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Topic: Solar

[Episode #175] – Community Support and Opposition

Why do people take a NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) attitude toward hosting energy transition solutions like wind, solar farms, and transmission lines in their communities? And what can be done about it? What do project developers and community planners need to understand about why a community accepts or rejects energy transition proposals? Are there specific methods that have proven effective in earning a community’s support, and are there common missteps that are guaranteed to derail a project? And what is the role of building and planning agencies in guiding the development of community projects?

In this episode, Dr. Sarah Mills of the University of Michigan offers some answers to these questions. Not only has she researched these questions by talking to people in energy transition infrastructure host communities across the American Midwest and the Great Lakes regions, with a particular focus on rural communities, Dr. Mills also acts as the chair of her local planning commission, and tries to help local governments set policies around the development of clean energy by integrating it into their land-use planning, zoning, and other policymaking. Sarah Mills is a true expert in the field, and she offers important insights in this conversation that every renewable energy project advocate needs to hear.

Geek rating: 3

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[Episode #174] – Decarbonizing Britain’s Grid

As the energy transition proceeds and variable renewable power from wind and solar displaces conventional generators, strict operational limits for the grid's voltage, frequency, and inertia must be maintained. To do this, grid operators are increasingly procuring so-called “stability services” and making other enhancements to the grid that ensure stability.

In this episode, we take a close look at how Great Britain is undertaking this stability challenge by interviewing Julian Leslie, Head of Networks and Chief Engineer at National Grid ESO, which runs the transmission grid for the country. Not only does National Grid ESO operate the fastest-decarbonizing electricity network in the world, it has also recently achieved several important technical accomplishments for the first time in the world, including implementing cutting edge tools that allow accurate measurements of inertia across its system; using grid-forming inverters to provide synthetic inertia; and using synchronous condensers without an associated prime mover. And in another world-first achievement, the company has actually written the specification for using grid-forming inverters into its grid code.

Julian explains all of these technical concepts in today’s conversation and lays out the deliberate strategy that the company is taking to ensure that it can deliver on Great Britain’s decarbonization objectives while maintaining system stability and saving British consumers a great deal of money.

This is a highly technical episode with a Geek Rating of 9, so if you want to brush up on grid power engineering concepts first before listening to this one, you could start with our Energy Basics miniseries—in particular, Episode #126 about how power generators and the grid works—then move on to Episode #55 on voltage stability, and then Episode #153 on grid-forming inverters. Then return to this one.

Geek rating: 9

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[Episode #171] – Rejecting Russia

Ever since Russia invaded Ukraine, policymakers and energy professionals alike have been challenged to figure out how Western countries could stop funding Russia’s war machine by halting imports of their fossil fuels. But, considering that Russia is the world’s largest exporter of oil, halting imports is simply not something that can be done quickly.

It is, however, something that must be done as quickly as possible. Numerous proposals and plans have been put forward to outline how various countries could displace the need for Russian energy exports. And generally, those proposals amount to accelerating the energy transition.

In this episode, we delve into some of those proposals and try to understand how much of a role they could play in displacing Russian fossil fuel exports, how long these measures will take, and how the entire global arrangement of trade and political alliances may have to be rearranged to accommodate them.

We tackle this huge topic in a two-hour conversation with three experts. To represent how Europe could proceed, we welcome back to the show Tim Gould of the International Energy Agency (IEA). To represent the UK perspective, we welcome back to the show Simon Evans of Carbon Brief. And to represent the US perspective, we welcome to the show Rachael Grace, Senior Director of Policy at Rewiring America.

Geek rating: 7

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[Episode #166] – IEA’s Climate Scenarios

As the energy transition continues to accelerate, it’s more important than ever that we update our models—both our empirical and mental models—of where we’re heading. Things that we used to take for granted, like oil and gas demand increasing every year, are no longer assured. And governments the world over are gradually tightening their restrictions on fossil fuel use and emissions, so it’s important to keep our data on climate policies and pledges current.

In this episode, we are joined by Christophe McGlade, Head of the Energy Supply Unit at IEA, to discuss the latest updates to the IEA’s Announced Pledges Scenario in light of the pledges announced at the COP26 conference in November 2021. We also revisit IEA’s other main scenarios, and review what the world needs to do to put us on a trajectory to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees. Other topics covered in this interview include an exploration into the gap between what emissions scenarios imply about stranded fossil fuel assets and how the oil and gas industry is actually proceeding with the blessing of governments; the role of the oil and gas industry in the energy transition; the role of negative emissions technologies in the IEA’s scenarios; and the IEA’s plan to make more of its data available for free.

