The Equitable Battery Alliance: Innovating fair supply chains – Mathy Stanislaus

(Ep. 29) The Equitable Battery Alliance: Innovating fair supply chains – Interview with Mathy Stanislaus.

This week we speak with Mathy Stanislaus the Director of Public Policy at the Global Battery Alliance.  

Today’s episode is not what you think. Batteries hold the potential, and I would even say the ‘key’ to revolutionize our transport and energy system. In this episode, you won’t hear about the technological leaps in battery technologies. Instead, you will hear about a sector hearing the call for greater social and environmental responsibility. This needs to be integrated into their entire lifecycle. As Mathy says, companies can no longer paper over their social and environmental responsibilities. That is, firms can no longer pretend they are isolated entities in the value chain, rather, they hold just as much responsibility over the development of their sector as the firms and organizations above, below and next to them.  

The Global Battery Alliance is spun out from efforts from the World Economic Forum to address issues of child labor. The central role batteries can play in a clean energy transition tips the producers of batteries into a favorable market opportunity, but they must also clean up their business. 

As you will hear Mathy explain, there is global competition developing between countries but also a desire to ensure the pursuit of batteries provides opportunities for all. Verification of the social and environmental impact of batteries, both upstream, downstream and in the reuse of the materials is now central for the sector to demonstrate it is a clean technology. Thus the topic of justice and equity are hit on, but so is the topic of data management and the role that transparent data collection and verification plays in meeting the demands of the Paris Agreement.

Our discussion on the central role of data reflects my discussion in the last episode with Marco Schletz, episode 28 around blockchain technology. Mathy hits on the same points about the ability of well-collected data creating more transparency around resource use and efforts to do so on a large meta-scale.  

Access to financing now hinges on demonstrating through data, the socially and environmentally sustainable measures each company deploys to ensure they are creating green, clean and equitable energy. 

Digital Democracy: Blockchaining the Paris Agreement – Marco Schletz

This week we speak with Marco Schletz, a research associate at Data-Driven EnviroLab, and an innovation fellow at the Open Earth Foundation. Marco holds a PhD from the Technical University of Denmark. It is the research for this PhD and the related publications that describes both the present and future uses of blockchain technology as a means for tackling climate change.  

In this episode we delve into Marco’s research on blockchain and how it can assist verification of projects addressing climate change. This spurs both greater efficiency in oversight and reduces transaction costs for ensuring climate change is addressed through meaningful action.  

The purpose of the MyEnergy2050 podcast is to promote meaningful action around climate change. This is why I’m excited to have Marco on to discuss his PhD research on blockchain and the potential it holds to ensure commitments made in the Paris Agreement are fulfilled no matter where in the world the projects are.  

Marco and I have a long discussion on blockchain, we cover the basic concepts of what a blockchain is, why it can promote transparency and the problems with our current financial system, which makes financial transactions costly and why blockchain replaces our current bankers and financiers. With blockchain and cryptocurrencies, say good bye to both expensive corporate bank headquarters and the carbon footprint produced from the corp of office workers. 

In the first half of the episode we discuss what blockchain is, and we  stay largely with cryptocurrencies like bitcoin. In the second half, we get more grounded and discuss how blockchain can actually work to connect communities and businesses around the world. Blockchain can hold granular information, so we can actually know, who is making an effort to save the environment for us. So while we fly places, we also buy credits from other places, to mitigate our environmental damage.  

A final note, is don’t be scared by the terminology in this episode if you don’t know what blockchain is. We hopefully explain throughout the episode what it is, and how it works. Marco does a good job of breaking it down by comparing it to waking in a bar and ordering a drink. So if you know how to drink in a bar, you can understand what a blockchain is.  

A FOMO Energy Transition: Competition makes 2030 the new 2050 – Rebekka Popp

This week we speak with Rebekka Popp. She is a policy advisor at E3G. We go into detail about the German coal phase-out, COP 26 and why being a policy advisor makes a difference. The reason I wanted to talk to Rebekka is because of her publications on the German transition and the EU’s Green Deal. Other countries look towards Germany to justify their transition or even non-transition. Understanding Germany helps to understand broader goals and the difficulty of creating a just transition, which the EU’s Green Deal attempts to do.  

In our conversation, Rebekka and I spend time on Germany’s slow and gradual phase-out of coal-fired powerplants. She emphasises the current plans are not in line with EU goals and are not ambitious enough due to the fast pace policy reforms that make 2030 the new 2050.  

We delve into the EU’s Green Deal and how there is now a fostering of international competition between countries to be leaders in clean energy solutions. What stands out to me in our conversation is the interlinkages and complexity that Rebeka explains around Germany’s slow phase-out of coal, due to a lack of political leadership. She describes how this issue and the impact of COVID 19 is impacting COP26 and the efforts to induce a global green economic re-start.  

