In his second appearance on the Power Hungry Podcast, Steve Brick, (who last appeared in February 2021), talks about what he has learned over his 40-year career in the power sector. He explains the challenges facing countries in Africa as they try to build more generation capacity, why microgrids are often more expensive to operate than large grids, and the “regulatory patchwork” that governs the U.S. electric grid. (Recorded June 6, 2023.)
Robert Bryce 0:04
Hi, everyone. Welcome to the power hungry podcast on this podcast we’re talking about energy, power, innovation and politics. I’m Robert Bryson today, welcoming back for the second appearance on the power hungry podcast. My friend, Steve brick who last appeared on the podcast in February of 2021. After the Texas blackouts, Steve, welcome back to the power hungry podcast.
Steve Brick 0:25
Thank you, Robert. I’m really happy to be back. I enjoy listening to it and I’m honored to be asked back a second time.
Robert Bryce 0:32
Well, okay, well, really pleased to have you. We took too long the time in between. But first before I’m gonna have you introduce yourself but before you do, I’m throwing a curveball at you what is on your shirt there you showed me what is on your shirt. I thought about making this through the last question I’m gonna make it first question what is on your shirt bear all right, you
Steve Brick 0:51
want me to tilt my camera you’re gonna
Robert Bryce 0:53
have to you’re gonna have to show us that the camera there. Here
Steve Brick 0:56
we go. This is a picture of my hero ready kilowatt, ready kilowatt. As you know, Robert was the mascot of the investor owned utilities in the United States of America from the 1930s really consistently on up through the 1970s and some of us grew up with ready the US ready as a rapper as a representative of the utility as a way to kind of sell utility products. I have a I have a large collection of ready kilowatt memorabilia, I call it my archives my wife calls it my junk when you’re gonna get rid of that junk, but as as many companies did, at the time, they had all kinds of swag that they gave away to their customers all of which featured Reddy kilowatt and many of them, many of them much of this swag sort of appealed to the to the mores and behaviors of the time so I’ve got I’ve got a large collection of cards that that feature ready kilowatt and various different hoses and things of that sort they gave away bridge pads for for people who played bridge because bridge you study and
Robert Bryce 2:10
you are popular right and you gave me a coffee mug with ready on it I have a you gave me a belt buckle with ready on it. And I just looked it up I remember my friend of mine from from Southern Company. It was originally designed in 1926 made the first published parents 1926 brainchild of Alabama Power executive named ash Collins and was featured part of the end and as you know, you’ve been you were in our film juice. Ready kilowatt is in juice as well dancing around the kitchen, I wash and dry your clothes, play your radios, you sing along with us.
Steve Brick 2:44
And and and there’s a shot of the coffee mug that I gave you in juice also. That’s
Robert Bryce 2:48
right, we made we was product placement, as they say in the business there, Steve. So now we’ve talked about ready and we’ve introduced ready you have not introduced yourself, please, you know guests on this podcast introduce themselves. Steve, if you don’t mind, imagine you’ve arrived somewhere you have 60 seconds. Introduce yourself, please?
Steve Brick 3:07
Well, Robert, I’ve logged more than 40 years in this particular business. And I what I would say is I’ve worked on all sides of the electricity business, I started out my career working at the Wisconsin Public Service Commission, which was the agency that was responsible or still is responsible for regulating utilities. I moved from there into a consulting role and, and did a wide variety of projects relating to utility planning and utility regulation for a wide range of clients. I worked for a subsidiary of Pacific Gas and Electric for a number of years doing power plant and associated infrastructure development. I headed up the arm of a research organization. Here again in Wisconsin, that was a partnership between the utilities to try to kind of centralize some of the research related to questions that were of were of interest to them. I’ve kind of come at it from from every side. And I would I would say that 40 years has brought me to the conclusion that there is no commodity there is no no no product that is more central to modern life than electricity. And I think I certainly didn’t start in the business with that appreciation. But I firmly believe that now and there’s there’s almost nothing you can think of associated with not just the luxuries but the necessities of day to day life that doesn’t somehow involve electricity and that electricity needs both to be reliable and cost effective.
Robert Bryce 4:41
Well, okay, good introduction. And I we agreed that I would refer to your independent power systems consultant is how you prefer to be identified. You have several other affiliations with nonprofit groups. Well, let’s talk about that. Because when you said that about this idea of electricity and what it is, and I just with a friend of mine here in Austin, Jackie Sargent, who was head of Austin Energy, it’s a question I’ve put other people on this podcast. So is electricity a commodity? Or is it a service?
Steve Brick 5:10
Well, I guess I would say the answer is both. I think it’s principally a service. It’s, it’s, it’s, but it’s sold as a commodity, it well, it’s sold as a commodity, and, and has, in many respects, always been sold as a commodity. But for most of its life, it was treated as a natural monopoly. And the, the holders of those monopolies were held responsible, in most cases by the regulatory agencies that regulated them by meeting standards of reliability, and by ensuring that the that the product that they produced was as cost effective as possible. And so in a sense, under that model, it did not represent a commodity, because the price was controlled by the forces of regulation. And that, you know, commodities aren’t that way commodities are driven by market prices.
Robert Bryce 6:06
And regulated I’m sorry to interrupt but regulated by the Public Service Commission, Service Commission. And I’ll just, we talked about this, I know before, but the thing that made me think about more of its service to the idea was a guy from a Mark Gabriel, I heard it from him, the Western, our area, Power Administration, he said, Look at this supply, an extra watt hour doesn’t make a big difference to us. And we just have to make sure we provide this all the time. So he was the first to characterize it as a service. And then I saw that in Beirut, myself where the generator mafia, they don’t put any meters on your home, they asked me how many ask how many amps you want, so they sell it as a service, right, as a flow of energy. And so, but I like your idea that it’s both are as treated as both?
