In this sixth-anniversary show, we welcome back energy researcher Jonathan Koomey to help us review some of the hot topics in energy transition over the past year.
Topics in this discussion include:
The energy elements of the bipartisan infrastructure bill that passed the Senate, and how they stack up against the actual infrastructure needs of the US.
Highlights from the new climate assessment report from the IPCC, and the disconnect between how that modeling framework is structured, and what policymakers and journalists really need. We also try to identify how climate scientists can be more helpful in communicating the path the world is currently on.
The case for and against divestment and other supply-side strategies to reduce the consumption of fossil fuels.
The zombie theory of ‘value deflation’ in solar, and why it’s mistaken.
Corruption in the nuclear industry, and why climate hawks must start getting more discerning about who they are backing in the struggle to take action on climate change.
The energy requirements of the Internet and Bitcoin mining.
A new tool to explore the EIA’s vast stores of data.
In the news segment, we review the ongoing efforts in Congress to electrify the US Postal Service vehicle fleet; we update two stories about corruption associated with the US nuclear industry; we hail the world’s first production of a batch of steel without using fossil fuels; we have a look at the world’s largest battery storage system; and we note a major blow to the credibility of “blue hydrogen.”
Energy transition is happening quickly and disruptively in the transportation sector. But it is generally an open question whether the transition currently at hand is producing socially beneficial results. As we grapple with a sudden influx of new modes of mobility and business models, and contemplate the dawning of an entirely new mobility paradigm, are we just letting technology take us wherever it wants to go, or are we guiding technologies toward sustainable mobility? For that matter, what does sustainable mobility even mean? How can we weigh up all the pros and cons of new mobility modes—not just the social effects like safety and equity, but the environmental impacts, the total impact on the energy system, and the socioeconomic strategies we bring to our urban development and civic planning activities more generally? Can we hedge our bets against sudden and massive dislocations produced by autonomous vehicles? We explore all those questions and more in this episode with a researcher from Oxford University who has studied them deeply.
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.
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.
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.