93 Comments
Mar 11Liked by Andrew Dessler

Nicely done. One of your best. I guess we have to wait to see who the other guest is.

A couple related items have come across my radar over the last few days. One was the SHIFTKEY podcast with Jesse Jenkins on the relative benefits of rooftop solar, https://heatmap.news/podcast/shift-key-episode-five-rooftop-solar , "Does Rooftop Solar Actually Help the Climate?" The answer basically is that it depends and he argues that in most cases it just displaces other less expensive solar, i.e. utility solar. I'm not sure I agree but you hardly ever want to challenge Jesse on such an issue. I put solar on my house 4 years ago and in the meantime my utility has had trouble adding solar because of supply issues. In my mind, a clean kWh today beats a clean kWh tomorrow. I think he concedes my point in the broadcast but in the end the listener is left questioning the value of rooftop solar which seems counterintuitive.

The other thing that I saw that I want to give a shout out for is the analysis at Carbon Brief that talks about the effect of electing Trump on carbon emissions, https://www.carbonbrief.org/analysis-trump-election-win-could-add-4bn-tonnes-to-us-emissions-by-2030/ . We need to be reminding people, especially younger voters, that we cannot afford to go backwards on climate change.

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Yeah, I think the real advantage of rooftop solar is that you don’t have siting or transmission issues.

I’m not being coy about the other guest, just didn’t mention it.

https://x.com/andrewdessler/status/1761223015004623266?s=61&t=BDujrLHjpbdPLYRQ_HfUBA

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Mar 11Liked by Andrew Dessler

If you had given me three guesses, Lomborg would have been one of them!

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Bjorn Lomborg is now or was recently (he didn't make it into THE MEDIA) in New Zealand speaking to the new government, probably at its invitation. Amazing, after the horrendous flood in Auckland last January and cyclone (Gabrielle) in February - that crippled vast areas of the North Island. No electricity, no communications of any sort, no food, no water, no nuffin. Insurance companies have noticed, but not the nincompoops now in power.

Their first move was to give landlords who own houses people want to buy to live in but cannot afford to ... a big fat tax break. (The banks only lend money to the wealthy, despite plucking said money out of thin air. Or somewhere...)

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Third benefit: the "land" is free. ie, already being used by one's house.

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I came across a recent substack post by Energy Bad Boys, EBB, claiming that wind and solar make for expensive electricity. They used a very limited example of California and their home state of Minnesota to make that claim. I countered with Iowa and South Dakota that have very high percentages of wind and cheaper electricity, which they dismissed.

This motivated a more complete analysis using data from EIA, https://www.eia.gov/electricity/data/browser/ , for 2022 for all 48 contiguous states comparing average retail electricity prices to the percentage of renewable electricity generation - wind plus all solar, i.e., utility solar plus small solar. The data for 2022 extends the percentage of renewables out to greater than 60%, https://photos.app.goo.gl/wXUpvgwyiE8Mc3e .

Bottom line: There is no correlation between state electricity prices and percentage of renewables. If anything there is a slight trend towards lower prices with increased penetration.

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Rooftop solar allows people to charge their EV with clean energy.

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Mar 11Liked by Andrew Dessler

Aren't most of these prices an illusion, even in the middle term? I think it's good to encourage people to see that the first stage of the energy transition is 'affordable' in our daily context, but the reality is, emissions are an existential problem that has to be solved, or at least ameliorated, even for the super wealthy with their ideas of digging a bunker in case of societal breakdown. If your house is on fire with all your money in it, counting the money while things are burning (including money) is a maladaptive response.

Bunkers are a good comparison on price, because obviously for some of us (ahem, Mark Zuckerberg), the price is right for a bunker. Interestingly, the price is still wrong for Zuckerberg to turn Facebook into a giant climate education and social contract generating machine.

Inferred by that logic, with super-wealth, there is no price worth the constraints of a functioning democracy. Life in a bunker is better than democracy.

Sidenote: if you really were in a bunker, any of the prices that seem familiar to us today are already out the window (or hatch, I guess). Do you have a dentist in your bunker?

There is also a middle term crisis that dwarfs prices as we know them: what happens if 100 million climate migrants try to enter the US over a 10 - 20 year period? That number could be on the low side judging by this paper:

https://www.pnas.org/doi/pdf/10.1073/pnas.1910114117

Meanwhile, the US will be experiencing internal migration.

https://us.macmillan.com/books/9780374171735/onthemove

My guess is that if anything pushes us to spraying sulfate aerosols in the stratosphere, it will be the existential necessity of trying to keep a billion people in their own regions, after having bungled our concept of pricing in every decade prior.

