This special episode is part of MIT’s Together in Climate Action Summit, which is focused on sharing climate leadership strategies and exploring pathways forward in Northeastern North America.
In this episode, we interview Frank O’Sullivan, Director of Research at MIT Energy Initiative and an expert in electricity.
Frank teaches us about technology, market, and policy shifts in the electricity sector, such as renewable sources, energy storage, and flexible dynamic pricing. We consider how these advances will affect consumers and the climate, and how social equity can be improved in the transition.
Additionally, Frank previews the upcoming Summit panel on regional coordination of electricity policy. We ask Frank how this might reduce policy fragmentation in North America, and lead to a more resilient and climate-friendly electric grid.
If you’d like to learn more about the Together in Climate Action Summit, which runs December 7th & 8th 2017, visit climatesummit.mit.edu
If you’re enjoying our Climate Conversations podcast, you can subscribe on your favorite podcast platform to hear the latest episodes first. Find us on:
[00:00:00:14] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: A once in a century transition in electricity.
[00:00:03:14] CURT NEWTON: I feel honored, once in a century.
[00:00:05:21] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: You should be honored, Curt. That's because you're speaking to me, and I am Rajesh Kasturirangan--
[00:00:12:27] CURT NEWTON: --and I'm Curt Newton.
[00:00:14:07] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: Welcome to Climate Conversations.
[00:00:15:25] [MUSIC PLAYING]
[00:00:22:00] Today, we have Frank O'Sullivan, expert in electricity, director of research at the MIT Energy Initiative.
[00:00:29:25] CURT NEWTON: And we're going to be speaking to him about both his work overall with electricity, and also, his role at the upcoming Climate Policy Summit, where he'll be leading a panel discussion on regional coordination and how that might affect the evolution of the electric grid.
[00:00:44:01] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: So this is the first in a series of conversations around MIT's upcoming Climate Summit in early December. Welcome, Frank.
[00:00:53:17] FRANK O'SULLIVAN: Guys, it's great to be here. Thanks for having me.
[00:00:54:28] CURT NEWTON: Thanks for being here.
[00:00:55:23] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: So what's happening in the world of electricity?
[00:00:59:09] FRANK O'SULLIVAN: Ah, what a great question.
[00:01:01:16] CURT NEWTON: Wide open.
[00:01:02:03] FRANK O'SULLIVAN: Yeah, it's wide open. So I'll be honest. And I'm not trying to be hyperbolic here, but we're now at the nascency of a once in a century transition in the electricity sector. So around the world-- certainly, in the developed world-- we've had electricity now for more than a century in many, many markets. And the way that we have interacted with that energy, the way that's being delivered to customers hasn't actually changed very much in that period.
[00:01:32:26] But today, and over the next-- probably-- next decade, we're going to see an entirely new paradigm emerge. And this is something that's being enabled by a lot of progress in new technologies, so-called distributed energy resources, things like rooftop solar, things like cost-effective batteries, things like smart thermostats. And the connectivity that we've got with greater digitization, which is enabling us to rethink how we deliver energy. So we, as individual consumers, now have greater choice. We're able to shape the nature of our services. And it's going to mean that into the future, the grid itself and the structure of electricity-- the business of electricity-- is going to look very different.
[00:02:18:29] CURT NEWTON: Can you give me a little bit of a before and after picture? So today, electricity is, I got a flat rate that I pay. And I plug stuff into the wall socket. And I don't have to think about it. And that's going to change from what you're saying.
[00:02:31:18] FRANK O'SULLIVAN: So let me put it like this-- you're right. Today, for the most part, people pay for electricity on what we call a volumetric basis. And there's very little variation in the price of electricity over the course of a day, or dependent on where you live, for example. And that's fine. That pricing arrangement has emerged for many reasons. But we are now moving to a future where the real value of electricity-- which is very, very temporally variable-- over the course of the day the value-- the actual cost of delivering electricity-- changes a lot. Because different resources become available, and so on.
[00:03:07:19] We're going to increasingly see that reflected in our pricing. And by having those prices now reflected in our tariffs, we're going to consume electricity differently. We're likely going to use batteries, for example, to store low cost electricity during periods of low cost. And then, when electricity is expensive, when degeneration is expensive, our smarter homes are going to choose to consume electricity from our battery, rather than buying it from the grid. That's one kind of very simplistic example. But that's how things are changing, and that's how these new technologies are kind of enabling a different-- as I said-- consuming paradigm, and pricing paradigm for these services.
