Scott Tinker is the chairman of the Switch Energy Alliance an Austin-based non-profit “dedicated to inspiring an energy-educated future that is objective, nonpartisan, and sensible.” In his second appearance on the podcast, Tinker talks about “Energy Switch,” the new multi-part TV talk show that will begin airing on PBS stations in September, why “molecules matter,” his TED talk on the dual challenge of energy and environment, and how Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is accelerating talks about energy security. (Recorded March 17, 2022.)
Robert Bryce 0:04
Hi, everyone. Welcome back to the power hungry Podcast. I’m Robert Bryce. On this podcast we talk about energy, power, innovation and politics. And I’m pleased to welcome back for his second appearance on the podcast, my friend, Scott Tinker Scott, welcome back to the power hungry podcast.
Scott Tinker 0:20
It’s great to be here, Robert, good to see you again, as always.
Robert Bryce 0:23
So you know, guests introduce themselves. So you have many hats. You’re at the you’re well, I’ll just say you, I’ll give you 60 seconds. Introduce yourself, if you don’t mind.
Scott Tinker 0:36
We academics aren’t very secure. You know, we need a lot of titles in order to feel secure. My day job. I’m the State Geologist at Texas and a professor at UT and Director of the Bureau of Economic Geology, which is the oldest Research Unit at UT been around 113 years now. We do energy, environmental and economic research all over the world. my night job, I started a not for profit, this switch Energy Alliance, we make films, educational films, and energy and short format, long format museums and a lot of things in high schools, etc. A lot of fun. And then like you i babble around the country and sit on boards and things when people are silly enough to ask for my counsel.
Robert Bryce 1:18
And suddenly, I don’t know lately, I don’t know about you, but it’s been busy, there seemed like this big thing. It’s maybe it’s just not a fad anymore. I don’t know. The phone is the phone is ringing you much. So the reason and you’re you’re also the chairman of the switch Energy Alliance. And that’s one of the main things we want to talk about today about a new multi part series you have coming out on PBS, called Energy Switch. And I have to full disclosure, this is a full conflict. I’m all it tons of conflicts of interest here. I’m in one of the episodes of this energy switch multi part series talking about renewables. So I’ve, you know, gotten my conflict of interest out of the way here, but tell me if you’ve done two documentaries, you’ve done a whole lot of other content. Why TV? Why now?
Scott Tinker 2:08
Yeah, it’s interesting. Certain audiences that we tried to reach for sure schools. So we have the switch classroom in K through 12. Now, we got six 7000, teachers and 40,000 kids using that, and it’s just starting to roll but classrooms, K through 12, and college really important. We tried to reach the broader public, we have a museum film, looping on the IMAX at Houston Museum of Science and in the energy Weiss Energy Hall now, and it’s in a row and other museums as well. So that’s a public thing. And but the one that, you know, you struggle to read sometimes this vague thing called the general public, which a term we all use, well, who is that, and we want to reach that educated public, but perhaps not as well educated or knowledgeable about the energy of seeing the real energy scene, not the black and white, clean and dirty, good and bad energy scene, the actual energy scene, which is complicated, solvable, but not simple. So PBS is a great audience for that. It’s an educated listener, and viewer. And we wanted to bring to them a format that seems to be very popular, the talk show format, but rather than me with one person, we have two guests on who and thank you for joining one of those and those guests. They’re educated, they’re civil, they have great dialogue, but they don’t agree on everything by design. Now, we don’t go way out here, you know, in the hinterlands with things that don’t follow physics or economics principles and laws. We stay within one sigma, if you will, around that, but have a good dialogue. And that’s the intention of the Energy Switch. And I think we will have accomplished that. And they look great. You know, it really is, you know, we talked for two, two and a half hours with each set of guests. And we whittled that down to about 24 minutes, half hour episodes, including the intros and outros of content. So it’s really meaty. I think people are going to really enjoy it.
Robert Bryce 4:02
So how many episodes all together then
Scott Tinker 4:05
we filmed 10. But a couple of them were so long winded. Robert,
Robert Bryce 4:12
are you talking about me here? Are you tinker with
Scott Tinker 4:16
that we’re probably well, we’re going to split a couple into two episodes. I mean, they were really meaty though your conversation you had on renewables was a really meaty one. Our dialogue on hydrogen was pretty meaty, too. And nuclear these, these were very fascinating. So we’ll probably end up with about 12 episodes in season one. And we’re already scoping out a season two for August.
Robert Bryce 4:36
Oh, no kidding. So and they’ll scheduled to begin May of 2022. Sometime in that timeframe. But it depends on each PBS station about when they want to air these in. So it’s not you can’t say firmly for it’s going to be national, but it’ll be the local PBS stations that decide when they air them.
Scott Tinker 4:53
Yeah. Kol Are you in Austin, who’s seen and agreed to run it? They know the producer director very well Harry Lynch. My partner of all things switch. Right carry actually actually has a, a series on the national PBS satellite called now hear this on classical music. There’s only 15 things on the national satellite for PBS. And he’s one of those 15 known well, he feels this is going to be just as impactful as that, or perhaps even more in a different way. So what that’s the way it works is one station runs something and then they pushed out to national affiliates, and they see it and say, That’s really great. And that’s how it happens. We’re hoping for that.
Robert Bryce 5:30
Gotcha. Hey, would you mind? Do you have a game button or a game? Dial on your mic? If you can just turn it down? Just a little bit? As Do you have what again? Function they’re not? Yeah, might Is that better is just to just to tear just a hair lower. We kind of justice in post, but I just want to so
Scott Tinker 5:48
let me let me try one thing.
Robert Bryce 5:50
I think that’s, that’s okay. So what? So the goal here is really just reaching broader audiences. You, you and that was the whole genesis of switch Energy Alliance, you started this one, your first documentary was 2012. Right? Does 10 Year 10? Is that right?
Scott Tinker 6:06
Yeah, we released it in 12, film, the nine and 10, post and 11. As you know, these things take a while. So we’ve been at this, Gosh, 13 years now, for the not for profit. Robert, when we made our second film, we’d had a lot of content out there. But I said to Harry, he was making beautiful series on mental health at the time. And I said, Boy, we left off half the world. There, it was folk folks without much or any energy. So we made switch on and did it. Again, five different six different countries for that film, and form the 501 C three at that time.