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More about prices, from actuaries themselves:

https://actuaries.org.uk/media/g1qevrfa/climate-scorpion.pdf

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"emissions are an existential problem that has to be solved, or at least ameliorated"

What is the basis for this claim? What is a "solution", and what will cease to exist if the solution is not "solved" or "ameliorated"?

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Mar 11·edited Mar 11

160 years of climate science

https://history.aip.org/climate/timeline.htm

As for what ceases

https://www.pnas.org/doi/pdf/10.1073/pnas.1910114117

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So - your first link claims that climate change is real. I agree.

Your second link claims that climate change will have affects on humans. I agree again.

But, where's the "existential"? What's a "solution"? What will cease to exist without the solution?

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If you're following Andrew Dessler, you know the answers already, so why ask me? This is a good Wikipedia entry, btw.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sealioning

If you think 1 billion or more people migrating out of unlivable regions doesn't end business as usual on Earth, you're a pretty gullible person.

I do recommend the work of UK FIRES, a mitigation research group based at Cambridge.

https://ukfires.org/impact/publications/reports/

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I ask you because you made the statement, and I'm interested in seeing your reasoning.

I especially asked because I've seen no credible scientific papers or reasoning that would support your claims. The scientific papers I've read, including IPCC Working Group reports, are much more modest. They predict effects from continued warming, but no catastrophes.

The IPCC press releases, on the other hand, make dramatic claims, but never supported by scientific findings.

So, what's the basis for your claim that a billion or more people will be forced to leave unlivable regions? Which regions will be unlivable? What will make them unlivable?

And again, what would be a solution?

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The decision of whether something is an emergency or catastrophe is ultimately a value judgment. Even if we agree on every fact, we might still disagree on how bad things are.

https://www.theclimatebrink.com/p/is-climate-change-an-emergency

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Mar 13·edited Mar 13

Brian, farther along: "What are the US subsidies for oil, gas, and coal you refer to? If you're talking about US defense spending as a subsidy for oil, just stop."

Oh come on, don't stop yet! Again, specific numbers may be hard to verify, but how can our defense posture not include protecting our access to foreign energy? If it's documentation you want, try "National Security Consequences of U.S. Oil Dependency" (https://www.cfr.org/report/national-security-consequences-us-oil-dependency). You may not find the Council on Foreign Relations credible, but you should be arguing with them, not us.

Brian, somewhere: "I don't think most people have even posed the real question: What is the objective, and what are the tradeoffs in trying to reach it."

The objective is to cap the rise of atmospheric greenhouse gases at the lowest amount collective action can achieve, before the accumulating global radiative imbalance overwhelms our collective ability to adapt. By and large, it's the market-driven transfer of fossil carbon to the atmosphere by the gigatonnes annually that drives the rising global heat content. Replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy buys us time to eliminate or neutralize the other anthropogenic emissions sources as well. And before you suggest "solar radiation management", bear in mind that ocean acidification (i.e. declining pH) is also due to anthropogenic carbon emissions. The economic tradeoffs are the risks of taking collective action to decarbonize the global economy, preferably with the USA leading the way. Collective action is always on a slippery slope, but because of the tragedy of the commons, we don't have the option *not* to act collectively. Various tools are available to our collective will: Direct carbon pricing, incentives for driving down the price of renewable energy, and outright bans on, say, new coal-fired power plants. Who wins and who loses, comparatively, will be determined politically. The alternative is an open-ended trend of rising global heat content and declining marine biodiversity, with mounting individual and mass tragedies and diseconomies. You don't need us to verify that in the public record for you.

Speaking of politics, Mr. Smith, your objections sound like lukewarmism to me. You may not listen to Hannity, but you employ similar language, especially your use of dog whistles like "the alarmist position". You do seem to be sealioning (good word) Mr. Reiss, who is apparently alarmed about climate change, but IMHO not alarmist in the loaded sense you imply. And you appear to presume no one else has thought about their position here, or that they should include everything last thought they have about it in a blog comment. You do understand that just because you haven't seen data you find persuasive, that doesn't mean no one else has? AFAICT, you display a cognitive bias against taking even proportional responsibility for your marginal greenhouse emissions. If you're a US voter, the rest of us will just have to hope you're outvoted!

