This week we speak with Ana Stojilovska, an energy poverty researcher, who just received her PhD from Central European University, Department of Environmental Sciences and Policy.
And full disclosure before we get going. Michael was Ana’s PhD supervisor.
Ana’s research really goes to the heart of the divisions in Europe around energy poverty. Her thesis, ‘Synergies between heating and energy poverty – the injustice of heat’ tackles how people attempt and afford to heat their homes in North Macedonia and Austria. Her research shows two widely different approaches to assisting – or not – people to heat their homes. She really underscores the role that state institutions play in setting the price of heat, but also assisting homeowners to pay their bills.
As you’ll her from our discussion, the right to heat emerges as a fundamental human right. We first get into Ana’s questioning why her family only heated one room when she was growing up in Skopje. This may sound odd to some, but for many families in former Communist countries, this is still a common practice today.
She decided to pursue a PhD after she was spurred on by her NGO experience and after receiving a Masters in European Studies. Seven years ago, she applied to CEU’s PhD program. And, as they say, the rest is history. For the past six years, Michael and Ana have been working together.
Ana has been a great inspiration for learning new research methods – like phoning up thousands of people in Vienna. As you’ll hear, Ana has a sincere dedication to her research. And for anyone that reads one of her five or six articles she’s published while doing her thesis, there is great depth to her data collection. The outcome of her research is: Energy poverty is representative of deeper misalignments in state institutions and it is the people who bear the social and economic cost of state failures.
This week we speak with Reetta Kaila, Director for Sustainable Fuels and Environment at Wartsila. She holds a Doctorate of Sciences in Industrial Chemistry. And if you review her CV, and listen to our discussion, you’ll both see and hear her drive to both research and operationalize a more circular form of power production in both industry and academia. She is a true scientist in solving problems and holding substantial experience to solve some of the key technological challenges we are facing, such as using hydrogen and gas in power production and propulsion.
On the surface, Reetta differs from previous guests because she works for a large corporation, which is Wartsila. But as you’ll hear, Wartsila is a company that is the energy transition. That is, they are the ones building the power plants, the engines, and the batteries that underpin the energy and transport system of the current fossil fuel era, and as you’ll hear, the future era of lower or zero carbon engines and storage options.
Wärtsilä, which according to their website is a global leader in smart technologies and complete lifecycle solutions for the marine and energy markets. In 2020, Wärtsilä’s net sales totaled EUR 4.6 billion with approximately 18,000 employees. The company has operations in over 200 locations in more than 70 countries around the world. That is the general description from the website.
But what will you learn from my conversation with Reeta today?
First, you’ll learn about pink hydrogen. That is my teaser, and you’ll have to listen to the show to find out what is pink hydrogen.
Second, you’ll find out how and why designing and building power and pollution abatement equipment for ships drives innovative solutions. Designing for these small environments can translate into big innovations on land.
I really liked our discussion about working in a marine environment, particularly on ships. Because if you think about the Earth, it is one big giant spaceship. And as Reeta tells us, the engines of a ship can produce 90 MW which is the same as that consumed by a big city. If you think about that size we really are talking about massive infrastructure being built by Wartsila. It is this machinery is where the uptake in new low or zero-carbon technologies needs to be used to reduce carbon emissions.
Innovation, as Reeta discovered isn’t just done in a laboratory, but as she points out it is solving problems when a customer needs it. She uses an example of what to do with the gases coming from boiling heavy oil (or bulk oil) on a ship. Well, they discovered you could mix it with LNG and feed it back into the engine – and wala, not only do you get more power, but you get innovation.
Among, other topics, we learn about Power X, which is a program that looks to understand what to do with the extra electricity on the grids created by renewable energy. Some of it can go to battery storage, or even be turned into hydrogen for longer storage. Our discussion on hydrogen comes about halfway, but you’ll find it really exciting when we discuss the different properties of hydrogen and gas. And how you can even mix 25% hydrogen and 75% natural gas and power an engine. However, just a word of caution, don’t try this at home.
We end the interview with understanding the role of society and with a hope that by 2050 we are running on pure hydrogen. Overall, I found our conversation fascinating for understanding what are the new technological – and even policy – challenges for companies producing the machinery that is now powering our energy system today and tomorrow.
We can speak of the ‘Carbon Storm of 2021’ which reflects the new reality of Climate Capitalism, which Michael spoke about in episode 31. We are now paying the price of the energy transition, and how consumers, governments and industry react and work together to make this transition will also determine the price we pay in the short and the long-term.
