Owners of old nuclear and coal power generation in the US are on the ropes, because their plants can’t compete with cheaper natural gas and renewables. Some—especially those operating in competitive markets—are simply shutting down, while others are trying a whole host of survival strategies: seeking special payments and subsidies, “around-market reforms,” and even getting states to give up on competitive generation markets and go back to the old regulated utility business. So what are the pros and cons of these strategies, and what are the implications for consumers and for energy transition as a whole? Gavin Bade, an editor at Utility Dive who has written extensively on these topics, leads us through a tangle of legal, technical, and economic implications toward a more clear-eyed picture of how incumbent generators are trying to survive the transition.
Australia has the highest proportion of households with rooftop solar PV systems of any country in the world. It also has the second-dirtiest grid in the world, getting three-quarters of its power from coal. As such, Australia might as well be the global poster child of energy transition, with both a huge load of dirty power plants it needs to retire, and a huge set of distributed and variable solar and wind systems that it needs to integrate into its power grid, while keeping everything balanced, without being able to import or export electricity from other nations. It’s a fascinating case study in wholesale markets, renewable incentives, technical balancing issues, and yes, acrimonious political debate between Browns and Greens. To help us understand this complex picture, we speak with Dr. Jenny Riesz, a Principal at the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO), the operator of Australia’s largest gas and electricity markets and power systems. Dr. Riesz works on adapting AEMO’s processes and functions to ensure ongoing security and reliability as the power system transitions to renewables, and leads its work program on matters such as frequency control, analysis on declining inertia, and possible solutions such as Fast Frequency Response.
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.
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.