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Topic: Offshore Wind

[Episode #155] – Marine Energy

Marine energy—a collection of diverse technologies designed to capture energy from the ocean in various ways—has languished far behind more mature renewable technologies like wind, solar, and geothermal energy for decades. The reasons for its slow progress are as diverse as the technologies themselves, but there are some indications that a few of these technologies have learned from the failures of the past, and are finally becoming mature enough to reach commercial scale. Should they succeed in doing so, they offer the tantalizing potential to provide virtually limitless amounts of clean power, 24x7, using a wide variety of applications—from power supplied by cable to onshore grids, desalination of fresh water, standalone devices operating out in the deep ocean, devices that can convert the electricity they generate into synthetic liquid fuels for transportation by ship, and carbon capture technologies.

But if we are to use the marine environment sustainably, we have to do so informed by solid scientific research into the impact our technologies will have on the marine environment and its wildlife residents. Our guest in this episode is one such researcher. An oceanographer by training, with deep expertise in the environmental effects of wave and tidal energy and offshore wind installations, Dr. Andrea Copping leads a team at the Pacific Northwest National Lab (PNNL) in Richland, Washington which integrates laboratory, field, and modeling studies into a coherent body of evidence to support siting and consenting decisions. She also leads OES-Environmental, an international project on environmental effects of marine energy development around the world, under the auspices of IEA Ocean Energy Systems.

Join us in this wide-ranging discussion about the many different forms of marine energy, and how some of them might yet emerge as major players in the portfolio of energy transition solutions.

Geek rating: 5

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[Episode #154] – Japan’s Nuclear Dilemma

Japan was once the third-largest operator of nuclear power facilities in the world, but that came to a sudden end with the largest earthquake to ever hit the country on March 11th, 2011, which caused a massive tsunami that led to the meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, and then to the closure of all 54 of the country’s nuclear plants. In the decade hence, Japan has struggled to plot a new course to get its energy, see-sawing between attempts to restart the plants and relying more on coal and natural gas, while at the same time trying to improve efficiency, conserve energy, and find ways to reduce its emissions to help meet its decarbonization targets under the Paris climate agreement.

Now, the country’s leadership is taking bold steps toward building more renewables and seeking to cut back on its use of fossil fuels, while just a handful of its nuclear plants have been restarted and the future of the rest is very much in contention. It’s a confusing political landscape, and one of the most challenging cases in the world for energy transition, but it also could prove to be one of the most cutting-edge leaders, especially if it can exploit its offshore potential for renewables.

In this episode, Bloomberg reporter Stephen Stapczynski, who has reported on Japan’s energy sector for years, paints for us a coherent picture of Japan’s nuclear past, where it stands now, and how it will obtain its energy in the future.

Geek rating: 2

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[Episode #146] – Why Local Solar Costs Less

Conventional wisdom in the energy transition has long held that public investment should be directed toward utility-scale projects, because they’re cheaper than rooftop solar systems, kilowatt for kilowatt. Being cheaper, utility-scale systems would clearly deliver more bang for the buck.

Our returning guest in this episode, energy modeler Christopher Clack, says according to his recent modeling, the opposite is actually true — that investing more into local solar will deliver more public benefits than investing in utility-scale projects. And even more surprisingly, he says that building rooftop solar and distributed storage systems will actually result in more utility-scale solar as well, plus bring greater societal benefits such as more jobs, increased economic development, increased resilience, and more equitable access to the benefits of renewables. By modeling a dizzying set of factors simultaneously, Clack is able to show that combining many factors leads to synergistic effects that have been heretofore undiscovered in the literature… factors that we will attempt to describe in this extremely deep dive into energy modeling.

Geek rating: 9

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[Episode #87] – The Value of Flexible Solar

As variable renewables gain ever-larger shares of the grid power supply mix, integrating them on the grid is raising new questions about the best ways to do it. Storage systems are one obvious answer, but their deployment as utility-scale assets is still in the early days. Right now, if a utility-scale solar plant is producing more power than the grid can use, and there isn’t a storage system available to absorb the excess, the standard procedure is to curtail the plant — just turn it off. It hurts the revenues of plant owners, but at least it won’t damage the grid.

But now there are some new ways to the problem of integrating more variable renewables: Make them flexible! Instead of always running wind and solar plants full bore, or curtailing them, just turn them down a bit. Or make them completely flexible, able to ramp up and down at will, after deliberately providing enough room on their host grids to allow that.

Our guest in this episode is an expert on the subject who has helped the California Independent System Operator, or CAISO, think about new, flexible modes of operation for solar plants. It’s a very geeky and oftentimes technical interview, but we know the grid geeks who listen to this show will love it!

Geek rating: 10

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[Episode #76] – Carbon Clampdown

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.

Geek rating: 8

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[Episode #30] – The Future of Wind

Full Episode

The cost of wind power has been falling steadily again since the 2008 price spike, and newer projects have been coming in at 2 cents per kilowatt-hour, making them very competitive with natural gas fired power and ranking among the very lowest-cost ways to generate electricity. But can wind prices keep falling, or have they bottomed out?

A recent report from the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, the National Renewable Energy Lab, and other organizations offers some clues. Based on a survey of 163 of the world’s foremost wind energy experts, it examines in detail what factors have led to wind’s cost reductions in the past, and attempts to forecast what will drive further cost reductions in the future. It also looks at some of the reasons why previous forecasts have underestimated the growth and cost reductions of wind, and suggests that many agency forecasts may be underestimating them still. In this episode, one of the report’s principal authors explains the findings and offers some cautionary words about how much confidence we can have in our forecasts.

Geek rating: 4

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