Longtime energy expert Chris Nelder interviews some of the smartest and most knowledgeable people in energy, exploring global infrastructure and markets during the ongoing transition away from fossil fuels and toward renewables. Designed to stimulate discussion about the difficult questions rather than reinforce preconceived answers, the Energy Transition Show covers oil, gas, coal, solar, wind, emerging renewables, nuclear, grid power, transportation systems, macroeconomics, and more, including the latest news and research, policy developments, and market events.
Transition in China [abridged]
China is both the greatest threat to the global climate, and, very possibly, our greatest hope for energy transition. It consumes more coal and produces more CO2 than any other nation on earth. It also has more installed capacity for wind and solar than any other nation, and the largest long-distance, high-voltage electricity transmission grid. It has more electric vehicles and more high speed rail than any other country. And it produces more steel, and cement, and housing, and just about everything else. If the energy transition is to be a success, it cannot happen without China.
But China remains opaque to non-Chinese speakers, and its conflicting information and narratives confound Western journalists. What is the actual trajectory of energy transition in China? Is it building more coal plants than anyone else… or is it leading the world in building wind and solar? What if the answer is… both? And can it meet its new target to get to net-zero emissions by 2060?
In this episode, expert Lauri Myllyvirta of the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air joins us to share his extensive research on coal and air pollution in Asia, with a focus on his insights into what is really happening in China.
Energy and Climate in the Biden Administration [abridged]
What will the Biden-Harris administration mean for America’s energy transition, its relationship with the rest of the world, and for global action on climate? Beyond everybody’s policy wish lists, what’s actually likely to happen, and what do this administration’s top priorities need to be to put the U.S. back on track with climate action?
In this episode, we look at the realpolitik of the current situation, and weigh up the challenges that face us in rebuilding America, as well as what it will take to restore our relationship with the rest of the world and show leadership on climate and energy transition once again. And we consider what the staffing of the new administration can tell us about what kind of character it will have, and what the Cabinet’s policy priorities are likely to be.
In this final episode of 2020, we turn the page and look forward to putting America back on track, and getting back to some semblance of normal life again.
The Economic Superorganism [abridged]
As the energy transition proceeds and the world takes more aggressive steps to curb global warming, analysts from many disciplines are questioning how economic growth can be maintained, or if there are limits to growth—a concept first raised in the 1970s—that will also limit the progression of energy transition. Will we run into fundamental limits on resources and debt? Or can human ingenuity and technological innovation continue to overcome any limits we encounter?
These two narratives—techno-realism and techno-optimism—compete for our attention and argue for very different trajectories of energy transition. In this episode, we speak with researcher and author Carey King about his new book, The Economic Superorganism, which explores the scientific and rhetorical basis of the competing narratives both within and between energy technology and economics.
Internalizing Climate Risk [abridged]
Climate change poses a host of risks to the global economy. From ‘natural’ disasters causing property damage, to climate mitigation measures rendering fossil fuel assets unburnable, to potential impacts of climate change on agricultural production, energy, food, insurance, real estate, and other sectors, it’s clear that private sector companies and all kinds of investments stand to suffer significant losses as a consequence of climate change.
Yet few regulations exist to require these risks to be recognized on balance sheets, or disclosed to investors, unlike many other everyday risks that are subject to such disclosure and protection. A home built in a floodplain and destroyed in a flood, or at a wildland interface and destroyed by a wildfire, has not seen its cost of insurance go up to reflect the rising risk of another loss due to climate change. Pension funds have not been required to evaluate the risk of their investments in oil, gas, and coal companies losing value due to future restrictions on carbon emissions. And entities like the U.S. Federal Reserve have been free to continue lending to fossil fuel producers even as they warn about the damage that climate change is doing to the global economy.
Clearly, it is long past time to recognize the risk of climate change across all sectors of the economy. We must begin implementing ways of measuring those risks, testing portfolios for their risk tolerance, divesting public money from the fossil fuel sector, and start implementing economy-wide ways of pricing carbon emissions.
To that end, in 2019 the U. S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) formed the Climate-Related Market Risk Subcommittee, and tasked it with producing a report to consider what climate-related risks might be; examine whether adequate information about climate risks is available; identify any impediments to evaluating and managing climate-related financial and market risks; ask whether the market can do a better job of integrating climate-related scenarios and use them to stress-test investments; incorporate disclosures of climate risk into financial and market risk assessments and reporting; identify how risks can be managed and disclosed in order to protect the stability of the financial system; and ensure that information about climate-related financial and market risks are internalized into the market.
On September 9, 2020, that report was released. In this episode, we speak with the chairman of the subcommittee, Bob Litterman, founding partner and Risk Committee Chairman of Kepos Capital. Bob has had a decades-long career in risk management, and has been a champion of recognizing and integrating climate risk for many years. We’ll ask him about what the report says, why it’s important, and how its findings might be used to integrate awareness of climate risk into financial metrics and enterprise governance.
Storage Grows Up [abridged]
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.
Stranded Assets [abridged]
A decade ago, it was very conventional for asset managers to have exposure to the oil and gas sector as part of a diversified portfolio. Calls for them to divest from carbon assets because climate policy could render fossil fuel reserves unburnable mostly fell on deaf ears. But now the oil & gas sector has turned in a decade of underperformance, vaporizing tens of billions of dollars and becoming the worst-performing sector in the world. Now banks, asset managers, and even oil operators have now joined the ranks of those worrying aloud about the increasing risk of stranded assets. Now, the warnings about stranded assets are converging with calls for companies and investors to apply ESG filters to their activities, and investors are demanding divestment from carbon-heavy assets.
One think-tank saw all this coming: Carbon Tracker. In fact, they put the concept of stranded fossil fuel assets on the map over a decade ago. In this episode we speak with its founder, Mark Campanale, about what investors have learned from the experience of the past decade, what they still need to do going forward, and some of the more interesting efforts that are under way to encourage divestment from carbon and reorient capital toward energy transition solutions.