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Topic: Power Grid

[Episode #226] – Load Growth Shenanigans

In recent months, reports have circulated that data centers, cryptocurrency miners, and AI technologies are suddenly increasing electricity demand, allegedly straining power grids. These declarations have prompted calls for the hasty approval of new gas-fired power plants to bolster generation capacity. But should we believe these claims?

We remain skeptical.

As the energy transition progresses towards "electrifying everything," there is little doubt that significant loads will transfer to the power grid. However, we have yet to see evidence that this shift is outpacing grid capacity. In fact, we have good reason to believe that much of the projected demand has been overestimated - in part because utilities have a long history of projecting demand that never materialized.

In today’s episode, we try to separate power demand fact from fiction with Mike O’Boyle, Senior Director of Electricity at Energy Innovation, a San Francisco-based energy transition think tank. Over the past several months, Mike and his colleagues have been urging regulators to resist the panicked rush towards new gas infrastructure and consider cleaner alternatives. We’ll explore the origins of the alleged cloud electricity demand surge narratives, assess the real picture of modern computing demand, and discuss viable solutions. As we will uncover, much of the prevailing discourse is not about a genuine power shortage but rather the efforts of certain political figures to boost tax revenues, often at the expense of public welfare — and is ultimately a lapse in regulatory oversight meant to protect the public interest.

Guest:

Mike O’Boyle is Senior Director, Electricity at Energy Innovation. He directs the firm’s Electricity program which focuses on designing and quantifying the impacts of policies needed to affordably and reliably decarbonize the U.S. electricity grid. He has worked with Congressional staff and U.S. state policymakers—including those in California, Hawaii, Minnesota, New York,  and Oregon — to help improve the link between public policy goals and the motivations of electric utilities. He is a frequent contributor to Forbes, and has written for Canary Media, The Hill, New York Times, and Utility Dive, and has authored reports covering a wide range of power sector topics. Mike graduated cum laude from Arizona State University Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, where he focused on energy and international law. He also has a B.A. from Vanderbilt University in philosophy and Asian Studies, with a minor in economics.

On Twitter: @oboylemm

On the Web:  Mike’s page at Energy Innovation

Geek rating: 6

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[Episode #218] – Accelerating Decarbonization in the US

How can we accelerate the decarbonization of the entire US economy?

In this episode, we discuss the energy-related decarbonization strategies outlined in a new report from the National Academies, titled “Accelerating Decarbonization in the United States: Technology, Policy, and Societal Dimensions,” with Dr. Sue Tierney, a Senior Advisor at Analysis Group and a renowned expert in energy and environmental economics, regulation, and policy. Dr. Tierney played a key role in the Committee on Accelerating Decarbonization in the United States, which developed and coordinated this landmark study. We explore how decarbonizing the US requires much more than simply substituting renewables for fossil fuels in power generation and EVs for oil-burning cars. A broad array of solutions must be deployed, but they face numerous barriers and risks to implementation.

Trillions of dollars have been allocated for these energy and technology solutions through three significant laws passed in 2022: the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), and the Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors (CHIPS) Act. However, effectively mobilizing these funds requires willing collaboration from a diverse group of local, municipal, and state actors, including elected officials, regulators, agency staffers, as well as community and business leaders.

Listen in to learn why delivering a successful energy transition, along with a host of other benefits such as justice, equity, health, jobs, and sustainability writ large, necessitates understanding the barriers to implementation and identifying the types of policies and programs needed to keep the US on track to achieving net zero.

Guest:

Dr. Sue Tierney is a Senior Advisor at Analysis Group and is an expert on energy and environmental economics, regulation, and policy, particularly in the electric and gas industries.  Previously, she was the Assistant Secretary for Policy at the U.S. Department of Energy, and in Massachusetts, she was the Secretary of Environmental Affairs, Commissioner at the Department of Public Utilities, and head of the state’s Energy Facilities Siting Council. She currently chairs the Board of Resources for the Future and the National Academies’ Board on Energy and Environmental Systems, and serves on the boards of other NGOs and foundations.  She was a member of the National Academies’ Committee on Accelerating Decarbonization in the U.S. and the Committee on the Future of Electric Power. Her Ph.D. is in regional planning from Cornell University

On Twitter: @analysisgroup

On the Web:  Analysis Group

Geek rating: 6

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[Episode #129] – Deep Decarbonization Policy for the US

We have seen numerous models showing how a mostly- or fully-decarbonized energy system can work, but how do we actually plot a path from where we are now to a deeply decarbonized energy system in the future? What are the specific policy pathways that we need to follow? And how can we make sure that we’re making the right moves now to put ourselves on those paths?

In this episode, we speak with renowned economist Dr. Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University about why deep decarbonization must be our goal for the global economy, as well as some of the main pathways to that goal. Based on numerous studies, including the output of the multi-country Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project, as well as several major papers which are in the process of being published under the auspices of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), we discuss how energy transition is actually very affordable and practical, and will ultimately deliver a better world on numerous fronts. Dr. Sachs shares with us not only his vision for a global energy transition, but some deep insights, based on his 40 years of study, about the importance of strong leadership in achieving it, and some of the interesting parallels between this moment and the Great Depression.

Geek rating: 3

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[Episode #123] – Sustainable Energy Transitions

Addressing the threat of climate change means executing a successful energy transition. But as the transition proceeds, we are increasingly having to confront the impacts of transition technologies, and consider the trade-offs of choosing those technologies over the conventional technologies that they are displacing - because nothing we can do is without an impact of some kind, and everything we build requires the use of raw materials. So the question of what is truly sustainable is beginning to take a larger importance in the formation of policies designed to advance energy transition.

But energy is still being taught primarily as part of the engineering discipline, leaving students from non-engineering disciplines in need of ways to learn something about energy, in order to help them be more effective in their work. Fortunately, professor Dustin Mulvaney of San Jose State University in California has a new textbook designed to address this need, titled “Sustainable Energy Strategies: Socio-Ecological Dimensions of Decarbonization.” It’s a very ambitious effort to survey many of the complex topics that are critical for people involved in energy transition to understand. In this episode, we talk with Dustin about why he wrote it, and we take a walk through each chapter in the book to understand the complex questions around what “sustainability” really means in the context of energy transition.

Geek rating: 5

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[Episode #75] – Transportation Transition

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.

Geek rating: 7

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