Steve Brick 6:47
Yeah. Yeah. And again, you know, why don’t we regulate natural monopolies. And I think that the case for regulation historically has always been made, that these are markets that are not going to be served well, by purely competitive models. And critically, they deliver a product that is essential. So water, for example, is an example of water, water is typically regulated, you don’t have competing water utilities. And the rates for those for for the water that you consume is, is set by regulation. And electric utilities. Again, for the for the vast bulk of the of the period that we’ve been using, it was regulated. And in fact, one of the reasons that it here’s here’s a, here’s a here’s a here’s a fun fact, to know Intel. One of the reasons we have regulation is because Samuel Insull, another one of my heroes, was set off from the Edison company to establish utility in Chicago. And he was going and picking off customers in ones and twos, and they tended to be wealthy customers, and, and all of a sudden light went on and insulted and he said, Wait a minute, in order to provide the most cost effective electricity, I need to get more customers so I can make better use of my equipment. And that will drive cost down for everybody. At the same time, he recognized that he said, Oh, and by the way, this only works as a monopoly. So I have got to enter into a compact with the state to turn this into a regulated utility. So it wasn’t something that was actually imposed externally. But but this this came from the industry itself from from the mind of Samuel, and so
Robert Bryce 8:31
I’m glad that you know, I know we’ve talked about so as well, both online, I think and offline, but it just that, you know, he is vilified. In many cases, many biographies have vilified him. But he was really tremendous, tremendously inventive, tremendously innovative, and was always seeking out economies of economies of scale. And he achieved them and drove down the price of electricity dramatically for his customers over a period of decades that he was in Chicago. And then of course, he died penniless was found, I guess, with no money in his pocket and a pair of subway if I’m remembering correctly.
Steve Brick 9:04
I would say again, he was in some senses a victim of circumstance and took the rap for greater or greater economic forces that were going on around him. And so I think of Insel as being unfairly vilified in many many ways and and you’re right there’s there’s a kind of a cartoon version of of insulin which he was kind of the utility version of the robber baron. But I think there are a couple of there are a couple of deeper studies of him that paint a much fairer picture and, and I certainly started my career, having this picture of Insel being in the in the villain camp, but then after I read, particularly the McDonald biography of enslavement, yeah, you know, actually, he’s pretty, pretty important character and he doesn’t always get a fair rap. Right.
Robert Bryce 9:55
He was named, he was singled out by name by FDR when Roosevelt was running for president and I T 31. I mean, he was one of the people who FDR vilified as being the evils of the public utility holding companies. But so let’s talk let’s let’s move to talk more broadly about grids. And I know you’ve been working a lot in Africa, and I want to talk about Africa as well. Or maybe why don’t we just start there? Because and tell us about what the work you’re doing in Africa is because I’ve been looking at numbers on electric electricity availability in Africa, and this isn’t a continent now. 1.4 billion people who as an in total, these are very round numbers, general numbers use about the same amount of electricity is 35 million Canadians. I mean, there’s just an enormous gaping need for more electricity in Africa. Let me ask a simple question. Why isn’t why doesn’t Africa have more electricity? What is holding back electrification in Africa?
Steve Brick 10:47
Well, that’s that’s a that’s an important question with a complicated answer. Africa is being held back in more ways than just electricity. And in much of Sub Saharan Africa, suffers from chronic under development. Per capita income is among the lowest in the world, in many sub Saharan African countries. And things like electricity have a tendency to follow low economic development. When you start asking yourself the question of why, why is the development situation what it is in Sub Saharan Africa, and most places in Sub Saharan Africa? It is, it is not entirely an indigenous problem. And as as, as you know, in the, you know, in the in the late 19th century, the dash for Africa, the European, largely European dash for colonization in Africa, really set the stage for many of the problems that Sub Saharan Africa continues to contend with today. And so Belgium, Germany, France, Italy, all had their colonies in Africa. They were colonies that were established primarily for extractive purposes. European European nations saw the the wealth of natural resources and effectively came in and colonized to, in part, extract those things. And then, as we transitioned away from those colonial relationships, the the systems that were put in place to try to assist the development of sub Saharan African nations did not entirely succeed. But But we got, but we got to a place where, in a way, the development fates of those nations are really in the hands of organizations like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. And so I think that has that has been a that has been a critical, that has been a critical roadblock for for full economic development in Africa, in the sense that African nations, I think, first have to figure out what it is that organizations like the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund want. And then they have to conform their expectations to those of those external funders, as opposed to any any kind of process of figuring out what it is Africans need, and what it is Africans want. Electricity is a subset of that problem. And one of the reasons why I’m back involved working in Sub Saharan Africa. I started my career at when I got out of graduate school. Before I actually worked for the Public Service Commission, I spent a couple of years working on a variety of projects funded by the US Agency for International Development in North Africa and West Africa. And this was in the this was in the 1980s. And, you know, I got there. And it didn’t take me very long to realize that the work that we were sent there to do wasn’t fit to purpose. I was over there peddling something that that that these nations didn’t need. What I was peddling was something that was trendy in the United States and trendy in Europe. And so it was naturally assumed that what was trendy there would be useful in Africa, but in fact, it wasn’t useful. And at that time, you know, the first job I was sent over there to do was to develop a more kind of advanced forecasting model for the utilities, whereas these utilities had very little in very little basic demand. And, you know, they, they, they, they, they didn’t have any real need for sophisticated forecasting model.
