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.
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.
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.
New energy modeling on the U.S. states of Colorado and Minnesota offers some exciting and even startling insights: It can save everyone money to transition our power generation off of fossil fuels and onto wind, solar, and storage. And moving space and domestic hot water heating onto the power grid by switching to heat pumps, and moving transportation onto the power grid by switching to electric vehicles, will only increase the savings for all consumers—even those who don’t own a car will benefit from transitioning our fleets to EVs. In fact, the more we decarbonize, the more money it will save everyone, the more jobs will be created, and the closer we will get to addressing the climate challenge. Tune into this discussion with energy modeler extraordinaire Christopher Clack for all the exciting details in this special Christmas Day episode.
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 be talking about the flawed concept of “committed emissions” and how we should be calculating future emissions instead; we’ll expand that discussion and critique the conflicting stories that we’ve been hearing about the expectations for coal usage and emissions in India; we’ll review some of the efforts to execute so-called “just transitions” in coal country; we’ll take a little excursion into a recent raging dialogue on Twitter about RCP8.5 which had its genesis in the PhD thesis of our producer, Justin Ritchie, which we explored in Episode #49; we’ll move on from there to discuss the communication challenges around climate change science, and what’s wrong with the kind of hysterical journalism being practiced by writers like David Wallace-Wells in his book The Uninhabitable Earth; we’ll take a look at Jon’s latest research on the energy demands of Bitcoin mining; we’ll consider the rapid deployment of utility-scale storage and what that might mean for the future of the grid; we’ll review Jon’s update of global energy intensity data and ask what it all means; and we’ll wrap it up with another look at the energy transition modeling work of Christian Breyer’s team at Lappeenranta University of Technology in Finland, which we explored in Episode #95.
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.
The European Emissions Trading System (EU-ETS) has famously been dysfunctional for most of the past decade, unable to support a carbon price that would be an effective tool for energy transition. But that’s about to change: the EU is embarking on a plan to fix its carbon trading market. But will this be enough? According to calculations by our guest in this episode, there is reason to hope that the emissions trading surplus will be removed by 2023 and carbon prices will rise back to a meaningful level, but that may still not be high enough to meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement. So what can be done about it? Will the prospect of Brexit ruin the EU-ETS market? Can carbon prices rise high enough to sustain carbon capture and sequestration technologies? Will we even need carbon prices in the future, given the falling costs of wind and solar? Are asset managers finally getting smart about understanding the risk of stranded fossil fuel assets in their portfolios? And are risk assessors finally beginning to grapple with climate risk?
Mark Lewis, now Head of Research and Managing Director at Carbon Tracker, returns in this episode to dig into details of European carbon market reform and explain what it all means…as well as outlining a fresh way of looking at services delivered by different energy sources, and the implications of this perspective for the oil sector in particular.
Vehicle electrification is gaining real momentum in 2018, from light duty passenger vehicles, to medium and heavy duty vehicles, port equipment, and even ferries. But this rapid transition in transportation isn’t without its risks, its critics, and its incumbent opposition. Will EVs take over the personal vehicle market, and if so, how quickly? How much of a role will ridesharing services play in the future? What’s the future of autonomous vehicles? How will the future of personal vehicle ownership look? Is there going to be enough supply of rare earth metals to support the EV revolution? Are lithium ion batteries going to become an environmental hazard or will we recycle them? Are EVs cleaner than high-efficiency gasoline vehicles on a lifecycle basis? Will EVs or robotaxis increase the vehicle miles traveled, and if so, what will be the net effect on emissions in that scenario? How should we be planning to accommodate the loads of EV charging on the power grid? And what about the loads of the medium- and heavy-duty sectors? Can drivers and bicyclists and robotaxis learn to share the road? And what would a transition-friendly transportation infrastructure look like?
Our guest in this episode has researched all of these questions, and shares with us the best available knowledge on the rapidly evolving sector of new mobility. Costa Samaras is an associate professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University who has published numerous studies related to new mobility and the effect of EVs on emissions and on the power grid.
In this tenth part of our series on climate science, we explore a new paper outlining a climate scenario that would limit warming to 1.5 °C without relying on negative emission technologies. It does so by detailing numerous pathways that could lead the world toward much lower total primary energy consumption, including a heavy focus on the demand side, quantifying the impact of behavioral changes and different ways of providing energy services, rather than simply focusing on consuming energy.
This doesn’t mean that actually following the pathways outlined in this model will be easy, or that staying under 1.5 degrees of warming is going to happen automatically. In fact, some of the behavioral changes that would be needed might be as difficult as implementing a carbon tax (or, for that matter, implementing CCS at scale). But this outlook does respond to our main complaints with the existing body of climate and energy scenarios—that they generally depend on negative emissions technologies like CCS, and that they don’t adequately take into account measures and policies that are already reducing our energy demand and accelerating the energy transition. Our guest in this episode is one of the co-authors of the paper: Charlie Wilson, a researcher at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, and an Associate Professor in Energy & Climate Change at the University of East Anglia in the UK. His expertise on consumer adoption of technology, behavior and policy as they relate to energy and climate change mitigation gives him a unique perspective on this research that we think you’ll find illuminating and thought-provoking.
In an economy as large and complex as the United States, how can we tell when our efforts at energy transition are working? How do we calculate our carbon emissions? How do we know why emissions fell, especially if increased efficiency can rebound into more consumption, an effect known as the Jevons Paradox? How should we calculate the cost of damage due to climate change, and how we should choose the discount rates we use in evaluating investments to stop it? And even if we knew the answers to all these difficult questions, how should we act, given how little certainty we have about the future of the climate, and of the trajectory of energy transition itself? Can economic theory even help us plot a sensible path toward energy transition and climate change mitigation? Our guest in this episode has published extensively on all of these thorny questions, and we’ll discuss that research with him, along with his current research into solar geoengineering.