Today we have a very special episode talking to Michael Liebreich from the podcast, Cleaning Up, about a wide variety of energy topics. Everything from public policy to new tech that’s coming out to help the energy transition. Check out the Cleaning Up podcast here: https://www.cleaningup.live/
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We usually follow up. On Matt’s most recent videos and this week, I’m sure many people were tuning in to hear about why he went geothermal with his hopefully Net zero house. Mm-hmm. We’re gonna be having that conversation in a couple of weeks. We’re doing something a little different for this week and next week.
Matt’s having long conversations with other individuals in the sustainability system. And this week Matt’s gonna be discussing sustainability issues with Michael Liebreich of cleaning up with Michael Liebreich. Which is similar to undecided with Matt Ferrell. It seems like the trend
is to describe yourself with your name
and the title.
Before we go to Matt’s conversation with Michael, just a little bit of a sharing of. Feedback from previous episodes here on Still to Be Determined. I wanted to share a couple of thoughts and Matt, get your feedback on these things. There’s been a lot of conversation we asked for just generally what are people interested in discussing, and there’s been a lot of stuff around ai, but there was this comment that stuck out.
From Andrew Hoover who wrote,
I’d like to hear more about two
topics options beyond lighting for keeping devices DC in a solar and battery home and home assistance in the context of energy efficiency and assistive living, mobility and monitoring of elderly or the disabled. Hmm. Do you have any knee-jerk responses to those two topics as far as things you may already be aware of, or do you have
things in the work for the future?
And there are things I’m already aware of and I’ve been thinking about touching on, like the DC electric topic is something that I’ve been toying with doing a video on because a lot of people seem to be interested in that and there are pathways towards that for inside the house, but they’re just not quite here yet.
They exist readily in the like RV market, but not in the. Like home market so much yet. But there is a lot of stuff coming on the other side of it. The uh, home assistant front. Yeah, that is something I’ve been looking at, like I’m really into that kind of stuff and I’ve wanted to do something around that.
Talking about what I’m doing with my smart home. I. In my house for my new house and how I’m gonna be applying, uh, different tactics to try to improve my energy use. But there could be a, a broader topic on how you can use it just beyond that for like assistive living, it can be massively important to people with disabilities or children with special needs.
There’s so many reasons why you might wanna go with a smart home. So there’s a definite topic there, potentially.
Yeah. And as Matt and I have experienced recently, aging parents, Is Yes. Of a major concern where, yep. The fact that there are things available in the home, which take several steps beyond just a normal smoke alarm.
Uh, like the ability to actually monitor whether your aging parent or grandparent is actually mobile, whether or not they’ve recently read about somebody having to monitor the stove usage of, yeah. The elderly. Mm-hmm. And that there are now apps and SC tools available to allow you to know when a stove top has been on for too long, or whether it’s being unmonitored, those kinds of of safety features.
Are gonna be more and more important as we end up with a larger and larger of elderly population and not enough people to take care of them. Yep. Yes. So now onto Matt’s conversation with Michael Liebreich. Matt had an opportunity to sit down with him virtually and have a conversation. And if you don’t know who Michael is, he’s a sustainable energy expert.
Who’s an official advisor to the UK’s Board of Trade. He was also a senior contributor at Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Michael shares his expertise with interesting interviews on his excellent podcast, cleaning up, and Matt and Michael talked about everything from what we have as homeowners and all the way to what is
with energy policy.
So Matt, welcome to
Cleaning Up. Thanks for having me, and welcome to Still To Be Determined.
So this is great. It’s a bit of an experiment for me to do a joint episode, but I’m looking forward to it. Let me ask you to introduce yourself first, and then we, we can reciprocate, right? Sure,
yeah. I’m, I’m Matt Ferrell and I have a YouTube channel called Undecided with Matt Ferrell and a podcast called, still to Be Determined, where I talk about sustainable technologies.
Kind of from the perspective of, of a consumer, cuz it’s like I’m trying to implement a lot of stuff in my own life to try to be more net zero, have a, a better home, as well as different technologies that are being rolled out around the industry and how it’s kind of impacting all of our lives. So how about you?
So I’m Michael Liebreich. I also have a YouTube channel, a podcast called Cleaning Up, which I’ve been running, actually I started it during the lockdown, during the pandemic. But really I am, I guess a, uh, an analyst, a commentator, an investor, an advisor, everything around the Net Zero transition. I started New Energy Finance back in 2004, which is, You know, my goodness, nearly 20 years ago, analyzing all of the, the trends, the economics, the deals, sold that to Bloomberg.
And I continue now in this role as a writer and a commentator and, and, and, and, and, but I, what’s interesting is I do do those things in my life. I have made changes and not as many as, you know, some people would like, but I’m really a kind of more of an energy economist and a. Transport economy. I kind of getting into the nitty gritty, I would say, you know, if you are the b2c, if you are the consumer guy, I’m more of the kind of B2B guy.
Yeah, gotcha. So we’re kind of both ends of the spectrum here. We’re got both covered.
Well, I think so. I hope so. And also I think, you know what was interesting is, you know, as we chatted before we came on air that, you know, I’ve been doing this for say, nearly 20 years. You’ve been doing this for five and then, but you know, we should kind of maybe talk about where we are today.
The changes that we’ve seen over those periods, and then maybe try and go five years out and 20 years out and sort of, you know, spin our wheels and think about how, how things could go in the future. Yeah,
absolutely. That sounds good to me. So for you, I mean, you’ve been doing this for 20 years, so it’s like, what have you seen, what’s the thing that jumps out at you the most that’s changed over the past 20
Oh, I think when I started, you know, my friends from business school thought that I had completely thrown away my career by doing this thing called alternative energy. And it really was marginal. I mean, we were talking about a time when renewable. Power was less than 1% of the electricity supply in the world.
And the biggest, biggest change for me is the stuff that I was talking about 20 years ago. I don’t wanna say it all came to pass, but you know, it is such a mainstream agenda now. It is what everybody’s talking about. And, and now it seems like obvious that, uh, we would be doing clean energy and clean transportation and net zero and climate, it was not obvious at all.
How about yourself? What are you, what have you, what’s your arc over the five years since you started? Yeah. My arc
over the past five years is like, if EVs are a good example, it’s like EVs still felt pretty new and unusual, like fi just five years ago, and now it seems to be, it’s kind of almost catching on as kind of it’s a normal thing.