Robert Bryce 15:09
So, so if I can interrupt because what I think what, what I’m trying to get to is there, and you mentioned this before about the colonial history, it seems to me the one that I puzzle over in my head, well, which comes first is the electricity or the wealth or but you need a certain amount of wealth to stimulate the electricity. Right. I’m just trying to jump a little bit ahead here in terms of well, okay, well, how do you stimulate demand? And it’s something we’ve talked about before, but here are the numbers 640 terawatt hours of generation in Canada, in 2021, a little less than 900 in Africa, that same year, when you have this vast disparity in population, so that Africans have to get richer to get electricity, are we going to have to have electricity come in from the outside, so they get a chance to get richer?
Steve Brick 15:54
Well, you know, again, that’s, that’s a chicken and an egg problem. And I don’t think it’s quite that simple. African Africans need to get richer. And one of the questions that I often find myself posing to people as well, if if this is the average GDP in the OECD in the developed part of the world, why shouldn’t every African Aspire roughly to the same level of GDP? Why shouldn’t we work to bring African living standards and African wealth standards up to at least OECD averages. So it but again, the problem with the with the chicken in the egg, what which creates what? Electricity is definitely a precondition for developing the industry and the commerce needed by modern society. And so one of the challenges that Africa faces is in in many sub Saharan countries, the grid is not reliable, and the power is expensive. And that proves to be an impediment to further economic and further economic development, industrial and commercial, which is going to drive the jobs which is going to produce the wealth for Africans. So in that sense, it is it it is a it is a precondition, it’s a prerequisite. But the flip side is, you look at projects in Africa designed to increase access to electricity in certain places. And if people are so poor that they can’t afford devices that consume electricity, then, you know, they’re not all that interested in, in having large, you know, modern levels of electricity access, right. So so people need to be wealthy, so they can consume electricity, but you need electricity to drive the development of the economy.
Robert Bryce 17:59
Right. So it’s that they’re they go hand in hand, right? Electricity drives economic growth, and economic growth drives electricity. But But then what is? I know, there have been, there were some recent articles that were published, I think, in energy for Growth Hub, elsewhere about the solar project in Zambia that had world bank funding, I think, and it was kind of viewed as a failure. I don’t want to pick on that necessarily, but what maybe I’ll ask it this way, then what is the what? What’s the recipe for success in bringing more electricity to Africa? What, what projects have proved proven? Successful? And where?
Steve Brick 18:37
Yeah, well, the success is, is make sure you’re focusing on make sure you clearly understand what Africans want, and make sure you focus on outcomes that will will produce that. So So I said earlier, and probably not clearly enough. In the 1980s, I realized that we were we were peddling something Africans didn’t need. And I got back involved when I did seven or eight years ago, because I started looking at what USA ID and what the World Bank and others were promoting in Africa. And I went, Wait a minute, we’re selling something that’s trendy in the United States that’s trendy in Europe. But in my opinion, it was of questionable value in Africa, so so I’ll be very specific. There was a very heavy emphasis on solar and wind. There was a very heavy emphasis on mini grids on on little isolated grids to serve isolated communities. All of those things are very trendy in America and very trendy in Europe. But I was quite skeptical that they were the most reasonable way to kind of meet African needs. So let me let me give you an example. The world’s largest or one of the world’s largest concentrating solar thermal projects is in Morocco. And that that project was successfully built and financed, mostly financing coming from World Bank and International Monetary Fund kind of organizations. It’s a massive project over a billion dollar US investment. And it suffers from a lot of the same sort of attributes that other solar projects do. It’s intermittent, it doesn’t provide reliable around the clock power. And it’s expensive. It’s a very expensive source of generation. And I, you know, I realized I’ve one of the one of the things that I I looked at was, you know, what could they have invested in for the same amount of money and how much more electricity could it have provided for Moroccan citizens. And, you know, at that point, the, the cheapest form of generation would have been natural gas combined cycle power plant, and, you know, they could have provided something like five times the amount of power and it would have been reliable on demand power. Now, the, of course, the downside is that that’s got, you know, the you have emissions associated with, with that natural gas power. But from the standpoint of providing electricity access, a clearly much more expensive option was effectively put on Morocco, where there were other things that would have provided a lot more power to a lot more people a lot more cheaply. And that’s what
Robert Bryce 21:32
it was. So it was a climate climate focus, rather than a people focus in that case, and then that was resulted in fewer people getting electricity.
Steve Brick 21:41
Yeah. And, and again, in, in, in a lot of places, you know, one of the one of the one of the challenges with the entire kind of electricity development paradigm in in Africa is that it’s driven by a bunch of misconceptions. And that’s in part, why, why I’m alive, I’m involved trying to kind of write some of those misconceptions. So just in no particular order. It’s widely conceived as a residential problem. That is, you see pictures, people want to talk about energy access, and you’re, you’re shown a village in Africa someplace, and a dwelling that has suddenly been illuminated by a single light bulb or by a couple of light bulbs. It’s not principally a residential problem, although it is a residential problem, but it’s a commercial, and it’s an industrial problem. And those kinds of small incremental changes, which which in fact, you don’t, yeah, I don’t want to gainsay the importance of having a lighting where you didn’t have any lighting before, but they’re not going to systematically fix the problem. It’s also portrayed as a rural problem, that, that inadequate access to electricity is something that’s only experienced in rural parts of the continent. And that’s not the case. It’s it’s it’s a problem that is experienced both in urban areas and in rural areas. And it’s, as I said, it’s experienced across all, all segments of the economy. The third and most important one is it’s often conceived of purely as a problem of supply. So the the model is, all we have to do is go in and build some more power plants. Well, in fact, if we look across Sub Saharan Africa, we find oftentimes that there’s actually surplus capacity. And what we need to do is we need to find ways to stimulate demand, and take advantage of that insight that Samuel Insull had more than a century ago to spread those costs over more consumers and drive the unit cost down.