The Utility and Grids of Energy Transition – Kristina Hojckova

This interview with Kristina is important because we discuss a unique angle on the energy transition. The role that grids play in shaping both how we produce and consume electricity.

We discuss the opportunities of electrification in developing countries, how electricity can help women earn more money by powering the machines to help make clothing or pottery, and how the electricity grid will be shaped in the future.

Kristina provides a conceptual framework to understand how super grids to microgrids shape our self-sufficiency and interconnectedness as a society.

We also discuss blockchain technologies and the potential limits of peer to peer payment systems. This brings up how utility companies change their business models to meet these new technologies, integrating and changing both the energy system and society. 

Energy Citizens Standing up for Change: Interview with Breffni Lennon

What is a good ‘energy citizen’? The European Commission is now using this term, and the definition gives understanding for how people participate in shaping their energy systems. Breffni Lennon, a researcher at University College Cork, is a co-author of an article with a partial answer to this question. In this episode of MyEnergy2050 podcast, we delve into what it means to be an energy citizen and why citizen participation is essential for a successful energy transition.

People, he states, are much more aware and understanding of the energy system than policymakers often give them credit. He proposes policy and infrastructure debates are set up as black and white issues, when really, people do understand the grey zones. A good citizen can oppose government-backed projects to build safe and livable communities. An energy citizen does not accept the status quo.

Infrastructure projects show the current built environment and prompt discussions over what new infrastructure and technologies society wants. Often the infrastructure shapes how people act and live their everyday lives. In the interview, Breffni brings in bicycle culture as a representative of how road design can make biking a favoured or a neglected mode of transport.

“If you go back to the 1950s in Ireland, bicycles were a big mode of transport for people.” But then planners made a “conscious effort to accommodate cars rather than bicycles…. The bicycle became a symbol of poverty.” During this era, “Having a bicycle is a sign of poverty. If you have a system or an infrastructure designed for bicycles, then that badge or that symbol of poverty is no longer there.” Now, planners and parts of society are shifting back “towards cycling as a healthier mode of transport. As a way of revitalizing our cities,” explained Breffni.

The bicycle provides a point to demonstrate how people can express their agency. The undercurrent to the podcast interview with Breffni is how people can choose their technology or means of transport; they do so even though they are constrained by both the built infrastructure, societal norms and government policies. Choosing what we consume is as important as how we consume. For example, do we consumer coal or wind.

Do we consume ‘junk’ energy or ‘healthy’ energy?

How we consume is influenced by the insulation on homes or by electrical appliances. We may be able to choose our bicycles, but often it is hard to choose a safe route to ride it.

The social and physical structures around us shape our ‘agency.’ That is the ability to express and do certain practices, like riding a bike or keeping warm in the winter. The infrastructure, such as bike lanes or insulated homes influence how we all live our lives. Participation of society in infrastructure development can enable a greater sense of agency for citizens.

Breffni provides two good examples of agency in the energy system. One is a disputed gas project in Ireland and the other a solar power scheme in Austria. In the first example, the citizens resisted the gas project.

“The people that we were speaking to say, for example, they weren’t against gas, per se. They were saying, look at me, we’re modern people, we use gas, and we want the benefits of modern existence. But we don’t want to endanger our community by having a pipeline that could potentially explode amongst the houses and dwellings.”

Resistance to the pipeline was not a rejection of gas for some protestors, but rather an opposition to the location of the gas pipeline. Nonetheless, it is essential to consider their role as ‘energy citizens’ out there opposing energy infrastructure and helping to shape both the infrastructure and practices for generations to come. The agency of these community activists reflects not just participation into the debate on the energy transition, but also the choice around power resources (coal or wind) along with choosing the type of heat in homes.

Energy citizens require the ability to be agents of change. The Austrian example Breffni provides is about community buy-in, regardless of income levels or money put into the solar project. Members could add €100 or €1000 depending on income. The underlying point is the joint participation in the future of the community’s energy infrastructure and how homes are powered and heated. The agency of the community is directly reflected in the infrastructure they helped to finance and build.

Bicycle and energy infrastructure are good examples of perceiving agency in society. The built infrastructure from past eras – when the car or fossil fuels were favoured, now need to be redesigned to allow citizens to consume less energy. Rather than forcing citizens to be safe and drive their car to the store, bicycle infrastructure can make sure they also arrive safely. If people choose to relocate a gas pipeline, it is to ensure their safety in their communities. These cases show there is not a total rejection of the old infrastructure but an acknowledgement of a transition towards a new way of living.

People understand nuances in the energy system. It is here that Breffni provides a nutshell to explain agency of energy citizens. Completely wiping out the old order may not serve the interests of people or companies. Still, allowing for other modes of transport or ways of producing energy, then these practices foster a transition away from the old order – the fossil fuel order. And it is here where energy citizens push for a chance to practice their agency for choice. Citizens want clean and safe communities; they have the right to implement a clean transition. What is a good energy citizen? One that does not accept the status quo.

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