Robert Bryce 6:41
So then just bring us up to date then. So you had the first film was switch on and then the second one was? first film was switch. Oh, the first switch switch and then switch on. I know. Okay, I wrote a review of switch on I’ve forgotten now. That’s three years ago, I guess something like that. We released
Scott Tinker 6:57
it in 20. Early 2020. Okay, all right. Yeah, so it’s had, but a lot of several series we’ve got out there now on energy poverty, a seven episode series and auto primers in one on ones and over 300 films on our switch on website, different lengths, and the switch Energy Lab, which is 29 episodes of me and a goofy white lab coat and glasses doing energy experiments that’s used on campuses everywhere. Yeah, how’s the battery really work? We make a battery? And what’s in frack fluid? Proportionally, what’s it look like? So these questions that all the students have, we did a whole lab series on that, and it’s incorporated into our switch classroom, etc. Just a lot of rich content. I think the biggest compliment we get is people that say, and we don’t know your politics, Tinker, where are you? Where are you on all these things? What do you what are you advocating? For? Know? What aren’t you an activist? And I say, No, we are we’re nonpartisan. We’re objective. I’m glad you don’t know our politics, biggest compliment, you could pay us. We have them. Everybody has biases, but we’re actually just trying to give you the pros and cons of critical thinking of all these different things so we can begin to solve them. And I know you’re big on that, too. Let’s look at the data, the science, the economics, the physics and public policy and solve some of these things. Right.
Robert Bryce 8:22
Well, so Well, I know we talked about this, and it was in 2020, when you were on the podcast last and so what drives you? I mean, you’ve been you know, this your I imagine you’re pretty fully employed by the university and as the State Geologist, and this is a whole other sideline. Why why do you care so much?
Scott Tinker 8:42
I don’t know robber. I just, I’m sure
Robert Bryce 8:45
you do. Oh, come on now. Sure. You do.
Scott Tinker 8:48
Oh, it drives me. My kids, and I’m about to have a grandkid next week, first first grandson and, you know, they they’re facing a world that is always interesting and has become recently, publicly unstable. We’ve always known that. But it actually happened again, recently, in a modern settler societies and part of the Russia, Ukraine is an energy story there. It’s a big piece of that as well as Europe, etc. So I’m driven by education and knowledge and people being able to interact and work together trying to, you know, trying to be a little piece of a better world. We all are driven by that. I’ve never was in the private sector. 20 or 1718 years I’ve been here 23. Now, I just think it’s it’s a nice place to be to access governments and industry, and academics and NGOs at the various high, very highest levels. And I do that. I mean, back to the energy switch our guests. One episode was on the geopolitics, we had Ernie Moniz, former Secretary of Energy and Dan Yergin on and these are big thinkers and write the answer In wonderful books and Ernie as a global thinker, terrific conversation. We had Steve Koonin on, Undersecretary under Obama written a wonderful book called unsettled with Mike Greenstone. And Michael is a climate economist at University of Chicago. They talked about the impacts of climate today, in a really candid dialogue that doesn’t seem to be allowed in some places. We had Ken Medlocke from Rice, a great friend for many years and debt buyers and Ernst and Young talking about investing in you know, this was, this is neat dialogue. Where did the dollars flow? And how does that matter? Julio Friedman, who was in the Obama doe, and at Columbia now out in carbon, he calls himself the, the carbon Wrangler, I think, or the hydrogen regulator or wrangler shirt is on the Steve Hubbard, the chief scientist at EDF in a really interesting conversation about hydrogen, you know, and not, do you believe in hydrogen or not? We don’t even use believe words like what what is it? How would we do it? How do you constrain it and contain it? Is it economic? What’s it used for? Why is it color coded? All sorts of things that people want to understand. You know, Billy Peyser, from resources for the future came on with Sasha Mackler, who is at the Bipartisan Policy Center. And they talked about how do we actually pay for co2 emissions? Not can we kept them, but who’s gonna pay for this? Right? And how’s it done? So conversations like that on these different episodes, I think questions people want to hear. These are the top people. But they’re civil. They don’t agree on everything. But we have a rich dialogue. And that is so important. I imagine. That’s why you podcast is to have rich dialogues with people.
Robert Bryce 11:45
Yeah. Yeah, that’s, I know, that rhymes with how I think about what you know what I mean, why I do the podcast? Well, I only have one hurdle do I think this person is interesting? And do I think and, you know, do if they have, you know, a big following? Well, that’s a plus. But to me, it’s more about well, what would I learn here by talking to these people. In fact, I was at South by Southwest today. And I ran into a guy who was just Carter, he just won an innovation award or for a startup. And he’s Sam Haytham. And he’s got a new design for low cost housing. And, you know, that can be rapidly assembled. And I thought he’s gonna be on the podcast, right? Because I just thought, well, he’s an interesting character, right. And it’s not energy and power, but it’s innovation. And that’s. So
Scott Tinker 12:30
my cousin just took a job as kind of head of development for part of Habitat for Humanity. And the goal is to try to get affordable housing for working folks who live near cities and can’t afford to live there anymore, like Austin, Texas, yes, no. And so if he if he can innovate that way, and bring affordable housing that you can bring closer in. So the commute turn is long, and the safety and risks of that, etc, will. Terrific. That’s energy. Right? It all wraps together. And that’s why I’m so fascinated by it had been my whole career.