This week we speak with Gireesh Shrimali, Precourt Scholar at the Sustainable Finance Initiative at Stanford University. He is also an adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins University and involved in the Climate Investment Funds.
One of the key takeaways from our conversation is the idea of Value at Risk and the inter-relationship with transition risk. Gireesh’s examination of risk essential for understanding how we accelerate an energy transition. We begin to discuss this halfway through, and it is an essential concept for managers to understand when assess the value of their asset portfolio. It is also important to understand how established technologies, like solar and wind, are already undermining coal and gas.
We can view activists investors, like those from Engine Number One, which seated new members onto Exxon’s board, as radical energy pioneers, but Gireesh and his analysis underlines the importance of risk assessment as the energy transition speeds up. You’ll find our discussion worthwhile for understanding risk and how coal and gas are becoming stranded assets with companies unable to extract profits – thereby threatening the survivability of the companies themselves.
World Bank. “Coal-Plant-Repurposing-for-Ageing-Coal-Fleets-in-Developing-Countries-Technical-Report.Pdf,” 2021. https://documents1.worldbank.org/curated/en/144181629878602689/pdf/Coal-Plant-Repurposing-for-Ageing-Coal-Fleets-in-Developing-Countries-Technical-Report.pdf.
This week we speak with Professor Margarita M. Balmaceda about her new book, Russian Energy Chains (2021), published by Columbia University Press, as part of the Woodrow Wilson Center series. She was on the My Energy 2050 podcast in episode 12. And we are very grateful for her to come back for launching her new book. We managed to meet in person during her visit to Budapest this week. But as you’ll hear, our conversation moves rapidly around the issues of fossil fuels and the value chains that extend from Russia all the way to Germany.
Margarita was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and as her profile at, Seton Hall University states, “her professional life has centered in the USA and Eastern Europe.” But as we know from her previous publications, on Eastern Europe, including ‘Living the High Life in Minsk’ and ‘The Politics of Energy Dependency’, in addition to numerous journal articles, she is a leading scholar on Post Soviet issues and places involving the energy sector. She is also an Associate of the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies and of the Ukrainian Research Institute at Harvard University. Overall, because of her research and insight, she should be nominated as an honorary citizen of the Post-Soviet world.
Her book, Russian Energy Chains will be the leading and most authoritative book on the subject of post-Soviet energy relations. What does that mean and why is it important?
This podcast is focused on the energy transition. By having Margarita document the value flows – that is who benefits and who doesn’t of the flow of oil, gas, and coal from the Russian heartland to Europe, she documents a way of life and of profits from fossil fuel extraction. And as we address toward the end of the interview, a way of life and means of governance will be under threat as the EU and other countries implement strong policies to move away from the fossil fuel era.
The point here is the topic of understanding the value created from fossil fuel extraction, shipping and usage demonstrate – as she outlines in chapter 1 – the role of power relations in the energy system. If we hope to phase out fossil fuels, we will need to address these power relations of the old (fossil fuel) order and the new (renewable) order. Russia – and the relations between EU Member States hold a strong rooting in energy – this relationship will need to be renegotiated and Margarita’s book lays down what these relations were built on, and the areas where they could change.
This week our guest is Linda Zeilina, the CEO of the International Sustainable Finance Center.
The discussion, as the name implies, is about sustainable finance. But, from a very important perspective. Which is about expanding the circle for policy making, also means expanding the role of stakeholders in creating solutions where finance assists sustainability priorities, rather than simply profit opportunities.
The topic is how assisting people in governments and companies – expanding the perspectives of stakeholders, translates into better investment environments. This includes raising awareness of Environmental, Social and Governance ratings (ESGs), and the impact on investors within the EU. There is a clear connection between profits of companies and their ability to meet sustainability requirements from both the EU and – as we’ve discussed before on this podcast – from banks. There is now a clear connection between the ability of a company to make money – that is to generate profits, and the necessity to align their sustainability practices.
This episode is important because Linda highlights the inter-relationship between policy stability, predictability and risks. Policy and political risk are emerging as high in the Central European region. It is becoming clear that the politicians are unable or unwilling to adapt to the emerging financial penalties that exist in the EU. In the EU, defining ‘sustainability’ emerges as a clear accounting system. This is a topic for future episodes. Now is the time to develop regional and national ways to enhance sustainable business practices with the assistance of governments.
The main takeaway in this episode was how the Central European region is representative of other developing regions. The push for more jobs and company profits can’t be done at the expense of the environment and society. It is time to create opportunities for a broad range of stakeholders to find effective ways for businesses to do business in environmentally and socially sustainable ways.