More people that are not in the space of interest in sustainability are concerned about this stuff. Like I’m building a new net zero home and one of the things I’ve been surprised by is how many other people are saying, oh yeah, I’m trying to do something very similar in my house. And like, I didn’t see stuff like that just five years ago when I was starting this.
So it seems to be like there’s a more kind of a public consciousness becoming aware of what’s out there. So
I wrote something a few years ago, I think it was 2018, about how long a cycle takes in business, and I don’t mean a recession or whatever. I mean, you know, you are a business person. You get to kind of make a bet, you invest, you build a business.
Hopefully you get it right. Maybe you don’t. That takes sort of five or six years and so, you know, maybe your five or six years is one cycle. And I’ve seen kind of four cycles. I’ve seen, I’ve seen the, the first clean tech, you know, Bubble cycle. I’ve seen some difficult years when that went, you know, pop and then I’ve seen the, I would say maybe, you know, we’re talking about the kind of the period when clean energy was starting to get competitive and then the kind of where we are now.
Maybe those are my four. I’m not sure if that, if that’s specific, but, but I have seen these cycles. I have seen more of them, but, but through the 20 years than perhaps you’ve seen. But it’s a very familiar story.
That’s interesting. I’ve, the more people I’ve been talking to that are in the industry of like, either it’s energy storage systems that are meant for the grid or utility based stuff.
I’ve been hearing a lot of stuff from them of saying just over the past three to four years, there seems to be kind of a sea change in attitude within the industry as well. I mean, is is that something that you’re kind of seeing as well in this, in this most recent cycle that we’re kind of in? Oh,
And you know, look, there’s also some, some kind of weird pathologies going on at the moment around hydrogen. There’s some hysteria. There’s people who’ve gotten kind of overheated and there’s always that, by the way, going on. I’ve also seen those things happening. You know, hydrogen has one of those every 20 years, but we also saw.
The biofuels bubble back in 2007 where everybody went crazy about next generation ethanol and, and you know, and then that didn’t kind of work. So we’ve seen these, yeah, we’ve seen cycles before in a way. I think what’s different now is that we are looking full spectrum transition. You know, we went from maybe there would be a kind of enormous amount of focus on just renewable energy.
Well first just technology in the clean tech bubble. Then it was just renewables and then it was EVs and then, you know, but now it’s like it’s heating, it’s industry, so it is actually, it’s a net zero line of sight. Rather than just saying, oh, it’s this little additional thing. If it goes well, it’ll kind of solve one or two pieces of this.
That’s a good point.
It’s one of the things you brought up hydrogen. I’ve talked about hydrogen on the channel, my YouTube channel a little bit, and it always brings out like a really divisive from the comments of people saying, it makes no sense. It’s not gonna make any sense at, at all. And then other people are like, I’m pro hydrogen.
I’m curious, like, why is it so divisive? Why is that topic so, Divisive. I think it’s
a kind of faith-based technology. A bit like, uh, crypto or, or you know, Bitcoin or whatever that, you know, nobody can tell exactly what it’s gonna do and therefore you can hang whatever hopes, whatever preconceptions. Also your tribal markers, you know, so if you are an oil and gas person who really fundamentally doesn’t like clean energy or renewables and whatever, and feels threatened by climate change, you can sort of, you know, you can like the.
The fact that hydrogen comes from, you know, natural gas, so you can kind of hang some stuff on it. You can hang baggage. If you’re a technologist, you can go crazy. I think. You know, I, it’s funny cuz I got called recently a hydrogen denier. By somebody. And you know, I was very, I found that really offensive cuz I, I think this word denier is, is just used as a weapon.
And I hate it in, in all contexts pretty much. But I also found it incredibly funny. I’m not a, that’s not how I see it. You know, I think that we’ve got certain things that you have to do with clean hydrogen. You know, we, we make fertilizer with gray hydrogen and, you know, we, hydrogen produces over 2% of global emissions.
So do I love clean hydrogen? Yeah. As long as we use it to do something about that problem. But, You know, I, I’ve just done too much analysis on the economics, the thermodynamics, the safety, the human behavior, the history of failure of hydrogen to live up to its promise, to just postulate it as a solution for everything.
But that enrages some people extraordinarily. I mean, I dunno. Why, why do you think it’s so po polarized? Maybe you can answer the questions. I’m also mystified. How deep the
passions are. Yeah, it’s, for me, it’s a, it’s a, it’s shocking that it’s so polarizing cuz I have 10, I have a nuanced take on hydrogen.
It’s not a silver bullet for everything. It’s gonna be a solution for very specific use cases. Like for me it makes sense for energy storage in some fashion, but it doesn’t seem to be the silver bullet for heating homes and for, you know, the future of all cars and EVs and all that kind of stuff. It doesn’t make sense for necessarily every sector.
And I think. People tend to find their tribes, they tend to find their. The thing that they back the thing that they like. And so either you’re pro hydrogen, which means you’re for hydrogen for everything, or you hate hydrogen. Cuz it, it’s only, the only, only the yellow oil companies care about hydrogen. So you’re anti oil and anti oil companies so you, you hate it.
So I don’t think there’s this kind of gray area mentality for a lot of people out there. And I think it’s just kind of human nature. But it’s, it’s kind of for what I do as a content creator, it’s very, it’s, I struggle cuz a lot of times there’s this nuance and you try to put out that nuance, take on something or describe something in a very specific way and then you end up getting hate from both sides cuz you don’t make
But it’s funny cuz I think that the two tribes are hydrogen for everything iss, which are, you know, and, and those are the kind of hydrogen economy, hydrogen world, hydrogen Swiss army knife. And then I think the other tribe is the nuances, right? Because, you know, it’s very hard to argue we don’t need any hydrogen and it’s very hard to argue that we’re gonna have like battery plug-in transatlantic aircraft, you know?
So, so there’s clearly some stuff, uh uh, so the nuances are like, yeah, that makes sense, that makes sense. But the all or nothing artists try and portray us as aunties. And I think that that’s the, that’s where things go a bit kind of off track because. You know, the, so that polarization, I don’t think there’s anybody out there who says no clean hydrogen ever for anything.
I don’t think that that group actually exists.
Well is if, if you looked at the comments on my hydrogen videos, there are people that say hydrogen just no way doesn’t make any sense. And I find that very interesting that some people have a very black or white view of topics like this.
