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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 #173] – IPCC AR6 Part 2

In this second part of our IPCC Sixth Assessment report (“AR6”) Working Group III coverage, we welcome back our friend and AR6 contributing author Glen Peters of the CICERO Center for International Climate Research. Longtime listeners will remember Glen from his explanation of the ‘carbon budget’ in Episode #57, and on the various scenarios for global warming, what they mean, and the current trajectory for climate change in Episode #112.

Glen was a lead author of AR6 Chapter 3, titled “Mitigation pathways compatible with long-term goals,” so in this episode, we discuss the latest figures for the remaining carbon budget; explore the probabilities for limiting warming to 1.5 and 2°C, and we consider the changing views on the role of direct carbon dioxide removal (CDR) and carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) as parts of the climate toolkit. Glen also gives us a very helpful explanation of some of the new terms and metrics used in AR6, such as the Illustrative Mitigation Pathways (IMPs), the warming Classification levels (C1-C8) and the other policy scenarios.

This is super-geeky but essential-to-understand stuff for anyone working on climate policy!

Geek rating: 8

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[Episode #172] – IPCC AR6 Part 1

The IPCC published the final part of its Sixth Assessment (“AR6”), the Working Group III report, on April 4, 2022. The IPCC's Working Group III report contains assessments of how the energy transition can reduce emissions in the context of an updated outlook for global warming. Together, the three reports of AR6 comprise over 6,000 pages of material, so we have chosen to focus our coverage on the Working Group III report, which we present in two episodes.

In this first episode on AR6, we speak with one of the lead authors of the Working Group III report, energy researcher Benjamin Sovacool of the University of Sussex. We discuss some major advances in AR6 over the AR5 report of eight years ago; the gaps between our national climate action ambitions, what is really needed to limit warming to 1.5 or 2°C, and some ways that those gaps can be closed; how market-based financial approaches can be harnessed to reduce carbon; the importance of equity and “just transition” strategies; the challenge of path dependency and technology lock-in; how political economy can inhibit taking action on climate; the roles that non-government actors and individuals can play in the transition; and the various ways of decarbonizing transportation and providing better low-carbon mobility.

Our second episode on AR6, Episode #173, will review the updated figures for the remaining carbon budget, and consider the pathways and probabilities for limiting warming to 1.5 and 2°C.

Geek rating: 5

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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 #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 #169] – Is the Energy Transition Feasible?

We know energy transition is needed to achieve our climate goals - 1.5˚ or some increasingly dire impacts are on the table. We know the transition is technically possible, economically affordable, and pragmatically doable. We know the policies needed to get the transition done. We know the opponents of transition and how to win against them.

Despite all that we know, there are a lot of unanswered questions about the feasibility of energy transition from a historical and empirical perspective. Can the transition happen fast enough? For each fuel source? In every country?

Our guest in this episode, Dr. Jessica Jewell of the Center for Climate and Energy Transformations at the University of Bergen in Norway, has done extensive research on the feasibility of energy transition. She is also closely involved with the climate scenarios that have been used in the IPCC modeling and is exceptionally well-qualified to help us understand the feasibility question. We discuss research she has co-authored on the speed of solar, wind and nuclear adoption, as well as the speed of phasing out fossil fuels to see if those things are happening quickly enough to limit warming to 1.5°C. We’ll also ask whether the scenario modeling that has been done to date is really what is needed to get a handle on these questions, and how to improve it.

Geek rating: 7

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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 #167] – Rating Green Bonds

More than a half a trillion dollars in green bonds were issued in 2021, raising hopes that investment into the energy transition and climate change solutions is finally starting to approach the scale that it needs to have to halt global warming. But how green is green?

In this episode, we speak with Christa Clapp, the co-founder of CICERO Shades of Green, a market leader in external reviews (also known as ‘second opinions’) of green bonds and companies. Fund managers and other investors can use these ratings to sort out the ‘light green’ from the ‘dark green’ (or the not green at all) and decide whether an investment meets their eligibility criteria and is likely to have a real impact on climate change.

Geek rating: 5

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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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