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.