January 13, 2021
This week we speak with John Komlos, who is professor emeritus of economics and economic history at the University of Munich. Born in Budapest, he became a refugee 12 years later during the revolution of 1956, and grew up in Chicago, and received his PhD in both history and economics from the University of Chicago. John is a counter-revolutionary thinker in economics. And I mean that in our discussion, we cover a lot of ground as to what feeds his different lines of thinking, and how can we better understand the support for President Trump's protectionist and populist rhetoric.
To start off, we go into detail about John's background to clean hungry in 1956 and landed in Chicago not speaking English as a young boy, his outside perspective translated into different view on economics, one counter to the traditional Blackboard economists that are often taught, as john details economics without a greater understanding of how society and people work keeps the discipline of economics only theoretically, engaging and even unhelpful for understanding how the real world works, and how markets actually work.
As he states economics, quote, wants to think of itself as an isolated discipline. And it's nonsense because the economy is embedded in society and in a political system, and in the culture. And he goes on, basically to outline that there is no isolation of economics or markets from the messy world of politics and society.
And this is why I wanted to have John on the podcast to present a counter-narrative to our current economic system we're often exposed to and taught. And I appreciate his push and effort to study how people make choices and what influences markets from the everyday world, rather than just theoretical constructions. This push to see the world differently is useful for understanding the energy transition, which is not based on pure technical factors, but rather human and social factors that influence markets and choices around technologies.
The takeaway from our wide-ranging discussion are many, but I would point out the first part of our discussion about John's background and how it shapes his work. For me, this is inspirational as to how we can approach our own research and efforts to contribute towards a more sustainable energy system.
January 4, 2021
This week we speak with Professor Margarita Balmaceda. She is a professor of diplomacy and international relations at Seton Hall University. She is also an associate at Harvard University’s Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies and at the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute. Her books include The Politics of Energy Dependency, published in 2013. And her other book published in 2014, Living the High Life in Minsk.
In this episode, we get a preview of her latest book that will come out in March 2021, Russian Energy Chains: The Remaking of Technopolitics from Siberia to Ukraine to the European Union. Because of Margarita's extensive experience research and writing about Russia, the EU, Belarus and Ukraine we delve into the latest issues. Including Lukesenko's attempt to hang-onto power after the September 2020 disputed national elections. We get a background on how and why Lukashenko was able to stay in power. We discuss the overreach of Russia and its historical relations with Austria and Germany. Nonetheless, Margarita outlines the historical relationship between EU countries and Russia. Including highlighting the aggressive actions of Russia which under-appreciated the response by the EU.
For me, the quote that summarizes best our discussion and the key take-away is when Margarita states, "energy policies can never be imposed only from above. For the energy services, we depend on, in order to lead a good life, these are part of our expectations of the system in which we live". This describes well both what happens when people feel secure in the political systems and how they feel when they don't feel secure. Energy is an essential part of household and business budgets. Governments can make money or they can lose money in both providing energy services to its people and also, in this case, by selling fossil fuels. The energy system needs to be viewed both as a direct provider of benefits for households, but also an income generator for the state budget or other interests, which can either directly or indirectly benefit or harm citizens.
There is a tremendous amount of political-capital invested into energy and the relations that keep the system together and affordable. When energy becomes more expensive or the flows of money shift, the people can also shift their political allegiance The social compact may be broken which leads people to change their support for politicians. Thus, the idea of a social contract, which we discuss, plays an essential part in understanding the interplay of politics and energy.
And now for this episode with Professor Margarita Balmaceda on the shifting post-Soviet social energy pact.
December 14, 2020
Luis Janiero is a program officer working on renewable energy roadmaps at IRENA, before joining IRENA, he worked for five years at the Ecofys. Seán Collins holds a PhD from the University College Cork and as an Associate Program Officer on renewable energy roadmaps. The region is very heterogeneous. That is Southeast Europe, the income and the sizes of the system are very different from Austria and Italy to Cosmo and Bulgaria. Nonetheless, the countries each face the same challenge on the security of supply and high use of fossil fuel. For example, 90% of the oil is imported and over 70% of natural gas is also leading to the security of supply concerns. we delve into the future scenarios in this interview, the 2030 reference model, how things are going now and also the projected 2030 remap. This is what the future can be with the use of renewables. This is not a Fossil Free future scenario. But the advantageous use of renewables does shine through the model.
We touch on the importance of finance for renewables and risk for investors and the cost of capital and how this impacts a new project, the higher cost of capital in the region could slow down the deployment of renewables. My takeaway from this report, in our discussion with Luis and Shawn, is the result of the models are achievable and practical for the region. Their model is a moderate one of what can be done by 2030. So just in 10 years, even here, it provides policymakers and even citizens of the region, and ability to perceive a different future, which more holistically embraces a cleaner future with cleaner air and a lower at a lower cost than what is the current trajectory.
November 24, 2020
In this episode, we explore how energy infrastructure is not designed nor protected against cyber threats, there is now a realization of the importance of securing our energy system. Cyber threats can directly impact the militaries and the nation's ability to respond to physical threats against countries or armies.
We also discuss how even phishing scams can lead to compromising networks and impact infrastructure, institutions and countries. We have an extensive discussion around the alliance of NATO and why acting through NATO provides collective benefits. China and Russia are also framed not as immediate threats, but as potential future adversaries, and how the constant foreign probing of computer systems needs to be stopped.