But, but are they, are they really referring to hydrogen across the board or are they just referring to hydrogen cars or hydrogen heating?
Because I mean, are, are they, are they anti fertilizer? Do they want, you know, three, four, 5 billion people to die? Because there’s, I’m anti hydrogen. We shouldn’t be using it at all.
Yeah, it’s a good question. I don’t know. It’s like YouTube comments, it’s like they just drop a sentence and it’s kinda like, it’s hard to read into like, are you actually against this or just this specific use of it.
So I’ve said that I think that this, you know, cycle pretty much probably takes us through towards 2030. I cannot see how we are really going to deprogram the hydrogen for everything is the Swiss Army knifes. I don’t think that we’re gonna be able to deprogram them. Um, what’s really gonna do that is project failure.
Um, so, you know, there are now 40 reports. Say that hydrogen and heating just makes little or no sense. I mean, it might be a kind of tiny niche thing or whatever, but fundamentally, it’s really stupid. There’s 40 reports. You could have 400 reports. The people who want it, either because they’re romantics and think it’s wonderful or because they hate.
You know, the idea of a heat pump cuz they flunked physics or whatever it is. Or because they own a gas pipeline. And that’s a big piece of the people who, who, um, you know, are really in favor of hydrogen heating. Actually, funnily enough own gas distribution assets, they’re not gonna be proven wrong by some report or by 10 reports or a hundred reports.
They, they’ve actually got to try and dig up a street and try it and fail and, and then we’ll get, we’ll move on. That’s, that’s a good
point. The, the kind of, it’s related to hydrogen a little bit, but I feel like there’s a similar conversation around nuclear that’s similar to this where it’s, you’re either a pro-nuclear, cuz I, I can’t tell you, I’ll do a video on.
Solar panels or a wind turbine or something you can do for your house that has to do with solar. And there’s always comments that say, just go nuclear in everything.
Oh boy. This is gonna be a popular episode of, uh, of, of both of our, uh, channels. Because, you know, we’re talking hydrogen, we’re talking nuclear, we’re talking crypto, we’re talking like we get all the buzzwords we’re gonna get hammered from all sides.
No, I think, I think that that’s right. And the, the issue with. Nuclear is, look, it’s already a polarized debate going back, you know, many decades, you know, with Germany trying to exit nuclear, uh, and, and can almost not, people can barely remember why they were so anti-nuclear now given, you know, Putin’s invasion of, uh, of Ukraine.
But there is something about the pro nukes is that instead of saying, you know, Hey, it’s a big world. There’s lots of energy demand. Let’s have some nuclear as well, which is. Kind of, you know where I am and certainly we should keep what we’ve got and I’m happy to spend a bit of money trying to build some new ones.
Who knows, maybe it’ll work, maybe not economically, but the pro, far too many of them, one. Think that nuclear is the whole answer, which is just manifestly stupid, right? For all sorts of reasons to do with very simple, first of all, the economics. But secondly, what happens when there’s a fleet failure situation, like a car recall, you know, when the Teslas are recalled, uh, all at once.
That happens from time to time, but you know, if you are nuclear, Plants fail at once. Then you get the situation we had in France over this summer where there’s a real shortage of electricity. Extremely risky, but they postulate all, you know, number one, they postulate it’s nuclear all the way and only nuclear, but also they manifest it by attacking other solutions.
They attack other. So instead of, so it’s like, look very simple. There’s Pepsi and there’s Coke. If you wanna sell Pepsi, you don’t buy. You know, the Super Bowl, you know, halftime ads and say that Coke is rubbish. You should not drink coke because it, it tastes like crap and it’s full of sugar. It’s really unhealthy.
You’re not gonna sell any Pepsi by saying those things. Cause everybody knows that fundamentally the two are the same, right? So you can’t sell something. I’m straying into your area. You know, this is consumer psychology, but you know, you, you won’t sell a nu a single nuclear plant by saying that wind and solar are are rubbish.
And yet they do it all the
time. Yes, I, I’ve actually interviewed some people that were doing that. They were bagging on solar and wind energy and claiming that nuclear was cleaner than solar and wind. And I was like, you don’t have to tear down solar and wind to make a case for nuclear at all. It’s like, it can make a case for itself.
It’s a very, there’s some compelling arguments there, but you don’t have to tear the things down. Right? Yeah. You
know, wind, and wind and solar are headed for, you know, 20 bucks per megawatt hour, maybe even 10 bucks per megawatt hour. They’re getting really, really cheap. But they’re intermittent much more energy dense.
It doesn’t take up the same land area. But on the other hand, you know, it’s kind of, you’ve got a supply chain and you’ve got proliferation, and you’ve got waste, and you’ve got the cost and it’s kind of, so it has its own issues. Right. And I don’t, you know, can’t we, can’t we all just get along nicely?
It sounds like, it sounds like your viewpoint then is diversification is kind of a key point.
Oh, diversification, definitely. Cuz I’m a, I’m actually, I’m a resilience haw. And you know, as I say, there’s a fleet failure risk. If every single wind turbine was the same make and model using the same software, that would be a risk even. It doesn’t matter how well it performed. Same with a battery, same with a car, same with a nuclear power station.
And the same hvdc technology, the same inter we, we need to risk diversify and you know, the Ukraine invasion shows. Beyond a shadow or doubt, the need to diversify and some of these things can’t really be predicted. You know, we’ve had, France has threatened to cut off the power to the Channel Islands because of a fishing dispute after Brexit.
Well, right now we are very friendly with Europe, but you know, We kind of have to have a plan B as well, not a, not a fully formed plan B, but what we don’t do is become fully a hundred percent dependent or even 50% dependent on something that we can’t control. Um, you got the same examples in the us.
Do you think kind of taking it back to a broader picture of like the consumer and business to business kind of point of view, what kind of things do you think that policies are having today that are kind of helping to push all of this forward?
It it because the IRA here in the US seems to have had triggered a bunch of stuff that happened. It seems to have triggered Canada to make some changes as well. So it’s like it seems to be having kind of a profound effect, at least here in the us. Oh,
you know, that’s absolutely right. I mean, you, you guys were thrown the very largest rock into the pool and the ripples are kind of interesting.
Um, and I just did a podcast with some of the, there’s somebody developing project to methanate hydrogen, so green hydrogen, and then capturing co2, combining them as as methane, and then shipping them over to Europe as the equivalent of L N G. And the ratio between the subsidies from the IRA that that business model would collect relative to the value of the gas.
