Rolling-out a sustainable and socially just energy system.
#77 Harvesting the Wind: Planting renewable energy in the Midwest — Sarah Mills
This week we speak with Sarah Mills, a Senior Project Manager, at the Graham Sustainability Institute, and Lecturer at the School for Environment and Sustainability at the University of Michigan. Uniquely for this podcast, we are learning about the Midwest of the United States and my home state of Michigan. For me, this was one of the most eye-opening interviews I've done in a very long time. I realize that sounds really odd, but I was surprised by a lot of the research Sarah has done of who supports and who doesn't support the development of renewable energy projects at the community level. This rural community level is our focus this week. As you'll hear throughout our conversation, the acceptance or rejection of wind farms and even solar is dependent on community members' perspectives on the use of the land. Farmers support wind, while those that have a second home on a nearby lake may oppose energy projects. Sarah explains that the rollout of renewable projects that impact the landscape is only recent, stemming from our historical reliance on coal-fired power plants which took up less space. Sarah describes how a change in land use is a real challenge for community zoning boards who lack the expertise and experience to balance the polarized views of the community. In this discussion, we look at how policies in Washington will be impacting communities across the US. Specifically, we discuss the expansion of tax credits to foster more renewable energy projects on a huge scale. This is the impact of the Inflation Reduction Act and also the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law in the US. I really enjoyed my discussion with Sarah, and as you'll hear, there remain important obstacles for renewable energy that communities must deal with. Is it fair to standardize zoning regulation or is it better to have different requirements every six miles or so, aligning with the different zoning areas for local government units? We have a brief discussion about energy justice and local versus state or national standards. IS it really fair to exclude the locals in deciding to build energy projects? The subtext of our conversation is about that today. What do we do if we have ambitious targets to roll out renewable energy, but local communities say not-in-my-backyard? As you'll hear, this is not a theoretical argument, but happening more and more often across the US.
#76 Landscape Shocks: Reframing the Energy Transition — Paula Kivimaa
Research Professor of Climate and Society at the Finnish Environment Institute. She holds a long research record focused on energy efficiency, decarbonization, and innovation. One of her current projects is focused on national defense and the low-carbon energy transition. This is our starting point to understand the changes Finland is experiencing in its shift away from Russia and how energy security is reframed.
As you'll hear towards the end of the interview, Paula introduces the concept of landscape shocks. How multiple crisis impact and shape the roll-out of the energy transition. How regimes emerge (51:00) and shift over time. The landscape was viewed as external, but how do these big events (like pandemics) influence the energy transition?
Essentially, in our conversation, we work backward looking at the small changes that are building up and fostering and driving the energy transition. From Finland's shifting relationship with Russia to the role that energy efficiency can play in national security.
The undertone of our conversation is how we conceptualize the energy transition. For example, energy security is moving away from stockpiles of natural resources to thinking about the impact of renewable energy production and the role this will play in the future. Therefore, demand response becomes important not only for grid management but for security.
Further informing the landscape events, are issues of energy justice and security. How global justice is tied to resource flows from the global south, and the role this plays in the energy transition and impact on energy security. Perceiving this through different scales. If the north becomes more secure with renewable technologies with resources from the global south, what happens to those countries selling their resources for our security?
You'll find our conversation wide-ranging, but academically engaging. Paula has published widely on a range of energy topics and she's well-versed in Finnish, British, and EU energy policy topics. I hope you enjoy our conversation as much as I did.
A final note, this interview was done for my 2022 role as an Open Society University Network, Senior Fellow at Chatham House, The Royal Institute of International Affairs. Funding was generously provided to produce the podcasts for the episodes recorded in 2022. And now it is 2023 but I still have a few more in my back pocket.
#75 Theatre of Energy Activism — David Schwartz
David Schwartz is a theatre director, lecturer and activist. He holds a PhD, wrote and produced plays focused on the impact of energy prices and the shuttering of coal mines in Romania.
This week we have a special guest with David Schwartz. How does the theater fit within the energy transition? As policymakers are discovering society matters. Unfortunately, this is more true in some countries than others. David's focus on Romania deals with economic transitions experienced through the people. His productions highlight the plight of people unable to afford the bare essentials to exist in modern society.
From my experience when I think about the policy making and promises that come from national politicians and even at the EU level, I often think about what is the real impact on the ground for people on the economic margins. David has created plays reflecting these personal and local struggles.
On one hand, David comes across as a radical instigator of performative art. But as you'll hear in part of our conversation, he takes the real experiences of people and presents it through theatrical performances. And what is more true than the real experiences of people or a fictional representation drawn from real experiences?
I think as an academic I often get caught up in the policy or technology aspects of the energy transition, and I don't know or don't see those that suffer in energy poverty.
When we hear about big policies and money to assist vulnerable groups, like that in the EU's Social Climate Fund, which is planned to contain €87 billion, I have my serious doubts about how this money will be distributed. From my conversation with David, you'll also get an impression he likewise holds limited faith in governments to assist citizens.
