Decarbonization and its Discontents: A Critical Justice Perspective on Four Low-Carbon Transitions

October 8, 2021 | 10:30am to 11:50am PST
Benjamin Sovacool, Professor of Energy Policy at the Science Policy Research Unit, University of Sussex Business School
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What are the types of injustices associated with low-carbon transitions? Relatedly, in what ways do low-carbon transitions worsen social risks or vulnerabilities? Lastly, what policies might be deployed to make these transitions more just? The presentation answers these questions by first elaborating an “energy justice” framework consisting of four distinct dimensions—distributive justice (costs and benefits), procedural justice (due process), cosmopolitan justice (global externalities), and recognition justice (vulnerable groups). It then examines four European low-carbon transitions—nuclear power in France, smart meters in Great Britain, electric vehicles in Norway, and solar energy in Germany—through this critical justice lens. In doing so, it draws from original data collected from 64 semi-structured interviews with expert participants as well as five public focus groups and the monitoring of twelve internet forums.  It documents 120 distinct energy injustices across these four transitions.  It then explores two exceedingly vulnerable groups to European low-carbon transitions, those recycling electronic waste flows in Ghana, and those mining for cobalt in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The presentation aims to show how when low-carbon transitions unfold, deeper injustices related to equity, distribution, and fairness invariably arise.

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Energy Graduate Group Alumni Panel

December 3, 2021
Alumni Panel
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Armando Casillas, Scientific Engineering Associate, LBNL

Armando has been a Scientific Engineering Associate at LBNL since 2019. He works in a number of projects related to building energy efficiency, grid-interactiveness and flexibility and HVAC fault detection and diagnostics. During his undergraduate years, Armando worked as an Energy Analyst at UC Merced Facilities Management for two years where he was exposed to highly automated building systems, including HVAC, and has also worked for the Energy Conservation Office at UC Davis performing continuous commissioning. His Masters work was conducted at the Western Cooling Efficiency Center, which involved wireless sensing for building leakage diagnostic applications. Armando holds a M.S in Energy Systems from UC Davis and a B.S in Mechanical Engineering from UC Merced.


John Cook, Principal Analyst, Salt River Project

Jon completed his PhD in Ag & Resource Economics at UC Davis in 2013 with a focus on energy and environmental economics and has worked in consulting, government, and a utility during his early career. After completing his PhD, Jon spent three years working as a consultant with Freeman, Sullivan and Co. (acquired by Nexant in 2014) in San Francisco/Washington, DC, where he specialized in designing and evaluating demand response, time-varying pricing and electric vehicle programs for utilities. From 2016-2019, Jon worked as an Economist at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) where he conducted empirical analysis of wholesale electricity markets and was a part of internal research efforts studying the impacts of past policy changes and areas for future policy development. Jon moved to Phoenix in the summer of 2019 and is currently a Principal Analyst in the Resource Analysis & Planning department at Salt River Project (SRP) specializing in probabilistic modeling and data visualization to support SRP’s long-term resource plans.


Madison Hoffacker, Strategic Analyst, PG&E

Madison joined PG&E in 2020 as a Strategic Analyst on the Microgrid Policy and Strategies team. Madison works to develop PG&E’s multi-customer microgrid tariff and program to enable community-driven microgrid projects, while also supporting with PG&E’s Remote Grid Initiative, which aims to reduce wildfire risk by removing long distribution segments serving remote, small loads. Madison graduated with a master’s from EGG in 2019. While a graduate student, she worked at CAISO as a summer intern on the Market & Infrastructure Policy team researching resource adequacy methodologies. Prior to graduate school, Madison was a research scientist for several years at Stanford University, UC Berkeley, and at UC Davis. Her research on energy and land-use issues have led to several published papers that aim to help reduce environmental impacts of large-scale solar energy systems. Madison earned her B.S. in Environmental Science and Policy from Chapman University.

The Role of Gas in a Decarbonized Future

November 19, 2021 10:30am – 11:50am PST
Michael Webber, Josey Centennial Professor in Energy Resources, Professor, Mechanical Engineering, University of Texas at Austin
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The need to decarbonize is urgent and important. While electrification is an obvious part of the set of solutions, what is the role of gases like methane? This talk will discuss the overall problem of decarbonizing society while meeting our needs for accessible, affordable and reliable energy.