Robert Bryce 13:03
Right? Well, in that rhymes with what I think about it as well is that it’s just and I’m not, you know, I didn’t didn’t have you on the podcast talking about me, but it’s just that I’m age 61, I finally feel like I’m starting to understand a little bit like, I’m just not, I’m not an idiot about it anymore. But that, but to be able to explain it in a way I think to other people is incredibly important. And I think that this idea about dialogue is really interesting. Let me ask you about Coonan. Because I just met him recently in face to face he’s been on the podcast, but I think his his story in his, the arc of where he’s been in his career, to me is is compelling, just intriguing, and a whole lot of ways and for him to then be going against his own set. Right. And when he was on the podcast, I talked to him about it. You know, he’s from New York. He’s of Jewish heritage, right, a lifelong Democrat and, and yet he feels like his own people, the people that with whom he’s associated politically, his whole career. They’re not part of his set anymore, because he’s come to a different view on climate change, and then is now seen as the APA state, which is
Scott Tinker 14:14
a guy. I’ve known Steve a very long time. Okay, we’re close, close friends. And he was he went from, look, he may have told you may not he went to Caltech at 16, right. He’s always been a scientist. He was Provost there. His late 30s is a brilliant guy, physicist, National Academy adjacent. He was chief scientist at BP to help bring them into new energies. That’s when I was on BP Science Board for seven years. Right. We overlap there with our anemones and others. I’m on shells Science Board now with Steve Chu, and people the same kind of deep thinking. So here comes Steve and he goes to Undersecretary rule first term Obama under two and learns a lot of things. Yeah. starts looking at Seeing the policy and, and and then he comes out of that. And rather than going off into some roles, he goes off to New York and in in to the university and works with, you know, Mayor Bloomberg at the time to see if he can wire up and monitor New York and learn some things. And along the way, Steve’s getting more and more concerned that the impacts of climate change, not the physics of greenhouse gases, you know, which we understand and what they do. But the impacts the actual rate of sea level rise, the actual warming rates, the actual storm intensity, as well as a storm count, drought intensity, etc. Robert, that he seen the data, and I did this same exercise many years ago and gave a talk on it. Looking at the data, he says, well, the trends aren’t what we’re being told, right? So I need to, I need to put this out there. And he’s putting it out there. bold and brave in many ways, and I was, you know, help look at some of the lots of things that Steve writes along the way. I admire him. I admire anyone who gets out there, regardless of the topic and in supports the scientific process of discovery of questioning of, of civil dialogue. You know, tell me why you think that show me your the data, right, let’s have a discussion. I don’t have to be a climate modeler to understand some trends and things. And by the way, Steve was a brilliant physicist and a modeler, he, he did complex multivariate nonlinear, nonlinear modeling of things, right, unlike many people, so I do respect his story. Mike Shellenberger is another guy, you know, with his book pocalypse never. And there are other things out there like that. I don’t agree with all of it. But that’s the point. It’s Aristotle, who said, it’s the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it. And should we be able to entertain these thoughts? We’d have to accept them. But, boy, if we get to a point where we can’t entertain thoughts, and have civil dialogue, critical thinking, we’ve lost the thread, right? That’s why I do what I do. That’s why you do what you
Robert Bryce 17:07
do? Well, then I think to me, it’s, you know, as you saying that the thing that comes into mind, that comes into my head is that his sin, if we can put it in that term is to buck alarmism. Right that the the and that’s the part that I see in the media coverage on the climate issue is, and Roger Pilkey Jr. has been on the guest a guest on the podcast. Well, now, I guess three times pointing out well, a lot of these models are based on the most extreme scenario, RCP 8.5. And that simply isn’t going to happen. Right and the to an intern to believe that it is simply not true. And so that, but the the people who are willing to say, you know, you’re being too alarmist, they get, you know, they get the criticism, and they get, you know, held up for ridicule, and not reviewed in the New York Times, right, which was Coonan. His point was that, you know, I said, these are your people, but he said, Yeah, but I can’t get it, you know, they won’t publish my review of my book. And the times, it’s, there’s a news blackout, and something that I think is very concerning. And this is gonna get back to the thread here in just a moment, but just that the biggest media outlets in this country will not cover for instance, land use conflicts about renewables, they just won’t cover it, right. Like that doesn’t exist, no matter that it’s in New York, in California, whatever. But there are certain subjects they won’t touch because there’s the orthodoxy around these issues become so prevalent,
Scott Tinker 18:25
you know, and Pilkey is another one who’s bold and courageous, I think,
Robert Bryce 18:30
and tenure challenge and tenured, let’s be clear, and tenured. Which the if you ask these guys who are in academia about why they’re able to Well, I have tenure, I’m not gonna can’t fire me. And so I’m tenured.
Scott Tinker 18:43
Also, Robert, yeah, no, I get it. You’re a professor, but, but you can still get canceled by your own, and it doesn’t make your tenure life very comfortable. Yeah. Because you love your point, you would like to interact with and engage with people. I think the thing that I felt when you said that though, you know, whatever level you want to go to RCEP level, at some point, people say, Well, shouldn’t we buy insurance? And this gets kind of to an economics story. Can we will, okay, insurance, but how much insurance would I pay? If I have $100? Home? Would I pay $100 a year for insurance on $100 home per year? Or would I pay 50 or 10? Or maybe maybe a buck for $100? Home? Right? So if I’m going to spend now it’s up to $250 trillion to address climate change, using the insurance analogy, do I multiply that by 100? Is that the value of the impact of climate change? Right, you know, two and a 50 trillion times 100? I don’t think so. I think you could take trillions of dollars and invest them in so many adaptive strategies to help improve the lives of those with no energy. As you know, another big passion of mine is energy poverty. That’s our second film in an hour. Access for All, you can invest in things that that will allow us to continue as humans to thrive, and adapt and reduce environmental impacts across the board, and missions to be sure, but also the land, the air and the water that we value so much, and kind of get left out of this thread. So that’s the conversation in the dialogues that aren’t happening is what’s the value of the cost of the investment? What will it return to us? And how should that be placed? Right? You know, is it mitigative or adaptive strategies, etc, and climate? What are those things do to the land near in the water if we deploy? And one of my favorite topics to like yours, low density energy, you know, PHoslo SMIL is? Let us all there to understand the difference in densities and things and low density stuff, just energy takes a lot more stuff, right? You to mine and manufacture or collect and dump just a lot more stuff. And that has impacts on the land and the water that high density doesn’t. So what are the trade offs? And these are the conversations that aren’t happening well enough at all yet, but they’re starting to. They’re starting to and you’re up and you’re interested
Robert Bryce 21:11
in Energy Switch is aimed at trying to improve that.
Unknown Speaker 21:15
That absolutely. The discussion.
