #130] – 5-Year Anniversary Show

In this anniversary episode, we welcome back Jonathan Koomey to talk about some of the interesting developments and raucous debates we have seen over the past year. We’ll consider how expectations have changed for coal and gas-fired electricity generation; we’ll discuss the changed outlook for natural gas appliances; we’ll talk about the growing support for “just transition” strategies integrating climate and environmental justice objectives to ensure that energy transition leaves no one behind; we’ll summarize the latest developments in the ongoing debate over climate scenarios; we’ll discuss some of the new models around what an 80, 90, or 100% renewable energy system might look like; and we’ll review a slew of stories about corruption investigations into legacy energy companies, several of which we first covered two and three years ago.

Geek rating: 7

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[Episode #129] – Deep Decarbonization Policy for the US

We have seen numerous models showing how a mostly- or fully-decarbonized energy system can work, but how do we actually plot a path from where we are now to a deeply decarbonized energy system in the future? What are the specific policy pathways that we need to follow? And how can we make sure that we’re making the right moves now to put ourselves on those paths?

In this episode, we speak with renowned economist Dr. Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University about why deep decarbonization must be our goal for the global economy, as well as some of the main pathways to that goal. Based on numerous studies, including the output of the multi-country Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project, as well as several major papers which are in the process of being published under the auspices of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), we discuss how energy transition is actually very affordable and practical, and will ultimately deliver a better world on numerous fronts. Dr. Sachs shares with us not only his vision for a global energy transition, but some deep insights, based on his 40 years of study, about the importance of strong leadership in achieving it, and some of the interesting parallels between this moment and the Great Depression.

Geek rating: 3

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[Episode #124] – Energy Transition Progress Report

As the world slowly starts to emerge from lockdown and get back to business, energy analysts and climate activists alike are wondering if we will use this opportunity to accelerate the energy transition, or if we will just go back to what we were doing before the pandemic and fire up the nearest coal-fired power plant or diesel engine.

Our guest in this episode, Nat Bullard of Bloomberg New Energy Finance, thinks the trends toward energy transition and climate action are already so firmly entrenched that we should expect them to maintain their leads as we begin to restart and rebuild the world’s economies...and he and his colleagues have ample data to prove it!

Further, he argues, the world is actually quite different now than it was in the last major economic crash a decade ago in some very important ways, particularly where it concerns energy transition. Unlike 2009, we’re not worrying about peak oil now; if anything, we’re more worried about too much cheap energy. Not just cheap oil, but more renewable power than we can use in certain places and times…so much so that wholesale and even retail grid power prices can go negative. And we’re seeing an investment community that is now much more interested in the winners of energy transition than the losers.

In this episode, we take the pulse of energy transition at this ever-so-uncertain moment, and find more than a few signs of hope and progress all over the world.

Geek rating: 6

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[Episode #122] – Hybrid Power Plants

The days of worrying about the intermittency of solar and wind farms are quickly receding into the past as battery storage systems are added to existing plants, and new renewable plants are increasingly equipped with large battery storage systems from the outset as so-called “hybrid” power plants. In fact, 25% of all new solar PV plants waiting to connect to bulk power systems are now hybrid plants incorporating battery systems, and on the California wholesale power market, 96% of solar PV and 75% of wind projects launched in 2019 were paired with batteries. All at prices that beat the cost of conventional power plants.

But figuring out the best way to deploy utility-scale battery storage systems isn’t just a matter of dispatchability and system balancing. In fact, it turns out that tax credit incentives and market rules are far more significant determinants. That’s one finding of a new research paper led by several researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, who modeled various ways of pairing battery storage systems with utility-scale wind and solar farms. In this episode, we explore the details of this modeling with one of the paper’s authors and speculate that it might actually be better to deploy large scale storage systems independently of wind and solar farms, if market rules were more supportive of the strategy.

Geek rating: 8

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[Episode #120] – Carnage in the Oil Patch

The coronavirus shutdown has taken a huge bite out of demand for oil since everyone has been forced to stay home. Exacerbated by a pricing war between Saudi Arabia and Russia, oil prices have crashed to levels not seen in nearly two decades, and oil producers are losing money hand over fist. Not only will this oil crash have wide-ranging effects on the oil industry, it will also have huge impacts on the budgets of oil-exporting countries, the economy as a whole, and the prospects for energy transition.

Can the world get past the economic impacts of the coronavirus? If it does, will oil demand recover to previous levels, or will it be permanently reduced? Which oil producers will survive this period, and which ones will go bankrupt and be swallowed up by larger rivals? And how much market share might the rivals of oil—especially rivals like electric vehicles—pick up in the aftermath of the shutdown?

To help us sort through this incredibly complex picture, Bloomberg’s Liam Denning returns to the show for a 90-minute deep dive into oil prices, supply, demand, the outlook for the world’s producers, and the outlook for the world in this episode.

Geek rating: 7

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[Episode #115] – Wildfire and Transition in Australia

Australia’s out-of-control wildfires in recent months have captured the world’s attention and raised serious questions about how climate change is affecting the continent, whether the country’s leadership is taking appropriate action to address climate risk, and what the future holds for its unique weather patterns and ecosystem.

But Australia is one of the most fossil-fuel dependent countries in the world, which makes it politically difficult to face the reality of its climate risk, and how its own activities are increasing that risk. So in this episode we invited a longtime journalist and researcher, based in Sydney, who works in research, strategy, and communications around climate change and finance, to help us understand the political, economic, and climate context of Australia at this moment, and to understand how the wildfires are influencing the trajectory of energy transition there. She reveals a country delicately balanced somewhere between hope and despair, with political leadership in thrall to the fossil fuel industry, and a populace eager to pursue energy transition and reduce its exposure to climate risk.

Geek rating: 1

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[Episode #114] – Cyber and Climate Risks

As energy transition progresses and more internet-connected distributed energy resources (DERs) join the grid, they increase the grid’s flexibility and dynamism, but they also expose those systems to the risk of being hacked. What kinds of protections do we need to have as grid modernization proceeds and more and more devices in the so-called “internet of things” (IoT) become part of the grid ecosystem? Should we be encouraging the adoption of smart, interconnected devices at all? Or would we be better off using devices that were not connected to communication systems in any way, to better ensure their security? And what are the relationships between cybersecurity on the grid, and the effects of climate change?

Our guest in this episode is a cybersecurity expert with the Idaho National Laboratory, part of the US Department of Energy, who provides strategic guidance on topics at the intersection of critical infrastructure security and resilience to senior U.S. and international government and industry leaders. He’s a longtime expert in this domain with a deep and wide set of relevant expertise, and you’re sure to learn a lot in this conversation about things that you probably didn’t even know existed, but that are intimately connected with grid security, climate change, and energy transition. Open your mind wide for this one – it’s a doozy!

Geek rating: 9

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