Robert Bryce 23:39
Well, it’s interesting you say that, because there was just a news clip about you, you mentioned excess power, the German company going to Angola and now planning to produce hydrogen from hydropower in Angola, because there’s not enough electricity consumption from the hydropower. So the idea then that they will make hydrogen from that, turn it into ammonia, ship it to Germany, turn it back into hydrogen. I’m thinking this is the worst kind of Rube Goldberg device ever commanded imagined. But nevertheless, it speaks to this issue of the church saying here is that here’s Angola, with excess power that’s not being consumed. And locals are saying, well, we should keep that power here, but there’s no mechanism for them to be electrified, or even if they could be electrified, that they would have enough money to buy the power. So you what what I hear you saying what I’m reading back to you is that you have to have the load and the generation have to match if you’re going to make a successful project. And that load has to come industrial, commercial and residential, if it’s going to or one of those is going to have to be involved. Doesn’t matter necessarily where the load goes as long as you have somewhere to you know that that is going to absorb all that power. Otherwise you’re wasting money. Is that Is that a fair read back?
Steve Brick 24:55
Oh, yeah. And again, you know, the the Angolan press Jack that you talk about is just a single example of which I can cite several others. And it’s that’s just really a kind of a kind of a continuation of the old colonial model, right? You’ve got something we want and and we’d like to find a deal where we’re where we can get it, right. And in this case, its surplus power. Or there’s, there’s a massive renewable analogue to the to the Angola thing proposed for Namibia, where again, the proposal is to build build out a massive amount of wind, to produce hydrogen in Namibia, for export to Europe. And
Robert Bryce 25:38
it’s a different kind of colonialism, although now it’s about climate colonialism or green colonialism as some people have put it, but then it’s still exporting this thing produced in the in the colony to then go back to Europe for whatever reason, right for those Yeah, so
Steve Brick 25:55
the question that doesn’t really get asked or doesn’t get get adequately addressed is, so how does that help Africans? Right? You know, so you can see how it might help Germans but but it isn’t obvious to me how it would how it would help Africans or whether it’s the thing that Africans would would focus on where the where the question left to them. Right on.
Robert Bryce 26:17
So what about natural gas, then in Africa, there have been massive discoveries there offshore, Tanzania, Mozambique, memory serves several other countries, there’s the gas fields are starting to be developed. How important is gas going to be as a fuel for the future of electrification in Africa?
Steve Brick 26:35
Well, I think, you know, you’re right, the massive offshore resources in the Indian Ocean of Mozambique. Discoveries on the Atlantic side off of Mauritania off of Morocco. Ghana has got gas obviously, Nigeria’s got gas. And there’s there’s a very, there’s a very spirited debate on on the on the future role of natural gas in Africa? My my view, is that that is a question that Africans must determine the answer to. That isn’t, and there are a lot of non Africans weighing in very powerfully on that, on that question. And, and candidly, most of them on the side of, you know, Africa must not develop its gas resources. And, you know, I feel that I personally feel that that is that is that is that is a matter of self determination for Africa and for Africans. And that that is where that decision has to be made. And I suspect, you know, there. I think that developing those resources takes money. But I think assuming the resources can be developed, all other things being equal, I would imagine, to see gas play a fairly major role, as Africa continues to climb up as sub Saharan African nations continue to climb up the climb up the economic development ladder. But again, it’s it’s it’s a very, it’s a very spirited debate. And there are people who, who, who would probably take issue with, with my claim that it ought to be a matter of self determination for African nations. Right.
Robert Bryce 28:24
But it isn’t, I saw one headline, I need to follow up on it. But it was the to Norway project, I think it is in Mozambique, that they’re going to use gas from the Exxon Mobil offshore field, and there was several 100 megawatts of new generation that were being developed there. Do you know anything about that?
Steve Brick 28:40
I, you know, I’m not I’m not entirely up to speed on that. And that, you know, the, the Mozambique development had had gone along quite a ways, and then it kind of hit it kind of, they kind of put the pause on it. You know, because again, we were we were that we this this was before the the war in Ukraine. So we’re in a place where, you know, the world was was was kind of a wash in natural gas and kind of watching cheap natural gas. And I’m not 100% up to speed on what has been proposed recently in by way of new generation. You know, I mean, you one of the things, Robert, that, you know, you also bring to mind in the wake of the Ukraine war, you know, there was a there was a deal announced last winter, where European nations and America agreed to put some investment into renewables in Egypt. So Egypt could retire some of its natural gas plants, so it could sell natural gas to Europe. Right and I’m And once again, I when when when that was announced tonight, I was scratching my head going, Wait a minute, and this is good for Egypt. How? Right? So
Robert Bryce 30:11
here it is I found it’s the timani project, it’s 450 megawatts. And there’s a transmission project that goes along with it. But it’s, I mean, it’s a big deal. $650 million, something like that. And for the for the power plant, and then for the other infrastructure, but it’s a partnership between electricity, the Mozambique SASL, Africa and global EC. So that project got financed in late 2021. But yeah, but that was an example of the one of the few that I know of, and I’m not an expert on Africa, you are but that here’s an example of a big project that looks like the opposite of kind of what we were talking about for before this smallest beautiful micro grids. No, we need a big central power plant, and we’re going to build a lot, you know, we’re going to build it out, and we’re going to use local fuel and make this work. And the fact that it’s natural gas, not coal, I think is interesting as well and maybe makes it more financeable then because coal plants now, Africa around the world and want to broaden this out and talk about electricity development around the world. Is it possible for my understanding is World Bank has just quit financing all coal fired power plants anywhere in the world? Is that true?