Scott Tinker 21:17
Yeah, absolutely. And we hope it ends up being a series of topical episodes archival, because it’s filmed it’s really high production quality. You were there. Were cameras shoot, right, you know, great sound and lighting, we’ve got makeup and post production, color correction. They are these are very highly produced television episodes, but short format that you can reference. You know, if you’re out there talking to somebody, they say, Well, I just don’t know about hydrogen, go watch that 24 minute episode on hydrogen. It’s a good primer 101 That gets into the meat. And that’s what we hope they become as archival reference points for various
Robert Bryce 21:57
use. Sure. Yeah. So you mentioned energy and environment. You recently did a TED talk was that here in Austin? How many minutes? Did you haven’t? What was the topic?
Scott Tinker 22:07
Well, it’s a TEDx, which UT students put on, but it’s on the TED stage. It’s a big deal they spend all year at boy, it was fun. They were quite nervous. I mean, it was funny. My spirit guide for the day was a young woman who, who a student, you know, she was really nervous. And I was kind of calming her down. She goes, aren’t you nervous? I said, Well, I got 1000 of these. I’m excited. But anyway, you go out on stage 1000 1100, mostly students, they’re in the big 10 stage at the AT and T Center. Lots of different topics at a TED talks in the full day. And mine was the last of the morning and I spoke, I called it the dual challenge. And I spoke about energy in the environment. And the complexities you and I have been discussing a little bit, but he did it this way. I started by saying I have slides as you know, I love animated slides. And this was funny. Ted said, No, you can’t animate these. We just want them static. I said, Well, I’m not your guy. I gave up static slides 15 years ago, okay, I tell my story through animation. And they said, Okay, we can go with it. You get 15 minutes. If you go to 18 Ted will never run it. So that’s your window. And I started by showing a little clip art of my wife. I said, my wife has a food science degree. And she does I said so she knows what food is. So when I grabbed that will buy ice cream at night. I have guilt. I said,
Robert Bryce 23:43
you know how much fat is in there? How many carbohydrates? Yeah,
Scott Tinker 23:46
it doesn’t stop me. But I have knowledge burdened by knowledge. I said, so enter kale, no kale, I love kale salads, and soups and a lot of nutrients and vitamins, but it’s not very dense. I can’t really eat enough kale in a day to get the kilocalories I need for my body, I have to supplement it. So inner cow showed a big steak. That said I love steak too. You know it has protein and maybe some things that aren’t so good. I could get enough calories in a day, but it might not be balanced. So I said maybe it’s maybe it’s team herbivore against Team carnivore. So where are the omnivores in the world, and I put steak and kale that I just had literally the night before in a plate I took a picture of steak and kale. And then we went into well, you could have local solutions. If you cows and a local garden I showed a guy visited Africa with a solar panel lift and water to farm his backyard, but we’re too dense. People are so we need dense solutions. And that’s when I started to get big, dense cow dense ag and then showed agriculture whether it’s feeding our food or livestock or feeding ourselves directly. The pesticides the herbicides the soil, the pollution, the water and the runoff, the emissions, co2 and methane, etc. So these really damage the environment in a big, big way. So I had a brilliant idea of a circle with a slash, let’s end food. And that’s when everybody goes, whoa, I smiled and put a smiley face and we’re not going in food, we got to clean it up, we always have to work to clean up the environmental impacts of food. And then we went to other forms of energy and made the analogies between low density, kale, solar wind, high density, gold, nuclear, oil and gas, some of the challenges of those different things, some of the benefits from economic poverty, and start wrapping it back around towards we’re not going to get rid of energy, we’re not going to get rid of food. And we’re not going to get rid.
Robert Bryce 25:51
And we’re not necessarily going to use less right, which is the other big, you know, the other big claim, right?
Scott Tinker 25:57
It’s growing still, all forms of energy in the world are still growing from coal on up. Not a single form of energy globally is decreasing yet. It is regionally but not globally. So and then I kind of showed my typical scale things, the scale challenge, you know, what, in this whole energy consumptive graph where solar winds, it’s this little slice after 15 years of hard work, and it’s great, it’s going faster than any other form when you zoom in. But that’s a rate. Right? That’s not a not,
Robert Bryce 26:30
not the absolute sum, right. And extra jewels are
Scott Tinker 26:33
right, you know, terawatt hours or barrels of oil equivalent, pick your favorite, whatever. Yeah, it’s not growing. It’s just a little wedge. And this is when everybody began to kind of come in and I showed the reality then of the ties to economic poverty and energy, access for all environmental. Instead, the shaming that’s going on. It’s destructive, to conversation. Nobody owns the truth, we can just seek it. So we have to begin to think about then it’s not simple but solvable. If we kind of start to play as one team, not team solar and wind against Team gas and nuclear one team, they have different roles to play, for sure. And let’s think about how we work together. And that’s how I left it. It was fun. It was
Robert Bryce 27:22
so is it available now or is it not? So how soon will that be available?
Scott Tinker 27:26
They said end of April, they send us things we have to sign and everything. And I haven’t so I’m probably the rate limiter here. They’re probably waiting for me to get off my tuition, right, respond to all the forms and releases and all that kind of stuff, but should be April.
Robert Bryce 27:41
Gotcha. And it’ll be called the dual challenge is that is the title, right so that people can find it on the Google? Well, so let me let’s back up a little bit. So we’ve talked about energy switch and switch Energy Alliance and the station break. Here’s my guest is Scott tinker. He’s the chairman of switch Energy Alliance, you can find out more about him and all of the content, which is a massive amount of content. And over the decade they’ve been producing with his colleagues, with his colleague, Harry Lynch, switch on.org is the location for that. One of the things that I’ve been thinking about now since this Russian invasion of Ukraine, and you know, it’s all upsetting. I mean, it’s just, you know, terrible to watch the, you know, people being killed, you know, just the destruction. But it’s also created a very clear marker, I think, in terms of time with in energy history, and modern energy history. That is, and I guess I’ll ask the question this way, is this going to be seen as something similar to the 1973 oil embargo? Is this? Is this going to be a turning point in terms of how policymakers, consumers look at energy, energy security? How do you see this now? You know, I’m asking you to forecast but how important is this in terms of energy policy, both in Europe and around the world? How much how important? Will it be in retrospect?
