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Topic: DERs

[Episode #154] – Japan’s Nuclear Dilemma

Japan was once the third-largest operator of nuclear power facilities in the world, but that came to a sudden end with the largest earthquake to ever hit the country on March 11th, 2011, which caused a massive tsunami that led to the meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, and then to the closure of all 54 of the country’s nuclear plants. In the decade hence, Japan has struggled to plot a new course to get its energy, see-sawing between attempts to restart the plants and relying more on coal and natural gas, while at the same time trying to improve efficiency, conserve energy, and find ways to reduce its emissions to help meet its decarbonization targets under the Paris climate agreement.

Now, the country’s leadership is taking bold steps toward building more renewables and seeking to cut back on its use of fossil fuels, while just a handful of its nuclear plants have been restarted and the future of the rest is very much in contention. It’s a confusing political landscape, and one of the most challenging cases in the world for energy transition, but it also could prove to be one of the most cutting-edge leaders, especially if it can exploit its offshore potential for renewables.

In this episode, Bloomberg reporter Stephen Stapczynski, who has reported on Japan’s energy sector for years, paints for us a coherent picture of Japan’s nuclear past, where it stands now, and how it will obtain its energy in the future.

Geek rating: 2

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[Episode #150] – Resilient and Reliable Power

As areas like California and Texas struggle amid wildfires, extreme freezes, high winds and other challenges, and take measures to keep the lights on, it’s worth pausing to consider what “resilient” and “reliable” grid power means from the perspective of grid planning. What, specifically, should the operators of the bulk power system do to make their grids more reliable? Do wholesale power markets need to be reformed, to internalize the costs of power shutoffs and send price signals that project developers can respond to? How can new technologies, like demand response systems and microgrids, play new roles in making grids more resilient? And at an even more fundamental level… who is the grid for, anyway? Does the grid exist to serve people, or do people exist to serve the grid?

Energy Transition Show regular Lorenzo Kristov, a grid architect of over 20 years’ experience, has been thinking deeply about these questions and shares his thoughts with us in this episode. Inverting the usual logic of grid planning, he suggests that more active participation by customers and distributed energy resources can help improve both grid resilience and reliability, while democratizing grid power and grid governance. This thoughtful, heady interview will leave even veteran grid experts with more than a few new ideas to consider!

Geek rating: 9

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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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[Episode #102] – Transition as Wildfire Adaptation in California

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.

Geek rating: 2

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[Episode #97] – How State Policies Can Drive Decarbonization

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.

Geek rating: 9

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[Episode #94] – Integrated Decentralized Power Systems

As more distributed energy resources arrive unbidden onto the power grid, they are increasingly requiring us not to just think about new utility business models, but to radically rethink what a utility might look like. What if millions of distributed resources become the dominant resources, and the grid assumes a subordinate role as a residual supplier of energy? What if the control of the system is also decentralized, through the actions of millions of devices? What if the roles of transmission system operators and the distribution system are diminished as their responsibilities are distributed across all those devices? And how will utilities, power market operators, regulators, legislators, and local officials deal with a radical shift in their roles and responsibilities? These are the questions that our guest in this episode—an 18-year veteran of wholesale power market design at the California ISO—thinks about, and he shares those deep thoughts with us in this wonky yet heady discussion.

Geek rating: 9

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[eLab Extra #6] – Building EV Charging Infrastructure

Full Episode

This is a special, free "extra" episode recorded at RMI’s eLab Annual Summit in December 2016 in Austin, Texas.

Should utilities be allowed to own EV charging infrastructure, or should that be reserved for private charging companies? How many Level 3 high-voltage chargers do we need at workplaces and shopping areas? And how do we build charging infrastructure now that won’t become stranded assets if and when we transition to fleets of autonomous vehicles? We interview Jonathan Levy of Vision Ridge Partners at RMI’s eLab Summit 2016 to find out.

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Geek rating: 2

[eLab Extra #5] – EVs and More in Austin, TX

Full Episode

This is a special, free "extra" episode recorded at RMI’s eLab Annual Summit in December 2016 in Austin, Texas.

Through a variety of programs, Austin Energy, the eighth largest publicly-owned electric utility in the U.S., has led the way to an EV future in Texas, installing the first EV charging infrastructure in the region, offering rebates for installing charging stations and the ability to charge up at 250 charging stations throughout the city for a low flat rate using 100% renewable energy. Karl Popham, the Electric Vehicle & Emerging Technologies Manager at Austin Energy, explains how he did it and what other similarly positioned utility leaders can do in an interview from RMI’s eLab Annual Summit 2016.

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Geek rating: 3

[Episode #24] – Starting Over

Full Episode

What if we didn’t have to work around the grid we have today, with all of its inertia and incumbents and inflexibility? If we could start over and design the grid from scratch, what would it look like? And once we understood that, how might it change the way we are going about energy transition now, in order to reach that goal more quickly and directly? If what we really want is a grid that is fair, equitable, reliable, efficient, resilient, sustainable, and which serves our climate and social goals, what are the first principles we might work from, and what mechanisms might get us where we want to go? This freewheeling conversation aims to help all of us “think outside the box” a bit more, and imagine what the possibilities might be if we could just start over.

Geek rating: 9

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