[Episode #42] – Can Renewables Power the World?

Is the net energy of renewables high enough to actually power human civilization? Or will replacing fossil fuels prove too difficult on an energetic basis? What is the state of the art in net energy analysis, and can biophysical economics yet prove to be policy relevant, and not just an arcane field of study that only interests academics? What’s the trajectory of EROI for various fuels, and what’s the right way to compare them?

If you’ve heard that the net energy of renewables is too low to run society, and that as a result energy transition is destined to fail…then you need to listen to this interview with net energy researcher Rembrandt Koppelaar and check out his new research. His findings will probably surprise you.

Geek rating: 8

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[Episode #41] – Generator Survival Strategies

Owners of old nuclear and coal power generation in the US are on the ropes, because their plants can’t compete with cheaper natural gas and renewables. Some—especially those operating in competitive markets—are simply shutting down, while others are trying a whole host of survival strategies: seeking special payments and subsidies, “around-market reforms,” and even getting states to give up on competitive generation markets and go back to the old regulated utility business. So what are the pros and cons of these strategies, and what are the implications for consumers and for energy transition as a whole? Gavin Bade, an editor at Utility Dive who has written extensively on these topics, leads us through a tangle of legal, technical, and economic implications toward a more clear-eyed picture of how incumbent generators are trying to survive the transition.

Geek rating: 5

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[Episode #40] – Climate Science Part 2 – Taking Planetary Temperatures

In this second episode of our mini-series on climate science, we begin to dive a bit deeper on narrower subjects, starting with a look at how we take the Earth’s temperature, on land, on the sea surface, and deeper in the ocean depths. Along the way, we discuss temperature measurements at the heart of the “Climategate” nothingburger, the 2013 “Pausebuster” paper proving the supposed “pause” or “hiatus” in global warming trends didn’t actually happen, and a recent kerfuffle over that paper. We also find out if the melting of permafrost and undersea methane clathrates could lead the planet into runaway global warming, and discuss some research on the net emissions effect of switching from coal to gas in power generation, including the thorny issue of fugitive emissions from natural gas production and distribution. And finally, we’ll take another look at the question of decoupling economic growth from energy consumption, and how emissions are counted in the first place. After listening to this interview, you’ll be well-equipped to listen critically to both the latest scientific findings on global temperatures, and to the arguments of global warming skeptics. Plus, we’ll talk about the implications of Trump’s proposed budget, which would gut the very agencies that deliver these crucial scientific measurements.

Geek rating: 6

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[Episode #39] – Transition in Australia

Australia has the highest proportion of households with rooftop solar PV systems of any country in the world. It also has the second-dirtiest grid in the world, getting three-quarters of its power from coal. As such, Australia might as well be the global poster child of energy transition, with both a huge load of dirty power plants it needs to retire, and a huge set of distributed and variable solar and wind systems that it needs to integrate into its power grid, while keeping everything balanced, without being able to import or export electricity from other nations. It’s a fascinating case study in wholesale markets, renewable incentives, technical balancing issues, and yes, acrimonious political debate between Browns and Greens. To help us understand this complex picture, we speak with Dr. Jenny Riesz, a Principal at the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO), the operator of Australia’s largest gas and electricity markets and power systems. Dr. Riesz works on adapting AEMO’s processes and functions to ensure ongoing security and reliability as the power system transitions to renewables, and leads its work program on matters such as frequency control, analysis on declining inertia, and possible solutions such as Fast Frequency Response.

Geek rating: 9

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[Episode #38] – Getting from Here to There

There’s nothing to give you a little perspective on what’s happening on planet Earth like getting off it and seeing its beauty—and it’s human-caused destruction—from space. In this wide-ranging interview, former astronaut Jay Apt, a professor of technology and business at Carnegie Mellon University, shares some insights from his voluminous body of research on energy transition topics, including: what the power grid of the future could look like; how we’ll balance it with increasing levels of renewable energy; how to smooth out the fluctuations in wind farm power output; utility business model evolution and resource adequacy planning; what the optimal amount of storage on the PJM Interconnection might be; the economics of behind-the-meter battery systems; the potential future for EVs providing services to the grid; whether carbon capture and sequestration technology and geoengineering can play significant roles in addressing climate change; the new era of electricity de- and re-regulation; and of course, what it’s like to look down on Earth from space. You’ll never see an hour go by as quickly as this one.

Geek rating: 8

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[Episode #37] – Corporate Buyers of Renewables

Although it’s not widely talked about, one of the hottest sectors buying renewables now is the corporate sector. Fortune 500 companies are buying solar and wind power, and renewable energy credits, at a record pace. But why? What’s in it for them? What are the economic risks and rewards of going to the extra trouble to buy green power? How do arrangements like “virtual power purchase agreements” work? How do we manage balancing between wholesale markets in a future of strong interstate corporate procurement? And what’s the outlook for corporate buying of renewables? Our guest answers all of these questions and more in this wonkilicious episode, guaranteed to keep CFOs on the edge of their seats.

Geek rating: 6

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[Episode #36] – Climate Science Part 1 – Climate Change Overview

With President Trump fully embracing fossil fuels and indicating that he intends to abandon US efforts to address climate change (and even the scientific inquiry underlying those efforts), there is no time like the present to refresh what we know about climate change, what we can do about it, and what kinds of research still need to be done to improve our understanding. This episode is the first of what will become a mini-series of episodes on the science of climate change, and it starts by looking at the debate over climate change, the counter-arguments of climate change skeptics and the rebuttals to those arguments, and what recent scientific observations can tell us. It also suggests that ultimately, there may be a lot more willingness amongst the rank and file of all political parties to take action on climate, regardless of ideological perspectives on the left and right.

Geek rating: 5

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[Episode #35] – Green Bonds

What are green bonds, and how can they help mobilize private capital to fund energy transition and climate change mitigation measures? What kinds of things can green bonds be used to fund? What are the various roles for private, corporate, and sovereign issuers? Why does the green bond market need to grow by roughly 10x over the next few years to $1 trillion a year globally, and is there even enough capital out there willing to accept single-digit returns to buy that amount of green bonds? Are green bonds an answer to the stranded assets problem in the fossil fuel sector? And what can the appetite for green bonds tell us about monetary policy and appropriate discount rates for climate change mitigation measures? We get deep into all of these questions with the CEO of the Climate Bonds Initiative, an international NGO working to mobilize debt capital markets for climate solutions.

Geek rating: 5

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[eLab Extra #7] – How NREL Supports Energy Transition

This is a special, free "extra" episode recorded at RMI’s eLab Annual Summit in December 2016 in Austin, Texas.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) based in Golden, Colorado provides a wide range of research, guidance, and policy support to the whole government stack in the U.S., from the local and city level all the way up to the federal and tribal level. From supporting the rebuild of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, to informing policies with things like calculating the Value of Solar (VOS) and figuring out better ways of doing demand response, NREL is helping to lead the way on energy transition. We interview Elizabeth Doris of NREL at RMI’s eLab Summit 2016.

Geek rating: 2

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[eLab Extra #6] – Building EV Charging Infrastructure

This is a special, free "extra" episode recorded at RMI’s eLab Annual Summit in December 2016 in Austin, Texas.

Should utilities be allowed to own EV charging infrastructure, or should that be reserved for private charging companies? How many Level 3 high-voltage chargers do we need at workplaces and shopping areas? And how do we build charging infrastructure now that won’t become stranded assets if and when we transition to fleets of autonomous vehicles? We interview Jonathan Levy of Vision Ridge Partners at RMI’s eLab Summit 2016 to find out.

Geek rating: 2

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