Scott Tinker 29:05
Yeah, and this is, it’s a complex dialogue, and I’m there with you. I visited Kyiv in 1982, um, a couple years older than you and after college and went to Russia, Soviet Union for three weeks, and one of the places we spent time was Ukraine. And I just, it breaks my heart. It’s a it was a gorgeous city and very gorgeous, wonderful people. So what’s going on there? I just was hoping we would never witness again in a modern society. Part of it, isn’t it the energy story for sure. Can’t get around that. We have brought it on ourselves in many ways. You and I and our guests on Energy Switch talked about it. You know, what has Europe done there? They have gone down a road and accelerated road toward low emissions energy at the source Solar and wind and batteries, but unreliable, intermittent, and so reliable energy is really resilient energy is the goal of every leader in the world is to get something resilient for its people. Right. and Europe chose otherwise, I think they began to believe the dialogue that it would be both resilient and cheaper. And it’s neither. Now I’m not saying it doesn’t have a role in Europe. It does. Just like in Texas, we have a lot of wind in Texas, and we’re using it, but it can’t be the dominant role. You know, because there’s just too much required to backup the intermittency. That’s expensive. And it’s regressive. So people on the ground in Europe, they’re paying, I just was on the zoom this morning with a good friend of mine in Norway. $20 a gallon for gasoline. People have quit driving to work
Robert Bryce 30:57
$20 A gallon for gasoline,
Scott Tinker 30:59
for gasoline. And he said, and he said, because they have one to charge my electric car on an equivalent mile basis is more.
Robert Bryce 31:12
Scott Tinker 31:13
yes. One of my men, Mr. neighbor, who lives in Sweden, same thing in Scandinavia. So you’re seeing this regressive impact of these choices. Now we can blame the Russian invasion of Ukraine. But this was long before that happened. Right. And a lot of energy scientists, if you will, us have been saying don’t do that. Don’t go that far. Or particularly that fast until you can make sure the systems are stable, and there’s good backup, we get a handle on the economics, etc. So the politics are very interesting. Around this. There, there are passionate people on all sides of the dialogue. You ask the question, you know, what will? What will this do? I don’t know. But I think what it has done, I was at Sara last week and was on one of the co2 emissions and then spoke to a bunch of CEOs kind of privately, it’s going to accelerate a dialogue. It’s forcing us to have conversations about the reality of things security, energy security, sooner than we would have had them. And that’s if there’s a silver lining, that’s a good thing to me. We’re having these dialogues because Nord Stream two oops, you know, it just happened this morning. Somebody put a bill back on the table in the house to build the Keystone pipeline. Okay, yeah. Okay. Will it go or not? I don’t know. But, and we should talk about the pros and cons of that in terms of the environment, security, etc. So but it’s accelerating dialogues. Robert, that’s really important. And I think the dialogues are becoming real.
Robert Bryce 32:59
We’ll see. That’s what that’s what I was. I think that’s my how I see it, as well as that it’s really injected a new sense of energy realism into the system. Right that, you know, I, I’ve said it before, but I when I testified before the Senate last November, I said, What is Europe doing over investing in renewables under investing in hydrocarbons, closing baseload plants and relying too heavily on imports. And, you know, I wasn’t some, you know, forecasting this disaster, but it was clear then. And it’s been ongoing, as you say, for, for years that Europe was driving itself into the ditch and what I hope, and we’ll talk about something else, but it’s just that I hope this is a wake up call for policymakers in the US that we cannot follow this disastrous model, because the energy security implications are just catastrophic. And I haven’t looked at what the price of nat gas in, in the TTF trading hub in Holland is today. But I mean, it’s been running at 10 to 14 times what it is here in the US,
Scott Tinker 33:54
right, and it’s going up here. But this leads to a very fascinating dialogue. Someone might say, if a third party came into our conversation right now, they might say, but climate is such an important existential crisis, the word is used that we have to address it this way. And I don’t argue with that one way or the other. I think the impacts are less than they’re being told at the extreme. I think Steve Koonin did a nice job of describing some of that. But even if that’s happening, you say, Well, how do you afford to invest in the systems that can fix that? How does out as any global citizen, whether it’s extremely impoverished in just barely emerging economies all the way up to the wealthy of us? How do we afford that? The nice part about secure energy is it often follows by secure I mean, available, affordable and reliable. So you build your economies, and it’s the healthy economies that invest in cleaning it up,
Robert Bryce 34:59
right Clean Air, we have to we have to get richer before we get cleaner is another way to put it is that is that you’re going
Scott Tinker 35:06
to scale if you’re going to scale, and not necessarily atmospheric ly, if that’s your only measure, you know, co2 or methane emissions is your only measure of environmental health. Well, you could say, well, the severely impoverished person doesn’t emit much per capita. True, great. Let’s just keep them in severe poverty. Right? There’s your solution. No, you know, they’re starting to come up. And that’s a good thing. We all have to get to a level of economic, health and wealth. So we can begin to invest in the kinds of environmental systems regulatory and policy to clean it up clean air map of the world, go look at it, cleanest air where it’s rich, dirtiest air, where it’s poor, soil quality, rich, poor, right? You know, water, local water systems cleaned up, where it’s rich, not where it’s poor. These are three of the four pillars, and I’ve been in 60 countries, you just see it every single time severe environmental damage, where it’s poor, right, you don’t have the money. And that’s where this dance between energy, the economy environment plays, I call it the Walther three E’s in the radical middle, where they overlap. It’s really where we have to be playing in this conversation. So that this this concept that we have to do all this for climate, will actually Europe, look what’s happening, they’re starting to roll back their climate policies, right, because they no longer can afford them. And the same dialogue in the US, there’s panic now. And we’re the richest places in the world if we can’t afford them,
Robert Bryce 36:50
right. Well, and the rush back to coal, I mean, this is one of the other things that is so remarkable about all of this, it’s what you know, I’ve stolen this idea from Roger Pilkey, Jr. But it’s the iron law of electricity, which is people, businesses and countries will do whatever they have to do to get the electricity they need. And that’s what we’re seeing now, with this with this rush back to coal. But let me get back to the idea about hydrocarbons in Europe because, you know, you’re a trained your PhD geologist, you know, your way around the oil and gas business. I’ve talked with several people since now, the the Russian invasion of Ukraine about Europe’s reaction. And the US oil and gas industry has been built up over now over more than a century, right. And so we have, as I say, the rig rigs, rednecks and REITs we have this incredible system here in the United States that’s been built up over decades that has fostered the growth of when particular the shale shale revolution. So the question is this, the Europeans are now suddenly getting a big dose of energy realism. In there’s a lot of talk in your in the UK, particularly about throwing away the ban on hydraulic fracturing, and in other countries in Europe as well. If Britain or France or Germany or some of the some of these other countries, and France has apparently pretty good shale, there’s clear, clearly large, significant deposits, resource of shale gas in Britain, if they started to drill now, or if they said go today, how long would it be before and the best case scenario before they can get the rigs that read next over there that they could start producing significant quantities of gas for their own use?
