Signals on the shape of the energy transition

Three articles worth reading and a workshop recording:

  • Why Isn’t Solar Scaling in Africa?—Asterisk

    • Tyler Cowen linked to this provocative piece pointing out problems with the World Bank's efforts to scale solar. I took away two points: 1) tacit knowledge and institutions are really critical. Low cost solar production is nothing without transmission to businesses and the human infrastructure to maintain those wires. 2) global public investment in electrifying Africa has big positive potential across SDGs. Perhaps we should just be more honest about the need for subsidies there?

  • Electrify Everything is Slow - Austin Vernon's Blog

    • I stumbled on this excellent analysis after getting curious about Terraform industries. I've been passively following ReWiring America, probably the epicenter of the "electrify everything" crowd, for a few years and Austin's essay made great points about the challenges with only having heat pumps on peak demand cold days. There's also intriguing opportunities with synthetic fuels that use abundant low cost solar power to synthesize natural gas from the air and leverage the existing energy and heating infrastructure, saving switching costs -- both economic and environmental.

  • Geologists signal start of hydrogen energy ‘gold rush’

    • This Financial Times piece points to an (unpublished so potentially speculative) USGS study showing large underground hydrogen reservoirs. Money is flowing into new ventures though so file under a trend to watch!

  • How to blow up a carbon data pipeline (Dara O'Rourke)

    • When I was at CA FWD, Dara came to our annual Economic Summit along with Venkatesh Rao and talked about the energy transition. In this one hour talk to the summer of protocols web3 crowd, Dara O'Rourke gives an overview of carbon accounting protocols and how he helped operationalize Amazon's sustainability strategy, along with a few choice digs at the consultant industrial complex providing shiny excel analyses in static pdf reports without actionable information. The presentation ends with a call for moving from aggregate carbon reporting at the company level to actionable analytics at the team and algorithmic level. In terms of Amazon that means including carbon along with other metrics like cost and speed in say routing algorithms.

    • The talk also reminded me of the growing number of SaaS analytics firms that provide carbon reporting tools. Because of the need for standardization for SaaS scale those analytics generally include scope one (direct emissions from say diesel in Amazon trucks) and scope two (indirect emissions from generating the electricity used in business operations) but not scope three (everything else). Here I wonder about the potential of LLMs to leapfrog SaaS and excel-for-everything consultant approaches by providing the means to muddle through the messy long tail of bespoke carbon embedded across industries. That seems like an intriguing little frontier with potential for centaur style-strategies.

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