Steve Brick 31:26
Yeah. Yeah. And it doesn’t mean that coal fired power plants aren’t being built. I mean, it is, you know, you know, China has built a huge number of coal fired power plants, and some are still under construction. But it’s harder and harder to to finance a coal fired power plant, and gas pump gas plants are going to be easier, in general, to finance. And again, you know, you look around Africa, Ghana, Ghana has a number of, you know, 500, in the range of 500 megawatt power plants, you’ll, you’ll find gas power plants scattered scattered around the continent. And, again, one of the one of the other myths that that is perpetrated, it’s connected to the micro grid myth is that Africa’s development path Sub Saharan Africa’s development path doesn’t have to go the same as Europe, and America is dead, we don’t need a grid, we’re going to leapfrog the grid, that’s the term that gets used all the time. And we’re going to just we’re going to just have distributed power. But in fact, we look at these these countries, and the vast majority of the population lives within close proximity to the grid, these are sub Saharan countries, Ghana, Kenya, are rapidly urbanizing. Right? People are moving from the rural areas, want to relocate from rural areas to urban areas? And all those urban areas are grid. Right? And so that, that that idea that somehow or other it’s going to be this this, this network of unconnected little bitty micro grids is not very, not very real. The other the other
Robert Bryce 33:12
hand, it’s not as efficient capital wise, right? I mean, is it still is it still true? I mean, that we talked about insulin Edison before, the rule of thumb has always been the bigger the grid, generally speaking, the more and the more, the bigger your power plant, the more efficient the overall operation is? Is that still the case? Yeah, if
Steve Brick 33:31
you want to make a very little amount of electricity, very expensively, build a micro grid.
Robert Bryce 33:39
And ERP, or put it out there, you want to make expensive Power Make a small grid? Is that what
Steve Brick 33:44
I mean? And again, I, you know, I did an analysis three or four years ago of a bunch of the micro grid projects that were funded in West Africa, and, you know, they all penciled out at you know, 50 to 75 cents per kilowatt hour. You know, we’re talking us right now, on a, you know, any given day, we’re talking, you know, three to five cents per kilowatt hour.
Robert Bryce 34:09
on residential rates. I just looked at residential rates in the US the latest numbers 13 and a half, right. Well, over over that’s,
Steve Brick 34:16
I’m just talking generation costs. Yeah. Okay. Right. Right. Okay. Fair enough. And that’s the and again, that’s cost not not not price necessarily. Okay, guys, disconnect. At any rate, you know, I kind of systematically found that, you know, they were they were very expensive. They were subsidized somebody else was paying the bill, for the most part, you know, by way of I think wanting to try to launch the market for microgrids or whatever. But as a as an economic proposition, they they didn’t look particularly good.
Robert Bryce 34:50
Yeah, well, so, but let’s talk about that. Because one of the other things that fascinates me and it’s something that we you and I have talked about on other occasions is the issue of corruption and And it’s something I’ve seen myself. And Nigeria, of course, has been an example of this. And I’m, you know, I can pick other countries as well. But Iraq is another example, where you have a long term society, a society that has had generational corruption, and Nigeria is one of the best examples billions spent on trying to upgrade the grid with effectively no progress. So the let me counter to what you just said, Yes, grids as shrink, they may get the power may get more expensive, but doesn’t making a smaller grid make them less vulnerable to the societal corruption that’s derailed larger grids from being successful?
Steve Brick 35:38
Yeah, I’m, you know, I think corruption finds its way through the cracks, from the highest to the lowest end of the system. I don’t I don’t think the size of the grid necessarily says anything about whether it’s going to be subject to corruption or not. I will say that, you know, the, the kind of model of, you know, a federally controlled utility, a federally controlled energy ministry, and not very robust local controls, in a sense, seems more susceptible to me than if you had a bunch of smaller regional utilities that were serving at the state level, as opposed to one one national, but that wouldn’t even if you had that it wouldn’t wouldn’t be immune to corruption. Right. And, again, you know, the crux corruption in Africa is, is is a complicated is a complicated question. And in a way, you know, I kind of immediately begin by going well, you know, that’s another legacy of colonialism. Um, and, and, and, again, we look at, we look at places where the utilities are fairly well run, and where there’s, you know, the corruption is not particularly evident, I would, I would say, Ghana, for example, is a place that is an example where I think the utility is relatively well run. And their their problems stem from other other concerns. So for example, we we’ve been involved in a study where they were looking at, looking at losses on the system in in Ghana. And this This goes right to a point that you made in, in, in, in the juice movie, where people were people were stealing from the system. Right. But it turns out that the again, the myth is that, you know, these are, these are small householders who are, who are somehow stealing from the system. Well, the study that was done in Ghana showed that there were a handful of very large industrial customers that had figured out how to start stealing. And, and that kind of that kind of exploded that myth. So I think, I think that kind of those kinds of losses to the system, which of course increase cost to everybody, are, are are probably in most places a larger problem than then genuine Crusher mean. The most explosive corruption story of course of recent times of South Africa, which is, March is a tragedy of almost unimaginable proportions given given where Escom the South African utility used to be in terms of their efficiency and the relative level of electrification that occurred in, in in South Africa, they’ve taken massive step backwards. And the corruption has been pretty blatant. And they’re now living through a period where they’re having extended rotating outages almost almost on a continuing basis.