Scott Tinker 38:25
Yeah, maybe we should use rigs roughnecks and writes
Robert Bryce 38:30
for Oklahoma, so, you know, it’s okay, um, you know, these are my people. That’s all right.
Scott Tinker 38:37
But, no, it takes time. Any, any energy infrastructure takes time. So let’s step back for a second. Now we can use California as an example. We don’t even have to go to Europe. energy infrastructure for the oil and gas sector is expensive and extensive. It takes a lot to produce the rigs drill, move it on pipes, preferably much safer than trains and trucks and boats and barges. Right, although we don’t seem to recognize that in this country anymore, but safer and more efficient on pipes. And then to refine it and move it again and then use it. There’s just a tremendous amount of expensive infrastructure takes time to get it. Now Europe has some and California has plenty of oil and natural gas, have some they haven’t been at it for a while in parts of Europe. But they’re not starting from zero. They have the regulatory schemes and they’ve done it in the past. The nice thought is where you have conventional oil and gas where we’re producing conventional that’s from reservoirs that flow once you find them pretty readily. Well, though, those conventional reservoirs were charged by oil and gas from something from the kitchen, the source rock, we’ll call that shale. It’s not always shale but It’s Khalid Sheikh, well, that source rock, where you have conventional is mature, it’s it’s generating hydrocarbons, they’re lighter than water, the subsurface is filled with water. So it floats up and get trapped. So, you know, guess what the Middle East, and Russia have tremendous source rocks. And they are quietly developing them internally, to see, to get ready for that next generation of them releasing their unconventional reservoirs onto the world. Europe has some as well. You’ve mentioned a few basins there that have generated and they could develop those. Now, there’s going to be some surface activity that people don’t like. And that’s fair drilling, hydraulic fracturing jobs and the shales, pipeline building and moving. There’s infrastructure with wind turbines, and solar panels, all energy has surface infrastructure. Now, the difference between oil and gas, because it’s so dense is once it’s drilled, you put pretty small surface infrastructure to produce the gas. It’s called a Christmas tree, right? Or to pump the oil pump jack, if it needs that and move it away. So that infrastructure is relatively limited once the reservoir has been discovered. But then it goes away. Unlike the wind or the sun, right? Oil gets produced and goes away. And you say, Well, that’s what renewable versus non renewable. Fair. But here’s the twist. Okay. Yes, the oil and gas goes away, and you have to go somewhere else to find it, or get new technology to produce more. So in the oil and gas world, we leave a tremendous amount behind, right? A lot in shale 95%. Behind so far, not the single well, but in a whole base. Haha, there’s a lot still to be produced. Same with oil. Gotta go get it new technology. But the concept that one is renewable. Unfortunately, I wish it weren’t so but unfortunately, solar panels and wind turbine blades and batteries were out to write. And when they do, we dumped them in landfills. And I showed that in my TED Talk pictures of that happening. We don’t recycle and reuse much of it. 5% of the lithium ion batteries, the wind turbines are not recyclable, yet. They’re giant blades. They’re inert. They’re not toxic, solar panels are toxic, you know, and so guess what? We dumped them? And then you have to mine and manufacture? And do it again. This isn’t renewable.
Robert Bryce 42:35
Right? So but so so I’m following you. But I want to bring you back to Europe now. So just but so I’m with you. Right, this is expensive and extensive, right? The this network of this complex network that we’ve grown to kind of take for granted in the US. Europe doesn’t have a lot of that pipeline infrastructure. They don’t have sand mines in the water pipelines. They don’t you know, the things that the Permian Basin or the Bakken, you know, area North Dakota has. So yeah, it just give me give me give me give me the why is it is it yours then if Britain said go now before they’re going to get a modern rig over there with the people who run it and to really start producing and we’re talking two years, three years, maybe we can
Scott Tinker 43:18
do anything pretty quickly if if there’s agreement to it. So you could do and enough and enough money,
Robert Bryce 43:23
Scott Tinker 43:24
And enough money. But what’s the cost of the instability? So people are spending a lot of money right now on trying to fix instability, and all its forms. So the investments are real, but the returns are real as well. We know there are source rocks there. So in a matter of years, a few years, you could do this, for example, the Marcellus is the biggest shale gas basin in the United States, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, overlaps into Ohio, the Utica in Ohio, it goes right wait and see Gilan to the right in New York, but it stops at the New York State Line, because New York doesn’t allow fracking, right? So the citizens are who own the gas, we own our own resources here in the country, you have been told you can’t have your property. And there’s been no eminent domain payments. There’s been nothing I’m surprised there hadn’t been a class action lawsuit by the counties of New York who don’t get to have their property. But we could get shale gas going in New York in a year. It’s all there. You just expand the infrastructure,
Robert Bryce 44:25
because the infrastructure and the machinery, the people, the personnel are immediately adjacent in Pennsylvania. So they can they can just move across the street effectively. But right, but there’s
Scott Tinker 44:36
oil business in Europe is not great. So it’s going to take a few years if they commit to it, and it won’t last forever. So this shouldn’t be Europe’s permanent solution forever. But it sure would be a great complement to being held hostage over Russian gas. Right? Yeah. And and so when you think about What makes energy secure or resilient? Robert? It’s, it’s a combination of things. It’s density, is it? Is it affordable? Is it reliable? And can I get to it? Right? And that makes it pretty secure to you. Your political risk is very high when companies and countries are thinking about where to go next. Companies have to face political risk as well. Look at what happened to Exxon as they’ve just pulled out of Russia, and BP and Shell, these are billions of dollars. They’re leaving there. I’m proud of them, by the way, for doing that. But it’s a massive political risks that’s gonna go to zero, instantly, Venezuela, etc. So, it, I think, you got to start to think about these things as a portfolio political leaders do, like food. I can’t live on kale, I can’t live on cow. We’ve got to have a portfolio of things that helped make this secure and resilient to us. And oil and natural gas are in there. Wouldn’t it be better to be pulling back to natural gas in Europe now instead of coal? I mean, coal is great, but it has particulates and SOX and NOx and mercury and co2 gas has none of those things except co2, a little sulfur now and then a little mercury, but it’s so much better as a fuel and other things, too. So that’s where I think we got to begin to really talk to our political constituents, and explain the importance of portfolios and resiliency, and having different things in this mix and the investments are worth it.