[00:03:48:17] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: So going back 100 years ago, you did say, it's a once in a century transition. What was the previous transition like? For example, has electricity always been centrally produced? Or did that actually take time to happen?
[00:04:06:08] FRANK O'SULLIVAN: So if we actually go to the very start of the electricity industry, Edison and his first generation station in New York was-- well, we would actually today describe it as a distributed energy resource. So he was using a DC-- direct current-- kind of technology, which required the generation stations to be quite close to consumers.
[00:04:29:06] And so what grew out of that was this kind of very industrially intensive way of delivering electricity. Lots of power stations-- dirty power stations-- in cities and so on. But quickly, with the development of AC, or alternating current technologies and kind of Westinghouse commercializing that, it became clearer that there was a different way of doing it that was going to be more cost effective. And that is the centralized system.
[00:04:57:17] So critically, AC technology allowed us to use transformers to step up voltages. If you can make voltage high, then you can transmit power over a long distance at very low cost, very low loss. And so the AC technology allowed us to scale up the size of power plants to the enormous power stations that we rely on today. One plant might be a gigawatt of capacity. That's enough to kind of provide a million customers with electricity.
[00:05:28:21] And that has remained the way that we have generated our electricity for the past 100 years-- until, as I said, literally, the last five years. We finally managed to develop a set of technologies, specifically solar photovoltaics, which allowed us to generate at a distributed level, so right down to the individual household level in a reasonably cost-effective manner.
[00:05:57:09] And so the fact now that those technologies are available and increasingly, in some instances, the most cost effective way to deliver electricity now means that we're rethinking entirely the structure of the industry.
[00:06:11:22] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: So it's a little bit like going from mainframes to personal computing.
[00:06:15:19] FRANK O'SULLIVAN: It's exactly that. And perhaps, moving from there to cellphones, right? To really have a highly distributed platform for delivering that service, and being able to deliver it in a very bespoke sense as well. So my home page on my phone looks different to your home page, and that's exactly what will be possible in the near term with this transition of electricity.
[00:06:37:25] CURT NEWTON: And from a climate change perspective, these changes to the grid are a necessary component of what it would take to do a lot more solar or wind power distributed energy generation. But a lot of these changes, as I understand it, would probably be happening-- the smart metering and things-- regardless of the nature of the energy source.
[00:07:00:03] FRANK O'SULLIVAN: So I think we were at a very kind of happy confluence of factors today in electricity. So first, with respect to the kind of emissions challenge for the sector, the new technologies that I've spoken about-- solar photovoltaics, wind, for example-- these are technologies that are inherently clean technologies. And so they do enable decarbonization. And so rooftop solar, distributed solar clearly aides or supports that.
[00:07:28:28] But in parallel to that particular goal, the fact now that we have increasingly cost effective storage, the fact that we have more cost effective-- frankly, ubiquitous sensing and digital processing capabilities-- that just allows us to do what we do with the power system in a smarter manner, regardless of whether or not it's getting cleaner. And the two of these factors are now coming together in a way where you see important, frankly, players in the power sector, whom you wouldn't actually imagine are trying to be proactive with the climate issue-- or at least, sometimes that's suggested.
[00:08:07:10] They are now looking at this kind of new set of tools that they have in their toolbox for delivering services to their customers in a more cost effective manner for their customers, probably in a more cost effective manner-- more value accretive manner for their shareholders. And they're saying, we've got to do this.
[00:08:24:25] So we're building momentum towards this smarter, cleaner, potentially more reliable electricity sector in a virtuous manner. And I think that's the exciting point, right? Frankly, the smart people realize that the shift towards a cleaner system is also going to be a shift towards the system that's ultimately going to be the more cost effective, the more value accretive system.
[00:08:49:08] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: So let me try to push back a little bit.
[00:08:53:09] FRANK O'SULLIVAN: Yeah, yeah.
[00:08:55:02] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: I feel like, yes, I can understand that the market forces are at least partly aligned with the direction we want to be going. But I mean, after all, there are institutions, and companies, and individuals who have-- as you said-- accrued enormous power and wealth over the last 100 years by building that dirty centralized system. They're not going to go away without some resistance on their side.
[00:09:31:06] So do you think that this is sort of almost like an autonomous system, or actually are we going to need to push for the things that we want?
[00:09:40:28] CURT NEWTON: With policies--
[00:09:41:22] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: With policies.