Robert Bryce 38:51
I saw I’ve been following the situation in South Africa because I’m writing up a paper Vatta about the issue of electrification in the developing world. And I saw that they’re now they’ve chartered guarantees power ships to provide power into South Africa, which is what we reported obviously in juice and in my last book a question of power right where the central government has to corrupt and make their power plants work then they go to Power ships because you know, the soon as they quit paying the bills, this power ship goes back to Turkey and that’s what that what exactly what happened in in Lebanon. So let’s move past critic corruption and a Africa discussion, even though I’m sure we could spend a lot of time there. They ask a broader question about electric grids and then I want to focus on the US and what’s been happening here lately. what do what do people misunderstand? What did they not? Or let me put it this way? Why is electricity is hard for people to understand, particularly policymakers?
Steve Brick 39:53
Well it’s hard to understand because it’s a system. And it’s a complicated system. And so you and I have talked about this before, Robert, us basically is divided into three large areas, the Eastern interconnect, the Western interconnect, and Texas, right. And each of those geographies is effectively one, large interconnected machine. All of the generation, all of the loads, all of the electricity consuming devices are effectively a part of an integrated machine. And the only way you can kind of make sense of it, is by looking at looking at it as the system that it is. And that’s complicated. And it’s not easily reducible to political soundbites. Yeah. And and you know, and it’s, and it’s always been that way, by the way, but I think Modern Times have made it a much bigger problem. So now, for example, give you an example of a classic failure to consider the system problem. My favorite, my favorite bugaboo, called the levelized, cost of energy levelized cost of electricity, you and I have talked about Oh, sure. And it’s a simplified way to express the expected cost of a particular generating technology. And so you’ll see press accounts now that say, Oh, well, the levelized cost of electricity for wind is now cheaper than the levelized cost of electricity for coal, or the levelized cost of electricity for gas. The implication that they want you to draw from that is, oh, well, that means that all we should do is be investing in wind. Right. But but as I like to say, Nobody pays the levelized cost of anything, nobody makes an investment based on the levelized cost of anything. And all that matters from the consumer standpoint is what’s the system cost, right? That is not accurately reflected in any way by the levelized cost of electricity. But that simplified metric. Has, it’s just a so irresistible. And
Robert Bryce 42:10
because it’s because it’s simple, right? It’s because it’s simple that oh, well, this one is, you know, because of this one metric, right, but it doesn’t I guess that’s not a good soundbite to say, Well, what does it cost? Well, it depends.
Steve Brick 42:24
That’s right. The other reason, Robert is, broadly, one of the things we know and one of the one of the great luxuries of living in a place like America, or Europe is, on most occasions, you walk into your house and you flip a switch and the light goes on. Right, we have very high level of reliability. Electricity is cheap for us, relatively speaking. And we don’t want to think about it. And there’s abundant evidence that that public public doesn’t want to spend its time, you know, thinking about power system dynamics, they want they want the service that electricity provides. And so So when does the public pay attention? Well, the public pays attention when things go wrong, your attention when prices spike. And
Robert Bryce 43:18
and those are relatively occasional events, are they they’re relatively rare to your point.
Steve Brick 43:25
But it but they’re also occasions when politicians and regulators are inclined to make bad decisions. Yeah. Yeah. And and, and so it’s, it’s very, it’s it’s the reason, sort of traditional regulation worked was because in most places, not in all places, but in most places. The the role of the Public Utility Commission or was mostly D politicized. And they the Commission’s saw themselves as kind of the arbiter, that stood between the utility and its investors who had who had rights and interests in the grid. And the consumers, and who demanded reliability and and needed to have power provided cost effectively. But they realized that it was a balancing act, right, the investors were putting the money up, and the investors had a right to expect a return on their investment. And that needed to be balanced with the interest of the consumers. And once you start kind of going down that path, it becomes very difficult to kind of simplify and politicize it. And so, you know, for a long time regulation worked reasonably well, from a kind of a plug and chug way. You know, investors got their money back rates were reliable, people were happy for and again, the happier you are, the more the more invisible the system is going to be. You know, you talk about the generator mafia and Lebanon? Well, that’s a place where the system isn’t isn’t invisible, right? Anybody who lives under those circumstances is keenly aware of what they need to do, to try to make sure that they’ve got power when they want to have power,
Robert Bryce 45:14
and how and how much it costs them. Because for a lot of us, it’s a relatively minor expense. But you I’ll just add one thing, if you don’t mind, you know, you talked about Eastern interconnect, the Western interconnect, and Texas. So those are the major interconnects. And then within those are the RTOS. And underneath, those are the public utility Commission’s in each state. And underneath those are the different coops the different investor owned utilities, publicly owned utilities and independent power producers. It’s just staggeringly complicated. So is that one of the other reasons why our policymakers are just so bad at talking about it is that they don’t want to say it’s complicated. And it’s hard to make a sound bite out of it that that, that that figures in as well.