The big takeaway from our discussion was the difference between virtual and physical threats. And how these are accomplished. It would seem a cyber threat could be carried out by a small group of people. But as Ion explains this is not really true as a tremendous amount of knowledge in fields like engineering are necessary to bring down a network. We also get into this scary area of where the boundaries are in cyberspace. These are not defined and there is a threat of countries stumbling into war.
Finally, the biggest takeaway is the cost that is needed to reform and refined the energy infrastructure. It seems like money is in short supply. So beating back these adversaries remains a challenge.
November 16, 2020
In this episode, we trace back the history of Darren's involvement in energy. We learn the background story on energy justice and how he got involved in it while at Trinity College Dublin. He describes his earlier work with Gordan Walker and Harriet Bulkeley which prompted Darren to go further and explore the concept more with others by using a legal studies perspective.
There are three key takeaways from my discussion with Darren. First, Darren is just great to talk to. I met Darren back around 2012 or 2013 and as you'll hear in our discussion, we share a passion for a holistic understanding of the energy system and how society sits at the center of it.
Second, Darren outlines the massive disruption of Covid-19 is a chance for policymakers to push faster on the green transition. And here we discuss the preliminary findings of Darren's work on the UK, Netherlands, and South Africa. Where he is finding a compartmentalized perspective on the energy system and not a joined-up systems-wide approach where moving towards a sustainable energy system has knock-on effects for many corners of society and the environment.
And the final takeaway is, every researcher needs to get out of their comfort zone and travel. This is easy - or maybe hard to say - while we are locked-down, but we discuss how doing research in developing countries can begin to prompt change. We do take a light-hearted view of this topic, but Darren expresses well the serious desire to make a difference in other parts of the world as essential for anyone with a career in energy research.
November 10, 2020
Recently, different things I've been reading came together to force me to question what is an equitable energy transition. I cover a view from the 1970s. I bring in Ivan Illich, Kurt Vannegut and apply some recent concepts from Amartya Sen on equity. The result in an examination of the limitations of the Earth and the inequality withing our social and energy system. I pursue a line of thought around the limits to our time on Earth and the carrying capacity of the Earth.
The purpose is to prompt some thoughts on what is an equitable energy transition and the time it takes to implement. Please consider the work here a draft of thoughts rather than a definitive position I am taking. There is a lot of concepts and connections that need to be clarified and made. Nonetheless, we all have to begin to thinking along new lines at some point. So here is where I begin to redefine and address what a just energy transition is.
October 26, 2020
This week we speak to Akos Losz, an Energy Analyst, in the International Energy Agency Division of Gas, Coal and Power Markets. Akos is also a non-resident fellow at the Center on Global Energy Policy.
In this week's episode, we cover the release of the October issue of The Global Gas Security Review 2020 which has an extraordinary analysis of the Covid-19 impact on the regional and global gas markets. We learn how Ukraine has switched from storing Russian gas to now storing extra EU gas. The impact from the social and economic lock-downs transformed the gas markets and heavily impacted both pipeline and LNG gas shipments. The sector was already weakening going into 2020 and the last six months mark a new era in the turbulent history of the gas sector.
As Akos and I discuss, gas is contractually more independent from other fossil fuels now. It is no longer index to the price of oil or serving just as a replacement for coal. With both larger gas infrastructure projects coming online and the maturity of markets and contracts, gas is seeing a new age. Towards the end of the interview, we delve into the future of biogas and hydrogen. Here we take a look at what is gas and both the short-term and long-term prospects of a more environmentally friendly gas sector. Well, if this is possible.
My short take away from this interview with Akos is that the natural gas market has fundamentally changed over the past ten years. The importance of listening to this interview is to understand both the strong position gas holds in the energy system, but also its precarious position due to market forces. In addition, there is an underlining tension around the role of gas in the future. We just briefly discussed the concept of a 'gas bridge', gas as a transition fuel. And we learn how and why the EU is the world's 'market of last resort' for gas. Hint, it has to do with ample capacity to receive gas and the open market concept.
October 16, 2020
In this episode, we cover why Anna Ackermann became interested in climate and energy, and how starting out with an engineering degree in Ukraine led her to dig deeper into how to change the energy system. Anna did a master's degree at Central European University in Hungary. After her return to the country in 2014, she became a leader changing policies to increase the role of renewables and energy efficiency.
We conclude our discussion by considering the role of online events as a way to stay up-to-date on the latest research and news, along with how to host a better online event - something we'll be trying out very soon.
The take away for me in this interview was Anna's long-running interest in climate issues and how her initial - almost standard - education as an engineer was insufficient to answer her own natural curiosity and drove her to find ways to change both the formal institutional system and then starting the Climate Online portal to encourage further change.
Anna is one of our former Central European University masters student who earned her degree in Environmental Sciences Policy and Management, as part of the Erasmus MESPOM program, that brought her to CEU and to the University of Manchester. Anna's story post-university is both informative and inspiring for what we do after we leave formal education and how sharing our own interests and hobbies, can make a difference in the much bigger world of climate change and energy transition.
October 2, 2020
Benjamin Sovacool talks about how he didn't want to get involved in energy, but Professor Richard hearse kidnapped him into the field, but only after Benjamin's car was broken into and all of his research stolen. He also goes into detail about the benefits and challenges of scholarly multidisciplinary collaboration and ongoing training for researchers.
September 26, 2020
Maria Kottari discusses why current institutions are unable to implement an energy transition and the role that the energy union and Green Deal play in getting European countries to a sustainable energy system by 2050. We also address how a younger generation provides a call for us to act in finding better ways to implement a grassroots effort at change.