When I said you'll hear part of our conversation, I have to admit I had a bit of technical difficulty. So I wasn't able to record some of the most essential parts of our conversation. So I both David an apology and you, as a listener for this failure.
But I can certainly attest to David's in-depth knowledge and research skills at collecting and understanding how people experience and suffer from energy bills. The fact that he brings this to the stage demonstrates his skills in capturing social phenomena that we often only read about, and is hard to experience. My profound respects go out to David those working with him to raise this issues in a more engaging format that is usually emotionally detached from reality.
Before we begin, I want to thank Roxana Bucata for putting me in touch with David and all her work in organizing the interviews I did in Romania in November 2022.
A final note, this interview was done for my 2022 role as an Open Society University Network, Senior Fellow at Chatham House, The Royal Institute of International Affairs.
#74 Border Zone: Emerging Geopolitical and Climate Risks in Finland — Emma Hakala
Theory meets reality in Finland's energy security and climate change policies. In this episode with Emma Hakala, Senior Research Fellow, at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, and member of the BIOS Research Unit. We gain a greater understanding of what a cascade of crises around climate change looks like and the advantage of gaining foresight on these events before their impact is felt. We also learn about the quick shift in Finland's position on NATO membership and the changed relationship with Russia. This episode addresses the changing climate and geopolitical realities of Finnish efforts to go zero carbon while shifting away from Russia.
Welcome to the My Energy 2050 podcast where we speak to the people building a clean energy system by 2050. I'm your host Michael LaBelle.
A second title for this episode is the Cascading Challenges and Solutions for Finland. As you'll learn in the first half of this episode Finland is looking for ways to address climate change and become more adaptable. However, what was once thought of a solution with its forest acting as both fuel and a carbon sink, is now emerging as an inverted solution, with its forested carbon sink burned which is actually adding to its carbon emissions. How Finland addresses climate change requires a strong awareness of interlinked feedback.
The second part of the episode brings in an International Relations perspective. Emma tells us about the impact that Russia's war in Ukraine has had on Russian-Finnish relations. This includes Finland's application for NATO membership and a new security relationship through NATO and closer ties with the United States.
The importance of this episode lies in understanding the shift Finland has experienced since the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the explicit NATO alignment it now holds. Ambiguity is out the door. A new security line is emerging and we should be aware of how this new security pact changes relations with Russia. In addition, what were once important joint projects with Russia are almost all frozen. We can claim this as a win for EU sanctions, but it is important to be aware that some issues like water and other environmental issues still require a regional approach. Security may dominate current relations but we need to maintain the awareness that future cooperation will need to occur on environmental issues - when the time is right.
My take on this interview with Emma is that by learning about Finland's energy and security challenges we can appreciate the importance of regional cooperation. Even in a Nordic country like Finland with a small population and a vast land mass, meeting climate change goals is still a real challenge. What is unique about our conversation is the integration of the new security order with Russia and the concept of cascading crises and events. These are set to compound even more in our changing environment and security situation. We should not underestimate the challenges and unpredictability the war between Russia and Ukraine holds for the NATO alliance. Gaining some insight into Russia's neighbors and their actions can assist how we as researchers and analysts assess the longer-term impact of the war.
In episode 69 I spoke with Emma's BIOS Research Unit colleague Tere Vaden. I suggest checking out that episode on energy and philosophy to understand more about the Finnish perspective and how climate change is changing both policies and practices in Finland and humanity's relationship with energy. It is already proving to be a top podcast episode.
For those not in the know, - We are launching the Repowering Leadership in European Energy and Food Summer School 2023. This is done with the Central European University, Summer University program, and with the Open Society University Network. You can find a link to the call for applications in the show notes. The application deadline is February 14th, 2023.
We have an amazing line-up of instructors,
#73 A Break in the Wall? The challenge of energy communities — Vjeran Pirsic
What does it take to build the energy transition? Usually, the question is phrased like this, the energy transition is about deploying the right technology. But with this framing we lose sight of the more important element in the energy transition. It is people that build the communities to support the new technologies, behaviors and educate. These are the people creating the energy transition.
Welcome to the My Energy 2050 podcast where we speak to the people building a clean energy system by 2050. I'm your host Michael LaBelle.
This week we speak with Vjeran Pirsic, a resident, businessman, and local campaigner on the island of Krk in Croatia. As you will hear, Vjeran is not a usual guest for this podcast, but then I don't know who is. So we can say that Vjeran joins the eclectic mix of interviewees who have really interesting stories and backgrounds around their involvement in the energy transition.
The overall, story for today is how the island of Krk is building a sustainable ecosystem and embracing the concept of an energy community. Moving from environmental actions in the area of recycling waste to building a self-sustaining island. As you'll hear, Vjeran paints us a colorful and vivid picture of what growing up in Krk and Yugoslavia under Tito was like. How Pink Floyd, Rubik's Cube, and visions of passive houses in 1980 set the stage for environmental campaigners to block the Soviet then Russia plan of building an oil pipeline from Russia to the Adriatic.