I mean, natural gas is two bucks per million. B T U in the US and let’s call it five. At the moment it’s 10, but normally it’s five in Europe and the subsidies are like 60. And that’s because of the ira, uh, the, the Inflation Reduction Act. So there’s some, you know, that, that is definitely a large rock in a, in, in, in what was previously a fairly placid pool.
You know, in Europe we’ve done things differently. I mean, the EU has got a carbon price, a lot of regulation, a lot of sort of, almost like you, you might call it central planning. The UK has split off from that, but frankly is still kind of doing the same things. Japan, I did a lot of work recently. They are, Man, they’re hydrogen mad in Japan at the moment, in terms of their net zero, they’ve committed to 2050, but when you look at the plans, it’s like, oh, hydrogen for this.
Hydrogen for that hydrogen for transport, hydro. And, and of course they don’t, they can’t do, they can’t interconnect electrically with their neighbors. Well, they’re one of their big neighbors, you know, biggest neighbors, China, they’re not correctly, they don’t wanna become dependent on, yeah. So I think policy is still pretty heavy handed.
It is driving the sector forwards, not exclusively. Economics is doing a lot and security concerns are doing a lot. But the policy and, you know, the ira, that IRA story is not finished just because it’s so distorted. Something has to happen there.
Yeah, I mean that’s on a B2B kind of view, it’s like even on a consumer point of view, it’s like it’s in the US it’s lengthened.
The time that you can get that 30% tax rebate for getting solar in your home. Geothermal systems, ev credits,
it’s really heat pumps. The, the, the IRA provides a big slug of money, 4 billion plus for heat pumps. Yes,
it’s massive. I’m, I’m a big fan of heat pumps. I think we should be heat pumping all the things.
It just makes so much sense. I do have one question about Japan, cause that’s been. Nagging at me. Like, why are they so in on hydrogen? Is it because it’s like their only way to do kind of energy independence? Is that the way they’re viewing it? Like why, what is it with hydrogen in Japan? So
I called hydrogen earlier, a faith-based technology.
I think in Japan there’s an element of it being a savior. Technology. You know, 1973, first oil crisis caught Japan completely exposed, right? Because they don’t have, uh, the domestic supplies themselves. And, you know, then the, the along came these brilliant engineers and brilliant everything, and they, and they were like, you know, hydrogen can actually save us.
We can actually do nuclear electricity, make hydrogen, and we can then run transportation and we can do all the things. We can run our economy. So, you know, then of course you had the oil price dropped again, and, and you were, that was the first hydrogen, I don’t wanna call it bubble, but you know, boom, bust cycle.
There was another one around 2000. Again, Japan heavily involved. But that was, yeah, that was almost like tech that was driven by all of the tech and the internet and and so on, more than energy security issues. I think what’s happening in Japan though, is some of those original hydrogen, I don’t know if I’m allowed to say Young Turks.
This is the expression for kind of the brilliant, the most brilliant young thinkers and drivers. They’re kind of now still running the ministries and they’re still very, very influential. And you know, they don’t, they haven’t kind of caught up with the fact that batteries just had this huge spurt of development and so did renewables.
And so actually there is an alternative for Japan, which is a lot of offshore wind. As much solar as you’ve got space for some geothermal and so on. Nuclear switch back on the ones you’ve got, maybe do some others. And you know, import hydrogen just for the one you mentioned, which is long duration storage, hydrogen or ammonia for long duration storage.
There is this solution. But they’re almost like, it’s, it’s very hard for somebody to tell these, I, I dunno if I can say these like older young Turks, that it’s time to kind of move on and, you know, you’ll get things like, they’ll say to me, you know, but Michael, if you are right that fuel cell cars are not gonna be a thing.
You don’t know how many jobs there are in Japan associated with the internal combustion engine. Just, there was an announcement yesterday about these Yamaha and, and so on ponder getting together to do. Small combustion engines, hydrogen combustion engines for motorcycles and other things. And partly, partly it’s like, well, if you don’t do that, what do you do with all those jobs?
But, but you know, physics doesn’t care about jobs. If, if the battery solution’s just gonna be better physics and microeconomics and so on, if that’s the better solution, those jobs are gonna go. They can go to Chinese motorbikes, Chinese cars, European cars, or they can go to Japanese made ones. But you can’t just hang onto them because it would be like a better, you know, a better universe if the laws of physics were slightly different.
It’s funny cuz it’s like EVs seem to have taken on, have captured the zeitgeist. And it’s clear that they’ve kind of like passenger cars. That’s where it’s going. And it’s, for me, it’s so sad to watch Japan seem to like they’re, we’re passing them by and it’s like they’re still holding onto that hope for hydrogen, for for cars, which to me just looks so foolish.
It’s like, In five years, it doesn’t look like it’s gonna be
good for them. I, I agree. And, you know, I’ve been on calls with, with, uh, with groups of Japanese business people. I’ve said, look, I’m a huge, huge friend of Japan, but I look at it and you wanna have a car industry around fuel cells, which people are not buying.
Right. That’s the, that’s the fact. Look, look at the data. They’ve been around long enough to know if they’re gonna work on it. You’ve got steel you want to make based on imported hydrogen. Well, yeah, but you know, you are gonna import the hydrogen from Brazil and Australia. And the iron ore from Brazil and Australia, then you’re gonna do something, you know, and that costs a huge amount of money.
And then you’re gonna compete and try and, you know, you’re gonna make the steel and compete with those, those source countries. It’s not gonna happen. And then you’ve got ammonia co-firing or, or synthetic methane in their electricity system. You are going to be energy uncompetitive on a grand scale. It’s really scary.
You know, slightly similar for South Korea to be honest, and Germany. It’s funny that you bring
up Australia cuz it’s, that’s one of the countries. I keep looking at that every time. Determine where the topic is. It always seems like Australia is doing something really interesting with solar or energy storage techniques and batteries, different kinds of batteries and hydrogen systems and it’s, they seem to be kind of on the forefront.
Do you see that as well?
Australia’s an interesting one because yes, they are doing interesting things and they’ve certainly got, you know, the resources to do that, but they’re coming from a pretty troubled. Starting position, you know, this is a country that has got, you know, It’s got natural gas, cheap, really cheap natural gas.
