When we need to compare the environmental consequences of energy technologies — between an internal combustion vehicle or an EV, or between a compact natural gas generator and a big wind farm — what’s the best way to understand the full picture? Should we just look at pollutant emissions? Or should we take a broad view, and consider the total lifecycle, including mining, manufacturing, transport and waste? The latter is what lifecycle assessment (LCA) is all about, and although it can be used to compare very complex sets of things in a helpful way, it can also be abused to suit an agenda.
To really be sure we’re comparing apples with apples, we need to understand the right ways and the wrong ways to do LCA. And then we need to think carefully about the implications of our research, and how to communicate them to a lay audience in such a way that they can inform policy without being misunderstood or misrepresented. It’s a tricky art, but our guest in this episode is an LCA veteran from NREL who can show us the way.
There’s nothing to give you a little perspective on what’s happening on planet Earth like getting off it and seeing its beauty—and it’s human-caused destruction—from space. In this wide-ranging interview, former astronaut Jay Apt, a professor of technology and business at Carnegie Mellon University, shares some insights from his voluminous body of research on energy transition topics, including: what the power grid of the future could look like; how we’ll balance it with increasing levels of renewable energy; how to smooth out the fluctuations in wind farm power output; utility business model evolution and resource adequacy planning; what the optimal amount of storage on the PJM Interconnection might be; the economics of behind-the-meter battery systems; the potential future for EVs providing services to the grid; whether carbon capture and sequestration technology and geoengineering can play significant roles in addressing climate change; the new era of electricity de- and re-regulation; and of course, what it’s like to look down on Earth from space. You’ll never see an hour go by as quickly as this one.
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.