Robert Bryce 46:37
Well, let’s follow up on that. Because you the source you have not yet mentioned unless I somehow missed it is nuclear. Yeah. I’m adamantly pro nuclear my line if you’re anti nuclear and anti co2, you’re pro blackout. I’m adamantly pro blackout, anti blackout. But in Europe, I mean, President McCrone has made positive noises about nuclear. But here in the US, I have to say he’s as adamantly pro nuclear, as I am. I see though, you know, Biden, President Biden did not use the word nuclear energy in his State of the Union address. And we seem to be just completely stuck. So yes, that’s my long preface. The question is this. So what’s your view on nuclear and where nuclear fits in that portfolio? Because you’ve, you’ve laid out all the others pretty well, but haven’t discussed nuclear at all?
Scott Tinker 47:25
Yeah, it’s a big, it’s an important piece of it globally. There’s different reasons for it, not succeeding. But if you look at China today, they are building nuclear reactors quickly, they will pass France and their nuclear generation, right soon. And then they’ll pass the US
Robert Bryce 47:40
40 planning or building 46 We have to correct under can they have
Scott Tinker 47:45
and they have another 100 on their books? Uh huh. Okay, so that passes us. And there’s a reason for that. I hope India follows that. India has the same population effectively as China. They consume a third of the energy of China today. So per capita is a third, right? There landmass is 1/3. The US only they have four times the people of the US. So I mean, they’re not there yet per capita energy or per capita wealth, as they start to grow, what an opportunity to go to dense energy. Right, like nuclear, whether it be large reactors, in part, and I’m talking to fission not fusion fusion, right? Yeah, it’s closer than it used to be. From everything I’ve seen, but it’s still
Robert Bryce 48:31
50 years away with 50 years ago, when I was a kid, I’m you know, I’m hopeful, but I’m, you know, still seems a long way off.
Scott Tinker 48:37
But you can have different scales of vision. And these are where, like, new scale, John Hopkins company’s new scale, who small modular reactors, right, 50 megawatt 100 megawatt 150, in communities and villages, as always on stable energy, complementing other forms of energy. So I’m very bullish on it. I think it will happen and is happening in places. I mean, look, communism is good for some things, saying we’re going to build a giant dam called Three Gorges and move a million people, we’re going to get not good. It’s effective. Let me put it. Right. Yeah, let’s build 50 nuclear reactors. You have a problem with that too bad. We’re going to build them. Right. And so it’s very effective. And good for them in many ways, because China and India alone combined represent one out of every three people on the planet, just those two countries. Right. And they what they do matters tremendously. So you come back to the political us? Yes, it’s tough. I mean, I was with Tom fanning a few months back I in fact, I convened co convened a nuclear conferences. It in North Dakota or in North Carolina, NC State and fanning
Robert Bryce 49:59
just to be Nuclear CEO of Southern Company One of the biggest utilities in America.
Scott Tinker 50:03
Yes. And he spoke at dinner and, and Lynn good was there from speaking from Duke, etc.
Robert Bryce 50:09
And so by the way owns the majority of the vote plant Vogel that where the two reactors are being built. So just to put that in context and
Scott Tinker 50:16
way behind schedule and way over budget, massive, so yes, all of the challenges in the United States around this, right, some of those challenges, a lot of them are passionate in politics, not safety, right. It’s, it’s, it’s misplaced concerns over the safety of nuclear power. And on a kilowatt hour basis, as you will know, it’s been the safest form of electricity generated and will continue to be, right, it’s particularly newer technologies, because they’re really inherently safe. And then the fuel, that the fission products that come from those are lower density now lower volume, lower heat, because they’re reused, right, just a lot good technologically, I worry very much the US is going to fall behind and nuclear and already are gonna have to play catch up to catch up with the world who’s going to go nuclear and dense. As you say, no emissions, there’s a lot good now it can’t solve everything. Sometimes you need intense heat, and electricity doesn’t provide it. Right. You have to burn things to get some really intense heat, you know, 1000s of degrees. So it’s molecules matters to in different ways. But nuclear has a big role to play in this mix. And unfortunately, we’re seeing it play out differentially globally. And the countries who are embracing it, they need to so it’s not unfortunate for them, but I would wish that Europe look, back to our early geology days, the Ring of Fire Circum Pacific is where plates are colliding and converging. And there are earthquakes and tsunamis. Unfortunately, Japan, and Korea and New Zealand aren’t the best places geologically for nuclear there. There are volcanoes and earthquakes and tsunamis. It’s not the most stable Earth, right, Germany is. Germany is fine. No. So ending nuclear in Germany, pretty misplaced. And we saw,
Robert Bryce 52:24
it is remarkable that they are still they still are going forward with closing the remaining reactors at the end of this year. I mean, it’s inexplicable to me, but but let me tell you
Scott Tinker 52:33
electricity while importing electricity, some of which is from nuclear, right, you know, it’s the California model from France, send us all our stuff. And we’ll be green, you know, just and doesn’t
Robert Bryce 52:45
rely even more heavily on gas from Russia. But it seems to me, you know, and I’ll just add one thing on the nuclear part, which is now it is remarkable. And I’m you know, that the US and the other countries have rallied in a very clear and almost unanimous reaction to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. And so this financial isolation of Russia is going to continue, even if the war ends tomorrow, it’s not gonna that’s not going to stop anytime soon. I think this isolation, but it’s key in terms of the nuclear part, I’ll just make this quick point, which is that rasa Tom, the Russian national champion, this has been one of the most effective companies at expanding the use of nuclear into other countries. And so if if rasa Tom has now taken out of the global nuclear sector, well, it leaves a big void, and who’s going to fill that void, and I wish it were countries, companies from the US, but we just, I would say, we lack that kind of industrial policy and political backing, that would make something like that happen. Right? I mean, I’ll ask the question. So how isn’t it is? My view is or how much political support? Would the US nuclear sector need to really make something like that happen? And is it plausible to think that it could?