[00:09:42:25] FRANK O'SULLIVAN: Yeah, that's a very reasonable point that you raise. So with respect to resistance-- so resistance, is, of course, voltage divided by current, right?
[00:09:52:19] Yeah, yeah, there we go. So I just had to get that out there. So to address your point, so it is true there's a tremendous incumbency in the electricity sector. But what we're seeing today is that this narrative that I've just laid out, that these new technologies, they're becoming increasingly compelling. That is actually shaping the investments that are being made today by these incumbent players.
[00:10:20:07] So there is, for example, few-- if any-- coal plants being built in this country today. And even in spite of the current political climate in DC, where you could argue that the winds are blowing perhaps more in favor of fossil fuels-- coal, in particular of late-- you still have traditionally coal heavy utilities saying, no, we're not going to build new capacity in that form.
[00:10:46:13] We are choosing to build new capacity in the form of wind, or in the form of solar. And the reason they're doing that actually, is that those technologies now-- particularly at the central utility scale level-- are more cost effective.
[00:11:00:14] CURT NEWTON: You know, along those lines, it seems we're at a really interesting right now about how we look at gas as a source. And there's been the historical statement of it's a bridge fuel. The cost of wind and solar renewables has come down so dramatically. But there continues to be-- it feels like-- a lot of momentum behind continuing to use gas for quite awhile. What's your perspective on that?
[00:11:25:00] FRANK O'SULLIVAN: So I think personally, I actually believe natural gas is a very important asset that we now have for supporting this transition. There's no doubt that gas cannot remain in its current form on the system for much more than 20 or 30 years at scale, if we're going to kind of really address the climate issues. But what I do think is really important to appreciate is that in this current period, where we're seeing a significant ramp up in wind and solar capacity, that is driving us towards a need for greater flexibility on our system. Our power grids need to become more dynamic. Our generation fleet needs to become more dynamic.
[00:12:07:27] And natural gas is actually a really, really good bedfellow in supporting this transition. Many points that storage will cover that into the future, I actually think that's very likely. We're already beginning to see a tension emerge between natural gas and storage, for providing these kind of flexibility services. But the reality is that for the gas that we have already installed, which has been paid for-- appreciably paid for--
[00:12:38:12] CURT NEWTON: You're talking pipelines and things.
[00:12:39:19] FRANK O'SULLIVAN: --pipelines, et cetera, that the natural gas capacity will really help enable this transition. If we didn't have it, frankly, the cost of supporting a movement from where wind and solar are play an interesting but still bit part in the system-- to a point where they're really providing the lion's share of generation-- if we didn't have natural gas available, we would probably run into a political hurdle. And that is the cost of adding the additional kind of flexibility, would just be politically, too difficult to bear. And I think that's something that people need to appreciate.
[00:13:19:03] So gas has a role. But I think we can't take our eye off the ball and say that gas is some sort of kind of solution that will remain to infinity. But at least, in the medium term, natural gas needs to be considered as an important part of the mix.
[00:13:35:15] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: So lay that logic out a little bit more concretely. And let me tell you why. Because from an activist perspective, the demand might be no fossil fuels now, right? So we are now waiting 20 years. It's today that we need to be completely free of any fossil fuel infrastructure. And some may say that's a utopian ideal. But you are laying out an argument which says that this intermediate stage is somehow necessary. So it's not just optional, but it's necessary. So can you tell us why?
[00:14:13:11] FRANK O'SULLIVAN: Yeah. So if you take New England, for example, and you take the kind of scale of electricity demand that exists in this part of the world, and you practically ask how much wind or solar would be required to be located in the region, in order to speed the transition without gas, you would run into a situation where physically locating those assets would be impossible.
[00:14:43:27] This is something, I think, that's really at the heart of this debate. And people need to really appreciate it. So I'm going to give you an example. So I was involved here at the Institute at MIT with our procurement of a very large scale solar PPA. So we have one of the largest solar PPAs--
[00:15:00:11] CURT NEWTON: PPA is--
[00:15:01:08] FRANK O'SULLIVAN: Oh, a Power Purchase Agreement. So MIT is one of the largest, if not the largest, university purchaser of solar power in the country. And the facility where that power is generated is located in North Carolina. There was an active debate-- I think a useful, robust debate here at the institute-- about us entering into that agreement. Because that facility was remote, and people said, why aren't we doing this on campus? Why aren't we solarizing the campus?