Dr. Michael E. Webber is the Josey Centennial Professor in Energy Resources at the University of Texas at Austin and CTO of Energy Impact Partners, a $1.5 billion cleantech venture fund. From September 2018 to August 2021, Webber was based in Paris, France where he served as the Chief Science and Technology Officer at ENGIE, a global energy & infrastructure services company. Webber’s expertise spans research and education at the convergence of engineering, policy, and commercialization on topics related to innovation, energy, and the environment. His latest book Power Trip: the Story of Energy was published in 2019 by Basic Books with an award-winning 6-part companion series that aired on PBS, Amazon Prime and iTunes starting Earth Day 2020. His first book, Thirst for Power: Energy, Water and Human Survival, which addresses the connection between earth’s most valuable resources and offers a hopeful approach toward a sustainable future, was published in 2016 by Yale Press and was converted into an hourlong documentary. He was selected as a Fellow of ASME (the American Society of Mechanical Engineers) and as a member of the 4th class of the Presidential Leadership Scholars, which is a leadership training program organized by Presidents George W. Bush and William J. Clinton. Webber has authored more than 400 publications, holds 6 patents, and serves on the advisory board for Scientific American. A successful entrepreneur, Webber was one of three founders in 2015 for an educational technology startup, DISCO Learning Media, which was acquired in 2018.  Webber holds a B.S. and B.A. from UT Austin, and M.S. and Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from Stanford University.  He was honored as an American Fellow of the German Marshall Fund and an AT&T Industrial Ecology Fellow on four separate occasions by the University of Texas for exceptional teaching.

Seeking a Clean Energy System at Lower Cost

November 12, 2021 10:30am – 11:50am PST
Sarah Kurtz, Professor, School of Engineering, University of California Merced
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California and much of the rest of the world seek to transition to a clean energy system. The progress of wind, solar, and batteries has been really impressive. There are many new technologies being developed. Implementing these in a coordinated way can help California complete the transition in less time and for lower cost. In particular, new storage technologies that can reach very low prices may be coupled with low-cost solar and wind to deliver electricity around the clock. But, delivering electricity isn’t the whole story; the rest of the energy system needs to be decarbonized. Building more solar and wind generators to power new electrolyzers can generate hydrogen that can be stored and used for powering the transportation, chemical and other energy sectors. However, the cost of such hydrogen is low only if the electrolyzers can be operated using cheap electricity, so when prices go high at times of shortages, the electrolyzers may shut off, relying on stored hydrogen for powering the other sectors and providing a huge flexible electric load to help stabilize the grid even during the winter. Our engineers have done an amazing job. The talk will provide an overview of how those new technologies may come together to provide a clean energy system at a cost that may be even lower than today’s energy.

Sarah Kurtz obtained her PhD in 1985 from Harvard University and now works at the University of California Merced after more than 30 years working at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, in Golden, CO. She is known for her contributions to developing multijunction, GaInP/GaAs solar cells, supporting the Concentrator Photovoltaic (PV) industry, and leading efforts on PV performance and reliability. Her work has been recognized with a jointly received Dan David Prize in 2007, the Cherry Award in 2012, C3E Lifetime Achievement Award in 2016, and induction into the National Academy of Engineering in 2020. At the University of California Merced she is working both to help the university grow and to support the Energy Transition through a variety of studies, including a current study on long-duration storage.

Designing Electricity Rates for An Equitable Energy Transition

November 5, 2021
Severin Borenstein, E.T. Grether Chair in Business Administration and Public Policy, Faculty Director, Energy Institute at Haas Professor, University of California, Berkeley
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This presentation examines the causes and distributional consequences of the high prices for residential electricity charged by California’s investor-owned utilities (IOUs). It also considers reforms that would improve both the efficiency and equity of residential electricity pricing. We estimate avoidable (marginal) costs of electricity and demonstrate that IOU prices are two to three times higher than these cost estimates. California’s electricity prices are high because nearly all fixed costs are recovered through volumetric prices, because of subsidies for low-income households and customers with rooftop solar, and because rates are used to fund objectives not directly related to the provision of electricity. Prices are set to rise further due to wildfire mitigation and other factors. High and rising prices undermine efforts to decarbonize transportation and buildings through electrification. Moreover, we show that the current rate structure is highly regressive, more so than other ways of raising revenue, like a sales or income tax. We discuss the viability of alternative ways of recovering the costs of the electricity system that are more efficient and more equitable, with a focus on the creation of income-based monthly fixed charges on electricity bills.