Steve Brick 46:00
Yeah, absolutely. And, and again, we went through an extensive wave of utility, regular regulatory reform,
Robert Bryce 46:12
right restructuring, as
Steve Brick 46:13
Ken Lay called restructuring, what and the idea being at the time that what we should do is we should we should divide the unit, the industry up into its principal component parts, generation side, which is the power plants and other firms fly, high voltage transmission, which is the highways and local distribution, which gets the the power of the last few miles to the to the basic customer. And the argument was, theoretically that the only thing that really was a natural monopoly was the transmission and the distribution side and the generation could be completely deregulated. And a number of states went sort of completely down that pathway. So California, for example, is a state that the generation is completely deregulated. You you, Robert, live in a state where the generation is completely deregulated. Well, I listened.
Robert Bryce 47:12
This is the this is the Enron legacy.
Steve Brick 47:14
Yeah, I live in Wisconsin, where we started going down that pathway, but then legislature got cold feet and said, No, we’re gonna we’re gonna kind of stick with the tradition. So the other thing that makes it complicated is that we’ve got this regulatory patchwork out there, where all the from traditionally vertically integrated and traditionally regulated, to deregulated to deregulated generation to transmission being held by completely independent companies. And so again, that that that takes that already complicated patchwork that you talked about, and makes it even more complicated, right?
Robert Bryce 47:55
You said and before we today, before we started, Rick hit record that you said you have buyers regret for promoting deregulation. I’ll just add one quick point when I was researching my first book on Enron now, which is that 22, almost 20 and a half years ago, pipe dreams. When I was doing the interviews for that I talked to a guy named Jim wall Zell, who was an executive at Houston, natural gas, he left when Ken Lay came on board at Enron. And he told me at that time, it was 20 years ago, he said, I don’t think this electric deregulation is going to be good for consumers. I just don’t see how it can be. So I’m back to your back to the question. You You said yourself a few minutes ago, you have buyers regret for promoting deregulation. Were you wrong? And why were you wrong?
Steve Brick 48:36
I was wrong. I think
Robert Bryce 48:41
the integrated models better? Well, I
Steve Brick 48:43
was wrong, because for the reasons that were often wrong, right? It’s that we start thinking about an alternative. The alternative is being formed by kind of theoretical underpinnings. And we kind of tightly constrained our thinking about the possible outcomes to a narrow range of conditions that are going to going to come to play while we ignore anything outside of that circle that might make the story sound less good. And, and so with deregulation, we began by by sort of saying, in parallel, I will just basically say that in part, I got involved with colleagues in thinking about regulatory models, because although there were examples around the country of states where regulation was continuing to work fairly well, there were also examples where regulation didn’t work so well. Regulated regulators failed to sort of deliver on on on basic elements of their job and said The thought was, you know, could we do better with it with a competitive system? We devised in our brains models that that in theory should work, but failed to consider the factors that could make those models work less than optimally, right? And really failed to think about, what are we giving up? What do we give up for this, you know, subjecting these power plants to market market market sources? That, you know, some of the So, for example, on the, what did we not consider? Well, we didn’t consider that, in a lot of places, if you were going to cause companies to divest of resources, they had ways to legally meet the terms of divesting of those sources, while still retaining ownership through another vehicle in those same sources. So you know, you had, you had a new name, you had a deregulated a deregulated company. But but but the basic ownership interests were more or less unchanged, and so they did so. So purely competitive forces really didn’t come into play. And there’s some places in the in the Northeast where I think, are kind of fear examples of that. And, and then, in the spirit of what do we give up. And if you and I have talked about this before, and this is the thing that causes me to my deepest regret is the the utility commission in the utility, we’re able to focus on the entire system, from the generation through the transmission, all the way to the distribution system,
Robert Bryce 51:49
in the vertically integrated model with which the Edison and insole model were the one company owns the generation plant, they own all the wires, and they own the meter, everything between the boiler and your and your wall socket.
Steve Brick 52:03
That’s right. And, and so they had to keep the entire picture in view as they made decisions in the end. And it was it was frequently imperfect, but they were not able systematically to ignore important parts of the system. Well, now here we are in a in this patchwork. And you mentioned, for example, regional transmission organizations. Well, they nominally hold responsibility for the high voltage transmission in particular areas, and in some cases, you know, it’s it’s, it’s a regulatory authority and an operational authority where, with the ownership, dispersed among, among utility holders, and they don’t bring a kind of a full system perspective to the questions that they address,
Robert Bryce 52:51
as they’re not responsible for reliability.
Steve Brick 52:54
Well, they’re not responsible for reliability. In all cases, they I will say that, in almost all cases, they certainly do assessments of reliability, and they, they, they keep their eye on it. But it’s, it’s a different perspective, when when you’re saying, Well, we’re the RTO. And our job is to, you know, make sure that make sure that the transmission system works adequately, make sure that in some cases that the power markets work adequately. But we don’t have you know, we don’t have control, for example, over the power generation end of the market. And so again, we gave away a lot of a lot of control that I think probably would have been, we would we would not be struggling with things. Like, for example, climate policy, climate policy would be easier probably to implement if all we had were vertically integrated utilities.
