It’s the two-year anniversary of the Energy Transition Show, so we thought we’d take a break from the deep dives and just have a little fun skiing around on the surface for a change. Dr. Jonathan Koomey returns to the show for a freewheeling discussion about some of the interesting questions and debates swirling around the energy transition today, and hopefully help us glue together many of the themes that have emerged from our first 51 shows.
How do you go about an energy revolution? Is 100% renewables the right goal? How much seasonal storage will a high-renewables grid need? What will it cost? Is there a future for nuclear power? Or CCS? What should get the credit for declining U.S. emissions? How do we model the best pathways to a future of clean and sustainable energy? Can the IPCC modeling framework be fixed? What kind of carbon mitigation pathways should we be projecting? And how should we communicate the important messages on climate and energy transition? We tackle all these questions in one big omnibus episode.
Following the interview, Chris shares some of his reflections on Hurricane Harvey in an extended postscript, which we’ve made available in the free, abridged version as well as the full, subscriber version of this show.
Europe has been the global leader in energy transition for decades, offering to the rest of the world many useful examples of both policies that work and those that don’t. As a result, European countries now have some of the world’s most energy efficient economies, and the largest shares of renewable energy. But getting there wasn’t easy, and still isn’t. From the very first efforts to develop policies that would support energy transition decades ago, right up to the present, there have been incumbents in the energy industry establishment who fought transition every step of the way, both overtly and through subversion. To help us understand this long and complex history, our guest in this episode is Claude Turmes, a Member of the Greens for Luxembourg in the European Parliament who has had a front-row seat in Europe’s energy transition policy formulation for over 15 years, and the author of a new book about it titled Energy Transformation: An Opportunity for Europe.
[This episode has been released ahead of schedule to coincide with the publication of the paper it covers. Enjoy! --Ed.]
Is it really feasible to run the world on 100% renewables, including supply and demand matching at all times and places? Would doing so require vast amounts of seasonal storage? Are exotic new technologies like next-generation flexible nuclear power plants or coal plants equipped with carbon capture and storage (CCS) equipment needed to balance out variable renewables at a reasonable cost?
In this episode, Dr. Christopher Clack offers a very detailed, deep critique of the 100% wind, water and solar model proposed by Stanford’s Mark Jacobson in 2015, and explains where the model falls short. We also discuss a recent paper by Jesse Jenkins from MIT and Samuel Thernstrom from the Energy Innovation Reform Project, which reviewed some recent papers on what “deep decarbonization” might imply for our future energy mix. This 90-minute, super-wonky chat over a few pints of IPA is guaranteed to leave you reeling…and hopefully, more informed about the best policy pathways to a mostly renewable future.
One thing is sure about energy transition: There is no one-size-fits-all approach. As our previous episodes on individual countries showed, there are different opportunities and challenges in each place…even each US state has to find its own unique transition path. In this episode, we have a wide-ranging talk with Dr. Benjamin Sovacool of the University of Sussex about a tiny fraction of his voluminous research on energy transition topics, with a focus on the speed of energy transitions, the ways that the Nordic countries of Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Norway and Iceland are going about their transitions; his outlook for CCS technology and nuclear power; the potentials and pitfalls of nuclear power and the potential for distributed energy resources to displace nuclear; and we’ll surprise him with the first-ever Energy Transition Show lightning round, in which he’ll answer 15 key questions about energy transition (which were the subject of one of his books) in under two minutes!
What are the legal issues around new proposed subsidies for nuclear and coal plants? What are the new ways in which the authority of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has to be distinguished from the authority of the states? Are states with economically challenged power generators sliding toward unintentional re-regulation, or will FERC and the courts step in to protect structured markets? And why is PURPA, the federal law that has undergirded renewable procurement since 1978, under fresh attack? In this episode, we explore these deep, dark, yet important and very contemporary legal questions with a Senior Fellow in Electricity Law at the Harvard Law School Environmental Policy Initiative. In addition to our deep dive on PURPA and around-market reforms, we’ll also discuss some of the likely implications of Trump’s new direction in energy policy, implications for the Clean Power Plan, and how the federal government’s leadership role on climate might be changing.
Owners of old nuclear and coal power generation in the US are on the ropes, because their plants can’t compete with cheaper natural gas and renewables. Some—especially those operating in competitive markets—are simply shutting down, while others are trying a whole host of survival strategies: seeking special payments and subsidies, “around-market reforms,” and even getting states to give up on competitive generation markets and go back to the old regulated utility business. So what are the pros and cons of these strategies, and what are the implications for consumers and for energy transition as a whole? Gavin Bade, an editor at Utility Dive who has written extensively on these topics, leads us through a tangle of legal, technical, and economic implications toward a more clear-eyed picture of how incumbent generators are trying to survive the transition.
What combination of power generators on the U.S. grid produces reliable power at the lowest cost? Or, what’s the most renewable energy that can be deployed at a given grid power cost, and what kind of transmission capacity is needed to support it? How would the U.S. grid be different if it were one, unified grid with more high-voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission capacity? What’s the most productive design for a wind farm? How might weather and a changing climate affect future electricity production from wind and solar farms? And how much renewable power is really feasible on the U.S. grid?
These have been devilishly difficult questions to answer, but now advanced mathematical simulations are beginning to make it possible to answer them much more quickly…and if quantum computing becomes a reality, we could answer them instantly.
In an homage to Comedy Central’s Drunk History, this episode features a conversation conducted over several pints of IPA with a mathematician who recently developed such a simulator while he was working at NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) in Boulder, CO. His insights on how the grid of the future might actually function are fascinating, and will likely shatter some of your pre-existing beliefs. It also contains a few nuggets for the serious math geeks out there.
What if we didn’t have to work around the grid we have today, with all of its inertia and incumbents and inflexibility? If we could start over and design the grid from scratch, what would it look like? And once we understood that, how might it change the way we are going about energy transition now, in order to reach that goal more quickly and directly? If what we really want is a grid that is fair, equitable, reliable, efficient, resilient, sustainable, and which serves our climate and social goals, what are the first principles we might work from, and what mechanisms might get us where we want to go? This freewheeling conversation aims to help all of us “think outside the box” a bit more, and imagine what the possibilities might be if we could just start over.
Should we tweak our markets to keep nuclear plants alive, or forget about markets and pay for them another way… and do we really need them at all to keep the grid functioning? Is nuclear power really declining because of overzealous environmentalists, or are there other reasons? Is it possible to balance a grid with a high amount of variable renewables and no traditional baseload plants? Is cost-benefit analysis the right way to approach energy transition? How much “decoupling” can we do between the economy and energy consumption, and how can we correctly measure it? Why are we so bad at forecasting energy and economic growth, and how can we do it better? How will energy transition affect the economy?
We explore all of these questions and more, and try to separate fact from falsehoods in this wide-ranging interview. It might even change your mind about a few things.