Severin Borenstein is Professor of the Graduate School in the Economic Analysis and Policy Group at the Haas School of Business and Faculty Director of the Energy Institute at Haas.  He is also Director emeritus of the University of California Energy Institute (1994-2014).   He received his A.B. from U.C. Berkeley and Ph.D. in Economics from M.I.T.  His research focuses on business competition, strategy, and regulation.  He has published extensively on the airline industry, the oil and gasoline industries, and electricity markets.  His current research projects include the economics of renewable energy, economic policies for reducing greenhouse gases, alternative models of retail electricity pricing, and competitive dynamics in the airline industry.  Borenstein is also a research associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research in Cambridge, MA. He served on the Board of Governors of the California Power Exchange from 1997 to 2003. During 1999-2000, he was a member of the California Attorney General’s Gasoline Price Task Force.  In 2010-11, Borenstein was a member of U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood’s Future of Aviation Advisory Committee.  In 2012-13, he served on the Emissions Market Assessment Committee, which advised the California Air Resources Board on the operation of California’s Cap and Trade market for greenhouse gases.  In 2014, he was appointed to the California Energy Commission’s Petroleum Market Advisory Committee, which he chaired from 2015 until the Committee was dissolved in 2017.  From 2015-2020, he served on the Advisory Council of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. In 2019, he was appointed to the Governing Board of the California Independent System Operator.


Reliability, Renewables, and Regionalism–A Perspective on Key Energy Issues in California

October 29, 2021
Jan Schori, California ISO Board of Governors
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This presentation will provide a personal overview of key energy issues in California, with some lessons learned as a result of 40 years of practical experience in the industry, and a few newcomer insights into the California Independent System Operators’ (ISO) objectives with a focus on today’s energy mandate–reliability and fighting climate change through transformation of our energy supply to renewable sources of power. The ISO manages the flow of electricity across the high-voltage, long-distance power lines for the grid serving 80 percent of California and a small part of Nevada. It also operates competitive wholesale power markets designed to promote a broad range of resources at lower prices.

Jan Schori was appointed to the California Independent System Operator (ISO) Board of Governors by Governor Gavin Newsom in February, 2021. After completing her legal education at UC Davis’ Martin Luther King School of Law, Jan began her professional career with the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) as an attorney in 1979. Jan spent 15 years on the legal team at SMUD and held the role of General Counsel and Secretary for six years. In 1994, Jan was promoted to general manager and chief executive officer and held that role for more than 14 years, making Jan the longest serving CEO in SMUD’s history. During her tenure as CEO, SMUD earned a reputation for its renewable energy commitment and strong energy efficiency programs, and was ranked first in the country for commercial customer satisfaction by JD Power & Associates. After retirement from SMUD, Jan was elected in 2009 to the North American Electric Reliability Corporation’s (NERC) board as an independent trustee and served in this role for 12 years. She also chaired Valley Vision and served on the boards of CalCEF Ventures and CalCEF Innovations. She continues to serve on the Climate Action Reserve (CAR) Board of Directors as a board and executive committee member and Audit Committee chair.

The Role of Distributed Energy Resources and Customer Participation in California’s Clean Energy Future

October 22, 2021 – 10:30am to 11:50am PST
Darcie Houck, Commissioner, California Public Utilities Commission
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California has been at the forefront of clean energy policies and grid modernization initiatives for decades; however, meeting the state’s ambitious 2045 renewable energy and zero-carbon goals, while maintaining affordable rates and a reliable electric grid, will require broad changes in the way we consume energy and interact with the electric grid. This presentation will discuss the role of distributed energy resources in meeting the state’s changing electric grid needs, current opportunities and ongoing policy developments to support widespread load flexibility, and ongoing efforts to make clean energy technologies and programs accessible to all Californians.

Commissioner Darcie L. Houck was appointed to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) by Governor Gavin Newsom on Feb. 9, 2021. She formerly served as Chief Counsel for the California Energy Commission since 2019.

Commissioner Houck was an Administrative Law Judge at the CPUC from 2016 to 2019, a Partner at Fredericks Peebles & Morgan from 2005 to 2016, and Staff Counsel and Policy Advisor at the California Energy Commission from 2000 to 2005.