[00:15:31:05] And I think that's a very valid point. That's a good question to ask. The answer, why we aren't doing it on campus, is that that particular facility that we now procure electricity from, it supplies about-- I think on the order of 20% of our total energy, maybe about half of our electricity needs. The facility covers, I think, 600 or 800 acres-- between 600 and 800 acres.
[00:15:58:00] The MIT campus, the total area of our campus is about 180 acres. So I'd point out to people, we couldn't have done it. We've done something more significant by going and taking that remote approach. It's not the answer entirely. I think we need to do a lot locally, and so on. But people need to appreciate that these new technologies that we're bringing to the table, they are different in their scale characteristics. They're more extensive than traditional power plants, and so on.
[00:16:26:09] So we're going to have to have a mix on our fleet on our technology, which is going to kind of transition as we look to bringing these renewables on board, putting them in the right place, thinking about how we then integrate them with smarter technologies at the consuming location. So along with more renewables, we're also going to have into the future-- and this is already changing-- much smarter consumption through much more active demand management.
[00:16:53:17] Coming back to my point earlier about digitization, we can do a huge amount through providing a more-- kind of developing a more dynamic building. And that's going to help reduce the need for capacity, and so on, into the future. But all of that's going to take time.
[00:17:08:00] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: So let me just throw a crystal ball-ish question to you. How much do you think MIT could reduce its demand by being smart?
[00:17:20:28] FRANK O'SULLIVAN: I'd imagine that there is probably 20% available, maybe more. I mean, it depends, obviously, on the quality of service that you end up going to. But I think easily, on the order of 10s of percent, if we were willing to make that investment. Now, I should be clear-- that would require spending quite a lot of money to actually re-enable.
[00:17:43:16] So part of the challenge with the energy transition is that there is a natural inertia. There's a natural turnover in our energy system. And it becomes cost effective to invest in these new technologies during that natural cycle. I'll be clear-- that natural cycle needs to be accelerated to address some of the climate challenges, and so on. But it's not possible just to say, tomorrow, we are going to enable the system to be fully reliant on intermittent renewables, simply because the number, honestly, is going to look too big.
[00:18:22:22] And in addition-- I should add-- the regulatory, the market structures, and so on-- the institutional aspects of all of this wouldn't necessarily allow it to happen, either. So that's where my point of view comes in, like one of it is kind of active transition that needs to be accelerated. But not one vision of kind of a utopian future, where tomorrow, the system is utterly different. Because it's just not going to happen.
[00:18:49:20] CURT NEWTON: Can we turn little attention to the developing world?
[00:18:53:19] FRANK O'SULLIVAN: Yes.
[00:18:54:02] CURT NEWTON: Because I think there, some of the situations work differently than the transition from our old school centralized thing. And the possibility exists there for some kind of technological leap frogging. Is that correct?
[00:19:04:12] FRANK O'SULLIVAN: Right. So if you look around the world today, maybe there's a billion people without any electricity service. And then there were many, many markets that you could suggest are kind of very considerably underserved. So over the coming decades, there are countries where the real demand for electricity is going to rise. So here in the United States-- I should add-- we are going to probably see our absolute demand for electricity full, even though the economy will keep growing, and so on.
[00:19:31:20] CURT NEWTON: Even though we get more EVs?
[00:19:34:07] FRANK O'SULLIVAN: Potentially, there might be some uptick there. But it's actually surprisingly a smaller number than one would imagine. But, yeah, that is a little bit over the horizon, an avenue to greater growth. But our economy will still become more energy efficient on average, even with the electrification of mobility, because of the gains that you achieve there.
[00:19:58:18] But in the developing world, they're going to need real kilowatt hours delivered-- new kilowatt hours delivered. Now, in addition to that real demand growth, what they also need is, of course, the infrastructure to deliver it. They have a gap with respect to that today. And therein, I think, lies the opportunity. So as you said, their context is different. And they are going to electrify-- I believe-- in a very different way.
[00:20:26:02] They are going to not have to go through the challenges we're facing in kind of re-engineering an existing system that works on one paradigm, to kind of fit into a new one. They are going to just look at this decentralized, digitized, and decarbonized supply chain that we now have available to us. And they are going to build from the ground up, from a decentralized sense up to meet their electricity. And probably, broader energy needs. Because they're probably also going to meet their mobility needs in a more electrified manner more rapidly than we will, given-- again-- the incumbency of the infrastructure we have.
