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Topic: Solar

[Episode #186] – Transition in Vermont, Part 1

This is the first show in a new format we are piloting for the Energy Transition Show. Instead of exploring a particular topic with one guest who has a non-commercial perspective, as most of our shows so far have done, this new format aims to tell stories about how the energy transition is proceeding in some of the places Chris visits in his travels. Through interviews with multiple local experts, including those who are working in the energy sector, we hope this new format will help to demonstrate how the unique challenges and opportunities in every place will determine its particular path through the energy transition.

We are kicking off this new show format with some stories about Vermont for a simple reason: When it comes to the energy transition, Vermont stands out as a place that punches way above its weight. It has innovated numerous policies and mechanisms to reduce its energy consumption and carbon emissions that have been emulated by other US states. And it continues to serve as a model to the rest of the country for effective energy transition strategies.

You’ll learn more about all of these accomplishments, as well as what makes Vermont such an exemplar in the energy transition, in this two-part miniseries based on interviews with eight local experts.

In this first part, we talk about the supply side of Vermont’s energy picture. In the second part, we’ll look at the demand side.

Recording date: October 11-15, 2021

Air date: November 23, 2022

Geek Rating: 4


Guests

Geek rating: 4

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[Episode #184] – EROI of RE

Do renewable energy sources generate enough energy ‘profit’ to make them worth continued investment? And is any energy profit large enough to run our modern world, as renewables displace fossil fuels?

Some skeptics of the energy transition have claimed that renewables can’t run our world because the net energy they deliver to society is too low. They make this argument drawing from past data for the Energy Returned on Investment (or EROI) for various fuels, which showed high EROIs for extracting fossil fuels, and low EROIs for very early generations of wind and solar technology. However, the historical EROI literature has been plagued with methodological inconsistencies so how reliable is this legacy data for guiding modern outlooks?

In a new paper we discuss in today’s episode, a group of researchers has cleaned up and rectified recent EROI data so that the various fuels can be compared on an apples-to-apples basis. Their new results paint a very different picture from the old literature.

Not only do renewables have sufficiently high EROIs to power our society, they are much higher than the EROIs of the fossil fuels they are replacing! In fact, these results suggest that only through the energy transition can we maintain a functioning society.

To walk us through this new paper, its lead researcher, Dr. David Murphy, an environmental scientist at St. Lawrence University in New York, returns to the show.

In addition to reviewing the results of this new paper, we’ll also talk about some of the other mistaken arguments that are frequently made against the energy transition, and explain why they are wrong.

Geek rating: 9

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[Episode #182] – 7th Anniversary Show

For our Seventh Anniversary show, energy researcher Jonathan Koomey rejoins us to review major stories over the past year, and to take stock of how the energy transition has progressed.

We talk about how the global energy crunch we covered in 2021, in Episode #158, has evolved into a full-fledged global energy crisis in 2022. We reflect on the theme of Episode #181, “Command Capitalism,” and consider the increasing interventions governments are making in energy markets to manage the crisis. We muse on the episodes we did over the past year on the trajectory and speed of the energy transition. We consider the outlook for storage systems, in light of the episodes we did on that subject. We discuss how incumbents have resisted the energy transition, as we covered in our episode on utility corruption, and ask whether incumbents are gaining or losing ground. We review the highlights of our shows on the latest IPCC report and on climate modeling. And Jon shares some of his latest work in energy modeling.

It's a smörgåsbord of energy transition goodness, so strap on a napkin and join us!

Geek rating: 8

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[Episode #180] – Transition in Alberta

Full Episode

Alberta is the seat of the Canadian oil & gas industry, as well as a major coal producer, so it has historically struggled to align with the energy transition - focusing more on pipelines than turbines. But Alberta is changing. Now, the province has implemented numerous policies designed to support the transition, installing a significant amount of wind and solar power generation capacity. According to the Alberta Electric System Operator, 14% of the province’s electricity generation in 2020 was from renewable energy sources such as wind, hydro and solar.

In this episode, we are joined by energy expert Dr. Sara Hastings-Simon to discuss the challenges and opportunities for energy transition in Alberta. She is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy and School of Public Policy at the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada, where she directs the Masters of Sustainable Energy Development program. She is an expert in energy, innovation, and climate policy, and her work is focused on understanding how energy and industrial transitions happen within different sectors of the economy, and how policy responses can improve outcomes. She is also the co-host of the Energy vs. Climate podcast, which will run this conversation on their podcast feed as well.

We talk about the recent history of the various efforts to build pipelines and LNG facilities to export more Canadian oil and gas; the outlook for exports of hydropower; the progress of Canada’s coal phase-out; and the potential for expanding renewable generation in the province, including geothermal. Sara also shares her perspective on how Canada’s carbon tax regime has played out.

Geek rating: 5

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[Episode #178] – How the Transition Will Unfold

The energy transition is an extremely complex undertaking, with every country, company, and individual taking action in various, largely uncoordinated ways, and often in pursuit of different targets. This has led some observers to warn that the transition will be messy, and its outcome uncertain. But is that really a problem, or just another challenge to be met and overcome?

In this episode, we speak with a researcher who has studied the history of technological innovations with a focus on the evolution of solar power. Dr. Gregory Nemet is a Professor at the University of Wisconsin where he teaches energy systems analysis, policy analysis, and international environmental policy. His research focuses on understanding the process of technological change and the ways in which public policy can affect it, and he offers some helpful insights on how the transition will unfold.

He suggests that we needn’t just plunge blindly into the uncertain future and hope everything works out, nor should we hesitate to proceed until we are confident that we have a workable plan. Rather, he believes we can have quite a lot of confidence about how to proceed, without knowing exactly what all the steps are, and without knowing exactly where we’ll end up. In any case, simply staying along our current course is not an option. We discuss the general discourse about the energy transition, where it is confused about the fundamental nature of this transition, and how it will unfold. Whether you’re a full-throated transitionista or a skeptic, this episode is guaranteed to be thought-provoking.

Geek rating: 3

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[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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