This week we are very excited to be reviewing episode four of Cate Blanchett and Danny Kennedy’s new podcast Climate of Change, titled “Rewiring the Future”. Before diving into the review, remember, if you’d like to listen for yourself – head over to Audible.ca!
The fourth episode begins with a quote from Tolkein, and explains that this episode is all about ‘not straying from the quest of rewiring our future’. By this they mean in the future we will need to be replacing technology in the next 20 years, consisting of billions of machines, and that we must ensure when this is done, we replace technology with climate sound solutions. This is touched on by Saul Griffith who explores the idea more in his book. I love Cate’s “buffalo” mentality, wherein she describes that during storms, rather than running away, that buffalo run right to the center of the storm and charge through it together, thus spending less time in the storm and being better off. This is such a great analogy for climate change, rather than running and prolonging our ‘storm’ we need to face the issues head-on.
We are then introduced to OhmConnect and Matt Duesterberg, President, OhmConnect is a reward-based energy program for your house. Matt states that every start-up has its secret, and theirs is the negawatt. Rather than making power plants turn on when needed, they incentivise customers to reduce by paying people for saving energy. They also allow you to compare your usage to neighbours and friends to compare performance. By doing this in concentrated areas they are actually able to reduce the number of times power plants turn on. This is a cool idea, I can imagine my environmentally minded friends and me having competitions to see who can use the least electricity! As Blanchett says, the most important part of all of this is reducing energy use when renewable energy is not available, and OhmConnect incentivise this by showing users when electricity is is the most costly, and thus in demand, and incentivises them to do the ‘right thing’ at the same time as saving money.
Kennedy had a great explanation about the ‘variability’ of renewable energy, wherein he reminds the audience that fossil fuel-powered plants are also unreliable and that as technology progresses, we are much more readily able to store renewable energy that has been generated. The unreliability of the traditional energy grid was highlighted by the fact that in New York they were without power for an entire week because of a fallen tree – it amazes me that the main concern around a renewable grid is the unreliability when instances like this have occurred. As they say, flexibility is the key.
We then hear about Infravision, which uses drones to connect electricity cables resulting in much quicker and safer installations. By installing new cables we are able to be more energy-efficient, and we will need to replace billions of cables over the coming years. This technology also allows for power lines to be laid down over rough terrain, like in New Guinea where only 17% percent of the population have access to electricity, thus aiding in a just transition. As Kennedy and Blanchett say, this and OhmConnect are great examples of adapting existing technologies to create solutions.
We then move on to Renewell, which addresses the concerns of ‘what do we do’ with the old technologies and infrastructure that have been built, and the communities that have been built up around them. As stated, there are 2.15 million oil wells in the states at present, and through gravity well conversion they hope to put them to good use. The main technology is a regenerative winch to move long cylindrical weight up and down the wellbore (shaft), converting potential energy into electric energy – thanks grade 11 physics, I still remember what this means! They do this by using excess energy from the sun, or when the wind blows to pull the weight up, and at night when renewables are low, it can be raised and lowered to bolster the energy supply. This is such an interesting idea to me because as discussed, using gravity to store energy is an idea as old as dams, however not one often discussed in the renewable energy sector. This also allows jobs to be provided for the same people who lose theirs when the oil and gas industry closes down. It seems there are few drawbacks to this solution.
The next guest is Saul Griffith who among many things, created the Lightfoot electric scooter. This works by charging itself through solar panels on the scooter, providing up to 30 miles of range. Griffith goes on to talk about the need to make the right decision as we replace our technology, returning to the points brought up in the intro of the podcast. Griffith believes that an all-electric future can save us a lot of money, while also saving our planet, and has created a book to help us get there called Electrify Everything, San Francisco. As is the theme with most renewables, the usual discourse of ‘it is too expensive to solve climate change’ is proven wrong when Saul outlines that by electrifying everything, the US economy alone will save $300 billion. Sounds like it’s too expensive to not solve climate change.
As always, Blanchett asks the questions that I myself am wondering when she asks about the cost of the materials, as well as associated emissions from the materials needed to create an electric future. Kennedy states that Griffith had already done the calculations, and that the material usage would be a fraction of that if it were through fossil fuel-powered energy. As Kennedy states, a circular economy is necessary for this.
This was another really great episode! The idea of using existing technology to address the climate issue was an interesting one that is not discussed often enough – we really do have everything we need to be the change we so desperately need.