[00:21:03:02] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: I mean, certainly, I can imagine that in India-- which many of the billion people that you mentioned, live there. I can imagine that just as cell phones were the first mass form of telecommunication that became available to Indian citizens, it might be that decentralized energy is actually the first sort of universal form of energy that becomes available.
[00:21:30:00] FRANK O'SULLIVAN: So I think that's absolutely true, actually. So we have work here at the institute, even at the Energy Initiative and under the Tata program, which is specifically focused on developing or delivering universal access to electricity to these unserved or underserved communities around the world. And that's all about embracing the potential that these decentralized systems offer in bringing energy to these communities.
[00:21:56:19] Now, I want to make one or two points, though, about this. So first and foremost, I think it's fair to say that bringing some energy to these people becomes transformative. Immediately, you have transformed the world. And a colleague was just mentioning now, I think you can buy a TV-- and he's seeing this in India-- which is four or five watts. I mean, it's just a remark-- a tiny number in terms of its power demand, which is, of course, enabled by a lot of the progress we've made on semiconductor technologies, and so on.
[00:22:27:09] And so even a very small amount of electricity now is able to kind of provide these people with even entertainment services. And it's remarkable. But over the longer term, these economies are still going to require more energy. So more bulk energy to kind of drive industry, and so on. And I think that therein lies kind of a potential challenge.
[00:22:53:16] Today, if you look at India, they are building-- in a very active sense-- an enormous fleet of coal plants. Plus, at the same time, rolling out these absolutely new and super innovative distributed energy services to their underserved or unserved populations. What I really fear is that that approach at the bulk level that they're currently taking-- which I should add, is really relying on the worst type of technology. They are building subcritical coal plants. So not even supercritical coal plants, subcritical coal plants. Every four plants that they build in India today produce more emissions than every five coal plants in China, because the Chinese are using a more efficient technology.
[00:23:38:28] So I really worry about this kind of potential for significant lock-in of the traditional technology, in the Indian context, in particular, even in spite of the fact that they are electrifying a lot of their economy in a very progressive and a very clean sense. So this is kind of one of those challenging juxtapositions that we find today that we have to work really hard at bringing some solutions to.
[00:24:02:09] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: So back from India to Boston-- actually, to Cambridge.
[00:24:07:10] CURT NEWTON: Northeastern United North America.
[00:24:10:09] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: Right. So MIT's hosting this big summit where you could say, researchers are going to hang out with policymakers.
[00:24:19:07] FRANK O'SULLIVAN: Yes.
[00:24:20:20] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: What's that going to be like?
[00:24:23:02] FRANK O'SULLIVAN: Yeah, MIT-- I think we have a unique-- I mean, I don't want to overstate it, but I think MIT plays an almost unique role in this country, actually, in energy-- in the sense that we've had a very long tradition of bringing people with really deep technical insight together with policymakers. Frankly, we have produced a lot of policymakers who happen to be people with very deep technical insights. And that's a powerful combination for good outcomes, in my opinion.
[00:24:53:10] And I think today, in the United States-- certainly, at the federal level-- we have a situation where the synergistic opportunities that emerge from bringing those two communities together isn't being fully exploited.
[00:25:09:19] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: That's an understatement.
[00:25:11:10] FRANK O'SULLIVAN: Well, that's right. That's why-- maybe I spend a little bit too much time in Washington. That's why I phrased it like that.
[00:25:18:14] CURT NEWTON: Say that again, more punchy.
[00:25:21:10] FRANK O'SULLIVAN: I think we have-- this is absolutely the case. I mean, Professor Ernest Moniz, who was our-- I think-- 13th Energy Secretary. He was a colleague of mine at MIT's Energy Initiative. He was the founding director. He's a noted scientist and a tremendous policymaker and leader in the energy and the environmental space. He was a uniquely capable leader in that context, and really, really has had-- and continues to have-- the capacity to understand the complex technical issues and how they intersect with, let's say, the broader political economy. I think today, the current administration is taking a much more politically-driven narrative, simple messages.
[00:26:05:22] And frankly, the answer or the reality is energy is not a simple issue. It is nuanced, and you need people that can understand that nuance-- both technically and at the policy level. With respect to our climate summit and the effort here, I think it's a very important effort in bringing together those two communities, and in trying to establish cross-linkages-- so that those folks at the policy level, who perhaps are struggling looking for some guidance-- and I should add, guidance in a world where there is a lot of noise, a lot of opacity with respect to what is the right path forward. We're bringing them together with people who stand back and think very carefully without necessarily the incumbency of the political considerations on how we should ideally move forward, what the technical solutions look like-- frankly, what the policy solutions look like.