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Brian Smith: "I especially asked because I've seen no credible scientific papers or reasoning that would support your claims. The scientific papers I've read, including IPCC Working Group reports, are much more modest. They predict effects from continued warming, but no catastrophes."

As Andrew observes, whether something is a catastrophe is a value judgement; indeed, so is a "much more modest" climate change damage function. We might say catastrophe is in the eyes of the victim. Now, obviously the costs of regional climate change will fall unevenly around the world, as the accumulating heat circulates through the atmosphere and oceans. But do you think no one has lost their home, livelihood or life to a new record extreme weather event, that was at least partially attributable to the rising trend of anthropogenic greenhouse gases in the atmosphere? Take a look at this Nature article (no paywall): https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-023-41888-1. From the abstract:

"We find that US$143 billion per year of the costs of extreme events is attributable to climatic change. The majority (63%), of this is due to human loss of life. "

Yes, the precise numbers may be hard to pin down. Nonetheless, do you agree that at least one person, somewhere, has already paid a subjectively catastrophic price for our socialized emissions? Are you only concerned with the risks to your private welfare, or do you simply have a higher quantitative threshold for alarm? If the latter, just how much aggregate grief and diseconomy do you need?

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There's a ton of work on climate and existential risk. Andrew should compile it, though it may not make a difference to you. If it doesn't make a difference, why keep bugging people, though? So maybe it does make a difference to you, and you should consider that. Maybe you do actually have a stake in this.

https://www.science.org/doi/pdf/10.1126/sciadv.aaw1838

Heat exposure limits habitability.

It also impacts crops, which is why we generally can't grow crops in deserts, for instance.

Richard Alley at AGU in 2013, cued:

https://youtu.be/Z_-8u86R3Yc?si=g8V7byLfhFaI02_6&t=998

The same information is at the beginning of Julian Allwood's talk at Ely Cathedral on mitigation. Crop yields towards the equator decline as temperature rises. Allwood pretty much gets all the main factors covered in this talk.

https://www.youtube.com/live/WOIXnJ8OzXY?si=ajRQiT7_w2ArZ7yD

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It's the speed of the warming that is so dangerous.

"As the Earth moved out of ice ages over the past million years, the global temperature rose a total of 4 to 7 degrees Celsius over about 5,000 years.

In the past century alone, the temperature has climbed 0.7 degrees Celsius, roughly TEN TIMES FASTER than the average rate of ice-age-recovery warming." (my emphasis)

NASA Earth Observatory

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Mar 11Liked by Andrew Dessler

The 3 wars in the Mid East cost the U.S. about $6 trillion. And the military cost of protecting the oil and gas industry costs $billions every year.

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Yes, these of course are hidden subsidies of fossil fuels.

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Well done!

Other factors that will make net zero cheaper are:

Nuclear/Geothermal

Continuing storage technological development (batteries, hydrogen electrolysis

Dynamic pricing of power

Carbon Sequestration will permit not driving gross emissions to zero.

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Look up planet critical most recent podcast on nuclear power

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I don't see how nuclear energy will make the transition cheaper.

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My idea is that different energy sources are good for different circumstances. If nuclear is cheaper for use X then we do not have to use some other energy source a higher cost.

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Mar 12·edited Mar 12Liked by Andrew Dessler

Love it! However, I'd love to see some more work on terms. One minute we're talking about a 90% clean grid - and the next minute the study seems to include biofuels for jet fuel? I'd love to see a study into estimates of cost for just a clean grid and industry and ground transport system - without jet fuel. Basically anyone who has been following this story for a while knows jet fuel is tough.

But I'd love to see cost estimates for the recent baby-steps into electric mining and smelting and green steel (with hydrogen as reductant) extrapolated out into at least all ground based electricity, transport, and industry supplied. Because after reading heaps of Blakers et al, I'm sure it would be cheaper than fossil fuels and all their externalised costs. Professor Andrew Blakers won the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering. Here's his model for Australia, with Overbuild, geographic spread, and off-river PHES calculated. It was cheaper than coal in 2017 prices! Imagine today? http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360544217309568

According to CSIRO Wind & Solar - even firmed - are the cheapest form of power ever.

My pick for storage:- sodium batteries for 2 hours; off-river PHES (Pumped Hydro) for 2 days. Overbuild W&S capacity at least twice to reduce storage, which is where the real costs are. http://publications.csiro.au/publications/publication/PIcsiro:EP2022-2576

For in a post-oil economy - who knows how many of us will be flying? Will slower airships come back for certain economic cases - and hydrogen jets for others (with of course less passengers and therefore more cost per seat)? Basically - I wonder at how entitled we've got to fly everywhere all the time. Now that we have the internet and a culture of using video-conferencing after covid lock-downs, surely we can reduce flying? However, I remain optimistic that Tony Seba's "Super-Power" (excessive wind and solar from Overbuilding to reduce storage) could end up so cheap that maybe those hydrogen jets will not be as expensive as we fear?