It’s got uranium, it’s got coal, it’s got sun. It’s got wind, it’s got brilliant, it’s got fantastic universities full of smart people. In fact, professor, I think it’s Professor Green, one of the real pioneers, real, real pioneers of, uh, of solar technology. And they’ve got lots of money in savings cuz they have these pension funds, the super funds.
So they’ve got cheap money, they’ve got absolutely everything. And yet, They have some of the mo, in fact, it’s pretty much the most expensive electricity in the developed world. So it’s like, how do you do that? That takes real political talent to get it wrong that badly. So they have to sort of, I think they’re coming good.
And it’s a really interesting test case, what they can do. There’s no question worth watching. But, uh, but I, I worry about their, their, and their politics is also this polarization that we talked about in, in sort of hydrogen world. They’ve got that between, you know, the kind of. Coal lights and the green and the clean energy lights and I’m not sure where it is today, but a couple of years ago it was really
It’s funny cuz it’s like whenever I, in my videos I talk about my experience with solar in my homes, I get so many comments from people in Australia just shocked at how much I paid for my system. Cuz they’re always like, oh, to get a 10 kilowatt system here is like incredibly cheap. And I’ve always been like, why is it so cheap to get solar there?
And it’s so expensive over here.
Yeah. Soval, talk about your home. I’m really fascinated cuz I, I, I sort of, I’ve, you know, I’ve seen your unit sort of popped up here and there, and I know bits of it, I know bits of the story. But tell us the, tell us the foundation story and tell us what you’ve got actually powering and, and in your home.
Yeah. Well, my current home, I have solar panels and a Tesla power wall, but I’m building a new net zero home. Where I’m kind of practicing what I preach, I guess. It’s like I’ve been talking about all these different technologies and how we can make our homes better. So I’m building a home out around that.
So I’m trying to build a super energy efficient, super insulated, super airtight, passive house level, quality home that’s gonna be powered by a solar and have home energy storage. So I can try to get to that net zero energy over the course of a year of my house. It’s been. Quite a journey. It’s been, I’ve been working on this now for a couple of years and I’m hoping to be able to move into the new house in the next few months.
But it’s, it’s been a, it’s been a learning journey along the way. Cause I’ve never built a house. I’ve never gone through this. So it’s been a interesting experience.
And, and whereabouts, what’s your, where are you in the us Let me get an idea for, what’s your weather system or what’s your weather? I’m in Massachusetts.
Massachusetts. Massachusetts, okay. Ooh, so it can get really hot, but it can also get really cold and it can get really kind of blowy as well, right? Very,
yeah. In the winter it gets, I, I’m gonna talk on Fahrenheit, sorry, I apologize to anybody that’s gonna be in the Celsius camp, but it’s like, you know, zero degrees Fahrenheit, 10 degrees Fahrenheit, and then in the summertime it can get up into the nineties so it can get pretty, pretty warm and steamy here and humid.
I was at Harvard Business School, so I know the, I know these conditions well, and I can translate it into centigrade. That’s very, not very many centigrade and then very many centigrade during the, uh, summer. Uh, I mean, we’re talking about, you know, what is it, zero, be like minus twenties and, and then up to, you know, up into the forties during the summer.
So it, it can really get to extremes. That’s really interesting. But now you said that you’re going net zero during the course of the year, so you’re not really going zero. Not
going truly zero cuz it’s like I, it’s like I’m not gonna go off grid where I can totally supply all of my power on my own financially to do that.
So you’ll be fine. You’ll, so you’ll connected to the grid? Yes. Uh, and you’ll be fine as long as. Somebody on, uh, Massachusetts PGM electricity market. As long as somebody there has got some gas generators and has got some nice, uh, safe, resilient natural gas, you should be fine. Right? Yeah. Yeah. And, and then you’ll dump some solar back in, maybe some wind when it’s convenient to you.
It’s not really. It’s kind of a bogus zero, right?
Well, it’s not a bogus zero, it’s, it’s just one of those, I’m trying to obviously offset some of my costs over the course of the year, and it’s also then at the same time here in New England, it’s like we can lose power in the middle of winter. So having an energy storage system for the middle of winter in case like, Power lines get knocked off and I’m not producing my own solar.
I can at least have energy that can kind of carry me through those short blackouts that might last half a day or a day or something like
that. Yeah. So I’m being cheeky calling what you are doing bogus. Zero. Because the way I see it is this what we should be doing, right. On the consumer level, we should be doing what we can.
Whatever we can, right? Yeah. But there are certain things we cannot do. Right. And, and then what we need to do is, Act systemically on our politicians or, you know, maybe in the work that I do with investors or with innovators, and try and create the solution. So, you know, uh, you, you can only do what you can do affordably and conveniently and, and technically, but what the bit that needs to be filled in then is pushing your, your representatives to say, well, I don’t want gas to be used during.
You know, the, during the winter when the wind drops in Massachusetts, let’s find some other, I don’t want natural gas. I want, let’s find some other solution. So it’s kind of like a, a two level thing that we need to be doing, I think. Yeah,
I agree. It’s like I, I’ve reheard this term for the first time, just recently, a prosumer like I.
As somebody with solar panels on my home, I’m a pro-sumer. It’s like I’m not just consuming, I’m also contributing to the grid. So in the summertime, I’m producing a lot of extra energy that goes in. In the wintertime, I might might use a little bit more. I’m doing my part for the community, being part of the grid, helping to supply extra energy for the utility.
I. But also here in my, in Massachusetts, I’m participating in a virtual power plant system, which I find those systems super exciting cuz it’s like the utility can actually tap into my battery along with hundreds or thousands of other home batteries to help do peak shaving during the summertime. When people come home from work and air conditioning’s running and they’re cooking their dinners, it’s like it can help save the utility energy.
So it’s, it’s got this kind of nice give and take being kind of a prosumer on the grid that I really like.
I think it’s a really nice thing to not just nice, it’s beyond nice. It’s, it’s, it’s really interesting. Uh, the economics of it is great, right? Because it’s all about using those assets better than when you’re producing solar and you don’t need it.
Get it to somebody else who’s gonna pay for it. And so the, the asset utilization, it should make enormous economic sense. The issue though is that we, we are in the developed. World use far more energy than we could produce from the roofs. I mean, I dunno how big your place is, but you know, I doubt that it could produce enough.
