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Topic: Geothermal

[Episode #188] – Getting to a 100% Clean Grid

How much of a role might wind, solar, nuclear, transmission, power plants equipped with carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology, or direct air capture of CO2 play on a 100% clean power grid? Which mix of those technologies would provide the cheapest pathways to a clean grid?

And once we have met 90% of the need for grid power with clean generation, what will we need to meet the last 10% of the demand for grid power? Will it be ‘overbuilt’ wind and solar? Dispatchable geothermal, hydropower, and bioenergy generators? Seasonal storage using hydrogen or batteries? Conventional fossil-fueled plants with CO2 capture? Or might it be some mix of flexible demand technologies? Or some or all of the above?

For that matter, how certain can we even be about modeling the possible solutions years or even decades ahead? Are there solutions that might play a large role in the future but that we can’t yet model very well? How confident should we be that whatever the solutions turn out to be, we will end up with not only a grid that is completely free of carbon emissions but also one that is fully reliable?

In this episode, we speak with a senior researcher at the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) who has been researching and modeling grid power for many years. In this quite technical discussion, we review two new NREL reports that address these questions and show that producing a 100% clean power grid is not only technically feasible by a variety of pathways but also commercially feasible and ultimately, cheaper than continuing to run the fossil-fueled power grid we have today.

Geek rating: 9


[Episode #184] – EROI of RE

Do renewable energy sources generate enough energy ‘profit’ to make them worth continued investment? And is any energy profit large enough to run our modern world, as renewables displace fossil fuels?

Some skeptics of the energy transition have claimed that renewables can’t run our world because the net energy they deliver to society is too low. They make this argument drawing from past data for the Energy Returned on Investment (or EROI) for various fuels, which showed high EROIs for extracting fossil fuels, and low EROIs for very early generations of wind and solar technology. However, the historical EROI literature has been plagued with methodological inconsistencies so how reliable is this legacy data for guiding modern outlooks?

In a new paper we discuss in today’s episode, a group of researchers has cleaned up and rectified recent EROI data so that the various fuels can be compared on an apples-to-apples basis. Their new results paint a very different picture from the old literature.

Not only do renewables have sufficiently high EROIs to power our society, they are much higher than the EROIs of the fossil fuels they are replacing! In fact, these results suggest that only through the energy transition can we maintain a functioning society.

To walk us through this new paper, its lead researcher, Dr. David Murphy, an environmental scientist at St. Lawrence University in New York, returns to the show.

In addition to reviewing the results of this new paper, we’ll also talk about some of the other mistaken arguments that are frequently made against the energy transition, and explain why they are wrong.

Geek rating: 9


[Episode #180] – Transition in Alberta

Full Episode

Alberta is the seat of the Canadian oil & gas industry, as well as a major coal producer, so it has historically struggled to align with the energy transition - focusing more on pipelines than turbines. But Alberta is changing. Now, the province has implemented numerous policies designed to support the transition, installing a significant amount of wind and solar power generation capacity. According to the Alberta Electric System Operator, 14% of the province’s electricity generation in 2020 was from renewable energy sources such as wind, hydro and solar.

In this episode, we are joined by energy expert Dr. Sara Hastings-Simon to discuss the challenges and opportunities for energy transition in Alberta. She is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy and School of Public Policy at the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada, where she directs the Masters of Sustainable Energy Development program. She is an expert in energy, innovation, and climate policy, and her work is focused on understanding how energy and industrial transitions happen within different sectors of the economy, and how policy responses can improve outcomes. She is also the co-host of the Energy vs. Climate podcast, which will run this conversation on their podcast feed as well.

We talk about the recent history of the various efforts to build pipelines and LNG facilities to export more Canadian oil and gas; the outlook for exports of hydropower; the progress of Canada’s coal phase-out; and the potential for expanding renewable generation in the province, including geothermal. Sara also shares her perspective on how Canada’s carbon tax regime has played out.

Geek rating: 5