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Mar 12Liked by Andrew Dessler

I love the article. And I'm very optimistic that the cost of going the last 5%-10% to get to Net Zero will be a good bit lower by the time we get there. Batteries, for example.

Can you elaborate on this from the article?

The Russian invasion of Ukraine is intimately tied to fossil fuels.

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Re: Russian invasion of Ukraine. A lot of the revenue that Russia uses to finance the war comes from fossil fuels. But the biggie is that, before the invasion, Putin thought that the West would not respond strongly because he controlled their natural gas supply. To their credit, they took the pain of getting that cut off and responded strongly, but w/o that I don’t see that Putin would have invaded.

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Mar 11·edited Mar 11Liked by Andrew Dessler

Thank you for summarising lots of information. Several questions crossed my mind but fortunately I let them fade away! Maybe let readers know that ERCOT is this: Electric Reliability Council of Texas. Not know for its stellar performances in the recent past. It was interesting also to see that rooftop solar was relatively expensive unless it was part of a grid. Two final words: uncertainty and solid grid security. Thx again. zf

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Great article, thank you. I think we also have now enough studies that show that the cost of inaction far outweighs the cost of action, yet we are not moving forward substantially with the transition. This is because it is not about the cost of the transition, but who pays it, or who is set to lose from it. Big Oil is set to lose its market if we move forward, and it will do everything it can to delay the transition.

I think also that the energy transition should really also develop the concept of energy sovereignty. That is how the development of local renewable energy, better energy efficiency, insulation, storage and alternative energy resources can reduce a country's vulnerability to foreign volatile fossil fuel prices. This is the kind of economic argument that can make the energy transition move forward I believe.

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This is a great piece inasmuch as it drives home the point that eliminating the final 10 % of our carbon addiction won't look like the first 10% -- it will be more costly and far more difficult to achieve.

I have a problem, however, with this sentence: "A significant amount of the discourse about RE focuses on the cost of achieving net zero by 2050, which requires completely eliminating fossil fuels." Well, that is certainly true of achieving zero emissions by 2050, but "zero" and "net zero" are not the same thing, and of course I know that you know the difference. It's just that the terms are used rather interchangeably throughout.

To my mind, it has always seemed far more pragmatic to shoot for, say, an 85% reduction in hydrocarbons with the rest being sequestered, than for total elimination, at least in the time frame we're talking about. I mean, we have yet to even reach peak carbon! Completely eliminating fossil fuels by 2050 seems a rather fantastic goal.

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For me this article is a gold mine, thank you very much, but can you explain how Putin's war on Ukraine is connected with to oil?

In New Zealand we have mostly hydroelectricity generation, with a little geothermal. Fossil fuel is burned mainly in dry years when the rain forgets to fall - the total hydro lake storage is not enough to avoid it (stations are effectively "run-of-the-river").

The former government proposed a pumped-hydro station at Lake Onslow but with a change of government the little twerp responsible for energy cancelled the preparatory investigation. Naturally he has no answer for the forthcoming power outages.

I was in Oxford when another ideological nitwit became prime minister - Liz Truss - but she lasted less time than a fresh lettuce, the money market saw to that. When the full cost of burning fossil fuel hits the wealthy their money will talk again.

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Re: Russian invasion of Ukraine. A lot of the revenue that Russia uses to finance the war comes from fossil fuels. But the biggie is that, before the invasion, Putin thought that the West would not respond strongly because he controlled their natural gas supply. To their credit, they took the pain of getting that cut off and responded strongly, but w/o that I don’t see that Putin would have invaded.

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" If you talk about, say, a 90% clean grid, the cost of achieving that using today’s technology is approximately zero. "

does this take into account the electrification of the economy ?

I am not sure how to understand this ?

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Fantastic perspective. Thank you for sharing this! Those 57% and 90% renewable energy adoption numbers can be pushed higher as the cost of energy storage falls as well.