The interview is essentially divided into two parts, the first is about Vjeran's background, upbringing and early environmental activism. In the second half we discuss energy democracy and energy communities.
Before listening it will be helpful for you if I paint a picture of my meeting. I meet Vjeran in his home on Krk on a rainy cold December day. The island was relatively disserted - in my opinion, although Vjeran corrected me on this. Just a few local workmen in one of the few open cafes. As you'll hear, Vjeran has many thoughts on the state of the world and why and how he has led a life of activism.
For me, both Vjeran's personality and his stories provide a greater context to the people making the energy transition happen. I interviewed him at the end of traveling throughout Europe and speaking with other people like Vjeran, people who are building with their own hands the buildings and infrastructure necessary for a zero-carbon world. And their experiences are very important to listen to. Certainly, the Croatian government would probably object to some of his statements, but as social scientist learns, the positionality and the opinion of a wide range of people do matter.
I've come away even more from these interviews - some have been published and others will be published, with a slightly pessimistic outlook. Much is made of the current high energy prices driving change, but from talking to people on the ground, it still seems the entrenched interests of dominant companies and political elites want to maintain a strongly centralized energy system with little investment into demand reduction, smart systems, and distributed generation. The concept of energy communities runs counter to how governments want to set up their energy system.
As Vjeran points out, giving him the power to produce his own electricity would make him a free man. And this is not what the politicians and companies want. I'll let you listen now and judge for yourself the views expressed by Vjeran and whether his experience is unique or a common occurrence.
For our housekeeping notes, I have these announcements:
- We are launching the Repowering Leadership in European Energy and Food Summer School. This is done with the Central European University, Summer University program and with the Open Society University Network. You can find a link to the call for applications in the show notes. The application deadline is February 14th. And I'll just say, if you like this epi
#72: The Big Conversation on Germany’s Energy Crisis — Pieter de Pous
What went wrong with Germany? Europe's leader in renewable energy is now building LNG terminals to make up for lost Russian gas. Germany had no LNG terminals before Russia's war in Ukraine, now it's making deals in the Middle East and building LNG terminals. This activity exposes how much Russian gas was used to make the miracle of the Energiewende, Germany's roll-out of renewables in the energy transition, away from coal and nuclear.
In this conversation with Pieter de Pous, E3G Senior Policy Advisor, on the Fossil Transition Team, we have a broad discussion on the background to Germany's energy transition and the switch away from Russian gas. We also delve into the world of EU politics and the Fit for 55 package.
I've titled this episode as the 'Big Conversation on Germany's Energy Crisis' for a reason. Pieter was kind enough to sit down and share his knowledge on how well Germany and the EU are weathering the high gas and electricity prices, and the impact this has on the energy transition. Our conversation covers a wide field of energy issues. I was really impressed by Pieter's knowledge of both the policy-making process and the balancing act that politicians straddle. He also is very knowledgeable about the workings in Brussels.
I've done minimal editing - as I usually do - but this episode unfolds in a gentle conversation style where a lot of topics are discussed in ways that are both clearly connected and in other ways are a bit more random. By the end, I'm convinced you'll have a greater understanding of the politics behind Germany's energy transition and a new perspective on energy security that the German government holds.
As Pieter describes, maybe Poland and its cautious stand against Russian energy interests was justified. Certainly, Germany and the EU is now adopting the Polish energy security position. And we have a lot more to say on this point.
This interview was recorded in October 2022. But I think it has aged well over the past few weeks and still provides a clear context to the challenges Europe faces to move away from Russian fossil fuels.
Before moving on, we have big news this week - We are launching the Repowering Leadership in European Energy and Food Summer School. This is done with the Central European University, Summer University program and with the Open Society University Network. You can find a link to the call for applications in the show notes.
A final note, this interview was done for my current role as an Open Society University Network, Senior Fellow at Chatham House, The Royal Institute of International Affairs. Funding was generously provided to produce the podcasts until the end of 2022. And the funding was provided to travel to interview a range of experts on how the current energy crisis is impacting different countries around Europe.
The intent of the My Energy 2050 podcast is to spread the knowledge about how the energy system can assist our transition towards a greener future. The content of each episode is great for teaching, research and identifying how you can assist this energy transition.
Full AI Transcript is here
The Big Conversation on Germany’s Energy Crisis.
What is EEG and how does it work?
Within the EU, is phasing out gas perceived to be happening quite quickly?
If your approach is replacing LNG with LNG, that’s not going to happen.
How long does it take to get to 100% renewable energy?
Germany’s dependency on Russian gas.
What’s the biggest problem in eastern Germany?
How the Just Transition Fund will impact regions that are transitioning away from coal.
What’s a plausible scenario for East Germany?
Hydrogen ready? What is it?
What’s the plan for the energy efficiency and renewables directive?
Energy prices are going to remain high.
How do you see energy solidarity devel