[00:27:02:24] But I think bringing those two groups together will hopefully yield progress in solutions, ideas, paths forward that are probably not technically ideal, but certainly, increasingly politically optimized. And that's important, right? I mean, I think we can't be naive to imagine. You shouldn't be, actually. You shouldn't be kind of wandering and saying, we will solve the problem with one event. That's not the case. This is a dialogue. And us coming together, bringing these folks together, and making MIT a kind of a forum for doing this is going to really, I think, move the football forward-- hopefully to a first down.
[00:27:44:19] We're not across the goal line yet. But certainly, move the football forward, and have people begin to get their hands around solutions to the complex policy issues that they're facing today, that are going to aid us in moving towards that system that is decarbonized to the extent that's necessary. But that is also sensibly designed, sensibly regulated, so that it can be politically acceptable. And you have to strike that balance, at the end of the day.
[00:28:13:27] CURT NEWTON: So I understand that there's going to be a lot of talk about ways to coordinate on a regional basis-- from state to state, from entity to entity. I'm wondering if you could cite an example or two of the sort of issues that crop up in that regional coordination right now.
[00:28:26:08] FRANK O'SULLIVAN: So that's a super question. So here in the United States, almost uniquely, our electricity system-- and other aspects of our energy systems, but particularly, electricity-- is regulated at a state level. In fact, it's often regulated at city level. And that leads to an extremely fragmented regulatory landscape. And the frictions that can then exist at borders amongst states can really lead to a good deal of inefficiency.
[00:28:58:04] So I'm going to give you an example. So in the west, we have one power market in California-- most of California-- called CISO, so the California Independent System Operator. And then, surrounding CISO is portions of California, and then all of the western states-- which run their power markets in an entirely separate way, in kind of a vertically integrated manner.
[00:29:20:20] Those markets-- or that market structure-- is inefficient today. What I mean by that is there are, for example, clean energy resources outside of California, that California would like to have, which are not getting to the market in California-- because of institutional barriers. Not because we can't, not because the wires aren't there, but because of institutional barriers.
[00:29:42:11] And California-- on a regular basis-- is spilling clean energy generation, so curtailing solar, for example, when there is a market for that in places like Arizona. They are trying to overcome that issue at the moment by building a new entity called the Energy Imbalance Market, which is a way for the vertically integrated utilities to actually speak to CISO, and vice versa. And over the past two or three years, since this kind of institution has been set up, it has saved consumers in California and in the broader western set of states hundreds of millions of dollars, simply by being smarter about the coordination of a very small part of their system-- which is what technically, we call the real-time energy market.
[00:30:28:24] So that brings us back here to the northeast, and to the efforts that we have in place. We have a set of states here in the northeast that in general, I think are very progressive and are at least very, very excited about being progressive in transitioning our energy systems to cleaner systems that are going to be more resilient, more robust, more cost effective for the consumer base. But we have a lot of borders.
[00:30:52:11] And so we need to begin to start thinking more carefully about how we take our regional assets-- which are these renewable resources, for example-- and how we can bring them together in a manner that is coordinated cost effectively, so that all of the states can achieve and make progress on their goals-- their state level goals and so on-- around renewables, in a sensible sense.
[00:31:17:20] And just maybe one final point, it is really important-- I think-- that we try and achieve progress in this respect. Because if we don't, the fragmented structures that we're going to operate are going to lead to really kind of suboptimal-- very suboptimal, in some cases-- outcomes. So this is what makes this particular event so, so important in starting that conversation, or trying to move it forward.
[00:31:41:27] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: So like all good things, this too must come to an end. So one final question, then.
[00:31:48:14] FRANK O'SULLIVAN: Sure.
[00:31:49:22] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: What does success look for you at the summit? Meaning, as you said, this is a complex issue. It's a dialogue. There's no one shot solution. But still, what is the first down looking like?
