LØRN case C0127 -

Glen Peters

Senior Researcher


What does it take to avoid 2C of global warming?

In this episode of #LØRN Sunniva talks to Senior Researcher for the center for climate research (CICERO), Glen Peters, about the opportunities as well as challenges of the energy transformation. He has recently expressed passionately on climate change his thoughts in articles he's written such as How changes brought on by coronavirus could help tackle climate change and The past decade of political failure on climate change has cost us. Glen in this dialogue, tells about how CICERO carries out research on energy and emissions trends, for both past and future scenarios, and the possibility/desirability of a 100% renewable future.
LØRN case C0127 -

Glen Peters

Senior Researcher


What does it take to avoid 2C of global warming?

In this episode of #LØRN Sunniva talks to Senior Researcher for the center for climate research (CICERO), Glen Peters, about the opportunities as well as challenges of the energy transformation. He has recently expressed passionately on climate change his thoughts in articles he's written such as How changes brought on by coronavirus could help tackle climate change and The past decade of political failure on climate change has cost us. Glen in this dialogue, tells about how CICERO carries out research on energy and emissions trends, for both past and future scenarios, and the possibility/desirability of a 100% renewable future.

18 min

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SR: Hei, du lytter til Lørn. Tema i dag er energiteknologi. Jeg heter Sunniva Rose og med meg for å lære mer om dette temaet har jeg Glenn Peters. Welcome, you’re Senior Researcher at CICERO, the Center for International Climate [and Environmental] Research. Is that right?

GP: Yes, something like that. It’s a complex name.

SR: I think most people have heard about CICERO.

GP: CICERO is the common name.

SR: Why don’t you start by telling me who you are and why you became interested in energy technology?

GP: So my background is actually in maths and physics, and I never really started out working on climate or technology. But since I’ve been in Norway, which is 15 years now, it’s been working in the climate space, generally looking at why emissions are changing, what’s driving the changes.

SR: Emission? So CO2 emissions?

GP: Carbon dioxide emissions, other greenhouse gases but mainly carbon dioxide. And you pretty much can’t study trends in carbon dioxide emission without studying the energy sector, because those emissions are primarily coming from the energy sector.

SR: Yes, because you don’t care about the emission of CO2 that’s always been there, you’re talking about the changes in the CO2 emissions, that they are related to the energy sector?

GP: Pretty much the carbon that’s come out of the deep geological reserves and has been put into the atmosphere.

SR: From hydrocarbons, oil and gas and coal and these things. So, energy technology, what is it?

GP: Yes, so energy technology spans across the fossil fuels which we have been talking about, coal and gas, but we also have other big technologies like nuclear and hydro which have been staples of the energy system for many decades. And increasingly we have primarily non-fossil sources like renewable, solar, and wind which are growing fast recently – but it’s important to remember that the energy sector spans across a lot more than just electricity production. Solar and wind are primarily tied to electricity production. Electricity is something like a quarter of global energy consumption. I’m not sure of the exact number, but we use energy for transport, energy in industries, so energy is not just related to electricity. It’s a very big and broad sector.

SR: And why should we remember that, that it’s not just electricity?

GP: So if you want to change things, get to stop emitting carbon, you have to decarbonize electricity. That’s in a sense the easy part. The hard part is decarbonizing sectors like transportation, where we don’t really have good alternatives for all types of transportation. Also many industrial processes like metals production etc. also use a lot of fossil fuels, primarily coal. So there’s a lot of big challenges outside the electricity sector. These are probably the hardest challenges.

SR: So why do you think it’s exciting?

GP: It’s exciting because it’s so diverse. On one end of the spectrum you have big technologies, the nuclear power plant would be one example, coal is another example. These massive facilities, looking at the mining behind them, the huge the machinery that’s used to dig up coal to transport it. These are massive operations. So that’s sort of one end of the spectrum. And at the other end of the spectrum, we have these much smaller, more nimble technologies like solar and wind. Now you can put a solar panel on a house and in a day or two, it will be producing electricity. So, you’ve got these extremes and many timed delays in the system.

SR: What do you mean by time delays in the system?

GP: So, if you wanted to transition away from coal, for example, if you just shut down a coal power plant, I’m not sure about the exact numbers, but you would have to put in place many, many thousands of wind turbines and solar panels to replace just one coal facility. So if you want to transition away from something like coal or big technologies then you need a lifetime, in a sense, to build up a scale of these smaller technologies.

SR: It takes time.

GP: It takes time, and no one is going to be happy if the electricity goes off overnight.

SR: No. Some have to know the exact numbers but if you’re shutting down a coal power plant, it will take thousands of thousands of solar panels or wind turbines. These numbers are quite important, they’re huge. I understand that that’s exciting. Are there any controversies?

GP: Yes, there is one big controversy which is sort of ongoing at the moment in the energy sector – and it’s quite a polarized debate – and it’s the 100% renewables debate, which I think is a fascinating discussion. Some argue that we can decarbonize the entire economy globally just using renewables, wind, sun, and water. primarily. Which may be possible. It would be great.

SR: Okay.

