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Topic: Efficiency

[Episode #101] – What We Don’t Know About Energy Transition

In this live conversation recorded at Stanford Energy Week in January 2019, Chris Nelder hosts a freewheeling chat with Jonathan Koomey about some of the things we think we know, and a lot of the things we don’t know about energy transition. They talked about:

  • the vogue concept in energy transition to “electrify everything,” sometimes also called “deep decarbonization”
  • energy efficiency
  • conservation
  • electrification
  • low-carbon fuels
  • how to reduce greenhouse gases that are not the products of combustion
  • the fast-changing trends in electric vehicles, and how we’re going to accommodate the loads of EVs on the power grid
  • the ways to move space heating and other thermal loads over to the power grid, and how we might be able to meet those needs without combustion or electrification
  • how much electricity storage we’ll really need in a deeply decarbonized future
  • how much seasonal storage we’ll need, and what kinds
  • differences between economic optimizations made today for a future 20-30 years off and technical optimizations made along the way
  • what the options might look like in 20-30 years, particularly if we are at the beginning of a vigorous and deliberate energy transition
  • whether space heating, transportation, and other loads might find themselves in competition for economic carrying capacity on the grid as they become electrified.

So join us for this wide-ranging romp through some of the more interesting questions in energy transition!

Geek rating: 9

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[Episode #86] – Is Transition Worth It?

Are investments in energy transition, especially for public dollars in the form of incentives or subsidies, worth it? Do investments in energy efficiency truly pay off, or does efficiency just make energy cheaper because we’re using less of it, encouraging customers to use more of it—a phenomenon known as the rebound effect, the backfire hypothesis, and the Jevons Paradox? Is public support for rooftop solar systems worth it, once we add up all its costs and benefits, or would it be better to support utility-scale solar projects, or something else entirely, like efficiency? Do wind and solar farms, and electric vehicles, always deliver climate benefits, or does it depend on the power mix of the grid to which they’ll be connected? And even if we determine answers to these questions, for how long are those answers valid?

These are all difficult questions, but our guest in this episode has investigated all of them, and she shares her insights at length in this wonky but accessible discussion. If you worry that the rebound effect might mean efficiency isn’t worth it, you definitely need to listen to this one.

Geek rating: 8

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[Episode #84] – Designing Climate Solutions

If you wanted to design a set of policies that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, right now, where would you start? How would you figure out which sectors of the economy to target in order to have the maximum impact? Which policies would you choose? How would you go about designing them?

And which sectors of the economy would you target in order to reduce emissions the most? Transportation, maybe? Improving the efficiency of our buildings? Would you believe those two sectors rank at the very bottom of the list?

In this episode, we interview one of the authors of a new book by Energy Innovation titled Designing Climate Solutions, which is like a how-to manual for climate policy, identifying the major sectors of the economy that we should target to eliminate as much greenhouse gas as quickly as possible, and the specific policies that can achieve those reductions. We guarantee you will find some surprises in this one!

Geek rating: 5

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[Episode #82] – The Business Case for Renewable Energy

For large corporations, especially those in the industrial sector, buying renewable energy, reducing consumption and becoming more sustainable are surprisingly difficult things to do. Industries like manufacturing, mining, construction, and producing raw materials like cement are all extremely energy intensive, and in many cases, there simply are no good alternatives to using conventional processes based on fossil fuels.

But that doesn’t mean that businesses engaged in those industries can’t find ways to start reducing their own carbon footprints, investing in renewables, investing in research and development into ways of doing more with less, and sharing their knowledge with their peers, in order to accelerate the progress of entire industries. In this episode, we talk with a company that might at first glance seem like an unlikely one to be pursuing sustainability efforts, but which is establishing itself as a leader in corporate sustainability strategies: Ingersoll Rand, a mid-sized manufacturer operating in construction, mining, industrial and commercial markets. You may be surprised at how much they are able to do to become more sustainable and integrate more renewable energy into their operations.

