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The Big Switch

The Big Switch

Author: Dr. Melissa Lott

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To slow climate change, we need to transform our homes, buildings, cars, and economy quickly. "The Big Switch" explains how to rebuild the energy systems all around us. Dr. Melissa Lott of Columbia University brings together historical examples, current events, and incisive analysis to give listeners a deep understanding of the solutions to climate change.
6 Episodes
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Welcome to our first season of "The Big Switch." It's a five-part series that explores how the power grid works, how it's changing, and how those changes can benefit society. Your host is Dr. Melissa Lott of Columbia University's Center on Global Energy Policy. To slow climate change, we need to transform our buildings, our homes, cars, and the economy as quickly as possible. But how do we do it right?  Subscribe to "The Big Switch" everywhere you find podcasts.
The electric grid is the vast machine that powers everything around us. It’s also the part of the energy system where we're seeing the most dramatic changes as we address climate change. So what are the stakes, solutions and tradeoffs as we move to a net-zero energy system? In our first episode of season 1, Dr. Melissa Lott explores the intricacies of how the grid runs everything around us — and why it’s so vital to decarbonizing our economy. We’ll tell the story by visiting Texas, where the electricity system broke down in a spectacular way in February of 2020. What do the vulnerabilities and failures tell us about how we need to rebuild the grid system in a way that supports decarbonization in a highly-reliable way? Guests: Dr. Emily Grubert, Dr. Varun Rai, and Catherine Traywick. The Big Switch is produced by Columbia University's Center on Global Energy Policy in partnership with Post Script Media. Our producers are Daniel Woldorff, Dalvin Aboagye and Stephen Lacey.  A special thanks to Kirsten Smith, Genna Morton, Artealia Juilliard and Kyu Lee. 
Building a low-carbon grid is like building a sports team with star players and supporting players. Or, more accurately, it’s like re-building a sports team, where you have to go from underdogs to world champs.  First, you have to retire the under-performers like coal. Then, you have to grow your star players — namely wind and solar. Finally, you have to get your star players to work together with supporting players.  In our second episode of season 1, Dr. Melissa Lott explores the shifting power plant mix through a sports metaphor. We’ll also cut through the confusion and blame in the wake of the Texas grid disaster in February 2020. Why were so many people pointing to renewable energy, when fossil fuels caused the biggest problems? Guests: Erin Douglas and Dr. Joshua Rhodes. The Big Switch is produced by Columbia University's Center on Global Energy Policy in partnership with Post Script Media. Our producers are Daniel Woldorff, Dalvin Aboagye and Stephen Lacey.  A special thanks to Kirsten Smith, Genna Morton, Artealia Juilliard and Kyu Lee. 
If the grid system is the backbone of a low-carbon economy, then transmission lines are the nervous system. We need a dramatic build-out of the transmission system to connect renewable energy to the places that need it, while managing a wider range of local resources. How do we build it quickly, cheaply, and in a respectful way? In our third episode of season 3, Dr. Melissa Lott explores the role of transmission in decarbonizing the grid system. We’ll explore how Texas used transmission to encourage rapid uptake of wind power, and revitalize rural communities in the process. We’ll also look at the role of the grid system during extreme events, like Texas’ recent winter grid disaster. Guests: Greg Wortham and Cheryl LaFleur. The Big Switch is produced by Columbia University's Center on Global Energy Policy in partnership with Post Script Media. Our producers are Daniel Woldorff, Dalvin Aboagye and Stephen Lacey.  A special thanks to Kirsten Smith, Genna Morton, Artealia Juilliard and Kyu Lee. 
Matching electricity supply and demand is a high-wire balancing act. As we add more solar, wind and batteries, and shut down thermal generation, it shifts the balance. New kinds of distributed resources can help to balance things out -- but they also make grid management more complex. In our fourth episode of season 1, Dr. Melissa Lott explores the new ways to manage the zero-carbon grid. We’ll revisit the Texas grid disaster of 2021. Why did the electricity system nearly go down for weeks or months? And could we have blunted the outages with different ways of balancing the grid? Guests: Catherine Traywick and Elta Kolo. The Big Switch is produced by Columbia University's Center on Global Energy Policy in partnership with Post Script Media. Our producers are Daniel Woldorff, Dalvin Aboagye and Stephen Lacey.  A special thanks to Kirsten Smith, Genna Morton, Artealia Juilliard and Kyu Lee.
In episode 2, we explored how to build a championship zero-carbon “team” on the grid. We could have the best players in the world — rooftop solar, batteries, net metering, demand response, high-voltage transmission, and so many others — but if the rules prevent these technologies from playing ball, then we won’t be able to decarbonize fast enough.  How do we make sure the rules strike the right balance between innovation and reliability — while making the zero-carbon grid system equitable? In our fifth episode of season 1, Dr. Melissa Lott explores how the rules of the grid impact everyone. We’ll look at how the lack of rules in Texas caused an economic disaster for some consumers during this winter’s blackouts. And we’ll discuss how to reform and refine them to support a fast transition to clean energy. Guests: Deandre Upshaw, Dr. Destenie Nock, and Alison Silverstein. The Big Switch is produced by Columbia University's Center on Global Energy Policy in partnership with Post Script Media. Our producers are Daniel Woldorff, Dalvin Aboagye and Stephen Lacey.  A special thanks to Kirsten Smith, Genna Morton, Artealia Juilliard and Kyu Lee.
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