GP: And there’s other’s that will argue that maybe we can do it, but it would be ridiculously expensive if we did, and some argue we can’t do it at all. So it’s a very interesting polarized debate that’s quite an important one. You know, solar and wind, let’s say they’ll be very good for doing the first part of the job, but when you get into these more difficult sectors when you have to do something in metal…

SR: So what you’re saying is that for the first part of the job then you’re more on the electricity part of it?

GP: Yes, to get emissions going down, you know. Solar and wind produce electricity, they do it quite well, and if you have battery supporting it you can have, let’s say, a constant stream of electricity depending on how good your storage is. So you can pretty much out-compete coal and do that quite effectively. And already some of these technologies do out-compete coal. But when you get into other sectors, such as transportation where oil is used, we might be able to use electric vehicles for some parts of transportation, but other parts of transportation maybe we can’t use electricity — aviation, for example, we’ll need to find different solutions there for long-distance transport. So there’s going to be some other challenges. Also getting into industrial sectors where you might not use electricity directly but need some other form of energy to produce metals and so on. These are the sector.

SR: Because these are energy-demanding processes?

GP: They’re energy-demanding and use the energy in a different way.

SR: What do you mean in a different way?

GP: So transport is a good example. Energy needs to be transportable in itself, you need to take the energy with you. If you’re driving your electric car to Trondheim, you can’t plug the cable in, you need to be able to store the energy. And with our current technology like oil, it’s very good at storing energy, it’s a very dense fuel.

SR: It’s energy-dense, yes.

GP: It’s very easy to charge your car, to put the petrol in the car, it takes a couple of minutes. When it’s packed away it’s not flammable, it’s pretty safe, when you crash your car it doesn’t just blow up every time. So it’s a very versatile fuel and at the moment no battery technologies, even though we have a lot of different types of battery technologies, are currently as good as oil in terms of their density and versatility.

SR: And I think it’s important to stress that oil has some really amazing qualities. You’re nodding, yes?

GP: Yes. People like to not like oil.

SR: It’s easy not to like oil.

GP: It’s easy not to like oil but, you know, that’s the competition. It’s very energy-dense, it’s a fluid, it’s easy to transport, it’s easy to move, it’s easy to get out of the ground, it’s cheaper than water, basically. So there are so many good things. It has one bad thing and that’s CO2 emissions. But if you’re the competitor, if you’re trying to out-compete oil and displace oil in transportation, you basically have to be as good as, if not. better, than oil. And that’s a pretty tough ask.

SR: So I’m guessing that a lot of people would say «We have electric cars, why can’t we just have electric cars» but you’re saying that the battery technology is not there today at least?

GP: So, let's say that the battery technology is improving and the battery technology gets there, but then the current fleet of electric vehicles is aimed at private transportation: public, driving to and from work — and that’s only about a quarter of global world consumption. We also have heavy transport, freight, maybe we can electrify it but it’s a little bit harder, maybe there are other avenues like train transport and so on. There’s also shipping, maybe there are different technologies there, and there’s aviation. So those transport sectors, just taking shipping and aviation, that’s about 50% of oil demands.

SR: As a nuclear physicist I just wanted to say that when it comes to the shipping industry there are possibilities with nuclear energy directly in the ships.

GP: Yes. So, nuclear, coming back to controversy as you mentioned before, is also another technology which is highly controversial. A lot for the wrong reasons.

SR: Yes, I agree.

GP: But if you think about if that technology evolves, if we allow research and development on that technology and are not so scared, there are many other forms of nuclear energy that we can have, which as you mentioned, much smaller. We’re already using it for military purposes, more small modular nuclear. So there are many potential benefits with travel following nuclear avenue. It’s another controversial technology. A question for you, actually. Could you fly a plane by nuclear?

SR: Well, actually Richard Feynman made a patent on planes with nuclear, and it is possible to do it, it’s feasible, but then you have various strict rules about shielding so it would be too heavy to shield according to the regulations. Or I guess you don’t have regulations for planes with nuclear, but if you were to adopt that regulation. So that’s why I’m saying shipping, because in shipping that is totally feasible to do. I mean, the Americans are doing it with the big hangars in the military. Hangarskip? The big fleets.

GP: I know what you mean, with the planes.

SR: Yes, exactly, the big military boats. If I ask you about your best example in energy technology you would actually answer oil, because it’s so amazing. You say it’s cheap, easy to transport, you can fill your car in a couple of minutes, and then go all the way to Trondheim.

GP: In quotes «my favorite technology», you could say, but there’s a part of being a little bit provocative there. But we really have to understand why we use oil so prevalently now and what the value of it is. And then you can take the same back to coal as well, it’s all so easy to dig up, it’s dense, easy to transport, you can have large-scale electricity production – it just has CO2 emissions and air emission. You know those are big issues, and the reason why we are moving away from those technologies, but you just sort of have to acknowledge the benefits of why those technologies are so prevalent today.

SR: And I’m guessing a good reason to say all these positive things about it is to understand why it’s so difficult to just to flick your fingers and then you’re over to a decarbonized and electrified world.