Geek rating: 7

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[Episode #163] – Transition in Russia Part 2

This is the second part of our nearly four-hour interview with Professor Thane Gustafson on his new book, Klimat: Russia in the Age of Climate Change, about Russia’s attitude toward climate change, and how the nation will fare in the energy transition.

In part one of this interview, which we featured in Episode #162, we discussed Russia’s oil sector. In this second part, we talk about Russia’s other energy resources, including natural gas, coal, nuclear technology, and renewables, as well as its hopes to pivot to hydrogen production for export to Europe and how it might deal with the pending European carbon border adjustment mechanism. We’ll also discuss Russia’s perspective on climate change and its role in addressing it, and wrap up the conversation with the outlook for Russia’s fortunes and climate vulnerabilities as the global energy transition and climate action proceed.

Geek rating: 6

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[Episode #159] – The Cost of Decarbonization

Why do the major groups publishing energy forecasts consistently undershoot the progress of energy transition? For decades, public sector agencies, oil industry groups, energy industry consultancies, and even environmental nonprofits have been consistently too pessimistic in their outlooks. So why is it that standard energy forecasting models keep getting transition wrong?

A group of researchers at Oxford University may have an answer to that question with a study they recently published on the future trajectory of the energy transition. The problem, they say, is that standard models don't realistically account for learning curves in manufacturing, and exponential growth in deployment as it relates to transition. Their new approach shows that future cost and deployment curves can be predicted quite accurately for energy transition solutions like solar panels, wind turbines, batteries and hydrogen electrolyzers.

What makes their demonstration particularly exciting isn’t just that they’ve found a better approach to modeling energy transition learning curves; it’s what their model shows: that a rapid energy transition is actually as much as $14 trillion cheaper than not transitioning over the coming decades. In short, these researchers suggest there is no net cost to a sustainable energy transition, and that on the economic merits at least, it’s basically inevitable.

Join us in this episode for a discussion with one of the researchers on the Oxford team, Dr. Matthew Ives. He is an economist and complex systems modeler at Oxford University who is currently researching sensitive intervention points for accelerating progress towards the post-carbon transition. We explore exactly how their modeling was done, exactly where traditional modeling has gone wrong, and what it all means for the energy transition.

Geek rating: 5

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[Episode #156] – 6-Year Anniversary Show

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.”

Geek rating: 8

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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 #153] – Grid-forming Inverters

This one is for the power geeks!

As the energy transition proceeds, and grids have to accommodate more and more inverter-based generators like wind and solar systems, how will grid operators maintain system inertia? For that matter…what if we start operating grids without inertia?

One way to manage it is through “grid-forming inverters,” which can generate the necessary signals for conventional grid-following inverters and thus mimic the operation of synchronous generators.

In this episode, we “turn it up to 11” and speak with a researcher who has been exploring these questions at the University of Colorado in Boulder and at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), who explains how these resources might work at high penetrations of renewables on power grids, and what kinds of additional research are still needed to transform the grid to one that is friendly to inverter-based resources (or IBRs).

And if you’re not quite ready for such a technical deep dive, try listening to Episodes #119, #126, #94, and #55 (in that order) first, then try coming back to this one.

Geek rating: 11

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[Episode #149] – Green Hydrogen and Carbon Prices

We’ve all heard about the potential of “green” hydrogen — hydrogen produced from carbon-free sources — to help decarbonize the ways we use energy by making variable renewable power from wind and solar available on-demand. The European Union is counting on green hydrogen to meet its carbon reduction goals under the Paris Agreement.

But the cost of green hydrogen is still considerably higher than the “gray” hydrogen made using fossil fuels, which currently dominates global hydrogen use. If truly carbon-free green hydrogen is going to reach price parity with its dirtier cousins, two things need to happen: production costs must fall, and some form of carbon pricing will need to increase the price of gray hydrogen, leveling the playing field.

But what carbon price can serve this purpose, and how much will the cost of producing green hydrogen need to fall? And when do these repricings need to occur for Europe to achieve its carbon reduction goals under the Paris Agreement?

Our guest in this episode, Mark Lewis, Head of Climate Change Investment Research at BNP Paribas Asset Management in Paris, shares his answers to these questions with us, using the European Emissions Trading System (ETS) as a basis.

Also in this episode: We make several exciting announcements, including announcing that host Chris Nelder will now be working full time on the podcast!

Geek rating: 5

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