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Topic: Storage

[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 #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 #170] – Thermal Storage and District Energy

Scholarship on the energy transition has given a good deal of attention to battery storage, because it can help make variable renewables more dispatchable over longer periods of time, and because it’s a core part of electric vehicles. Numerous models have projected that we’ll need a very large amount of battery storage starting several decades from now, when renewables approach 80% of grid power supply, meaning long-duration and seasonal storage will become more necessary.

But what if that isn’t true? Many of those models assume that heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) loads, which account for about half of total power demand, will need to be met by electricity stored in batteries. But what if we could provide heat directly, by saving or recovering waste heat, and then using it as heat, without going through the conversions (and energy losses) of converting heat to electricity and then back to heat? What if using waste heat and other low-temperature sources were actually a far more efficient way to meet those demands?

In this episode, we discuss thermal storage for the first time on this show, to understand the state of the art and its potential, as well as where much more research on thermal storage is needed. Our guest is Daniel Møller Sneum, a postdoctoral researcher from Technical University of Denmark, an expert on thermal and district energy who wrote his PhD about flexible district energy systems. We’ll only scratch the surface of the thermal storage topic in this episode, but we hope that it helps our listeners begin to learn about this important and badly under-studied sector.

Geek rating: 6

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[Episode #168] – Storage Futures

Everyone understands that storage will play an important role in the energy transition, as we move from conventional thermal power plants that can be dispatched at will to energy systems predominantly supplied by variable renewables.

But important questions remain: how much storage will be needed? What type of storage is best? When will storage be most important? There hasn’t been a lot of great scholarship on these practical implications for deploying storage across the grid so far, but a multi-year project called the Storage Futures Study that was just completed by researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) advances the literature considerably. The seven component reports of the Storage Futures Study explore when and where a range of storage technologies are cost-competitive, depending on how they're operated and what services they provide for the grid, as well as the role and impact of relevant and emerging energy storage technologies in the US power sector across a range of potential future cost and performance scenarios through the year 2050.

In this episode, we’re joined by Nate Blair, principal investigator of the study, to explain its findings and how their modeling was done. Nate is the Group Manager of the Distributed Systems and Storage Analysis group at NREL, and draws upon almost 30 years of experience in energy systems modeling and energy analysis, including nearly two decades of work at NREL where he held roles developing the System Advisor Model and PVWatts system modeling tools, as well as the ReEDS electric grid planning model. He has deep expertise in this type of modeling and walks us through all of the findings of this important new study.

Geek rating: 9

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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 #144] – Investing in Energy Transition

We have a very special guest for you in this episode: Jeremy Grantham, the legendary investor who co-founded GMO, a Boston-based institutional money management firm, more than 40 years ago. With more than $60 billion in assets under management, GMO has produced steady returns for its investors through market booms and busts, largely thanks to the steady hand of Grantham and his investing philosophy, which holds that sooner or later, most valuations return to the mean.

In this interview, we talked about Grantham’s investing philosophy; the history of investment bubbles; how he values investments; what’s happening in the markets as new retail traders using the Robinhood app and participating in Reddit-based trading groups drive stocks like Game Stop wild; what the Fed should do as the world recovers from the pandemic; his views on the massive expansion of the US national debt; how the world’s governments are responding to the challenge of climate change; the role of venture capital in energy transition; and his outlook for energy transition in general.

Geek rating: 5

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[Episode #134] – Storage Grows Up

Battery storage in the US has grown ten-fold in just five years, and its growth is only accelerating. Just a single utility procurement announced in May of this year was for four times as much utility battery capacity as existed in the entire US five years ago.

But battery storage isn’t just getting bigger. It’s also stretching well beyond utility-scale frequency control into new applications and market segments. In fact, fully one-third of the installed battery capacity in the US now is actually on the customer side of the meter, where it is being used to do things like mitigate demand charges and provide resilience—for example, allowing a microgrid to keep functioning when grid power is shut off in a wildfire event.

And then there are all the other kinds of non-battery storage, which are finding new momentum as well. It’s an exciting time of rapid evolution in the storage sector. To help us understand it all, Jason Burwen, the Vice President of Policy at the Energy Storage Association who last joined us back in Episode #8, returns to the show for this very wonky but highly informative look at the changing market, policy environment, and technologies of storage.

Geek rating: 9

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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 #122] – Hybrid Power Plants

The days of worrying about the intermittency of solar and wind farms are quickly receding into the past as battery storage systems are added to existing plants, and new renewable plants are increasingly equipped with large battery storage systems from the outset as so-called “hybrid” power plants. In fact, 25% of all new solar PV plants waiting to connect to bulk power systems are now hybrid plants incorporating battery systems, and on the California wholesale power market, 96% of solar PV and 75% of wind projects launched in 2019 were paired with batteries. All at prices that beat the cost of conventional power plants.

But figuring out the best way to deploy utility-scale battery storage systems isn’t just a matter of dispatchability and system balancing. In fact, it turns out that tax credit incentives and market rules are far more significant determinants. That’s one finding of a new research paper led by several researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, who modeled various ways of pairing battery storage systems with utility-scale wind and solar farms. In this episode, we explore the details of this modeling with one of the paper’s authors and speculate that it might actually be better to deploy large scale storage systems independently of wind and solar farms, if market rules were more supportive of the strategy.

Geek rating: 8

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