EP42 Jessika Trancik on Tech & Research vs Climate Change

MIT professor & researcher Jessika Trancik talks with Jim about the dynamics & state of renewable energy tech & policies, decarbonization, carbon taxes, climate despair, and much more…

Jessika Trancik

MIT professor & researcher Jessika Trancik talks with Jim about energy return on investment (EROI), the power of learning curves, the feasibility of an all-electric society, base vs intermittent renewable energy, ‘energy storage plus’, the role & power of soft technologies, ‘soft costs’ of energy production, less known clean energy tech, the challenge of energy distribution & diversification, our collective action problem, discussion of carbon taxes, Jessika’s research priorities, the decarbonization-first perspective & achievable policy targets, how renewable tech innovation could impact the developing world, climate despair, the state & future of solar, wind, storage, nuclear, carbon removal & more.

Episode Transcript

Mentions & Recommendations

Jessika Trancik is an Associate Professor in the Institute for Data, Systems and Society (IDSS) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She is also an external professor at the Santa Fe Institute. She received her B.S. in materials science and engineering from Cornell University and her Ph.D. in materials science from the University of Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. Her research group studies the dynamic costs and environmental impacts of energy technologies to inform technology design and policy.

2 thoughts on “EP42 Jessika Trancik on Tech & Research vs Climate Change

  1. While I enjoyed your discussion and applaud your commitment to controlling climate change, I think your perspective is, in several respects, not aligned with reality .  I see five problem areas, 1) the sunk costs of renewable backup, 2) the cost and capacity implications of energy storage, 3) the US focus is inconsistent with the Asian concentration CO2 emissions, 4) the implications of the widely different the energy density of different technologies and 5) no mention of nuclear fusion, which appears to be on a timeline similar to that of molten-salt SMRs.  Fusion is receiving very favorable press with little, if any, discussion of capital costs.
    With regard to backup, it is not contentious that renewables require backup.  But, backup implies a power source that is both always available and of sufficient capacity to stand in for a renewable.  This means that a complete solution must be paid for and sit idle for any and all renewable deployments. Renewables add cost without adding capacity.  
    With regard to storage, as you have concluded, energy storage is presently not cost effective.  And, your discussion did not mention the additional renewable capacity required.  The capacity factor of solar is less than 1/3.  That means solar capacity must be ~triple the real-time need.  And that is before we include the cost and conversion losses of storage.  And, that is the capacity required to cover the average solar availability.  How much excess collection and storage capacity is required to cover extended unavailability is almost unanswerable..
    With regard to the US focus, the US presently produces less than 20% of CO2 emissions, a fraction that is predicted to drop to ~10%.  Thus, a complete elimination of CO2 emissions by the US would barely dent the global challenge.  A better focus might be, for example, the development of SMR plug-in replacements for coal furnaces in existing power plants.
    Finally, energy density pervades this topic.  Gravity (hydro, e.g.) is the weakest physical force; nuclear forces are the strongest.  Chemical forces are in between.  While this strongly affects the land-use by renewables, its strongest implication is for storage, where the underlying physical mechanism must be readily reversible.  Practical energy storage is hard, much harder than your upbeat comments suggest.

  2. Excellent speaker, would love to implement many of the things discussed today. To do this I would need names of companies making these products MC

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