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.”
In this anniversary episode, we welcome back Jonathan Koomey to talk about some of the interesting developments and raucous debates we have seen over the past year. We’ll consider how expectations have changed for coal and gas-fired electricity generation; we’ll discuss the changed outlook for natural gas appliances; we’ll talk about the growing support for “just transition” strategies integrating climate and environmental justice objectives to ensure that energy transition leaves no one behind; we’ll summarize the latest developments in the ongoing debate over climate scenarios; we’ll discuss some of the new models around what an 80, 90, or 100% renewable energy system might look like; and we’ll review a slew of stories about corruption investigations into legacy energy companies, several of which we first covered two and three years ago.
Australia’s out-of-control wildfires in recent months have captured the world’s attention and raised serious questions about how climate change is affecting the continent, whether the country’s leadership is taking appropriate action to address climate risk, and what the future holds for its unique weather patterns and ecosystem.
But Australia is one of the most fossil-fuel dependent countries in the world, which makes it politically difficult to face the reality of its climate risk, and how its own activities are increasing that risk. So in this episode we invited a longtime journalist and researcher, based in Sydney, who works in research, strategy, and communications around climate change and finance, to help us understand the political, economic, and climate context of Australia at this moment, and to understand how the wildfires are influencing the trajectory of energy transition there. She reveals a country delicately balanced somewhere between hope and despair, with political leadership in thrall to the fossil fuel industry, and a populace eager to pursue energy transition and reduce its exposure to climate risk.
If you wanted to build a standalone microgrid in Africa, powered by local renewable resources, and make it reliable enough to run a neonatal intensive care clinic, how would you do it? Work through a development bank like the World Bank to get funding? Work with the government in the host country to manage the funds and the project? Build it around lithium-ion batteries? Use Western contractors to do the installation?
In this episode, we learn how Michael Liebreich, the founder of Bloomberg New Energy Finance, helped create a successful project in Sierra Leone by doing none of those things. His experience is full of useful and surprising lessons, and offers a very interesting model for other aspiring renewable microgrid project developers. We’ll also talk with him about his insights on energy transition as one of its veterans, including his experience in trying to transition London to use more electric transportation, as well as his views on career direction and diversity in the energy industry.
The cost of solar has dropped so quickly that we’re suddenly in a world nobody really anticipated. Utility power procurement is having to pivot to solar under $0.03/kWh…including dispatchable solar with storage, displacing not just coal and nuclear, but natural gas power plants, which everyone assumed we would continue building for decades to come.
So what’s next for solar? Are we ready to phase out its incentives? Do we still need solar advocacy? And are we at risk of solar becoming so cheap that even solar developers can no longer afford to build it? Does the sun actually need to be tamed?
Our guest in this episode has a unique point of view on these issues. Adam Browning is the co-founder and Executive Director of Vote Solar, a non-profit advocacy organization in the US with the mission of bringing solar energy into the mainstream, and he knows the history and the current prospects of solar better than most.
California and 12 other US states, plus parts of Canada and Mexico, are considering whether to expand the California wholesale grid and balancing area to include the entire region, in order to increase the flow of reliable, affordable, and renewable power across the West. This shift to a regional independent system operator, or ISO, would also expand resource flexibility, improve transmission planning and grid reliability, and enable a far larger share of renewable energy across the system. But it’s not without risk: Would a unified Western market kill the market for power projects sold under virtual PPAs outside its borders? Would it give project developers—or even coal plants—operating within the Western grid but outside California a competitive edge over California’s own renewable project developers? Would it become a loophole through which coal power starts being imported into California, after many years of effort trying to get rid of coal in the Golden State? Would California or any of the other Western states lose control over their own power production and consumption? And what about the five states that could join the Southwest Power Pool instead—what will they do?
These are complex questions with no easy answers, but our guest in this episode is an expert on the subject and ably walks us through all the pros and cons…and points the way to a potentially very different future for power markets in the American West.
In an economy as large and complex as the United States, how can we tell when our efforts at energy transition are working? How do we calculate our carbon emissions? How do we know why emissions fell, especially if increased efficiency can rebound into more consumption, an effect known as the Jevons Paradox? How should we calculate the cost of damage due to climate change, and how we should choose the discount rates we use in evaluating investments to stop it? And even if we knew the answers to all these difficult questions, how should we act, given how little certainty we have about the future of the climate, and of the trajectory of energy transition itself? Can economic theory even help us plot a sensible path toward energy transition and climate change mitigation? Our guest in this episode has published extensively on all of these thorny questions, and we’ll discuss that research with him, along with his current research into solar geoengineering.
How did the legal innovation of “advance cost recovery” allow utilities in South Carolina, Georgia, Florida and Mississippi to torch more than $40 billion on nuclear and coal plants that went way over budget or never produced a single kilowatt-hour of electricity? And what if this story is more than just a few poor decisions about a handful of power plants, but instead a long history of reckless behavior, if not outright fraud and corruption, by contractors, utilities, their regulators, and legislators, which customers in the South will be paying off for years to come? And what can be done to prevent such boondoggles in the future?
Our guest in this episode is a reporter from the Pulitzer Prize winning newspaper, The Post and Courier, of Charleston, South Carolina, who has been contributing to a terrific series of articles about what went wrong with these power plants, by doing good old-fashioned investigative journalism. It’s a pretty incredible story they have uncovered and continue to tell in their newspaper every week as they work to uncover the truth and protect consumers. After you hear this jaw-dropper, you’ll probably never take the prospect of US nuclear or clean coal seriously ever again.