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Topic: Solar

[Episode #147] – Hydrogen Innovations and Applications

Hydrogen projects are under way around the world, and some of them are aiming to achieve real commercial scale. But tracking this rapidly-evolving sector is challenging, because it’s happening everywhere at once. So in this episode we build on the foundation we laid in Episodes #142 and #143, in which we surveyed the entire hydrogen sector, to focus in on some of the notable commercial projects that aim to expand hydrogen production and bring down its costs, as well as some potential applications for hydrogen. We also try to identify a bit more specifically where it has any clear advantages over other technologies.

With the help of senior hydrogen advisor Gniewomir Flis of Agora Energiewende, a German energy transition think-tank, this episode offers a look at some significant projects that are underway to expand green hydrogen production capacity, especially in Europe and the Middle East, as well as projects that aim to deploy hydrogen in everything from shipping to power generation.

Geek rating: 4

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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 #145] – A Slow Take on the Texas Blackout

In the middle of February 2021, an Arctic cold front wreaked havoc on Texas, causing a blackout that plunged more than 4 million customers into darkness and cold during single-digit temperatures. The crisis led to the deaths of nearly 200 people and an estimated $50 billion changed hands, saddling millions of customers, including ones in neighboring states, with unexpected excess costs.

What happened in Texas is an incredibly complex story involving many factors, from a simple lack of weatherization, to flaws in the state’s electricity market structure, to failed governance. And untangling that story, and identifying ways to prevent such a crisis from ever happening again, is a complex task. To help us with it, we invited several Energy Transition Show alumni—journalist Russell Gold of the Wall Street Journal, professor Emily Grubert of the Georgia Institute of Technology, and legal scholar Ari Peskoe of Harvard Law School—to join us in a four-way conversation that explores all the angles.

Geek rating: 8

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[Episode #138] – Transition in China

China is both the greatest threat to the global climate, and, very possibly, our greatest hope for energy transition. It consumes more coal and produces more CO2 than any other nation on earth. It also has more installed capacity for wind and solar than any other nation, and the largest long-distance, high-voltage electricity transmission grid. It has more electric vehicles and more high speed rail than any other country. And it produces more steel, and cement, and housing, and just about everything else. If the energy transition is to be a success, it cannot happen without China.

But China remains opaque to non-Chinese speakers, and its conflicting information and narratives confound Western journalists. What is the actual trajectory of energy transition in China? Is it building more coal plants than anyone else… or is it leading the world in building wind and solar? What if the answer is… both? And can it meet its new target to get to net-zero emissions by 2060?

In this episode, expert Lauri Myllyvirta of the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air joins us to share his extensive research on coal and air pollution in Asia, with a focus on his insights into what is really happening in China.

Geek rating: 6

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[Episode #133] – Stranded Assets

A decade ago, it was very conventional for asset managers to have exposure to the oil and gas sector as part of a diversified portfolio. Calls for them to divest from carbon assets because climate policy could render fossil fuel reserves unburnable mostly fell on deaf ears. But now the oil & gas sector has turned in a decade of underperformance, vaporizing tens of billions of dollars and becoming the worst-performing sector in the world. Now banks, asset managers, and even oil operators have now joined the ranks of those worrying aloud about the increasing risk of stranded assets. Now, the warnings about stranded assets are converging with calls for companies and investors to apply ESG filters to their activities, and investors are demanding divestment from carbon-heavy assets.

One think-tank saw all this coming: Carbon Tracker. In fact, they put the concept of stranded fossil fuel assets on the map over a decade ago. In this episode we speak with its founder, Mark Campanale, about what investors have learned from the experience of the past decade, what they still need to do going forward, and some of the more interesting efforts that are under way to encourage divestment from carbon and reorient capital toward energy transition solutions.

Geek rating: 7

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[Episode #132] – The Future of Solar

How did the solar industry grow up so quickly over the past 15 years, and what does its future look like? In this episode, we talk with the founder of the solar team at Bloomberg New Energy Finance, who’s had a front-row seat to the industry’s development, about the many booms and busts it has seen over the past 15 years, and about what we should expect from the sector going forward. Does solar need a big new innovation to keep growing and displacing fossil-fueled power plants, or does it just need to keep going on its existing trajectory? How much cheaper can solar get? For that matter, is continuing to get cheaper even desirable? And how much can solar do to help lift the developing world out of poverty? We answer these and many more questions in this episode.

Geek rating: 5

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[Episode #131] – Decarbonizing the US by 2050

Is it possible to decarbonize the economy of the United States, and get to net-zero emissions by 2050? A team of researchers from 15 countries who are part of the Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project think so, based on their deep modeling of the US economy as part of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN). We introduced this work at a high level in Episode #129, during our conversation with Dr. Jeffrey Sachs, the Director of the SDSN. In this episode, we take a deep dive into the modeling itself with one of the modelers involved in the project. We’ll look at the specific energy technologies, devices, and grid management strategies that will make decarbonization by 2050 possible, and see why they think that decarbonizing the US is not only achievable by 2050, but practical, and very, very affordable.

Geek rating: 9

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[Episode #125] – Beyond Planet of the Humans

Planet of the Humans, by filmmakers Michael Moore, Jeff Gibbs, and Ozzie Zehner, has been roundly criticized by everyone involved in energy transition, and rightly so, because it’s more than a decade out of date. But it did manage to confuse some people about the true state of energy transition, and misled them into believing that wind and solar are some kind of hoax perpetrated on an unsuspecting public by evil billionaires. Even worse, some opponents of energy transition started using the film for their own purposes.

But we think everyone—including the filmmakers themselves—rather missed the point of what the film was really about, which isn’t energy transition at all. It’s something else entirely.

In this episode, we speak with Dutch energy analyst Auke Hoekstra about how the film isn't actually about renewable energy at all by focusing on the entire worldview of the filmmakers. You may have read some critiques of the film already, but we guarantee you haven’t heard this take on it!

Geek rating: 3

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[Episode #124] – Energy Transition Progress Report

As the world slowly starts to emerge from lockdown and get back to business, energy analysts and climate activists alike are wondering if we will use this opportunity to accelerate the energy transition, or if we will just go back to what we were doing before the pandemic and fire up the nearest coal-fired power plant or diesel engine.

Our guest in this episode, Nat Bullard of Bloomberg New Energy Finance, thinks the trends toward energy transition and climate action are already so firmly entrenched that we should expect them to maintain their leads as we begin to restart and rebuild the world’s economies...and he and his colleagues have ample data to prove it!

Further, he argues, the world is actually quite different now than it was in the last major economic crash a decade ago in some very important ways, particularly where it concerns energy transition. Unlike 2009, we’re not worrying about peak oil now; if anything, we’re more worried about too much cheap energy. Not just cheap oil, but more renewable power than we can use in certain places and times…so much so that wholesale and even retail grid power prices can go negative. And we’re seeing an investment community that is now much more interested in the winners of energy transition than the losers.

In this episode, we take the pulse of energy transition at this ever-so-uncertain moment, and find more than a few signs of hope and progress all over the world.

Geek rating: 6

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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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