Scott Tinker 54:03
Yeah, what’s happening with these small modular companies is they are going abroad, right, they are taking patented technology and taking it abroad, Romania and the island nations and other places, Robert in there, and there’s an they’re getting traction, they are going to build, you know, serial number 123 and four plants there and start to bring the technology up as a local distributed. Think about it. You can put a reactor in, in a village in Kenya, and it doesn’t need much else generate electricity for the village, right. Yeah, no. And so it has a lot of the advantages, the distributed advantages that many people have been promoting for other kinds of electricity, but dense and stable and affordable once built. So I think we’re going to see us technology being deployed in other countries in the world first, and then Hopefully, it starts to come back.
Robert Bryce 55:03
I see. So it has to go it has to go offshore before it can come back maybe
Unknown Speaker 55:08
onshore, which is odd. Yeah, well, I
Robert Bryce 55:11
can see why that, you know, the plausibility of that. But I also know, well, a few weeks ago, we had Simon Irish on the podcast, and he was from Terrestrial Energy and they domiciled in Canada, because he just didn’t see a pathway for licensing here in the US. So we’ve been talking now at the Scott for about an hour. And you know, I like to keep the podcast about that length. So what books are you reading these days? These are questions I ask all my guests about, you know, what you have, you know, you’re busy with a lot of different things. But you have a big shelf of books in the background there. What what books are out at the top of the pile these days? Yeah.
Scott Tinker 55:45
Yeah, I’m reading one called the storm before the calm, which is interesting, and is about, it’s talking about the evolution of the United States, and starting to go global a little bit. And these big supercycle is about 80 years super cycles of an embedded in those some other economic cycles. And how we’re compositing right now in the 20s. He’s saying it’s going to be kind of rough. But we’ll come out of that healthier, just like we did after the Civil War, and out of the 17 817 70s and 1780s, and 1860s, and data data. So it’s kind of a neat, look at some of the the trends that drive change the storm before the calm.
Robert Bryce 56:34
I just got Mark, who’s the author? Do you know the name of them? Oh,
Scott Tinker 56:37
boy. I’m trying to think that’s fine. Or something like that. But okay, I got Mark Mills new book on the cloud. He Mark has written a pretty interesting book, I just started into it on the cloud and how it’s changing our lives. And he’s very optimistic about the 2020s. So I had to have some of each. Just, I just finished up a couple other books, I tend to read a lot of nonfiction unfortunately, you know, I like whatever gets stuck in fiction. I somebody sent me one called wolf Berry. So it was written around, you know, discovering the wolf Berry, out in West Texas, and then leading into the shale oil revolution out in West Texas. Kind of neat. And they quoted me in there. So he sent me a free copy and I read it, well
Robert Bryce 57:32
look at the index to see where your name is, and there I am.
Scott Tinker 57:37
Have an index.
Robert Bryce 57:39
The wolfberry well, so that’s the the Wolfcamp Sprayberry that Wilf, this is the the formation in the Delaware basin and in Perm in the Permian is,
Scott Tinker 57:51
yeah, and what what made this company work is that they, they drilled vertical wells and Frack them, and was able to make quite a play of it. They didn’t go horizontal until later, or others had others lead that but in the vertical wolfberry, so not Wolfcamp itself, but okay, part of this kind of silica rich type formation, they were able to start producing things ahead of others, and they got a nice acreage position in there. And,
Robert Bryce 58:20
and what what was that company?
Scott Tinker 58:23
Oh, it was several of them. Okay. Yeah.
Robert Bryce 58:26
Yeah. Yeah. Well, so last question. And again, my guest is Scott tinker. He’s the chairman of energy switch, the switch Energy Alliance, we’ve been talking about his new multi part series, which is going to be on PBS on PBS stations and full conflict of interest disclosure, I’m in one of the episodes. And that, that series is called Energy Switch. And it should be on Kaler, you and Austin, at least beginning in May. So, Scott, what gives you hope?
Scott Tinker 58:59
Again, my kids, and, and young people, I love interacting with them. I get hopeful when we’re able to see the lights come on. And think about complex things. And I know they’ll be able to solve them. And this is global. We have 25 nations on permanent staff here at the Bureau on permanent staff, another 25 nations of students and postdocs. They go back as emissaries. So I just see the lights come on, when you start to critically think about things and then I know there’ll be solved. But you have to, as I said, my Senate testimony, there’s a difference between completely factual and factually complete. And completely a lot of completely factual things out there, but they’re not factually complete. We’re not looking at the whole story, a lot of those in energy, and you get the hysteria these young people start to see the factory complete things and then they’re very smart. And so they’ll start to begin to address them and solve them. So That gives me a lot of hope, Robert
Robert Bryce 1:00:03
Well, I think that’s a good place to stop then. Because sometimes well, it’s it’s easy to be pessimistic and but I’m I put faith in what the late Molly Ivan said I’m optimistic to the point of idiocy. So that’s where I hang my hat on that statement. So, Scott, thanks a million for being back on the power hungry podcast. And thanks for having me, including me and Energy Switch. This is the conflict of interest declaration that it’s my podcast what the hell I can do?
Scott Tinker 1:00:39
Know it’s always good to visit with you. I love listening and hearing and hearing your experiences too. Thanks for what you do.
Robert Bryce 1:00:45
Well, glad to do it. So Thanks, Scott. Thanks to all of you in podcast land tune in for the next episode of The Power Harken podcast until then. See ya.