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Topic: Transmission

[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 #179] – Offshore Wind in the US

Although offshore wind has been booming for decades in Europe, it has gotten a slow start in the US. But that’s about to change. From a single 30 MW offshore wind farm today, offshore wind capacity in the US is expected to reach 1 GW in just two years, and grow by a factor of 40 over the next two decades to 30 GW under a new target set by the US Government.

In today’s episode, we speak with Patrick Gilman, a Program Manager in the US Department of Energy's Wind Energy Technologies Office. For the past 14 years, Patrick has led a wide range of analysis, research and development, and deployment activities to help advance wind’s role in the US energy sector. We talk about the global state of the offshore wind sector; the technical and practical potentials for offshore wind in the US; how offshore wind can reduce the need for transmission capacity and balance out the production from land-based wind and solar farms; and how it can create good jobs and stimulate manufacturing. We’ll also look at some of wind's unique advantages over land-based resources, like easier paths to deploying transmission capacity. Wind might even be a good way to produce hydrogen we can use to decarbonize the hard-to-decarbonize sectors.

Join us for this comprehensive look at the present and future of offshore wind in the US. It may be the most exciting sector in energy over the next two decades.

Geek rating: 5

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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 #161] – Expanding Transmission

It has been nearly impossible to get new transmission built across the US in recent years, thanks to a combination of local opposition from host communities, jurisdictional issues, and the resistance of major utilities, alongside other factors. But with the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (previously known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill) now committed to law, there are fresh hopes that new transmission lines can be built in the US to unlock the truly massive renewable resources that are currently unable to get to market… resources that are critical to helping the US decarbonize its economy. There are also new techniques for building transmission, and potentially new regulations that can overcome resistance to new lines.

In this episode, we revisit the topic of transmission and see what needs to happen to get new transmission projects moving in the US. We also ask whether a macro grid based on big transmission lines is still really the cheapest and best solution, or if more distributed solutions might be worth reevaluating in light of updated cost data and some contemporary grid modeling.

Our guest in this episode is Liza Reed, the research manager for low carbon technology policy at the Niskanen Center in Washington, D.C., an expert in High Voltage Direct Current, electricity transmission, and technology innovation. She shares with us the latest thinking about transmission, and helps us tie together some of the threads we have discussed in previous episodes, to paint a picture of how more transmission can bring hundreds of gigawatts of renewable power to market in the US.

Geek rating: 8

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[Episode #128] – Energy Basics Parts 7–9 – The Electricity Business and Power Markets

This episode is part of our Energy Basics mini-series. Parts 1-3 of the series can be found in Episode #119, and Parts 4-6 can be found in Episode #126.

If you have found yourself occasionally challenged to follow some of the more technical conversations we have here, or even if you just want to brush up on the fundamentals, this mini-series is for you! We hope these episodes will give you a bit more familiarity with the terms and concepts of energy, and help to fill in some of the knowledge that you were never offered in school.

Each of these three mini-episodes are about 20 minutes in length. Part 7 is available to all listeners. Parts 8 and 9 are available to full subscribers only. You can jump between each part using the chapter functionality in your podcast app.

Episode 128.1 - Energy Basics Part 7 – The Electricity Industry – The evolution of electric utilities; state regulation of utilities; utility restructuring. [00:00 to 30:19]

Episode 128.2 - Energy Basics Part 8 – Electric Utilities Today – The various kinds of electric utilities today; governance; relationship between transmission and distribution utilities. [30:20 to 59:06]

Episode 128.3 – Energy Basics Part 9 – Power Markets and Grid Balancing – How wholesale power markets work; introduction to retail electricity markets; how transmission and distribution grid operators keep supply and demand in balance. [59:07 to 1:26:34]

Geek rating: 1

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[Episode #126] – Energy Basics Parts 4–6 – Electricity, Generation and Grid Management

This is part of our mini-series on the Energy Basics. Parts 1-3 can be found in Episode #119.

If you have found yourself occasionally challenged to follow some of the more technical conversations we have here, or even if you just want to brush up on the fundamentals, this mini-series is for you! We hope these episodes will give you a bit more familiarity with the terms and concepts of energy, and help to fill in some of the knowledge that you were never offered in school.

Each of these three mini-episodes are about 20 minutes in length. Part 4 is available to all listeners. Parts 5 and 6 are available to full subscribers only. You can jump between each part using the chapter functionality in your podcast app.

Episode 126.1 - Energy Basics Part 4 – Basics of Electricity – What electricity is; electricity units; Volts and amps; AC and DC. [00:00 to 23:51]

Episode 126.2 - Energy Basics Part 5 – Electricity Generation – How various kinds of electricity generators and power stations work. [23:52 to 55:53]

Episode 126.3 – Energy Basics Part 6 – Grid Management – How the electricity transmission and distribution systems are structured and managed. [55:54 to 1:24:54]

Geek rating: 1

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[Episode #102] – Transition as Wildfire Adaptation in California

California’s largest utility is bankrupt as a result of its liability for starting some of California’s largest and deadliest wildfires. Now the utility, its shareholders and investors, and the state itself are trying to figure out how to reorganize the company, manage its wildfire risk, and the pay for its future liabilities in an era of a warming climate and enduring droughts. But that’s just where this story starts, not where it ends. In reality, all of the state’s utilities need a backstop for their wildfire liabilities, and de-energizing transmission lines isn’t the only solution. In fact, these questions go beyond the borders of a single state, and touch on a host of deeper issues, including insurance underwriting rules, building and planning and zoning rules, and even how the grid itself will be operated. And it turns out that many of the same solutions that help us in the energy transition can also help us mitigate the risks of wildfires, and adapt to our new climate reality. We are fortunate to have Michael Wara as our guest in this episode—a bona fide expert on the subject who is a member of the state-appointed wildfire commission in California—to help us think through this complex web of issues and understand how to start plotting a new path into the future.

Geek rating: 2

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[Episode #98] – Why Building Transmission is So Hard

Building high voltage transmission lines has never been easy, but now it’s arguably both harder than ever, and more necessary than ever, as we seek to unlock the vast potential of wind and solar in the US and ship it to major population centers. But it’s not a business for the faint of heart, as we’ll hear in this incredible story by award-winning investigative reporter and author Russell Gold of the Wall Street Journal. His new book, Superpower, chronicles the story of Michael Skelly, a developer who spent a decade and a great deal of money trying to build five major transmission lines in the US to support the burgeoning wind industry, only to be undermined, deceived, shot down, and ultimately driven to giving up, by people who opposed the lines for their own selfish interests. It’s an amazing story and a great cautionary tale for any prospective transmission line developer, as well as a wellspring of crucial insights that will benefit all who work in energy transition.

Geek rating: 3

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[Episode #93] – Energy Transition in India and Southeast Asia, Part 2

This is Part 2 of our two-and-a-half hour interview with Tim Buckley, of the Institute of Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, based in Australia. We featured Part 1 in Episode 91, in which we primarily discussed the future of coal fired power in India. In this second part, we expand on the India story and look more broadly at energy transition across Southeast Asia, and consider the outlook for coal, renewables, and nuclear power in China, Japan, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Malaysia, among others. As he did in Part 1, Tim shares with us in this episode a fascinating set of data on the future of energy in Southeast Asia that is oftentimes at sharp variance with the projections that we hear from energy watchdogs like the International Energy Agency. Tim tells a much more hopeful story about energy transition in the developing world. For example: If you think that China’s building more coal plants means that its coal consumption is going to go up, think again! Energy transition is moving ahead, and will move ahead, much more quickly in Southeast Asia than any of our major agencies project, and that is great news for the climate.

Geek rating: 4

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