judged solely by his twitter account, David Roberts is in end-stage politics brain disease & will soon be dead by ideology poisoning. but much of his actual energy stuff is still pretty good. he had two great podcast interviews recently
first, a creative new business model for commercial building energy efficiency
. instead of the typical “subsidize the building owner to pay for upgrades”, you have an efficiency company come in and do it as a “tenant” that can persist across ownership changes. they pay a stream of income to the building owner for the privilege (becoming an asset to the owner rather than a liability), & sell metered energy reduction to the utility via long-term PPA. the utility then bills the real tenants at the same level as before, now with a portion of customer bills going to pay for the upgrades. the tenants benefit in the form of free upgraded physical amenities (less drafty, better air quality, etc). each party has now captured some of the positive-sum value of efficiency, solving the fractured-incentive problem that has hindered this market. similar things have been out there forever, but part of the innovation here seems to be just a fairly technical change in the contract structures, which makes longer-term investments more viable.
second, geothermal heating networks
as an evolutionary pathway for gas utilities to survive decarbonization. this is slightly different from district heating, which is highly centralized. in the GeoGrid concept, each home has their own ground-source heat pump, & they are connected through a network of pipes that can share heat & coolth. this has benefits for efficiency, resilience, modularity, load predictability, & all the standard advantages of eliminating gas (safer, less air pollution). the catch is that it’s currently pretty expensive up-front. but part of the idea is that utilities can incrementally build out these networks in places where doing equivalent gas infrastructure is very expensive or difficult. a nice property of this system is that it reduces peak electricity load at times of high heating & cooling demand, relative to air-source heat pumps (ground temp is less variable than air temp). extreme peak load events are a nontrivial problem for the vision of mass all-electric buildings, so doing more geothermal seems wise