[00:32:02:22] FRANK O'SULLIVAN: Right. I think, practically speaking, I think it's really important that we try to establish some common goals with respect to where we want to take, let's say, our electricity system in the medium term. So I'm not talking about 2050, but I think practical goals for where we want to be in 2025, for example. And we step back and we establish what are today's policy barriers, policy opportunities that will allow us to move towards that kind of more optimized goal for the region, and put in place a framework-- and maybe, who knows? Maybe even some concrete steps to kind of act on this-- where the policymakers can say, look, this is how we are going to begin to work together on the key enablers of dismantling those barriers, and how they're going to look to the technologists, the engineers, the system analysts for support in coming up with solutions that are sensible, and that are going to be implementable, in other words.
[00:33:06:12] So I think that would represent rampant success. But even a portion of that would really be a wonderful outcome.
[00:33:14:28] CURT NEWTON: You're looking for something like we have the regional greenhouse gas initiative that spans a whole bunch of states in the northeast. You know, a model kind of similar to that growing?
[00:33:24:27] FRANK O'SULLIVAN: Yeah. So that market-- often known as a RGGI. Yeah, exactly. Something like RGGI. However, I will say this-- I think it is also important that the outcome be ambitious. So I think RGGI has been interesting, but I think it hasn't been as ambitious as it possibly could have been. And I think that the group and at the conference, we should aim to identify a path forward that's achievable, but that's going to be a heavy lift. And I think MIT likes to say, look, we like to solve difficult problems. I think this is a solvable problem, but I think we should kind of be ambitious in the scale and go from there.
[00:34:00:11] CURT NEWTON: Got to work together on it.
[00:34:01:14] FRANK O'SULLIVAN: Yeah, that's right, absolutely.
[00:34:02:28] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: Well, here's to working together.
[00:34:04:10] FRANK O'SULLIVAN: Yes, indeed.
[00:34:05:09] CURT NEWTON: If a listener wants to get a little more engaged in the transition to the electricity system where they live, what kinds of things might they do?
[00:34:13:13] FRANK O'SULLIVAN: One simple thing actually is people should look to what type of tariffs, actually, their electricity supplier offers. So one thing that's really interesting is people don't realize in many places, you can opt into an electricity tariff that has a time varying rate. And if you're so inclined, you can get yourself a smart thermostat. And you can get smart about how you program it. And suddenly, you're just saving money. You're saving the burning of fossil fuels, in many instances.
[00:34:43:13] And I think you can use that as a stepping stone to perhaps thinking more carefully about whether you want to look to having a rooftop solar system, or the integration of a battery, et cetera, et cetera. It's just a small step towards empowering your decision-making around how you procure your energy services. But I think it's something that's often overlooked. And so I'd certainly encourage that as a first step.
[00:35:04:15] CURT NEWTON: Very interesting. We can get some early adopters out there and share your stories.
[00:35:07:29] FRANK O'SULLIVAN: It'd be wonderful.
[00:35:08:26] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: Thank you so much, Frank, for all these intertwined series of reflections. I think many of our listeners will be interested in finding out what does it look like, say, if you're not in the United States? Because as you were saying, the variables are not the same.
[00:35:27:21] FRANK O'SULLIVAN: Yeah. Thanks so much, guys. I really appreciate it. It was wonderful.
[00:35:30:18] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: Thank you. That was a lot of complexity, Curt.
[00:35:37:03] CURT NEWTON: Well, we knew--
[00:35:37:29] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: Are you still honored?
[00:35:39:05] CURT NEWTON: We knew going into it, the electric grid is a complicated thing. And I do feel like I've got a little clearer picture about what's going on. Really great to have Frank here, because he's kind of an insider, right? He understands the forces that are pushing this transition right now amongst a lot of the key players.
[00:35:56:22] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: It's going to play out differently in different parts of the world, but the activist in me says, faster, sooner, juster.
[00:36:07:04] CURT NEWTON: Yeah. Especially on the just end of things left a lot of questions-- further questions-- to dig into. And maybe we, amongst ourselves, will have a follow up conversation to kind of peel back some of those layers.
[00:36:21:10] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: Yeah, and really, how does-- you could say-- electricity justice play out as a subset of climate justice. Even if it's distributed, who is it distributed to and by?
[00:36:34:03] CURT NEWTON: --and by. Yeah, really important questions, and ones that we look forward to getting into. Because there's a lot there.
[00:36:41:00] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: And if you have any thoughts or feedback, please write to us at ClimateX@MIT.edu, or reach out on Twitter, on Facebook, or on our site. Thank you for listening.
[00:36:53:11] CURT NEWTON: Thanks a lot.
[00:36:53:23] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: Good-bye.
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