Geek rating: 1

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[Episode #80] – Building Infrastructure as a Service

If you owned a building, or a long-term lease on a commercial space, would you rather shop for your own building infrastructure—things like HVAC systems—or would you rather buy it as a subscription service from a trusted utility or power provider? Our guest in this episode offers the latter, and it’s an intriguing model for how we might upgrade the equipment for commercial and industrial buildings. There are reasons why 68% of the HVAC equipment in commercial buildings in the US is nearly three decades old and in need of replacement, and those reasons are about the cost, complexity, and difficulty involved in that kind of procurement. Wouldn’t it be better if you could call up your local utility and ask them to upgrade your equipment, using their network of trusted and reputable equipment experts and installers, and then just paid them a small amount for the use of that equipment every month, rather than having to pay thousands of dollars for it up front and taking all of the performance risk upon yourself? From high-efficiency lighting, to HVAC controls and sensors, to other energy-consuming building equipment, Sparkfund offers a subscription approach to procurement backed by a no-risk guarantee, which could unlock a huge opportunity to improve the efficiency of our commercial and industrial building systems more quickly than we do under the status quo.

Geek rating: 2

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[Episode #77] – Perspectives of an Energy Transition Veteran

Energy transition has been under way for the better part of two decades now, and it’s easy to forget how much the world has changed over the time. We now have a host of energy technologies and consumer tools that didn’t even exist 15 years ago. Utility business models have been turned upside-down and we’re still not sure what they’ll look like in the future. Equally, there has been a transformation in education as it tries to catch up with a rapidly-changing world and an ever-more-urgent call to action on climate change. Viewed up close, the transition now underway can look pretty slow sometimes, but if you back up and review what has transpired over the past 15 years, it has actually been incredibly rapid, at least compared to the historical pace of change.

Few people have been as involved in energy transition over the past 15 years, and have seen it as up close and personal as our guest in this episode. Robyn Beavers has had a remarkable career working in energy transition that included stints at Google, NRG, the Department of Energy, and Vestas, and she did it all starting as a young woman in an industry dominated by men. In this interview she shares some of her insights on how it all has unfolded, and how she has managed to be incredibly successful with navigating the gender disparity. She also explains how her new venture is working to turn the built environment into dynamic energy assets. If you’re a young person interested in breaking into the world of energy, you don’t want to miss this episode!

Geek rating: 7

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[Episode #53] – Electrifying Heating

“Deep decarbonization” is all the rage in energy circles, but what does it really mean for actually retrofitting and remodeling buildings? Is it just about replacing oil and gas-fired boilers and furnaces with electric equivalents? Or does it actually mean something far more complex and interesting? Our guest in this episode is a registered engineering technologist in building construction technologies and an award-winning expert on the integration of the building sciences and health sciences who believes the best solutions come from an integrated design approach that takes all elements of buildings and human experience into account, not just how we heat our buildings. This lengthy, wide-ranging, and often humorous discussion covers everything from building science, to regional and national politics, to human physiology and psychology, to the ways that we teach architecture and building design, and much more…and it will leave you with an entirely new concept of what “deep decarbonization” really means. Plus: we finally delve into the arcane but important concepts of exergy and entropy.

Geek rating: 5

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[eLab Extra #7] – How NREL Supports Energy Transition

Full Episode

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

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) based in Golden, Colorado provides a wide range of research, guidance, and policy support to the whole government stack in the U.S., from the local and city level all the way up to the federal and tribal level. From supporting the rebuild of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, to informing policies with things like calculating the Value of Solar (VOS) and figuring out better ways of doing demand response, NREL is helping to lead the way on energy transition. We interview Elizabeth Doris of NREL at RMI’s eLab Summit 2016.

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Geek rating: 2

[Episode #20] – Grid Evolution

Full Episode

Utilities face a host of rapid changes in a what used to be a staid business: new business models, changing supply and demand forecasts, new distributed architectures, new types of resources, new participants in the power grid that they don't control…yet they still must maintain a highly reliable power grid that operates within fairly narrow parameters.

Meanwhile, difficult questions remain to be solved, about how we’re going to manage our grid power transition, who the winners and losers will be, what destination we’re headed for, what role consumers and “prosumers” will play in the future, and what our reasons are for executing transition the way we do.

We tackle all of these issues in this wide-ranging, very geeky conversation about the “blocks and squiggles” of the grid of the future. Grid power transition, the rebound effect, energy efficiency, utility business models, cutting-edge grid power management considerations, regulation and rate design, electric vehicles as distributed energy resources… they’re all here.

Geek rating: 10

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