GP: So sort of linking that we see a lot of positive optimism about solar, wind, batteries, and electric cars, is that they’re growing at 20% per year, they’re coming cheaper and cheaper, but they are still a minuscule part of the energy system that we have today. So when you’re growing from such a small base, even if you’re growing rapidly, 20% growth in solar or wind doesn’t offset, just a small 1% change in coal or gas. The magnitudes are so different, and that’s something that’s very important to grasp when you’re thinking about a transition.

SR: So if I understand you correctly, you’re sort of coming back to that the energy technology is diverse, it’s everything from small to big, to getting electricity, to transport, and all these things, that’s important to understand. So, do you have any other favorite examples of energy technology, either nationally or internationally?

GP: I guess we touched on the oil and the gas and nuclear, but I think it’s worth reflecting a bit on batteries because batteries are so prevalent in society. We tend to forget we’re talking about

solar supported by batteries, but if you think about our lives, our computers, our phones if you got kids, or the toys, our entire life is run by batteries.

SR: That’s true.

GP: And batteries are so important in our modern life. You can’t run around with your mobile phone with a 240 V electrical cable in it, right?

SR: No.

GP: So this sort of ability to capture and store and transport energy is so important.

SR: We transport energy all the time in batteries, and our bodies as well, but that’s a different perspective.

GP: So the transportability, if that’s such a word, is a very important property to have.

SR: So, time’s flying. If you can answer in just a couple of sentences what are we uniquely good at in energy technology in Norway?

GP: I think with Norway you can’t go past the oil and gas sector, again coming back to oil and gas but just forgetting about the technology. Norway is an oil and gas nation, we have a lot of extremely smart people finding very good solutions in the oil and gas sector. So there’s a lot of brains out there, a lot of brain power. It’s sort of a question of how do we shift that expertise and that knowledge into finding solutions in an electrified world without oil and gas. So that’s a huge opportunity for Norway as well.

SR: Good. So if our listeners want to learn more about energy technology, what are your recommendations, what should they do? Should they read, listen, see, do, what?

GP: Well, they should listen to this podcast.

SR: They should listen to this podcast, of course.

GP: Well, I’m a bit of a fan of Twitter and social media because it’s a very efficient way, you can debate how efficient it is, but it’s a very quick way to get quick information, short, concise, couple of hundred characters, you can have a debate, you can interact. It’s a quite effective way to get a lot of information quite quickly.

SR: Are there someone you think they should follow on Twitter? Or some hashtags?

GP: Yes, that’s a good question. This is a debate we often have, because in energy space there are not so many famous people, in the climate space there are a lot of world know followers. I guess people like Michael Liebreich, Bloomberg New Energy Finances, are a good example on someone to follow. There’s a few podcasts in the US, The Energy Gang, for example, and the people associated with that. Jessy Jenkins. Google, find them.

SR: Ok, so google. So we need to wrap this up but if you could end this by giving our audience one main thing to remember from this talk, what do they need to remember?

GP: The energy system is a big, complex beast.

SR: Big, complex beast. Thank you, Glen Peters, for coming here and teaching us about energy technology and giving me the opportunity to learn. Thank you for listening.

GP: Thank you.

Who are you and how did you become interested in EnergyTech?

I research energy and emissions trends, both in the past and in future scenarios. If the world is to meet its climate goals, it is essential to transform the energy system.

What do you do at work?

In addition to research, I try to communicate to a broader audience the challenges and opportunities for an energy system transformation.

What's the matter with EnergyTech?

Size. These days there is more emphasis on small and nimble energy technologies, like solar and batteries. However, at its core, the energy system is about big and complex technologies. I am perhaps biased by growing up in a coal mining district (Newcastle, Australia), but I think it is often under appreciated how big and complex the energy system is, from dragline mining coal in a distant land to making a coffee on the kitchen bench .

Why is it interesting?

Diversity. There are many ways to produce energy, and many different ways to meet our climate goals. We have to take advantage of that diversity.

Are there any controversial issues?

How best to communicate the challenge, optimistic or pessimistic? My sense is that we need to be realistic about the challenges ahead, particularly to business.

Your own best example of EnergyTech?

Let me be controversial and say oil. It is a remarkable, versatile, and dense energy source. You can propel 500 people on a plane to the other side of the world, or drive Oslo to Trondheim on one tank filled in a matter of minutes. It has a carbon dioxide problem, but to replace oil, you have to better it.

Your other favorite examples of EnergyTech internationally and nationally?

Batteries. The ability to store energy is a pretty critical requirement. We do it small scale, every second of the day, with the good old battery. Can we use that same technology to run an entire economy?

What kind of mental model do you use to explain how it works?

In terms of scenarios and future pathways, it is important to remember where we are today and the inertia in the system. It will take literally decades to transition the energy system, and for a multitude of reasons. There is no easy or unique path to transition the energy system.

What do we do uniquely well in Norway from this?

More broadly, Norway has been great at solving problems in the oil and gas sector. The question is whether Norway can transfer that capacity to a new set of technologies.

Glen Peters
Senior Researcher
CASE ID: C0127
DATE : 181116
DURATION : 18 min
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"Norway has been great at solving problems in the oil and gas sector. The question is whether Norway can transfer that capacity to a new set of technologies."
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