So you, the pro, the produce piece is much smaller than the, than the consumer or the consumer piece. And you are a net energy importer. I’m afraid. Matt, probably, almost certainly. And that leaves. That leaves the timing issue that we talked about, that, you know, you may produce it at a wrong time for when it’s needed, but also that there’s a net import.
I mean, I’m just, I guess if I was trying to be difficult and, and nasty, I would say you’re kidding yourself, right? Because you produce it the wrong time of the year and you don’t produce enough. And that’s why I think it’s really important that we also bear in mind, we have to act at the systemic level.
Oh, I, I, I agree completely. It’s like that’s part of the reason why I’m. Like when you talk about solar energy storage is a must for any kind of solar installation or wind kind of thing, but it’s like, Diversification. I’m kind of that same camp. It’s like, we need more nuclear, we need more wind. I’m talking grid scale.
I’m not talking about it for homes. It’s like, so a combination of me as a prosumer with changes we’re making at a more systemic level, broadly, I think that’s the way that we move. Our energy systems forward. It’s not one or the other. It’s gotta be both. You didn’t
give us the origin story that I asked for.
Right. Okay. Uh, so was it like one amazing gadget that you found and you thought, Hey, you know, this is sh this is so fantastic. Uh, and, and then you got drawn in, or was it, you know, what came first? The sort of the, the idea of getting to net zero or was it a gadget or was it a, you know, was it your, where does it all come from?
It’s a, okay, this is the slippery slope that I went on. It kind of started with, I was fascinated by EVs, wanted to get an ev. So it’s like when you have an ev suddenly it’s kinda like, oh, well I don’t wanna have to pay for the electricity necessarily that I’m putting it in my car. How can I offset that cost?
Cuz the car uses so much electricity, your electric bill goes up. How can I offset that? Oh, I wanna get solar. Okay, then you get solar. It’s like, oh, well I’m putting all this energy back into the grid that might not be getting my full credits for, how can I take advantage of that? Oh, I wanna get a battery now.
Cause I wanna store as much of the energy as I can so I can use it. So it’s like, it just starts with this slippery slope of. Finding the best way to make use of the energy that you have and what you need. As well as then in your house, you’re like, oh my gosh, I’m wasting all this electricity. And then you wanna track how much energy is being used in your house.
Like I have a smart electric panel, cuz I became obsessed with knowing where is the electricity going in my house? I want to know how I’m using it.
Well, I was just, I wanted to ask that, you know, is there somewhere like this kind of nuclear power station control room full of screens where, you know, everybody else in the household goes to bed and, and, and Matt sort of pulls up his chair and he is got his, you know, donuts and beer or whatever, and you sit there and you start looking at all these screens and Yeah, I do
have a dashboard that he created.
I have a smart home, so I have a dashboard that I created. I can look at. My water usage, my energy usage, what circuits are using, what I can, I can see everything in my home for like where it’s going, what it’s going to, and it’s helped me track down things of like, I had a rogue dehumidifier that I had set up to like run in the garage to keep it from getting all too moist.
And I realized it was running like way more than expected and it was like, Wasting incredible amount of energy. So it’s like finding little things like that, that you can just adjust really quickly to kind of cut
back, uh, the, the stories you hear from people who have actually gone to the effort of trying to monitor.
I met somebody who was really quite experienced with this stuff and then started monitoring. Started monitoring, started monitoring, was absolutely mystified, absolutely mystified. Couldn’t understand the meter readings and this and that and the other, and realized that his utility had been sending for years.
His neighbor’s bills to him and his bills to his neighbor?
No. And only discovered it when he couldn’t get rid of those rogue, those rogue sources of demand, which were not, they weren’t in his house, they were somewhere else. Wow. That is
Oh, wow. So let’s do that bit where we kind of say, okay, we’ve talked about 20 years ago and these cycles, we’ve had the, you know, the, the clean tech cycle, the renewable cycle, the EV cycle.
You’ve pulled them all together in your home and we are where we are with the IRA and so on, but. But what about, you know, what happens next? You’ve got a, you know, another five years work, probably snagging your new home. But, but where will the world be in five years and maybe we could look at 20 years?
What do we think? Oh, wow.
That’s a, that’s a tough question. It’s like, in the next five years I think there’s gonna be an a big surge of how much people want to provide for themselves. I think there’s a desire for energy independence. So I think there’s gonna be a lot of more interesting products for the consumer on the market for.
Batteries and energy storage systems that you can add not just to a house, but to an apartment. Like I think there’s gonna be a a, a growing number of those kind of things that people can get. That to me seems like where it’s gonna be going is energy storage. Seems like it’s gonna be a big, big key player because you can cost shift, like time use rates for your utility.
You have a little battery that you put in your apartment and you can help kind of. Change when you’re using the electricity and where you’re pulling up from the grid to save yourself energy in your bill, which helps to shift when the energy’s being used from the grid, which helps the grid and its stability.
It’s like there’s like this benefit that comes from just energy storage. So I think in the next five years, that’s one of the things I’m kind of keeping an eye on.
And do you think people will be doing this stuff for themselves or are we gonna see kind of lots and lots of new service providers of people saying, look, I kind of, I get it and I want it, but you know, I’m busy, but oh look, somebody’s knocking on the door, putting a flyer through, and you know, will we have new service providers that, that are user friendly, that are, that take other people on the journey?
Or is it just a whole bunch of mats kind of in their, in, in their control rooms?
For right now, I think it’s a whole bunch of mats, but I do see a point at which. There could be, utilities might provide some of this stuff on their own because it, it helps the utility out. So it’s like they could basically like lease you this energy storage unit they put in your house.
And for me as a consumer, it costs me nothing. They maintain it. If something goes wrong with it, they’ll fix it or replace it. So it’s like, I think there’s gonna be a point at which some of these utilities or third party services that layer into it are gonna become bigger and bigger For sure.
I think heat as a service, but it’s really gonna be kind of comfort as a service, you know, in an ideal world, cuz I, my house is too complicated.
I, by the way, I also have Crazy House, the one I’m in right now, which has been written up in The Economist and the Financial Times. It’s not net zero, but I did 12, you know, innovative technologies and the the punchline. Is that, I’m actually just about to rip half of them out because it was way too complicated.
And we have a solar and we’ve got a heat. We got, we got a solar and a heat pump. We got a fuel cell. Yeah. I’m the guy with uh, micro c h p. Oh yeah. Wow. And passive ventilation, which is great. And uh, you know, but anyway, some of it’s coming out. We’re just gonna go to a single heat pump. Should I give you my five year?