Commissioner Houck is an expert in nuclear decommissioning, environmental equity, and safety policy. She has an extensive background representing Native American tribes throughout the country on matters involving energy, natural resources, land claims, and water rights, among others.

Commissioner Houckis a member of the California Indian Law Association, California Lawyers Association, Schwartz-Levi Inn of Court, Women Lead and the Association of Women in Water, Energy, and Environment. She earned a law degree from the University of California, where she also earned a Master of Science in community development.

Environmental Justice and Climate, Air Pollution, and Economic Decisions in the U.S. Power Sector

October 15, 2021
Ines Azevedo, Associate Professor of Energy Resources Engineering, Senior Fellow at the Woods Institute for the Environment and the Precourt Institute for Energy
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Electricity generation is a large contributor to PM2.5 air pollution. However, the demographic distribution of its resulting exposure is largely unknown. We estimate the health effects from air pollution from electricity generation in the US, for each of the seven Regional Transmission Organizations, for each US state, by income and by race. Exposures are higher for lower-income than for higher-income, but disparities are larger by race than by income. Geographically, we observe large differences between where electricity is generated and where people experience the resulting air pollution health consequences: for 36 US states, most of the health impacts are attributable to emissions in other states. Then, we discuss the issue of improved air quality and human health, which are often discussed as “co-benefits” of mitigating climate change, yet they are rarely considered when designing or implementing climate policies. We have developed and implemented a model that optimizes emissions reductions costs from the U.S. power sector for climate and health benefits under retirements and new plant construction decisions. We determine the best locations for replacing power plants with new wind, solar, or natural gas to meet a CO2 reduction target in the United States. We employ a capacity expansion model with integrated assessment of climate and health damages, comparing portfolios optimized for benefits to climate alone or both health and climate. The model estimates county-level health damages and accounts for uncertainty by using a range of air quality models (AP3, EASIUR, and InMAP) and concentration−response functions (American Cancer Society and Harvard Six Cities). We find that reducing CO2 by 30% yields $21−68 billion in annual health benefits, with an additional $9−36 billion possible when co-optimizing for climate and health benefits. Total health benefits equal or exceed climate benefits across a wide range of modeling assumptions. Our results demonstrate the value of considering health in climate policy design and the need for interstate cooperation to achieve additional health benefits equitably.

The Energy Equity Gap: Unveiling Hidden Energy Poverty

October 1, 2021 | 10:30am to 11:50am PST
Destenie Nock, Assistant Professor, Engineering and Public Policy, Assistant Professor, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Carnegie Mellon University
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Income-based energy poverty metrics miss people’s behavior patterns, particularly those who reduce their energy consumption to limit financial stress. Using a residential electricity consumption dataset, we determine the outdoor temperature at which households start using home cooling systems. Using this inflection temperature, we calculate the relative energy poverty within a region, which we define as the energy equity gap. In our study region, we find that the energy equity gap between low and high-income groups ranges from 4.7°F to 7.5°F. In 2015-2016, within our population of 4,577 households, we found 86 energy-poor and 214 energy-insecure, meaning they are at risk of heat-related illness and death. In contrast, the traditional income-based energy poverty metric identified just 141 households as energy insecure. Only three households were defined as energy-poor or energy-insecure by both our temperature-based measure and the traditional income-based measure. This minimal overlap shows the value of considering consumer behavior when identifying energy poverty and energy insecurity.

Affordable Housing: An Immersive Energy Literacy Environment

September 24, 2021 10:30am to 11:50am PST
Freddy Paige, Assistant Director, Virginia Center for Housing Research, Assistant Professor, Virginia Tech
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Please join in on a conversation about how to discuss energy in an inclusive manner. By design, affordable energy efficient homes can be powerful influencers of Energy Literacy. A limiting factor in a person’s ability to understand energy is energy’s varying form and sometimes invisible presence. The specific Energy Literacy concepts discussed in this conversation will be: human use of energy is subject to limits and constraints, conservation is one way to manage energy resources, electricity is generated in multiple ways, social and technological innovations impact the amount of energy used by society, and energy use can be calculated and monitored. By using immersive technologies, virtual reality, and augmented reality, we have an opportunity to share energy literacy lessons with people even if they do not live in an energy efficient home, YET.