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LCOE is an incomplete, inadequate metric, even with grids that are dominated by dispatchable power. Over the last 20 years, we've been able to economically shut down over 300 coal-fired powerplants, reducing the electrical sector's CO2 emissions by over 30%, because we've built out a blend of natural gas units along with wind and solar. Unless and until electricity storage becomes very inexpensive, the cost of adding gigawatts of intermittent renewable generating capacity includes the cost of adding additional infrastructure that offsets that intermittency.

A better way to examine the economics of transitioning to low-carbon electricity is to sum up the capital costs, operating and maintenance costs, plus fuel costs, for the overall, evolving blend within a geographical region. This kind of assessment tells us the true cost of the transition and, at the same time, makes it clear that we do not yet have all the technologies ready -- at affordable prices -- that we will need.

The Nobel-Prize-winning scientist, Richard Smalley (1943-2005), used to give talks where discussed the top-ten "miracles" that we need in order to transition to a sustainable civilization. We've done a great job of reducing the capital cost of solar and wind but we do not yet have low-cost energy storage.

The IEA currently projects that the world will hit peak anthropogenic CO2 emissions during this decade. This is both a surprising and wonderful thing, if we can make it come true. However, to economically achieve the balance between anthropogenic emissions and removals by sinks, called for in section 4 of the 2015 Paris Agreement, we need to keep investing additional low-carbon energy technologies including bioenergy, hydrogen and fuel cells, and get them to scale.

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Apr 6·edited Apr 6

Amazing. But there is another way to accelerate the transition to renewable energy. This method lies on the financial level. It is necessary to direct financial market capital into green energy - so that investing in green energy is very profitable without the participation of subsidies and sponsors. I am currently implementing a start-up to create a bridge for the flow of financial capital into green energy in a market-based way. If successful, market capital will replace subsidies from national budgets and will exceed the current volume of investment in renewable energy tenfold. The industry will become attractive to both investors and clean energy producers. The greatest development is achieved in the field of activity that is conducive to the involvement of large resources in it. This is not the case with green energy: and I found an original market solution to make investments in green energy profitable even in the current conditions, when without subsidies the production of clean energy is not profitable..

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I came across a recent substack post by Energy Bad Boys, EBB, claiming that wind and solar make for expensive electricity. They used a very limited example of California and their home state of Minnesota to make that claim. I countered with Iowa and South Dakota that have very high percentages of wind and cheaper electricity, which they dismissed.

This motivated a more complete analysis using data from EIA, https://www.eia.gov/electricity/data/browser/ , for 2022 for all 48 contiguous states comparing average retail electricity prices to the percentage of renewable electricity generation - wind plus all solar, i.e., utility solar plus small solar. The data for 2022 extends the percentage of renewables out to greater than 60%, https://photos.app.goo.gl/wXUpvgwyiE8Mc3e .

Bottom line: There is no correlation between state electricity prices and percentage of renewables. If anything there is a slight trend towards lower prices with increased penetration.

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Apr 5·edited Apr 5Liked by Andrew Dessler

I also analyzed the increases in electricity prices for individual states from 2002 to 2022 for all 48 contiguous states. I combined both into a response on the Energy Bad Boys latest post, https://energybadboys.substack.com/p/how-to-destroy-the-myth-of-cheap .

Here is copy of that response with links to my notes where I posted the plots,

A thorough review of electricity prices for the 48 contiguous states suggests that there is no correlation between increased use of wind and solar and higher electricity prices. If anything, the opposite appears to be true.

Using data available at the EIA electricity data browser, a comparison of the increase in average electricity prices from 2002 to 2022 for the contiguous U.S. as a function of the percentage of renewable electricity generated suggests that more renewables lead to lower electricity prices, not higher.

https://substack.com/profile/24574248-just-dean/note/c-53217627

A comparison of the retail price of electricity for 2022 for the 48 states as a function of percentage of renewable electricity also shows a similar trend, states with more renewables tend to have lower electricity prices.

https://substack.com/profile/24574248-just-dean/note/c-53217698 .

BTW, I finally realized that posting notes on substack is a good way to reference graphics from self generated content instead of having to use an image host.

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Very nice work

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Thanks!

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I think one of the most interesting questions is how cheap do clean, firm sources (e.g. geothermal, nuclear etc.) and significantly longer-duration storage have to get to materially reduce 1) the cost of decarbonizing the last ~10% and 2) the massive overbuild and accompanying resource use of excessive reliance on solar/wind plus short-duration storage.

I’ve spoken with people in energy policy agencies and utility regulators, and this is on their minds as well. Incentivizing earlier deployment of these technologies, necessary to get them ready and to ride down the learning curves, is challenging but important.

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