Yes. What’s your, what’s
five year look? Well, so I dunno if it’s quite a five year, you know, maybe it’s a five to 10, that window. But I have, and I’ve written about this, I still write for Bloomberg, the electrification of heat. So we’ve seen renewables really start to take off and do, uh, uh, you know, o one of these curves.
Right? Sorry for those on the listening on a podcast, I’m sort of pointing at the ceiling. We’ve seen EVs doing a similar thing, really breakout of the kind of one 2% going through 5%, 20% and beyond. I think electric heating is the next one that’s gonna pop. And I don’t mean just in the home, I do mean heat pumps.
We see that already, you know, growth rates of 30, 40% worldwide in, in heat pump, uh, no 30, 30, 40% in Europe, and you know, substantial growth worldwide, but also in industrial heat. Because the more you look at how do you solve industrial processors, the more you realize that it’s just so much more elegant to do it with electricity.
Not just in terms of it can be clean and net zero, but also the processes become more controllable. You find all the energy efficiency opportunities because, you know, give a man a fish and uh, he’ll heat up the whole kitchen and half the house frying it. Right? You give a man a microwave and a fish and a fish, and he just heats up the fish.
And the, the difference is gas heating versus microwave heating. So we’re gonna see that, I think, right across the economy. And, and so the, the thing that I predicted is half a trillion dollar market for electrical heating and cooling could take, you know, five, seven years. If it’s just heating or talking about it probably take, well, like 15, but it’s all about heat.
Is the, is the next frontier.
Would you think thermal energy storage is part of that as well?
Oh yeah, definitely. I think thermal energy storage AB absolutely is interesting because it’s a lot easier to store warm water than to store, you know, electricity and a, you know, a lot easier, a lot cheaper, a lot safer.
And you know, I. Hot water is something we have everywhere, right? We have warm water in every, every, pretty much every home, you know, every shopping mall, every, there’s all, it’s all over the place, and it’s completely an underutilized resource. And we’re gonna digitize. And that’s another, you know, easy forecast.
We’re gonna digitize everything. The, the, you know, the, the stuff that happened to media and telecoms when I was working in media and telecoms, you know, 20 years ago, that’s happening now in assets and every single asset is gonna have its own kind of, you know, I was gonna say its own website, but its own IP connection, and that opens up opportunities for heat storage, not just because we can do thermal batteries using phase change materials, but just using our, using the heat, the, the heating of water or the heating of our homes as a flexible storage resource, a hundred percent.
awesome. Yeah. I, I, I, thermal energy storage has got, captured my imagination over the past six months or a year. It seems like that’s a a, a sector that’s gonna kind of blow open from
everything I’m seeing. So not only do I have a micro c h p fuel cell in this house, I also have thermal storage.
I’ve got some phase change materials. Oh, awesome. In the walls of the top few floors.
So you have thermal, you have the energy, the insulation, the, yeah.
So I, I, I, I’m, I’m channeling my inner mat here talking about my, my attempts to do a very, very low carbon house. So what I’ve got in this house, the top two floors get very hot, uh, even in London.
It does get into the, not into the, maybe not into the nineties, but into the eighties. I don’t, I in, in Fahrenheit, you know, get, it can get to 30 degrees and the top floors, you know, the sun beats on them. So I thought phase change materials. You’ve got this wallboard with the phase change materials. These microbeads, they melt when they get hot.
So they absorb lots and lots of, what is it? It’s the latent energy of melting of that they absorb. And then during the night, you throw the windows open, right? It cools down. You throw the windows open and those little microbeads re solidify. And so it all stays, you tune it stay at 21 degrees. So the whole thing should stay at 21, right?
Should I tell you what the problem is? Hmm, throwing the windows open right in Notting Hill Gate in London is not a thing because you’ve got opportunistic burglars. People can walk along the, you know, the, the roof line. And so every window has got two locks on it, on each side, four locks. Opening the windows, throwing them open takes 45 minutes so you don’t do it.
And so you never cycle. You just end up, you know? So there you go. That’s thermal storage. 1.0 fail. For me.
I’ve been wondering how that kind of installation works in practice. It sounds really promising, but in practice it may not work for every situation.
I think if I had better ventilation, cuz what I did, I did a vast amount of insulation because I, I saw the problem was of this is an 1865 house.
It’s leaky, I’m gonna close every air gap and I’m gonna insulate the front and back. I’m hoping that the neighbors are a datic i e, the same temperature as me, but I insulated huge amounts and closed all the air gaps. And of course, the problem. And with climate change, it’s gonna get worse. Is the, the real, the the time when the house is horrible is not in the winter.
In the winter it’s fine, but it’s the summer. Mm-hmm. Not enough ventilation. And so the temperature soars and it gets stuffy and it’s horrible. And I got, so if I had good ventilation that I could purge through, then maybe the phase change will sort of come into. And that’s one of the things we’re doing in the works, uh, that is just starting.
We’re just about to start works to fix some of this stuff.
Right. That’s, that’s funny. That’s, that’s good to hear that your experience with that. Cause I’ve been fascinated by that of like what, how it actually plays out. Yeah, I
think it’s promising. I mean there are some companies now making, you know, thermal storage in a box.
I wrote about them in the recent piece for Bloomberg Teo in the uk. There’s one called, um, sun Amp up in Scotland. And they do these things kind of ref, because when you have a heat pump, you want it basically to run very close to 24 7. You know, you want it to, you wanna drop the temperature right down so that it produces, because then it’s very efficient.
But then somebody wants to run a bath and it’s like, whoa, where’s that gonna come from? You know, you have to put a huge heat pump in to run a bath in real time. Mm-hmm. But then it’s not efficient cuz then it’s cycling on and off. It’s too big and then it’s off and then it’s too big and then it’s off. So what you can do is actually use one of these thermal storage systems to sort of charge itself up, trickle charge, and then when you run the bath, boom, there you go.
You’ve got your hot water, you know, it can immediately produce hot water at, you know, 45 degrees. Whatever you need. In
a very small It’s cool stuff. Yeah. In a very small size, in a very small compact box. I’m assuming it’s
pretty small. I mean, look, you are in America, so you would sort of laugh if you saw even the size of the bathtub would probably, you’d think that that’s inadequate.
But uh, yeah, they’re pretty small and of course they scale. Everything’s modular. Everything can scale. So yeah, the, um, I mean these things that could, you know, handle the hot water requirement of a house or the other thing it can do is load shift between when the electricity’s cheap. At night and when it’s not, maybe in the morning or the evening or, or, you know, midday when it’s all solar, you can charge these things up and, and yeah, they’re about the size of a small refrigerator of an inadequate American refrigerator or a normal European, you know, small refrigerator.
In America we like things big. Yeah. Well you get big
thermal storage then.
Yeah, exactly. This has been a really great conversation. Is there something else that you, you wanna touch on? No, I
think it’s, it has been really interesting. I think it’s just the sort of bouncing around these ideas, you know, what can the consumer do and what can the, uh, you know, what, what has to happen at the systemic or the energy system.
I think it’s really, that’s, that’s such an interesting space to be operating in. I don’t know. You know, I’m sure we could talk about like, You know, financing models, consumer finance models, there’s so many other things we could talk about. I, I dunno if you, anything else if you think, uh, about that you work on, that you’ve not shared.
actually a good thing about the financing cuz like, I’ve been going through that myself of financing in my new solar and energy storage system in my new house. And it’s not, it doesn’t seem very consumer friendly from that point of view because it’s ex one, it’s expensive. Two, most of the incentives are things that are like tax rebates that come later and only benefit you if you earn a certain amount of money every year.
So it’s like there’s these incentives that don’t seem to be as equitable as they should be. Is it the same thing that you’re seeing where you live and other areas? So
right now we are just traumatized because we’ve had this incredible energy price spike because of. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. And also by the way, it was happening, it was starting to happen at the back end of Covid as this kind of wall of pent up demand hit these broken supply chains.
So right now it’s kind of like I. Subsidies all the way down in energy in Europe. And so that’s kind of stifled some of the innovation that I would like to see and that I would hope to see on the consumer side of energy solutions. I’m on the UK energy efficiency task force. I’m not on the domestic side of it, but there’s definitely a whole work stream around, around innovative finance, green mortgages, green savings product, and I think that’s really, you know, important cuz it’s really fascinating.
I could invest as a, as an individual, I could invest, I could even get a tax advantaged investment in a bundle of energy efficiency assets, right? I advise a bank sdcl that produces such bundles, but I couldn’t invest in a tax advantage way in my own energy efficiency in my house. That’s just wrong.
Yeah, that’s, that seems backwards. The other, the other thing is like you have the incentives. Like when building my new house, there’s all these incentives for the more energy efficient you make it. There’s these different like rebates that you can take advantage of, however, Getting a loan to build a house is a completely different thing because most banks don’t understand, oh, you’re building an energy efficient home.
It might be worth more than a standard built code built home. And so finding a, finding a bank that understood that was actually a huge challenge. Did you manage to find
Yeah, we found one. We got one. But it was, I was surprised at how many banks don’t seem to quite get it, but
there’s so many distortions here.
So somebody will build a really, really nice kitchen. And I say it doesn’t matter that it costs 50,000, a hundred thousand bucks because it’s adding to the value of my house. Right? Yeah. And then you say, well, why don’t you spend 50,000, a hundred thousand on really making the most extraordinary energy efficient, like have no utility bills forever?
And they’ll be like, oh no, that’s a cost.
Exactly, that’s exactly what I was saying. It was kinda like, because it’s not showy, it’s, it’s like it doesn’t add value to the house when it’s like, no, it does add value to the house. You’re not gonna have utility bill. It’s like,
how’s that? No, we’re sorry. We, I’m just keeping a sl one eye on the clock and uh, you know, we said we’d try to be, be off.
We wouldn’t go sort of out, we could do this for hours, I’m sure. Let’s do the 20 years forwards thing. Just very briefly though, optimistic or pessimistic.
I’m optimistic. I’m just, I’m blown away by all the different advances I keep seeing happen. And yes, not all of them are gonna succeed, but like there’s so much that’s happening.
There’s so many brilliant people and people around the world like yourself and people that are advising on policy changes that can really kind of push things forward. I am optimistic about where things are heading. I feel like I’m in the minority though. What about you?
Well, so I’m, I, I would say I’m mainly optimistic, but nuanced in the sense that, you know, climate change is happening.
We are seeing bad effects. So I am enormously optimistic that we can, you know, we’ve bent the curve to the point where emissions are essentially flat and have been for about a decade globally. Not many people know that. They kind of want to believe it’s much that they’re still soaring upwards, emissions.
Concentrations are still soaring upwards, right? But the emissions are flat and I think we can bend the curve and we can probably land this thing at about two degrees of, of climate change. I think 1.5 is out the window. We’re seeing damage. We’re gonna see more damage. But broadly speaking, I think we can end up with a planet that is recognizable.
With an economy that is, you know, somewhat, you know, that is delivering human progress and continues to do that. So I am very optimistic, but at two degrees there are gonna be vulnerable people who’ve suffered and are suffering, and we need to also dip into the justice pockets and, and help those people because we can’t just being an optimist and, and saying, there we go, we’re done.
It’ll all be fine. I can’t do that.
That’s a really good point you’re making that it’s like, for those of us that are not gonna be as pinched as other areas of the world, we need to help those other areas of the world out
a and those in our own part of the world who do not have the ability to protect themselves from the price spikes, from the, and from the, you know, potential climate impact and and so on.
So yeah, it’s a big challenge, but I am optimistic. Yeah. Okay.
So we’re both kind of sorted in the same camp. You got a little more of a nuanced take, which I like. That’s
great. Man, it’s a huge pleasure talking to you. This is great. I’ll really look forward to putting this out on, uh, cleaning up. I dunno if we have to coordinate when it goes out, but, uh, I look forward to also, well basically helping to promote both versions of this conversation.
Yeah. I really appreciate you coming on still to be determined as well. This is fantastic. Uh, it was great talking to you too. You have such a wide array of knowledge. It was great to kind
of pick your brain. Reagan, maybe we should do this again at some point we’ll revisit. And see how much we got, right?
How much we got wrong. What we missed. Yes.
Alright. Thanks very much. You have a good day.
If you’d like to learn more about Michael or listen to his excellent podcast on sustainable energy, Go to cleaning up.live. Thank you so much everybody for taking the time to listen to this episode. As usual, jump into the comments and leave some thoughts.
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