Robert Bryce 53:48
Okay, so let’s just explore that for just a minute. Because, again, just to underscore this patchwork problem, right that we have, okay, so we have less than 200 investor on utilities, they own the majority of the meters, right, they serve the biggest chunk of the market. But then you have the co ops and there are 800 of those you have 2000 Public Power entities like Austin Energy here in town. So yes, you’d have some vertical integration, some a lot of customers would be served by vertically integrated utilities. But a lot wouldn’t be because of this patchwork, this, this regulatory framework that we have that is largely the legacy of the New Deal and getting rid of and of insult, right, the public utility Holding Company Act of 1935. So I guess I’m adding all of that because I want to underscore the complexity. I guess the question is, how do we assure reliability now because everybody’s talking about this, right? The PJM other people saying, well, we don’t have enough generation, how do we make sure that this and most important network, right, our network of networks, our electric grid, is more reliable? Is there a way Is there a role for Congress here is gonna have to be done at the state level? What is the this is something that Texas is wrestled with here? With the last legislative session, what how do we make sure we our electric grid is as strong as it can possibly be?
Steve Brick 55:07
Well, and again, this is, you know, this is this is, this is one of the things that we gave up as we move to deregulated models, right? So let’s just let’s, let’s turn the clock back 30 years, if utility commission, a well run utility commission said, we’re gonna we’re gonna need power in this, in this region, they literally had the authority to order the utilities under under its control, to plan to build new power. Well, now the the incentives were such that that didn’t really have to happen very often, there were probably incentives more than the other way for, for utilities to over build. But there, there was that direct ability to say, Yeah, we’re gonna, we’re gonna need more power, and you’re gonna build it in, you’re gonna, you’re going to, you know, you’re gonna get your money back through the, through the compact that we have with ratepayers. In a state with deregulated markets, you can’t, you can’t snap your fingers, there is no legal Fiat by where you can make somebody come in and build additional power. Right. So in the worst of circumstances, if you had, if you had unit retirements and growing, growing load, and inadequate new supply, there’s probably no remedy for it, I mean, you could you could attempt to offer regulatory incentives, you could argue that, well, that, you know, we’re going to be short for a while. And as we are short, prices are going to skyrocket. Outages are going to continue. And developers will respond to that and come in and build new generation. But that’s utterly chaotic. And, you know, not a good way to, to have the system you need. And I think that’s the, that’s the other thing about about the previous sort of, you know, I’m looking at him, you know, has is the good old days, there was at least a modicum of of trying to get to the system you need. So So you would have, you know, you would, you would you would build generation, and you would have adequate reserve, but you would try to avoid having lots and lots and lots of excess capacity. Right, which was just adds cost to people. So, you asked me, Is there a federal solution? I don’t not have not a federal solution that had passed Congress, because so much of the authority, there’s authority vested in the States, or that states are not going to want to give up. Right. And so I don’t think there’s a federal solution. And, you know, and again, I, I, I’m struggling, because I don’t know, I don’t have an answer. I don’t have an answer to what the solution is.
Robert Bryce 57:50
Well, nor, nor do I, but I wanted to just pose it to you because it’s something that I think about a lot in terms of, you know, this, what we saw here in ERCOT, in Texas, after the after the disaster, well, Whose fault is this? Well, nobody, well, it’s the market failed. Well, the buck doesn’t stop anywhere. And that’s, to me, that’s a problem.
Steve Brick 58:05
And again, Robert, you know, this is this is you’ve, you’ve pointed this out before, but one of the things that, that I think people don’t fully appreciate is that this is a class issue. And I’ll tell you, you know, I live in the great state of Wisconsin, the home of Generac, maker of large standalone generators. And, you know, I, I have a good job, I’ve, I’ve, you know, been reasonably compensated. And if I wanted to buy a Generac generator to supply my house, that would be within my means to do if we look at some of the outages that occurred in the West Coast, in the past decade, California had a bunch of outages, there were some Pacific Northwest outages. Lots of wealthy people went out and bought bought standby generators, right, who doesn’t buy standby generators, who can’t afford standby generators, who suffers from from from from power failure, people who are less well off the poor. Right. So, so again, this is this, one of the other things that I worry about is, are there forces in play? That will be an unvirtuous? spiral? As as as you know, people leave the grid. I mean, and this is one of the challenges if you’re gonna take it back to Africa, right. One of the challenges is to try to find ways to bring industrial customers that exist in Africa back to the grid, because any of those, many of those those those customers have for reliability reasons, built self generation. Right. And, you know, so I, you know, in my darker moments, I worry about whether we’re setting ourselves on a pathway where something like that could actually happen in a place like America.
Robert Bryce 59:53
Well, aren’t we already seeing that though, with some of the big tech companies effectively seceding from the grid, right that we have them You know, owning their own generation, you know, oh, we’ll we’ll be on the grid when we have to be on the grid, etc. But let’s let’s shift they’re away from there for a minute. And because again, a station break, my guest is Steve brick. I haven’t interrupted before because he’s not selling anything he doesn’t have a book he doesn’t have a Twitter handle is not even on LinkedIn. There’s nowhere I can send you to look him up. He is the has the first word and the last word in juice, how electricity explains the world, our documentary, so you can find more about him there. He also is affiliated with the Clean Air Task Force. I don’t think you mind me saying that as well as Chicago, missy, the global affairs of Chicago Council on Global Affairs, but he is an independent power systems consultant with over 40 years of experience in the business. So what about, by the way, Robert,
Steve Brick 1:00:48
just to make it sound like I’m not a total Luddite. I do actually have an email address
Robert Bryce 1:00:54
when you’re talking to us on the computer. So that’s, that is a positive thing. And you do have a mailbox. So if people want to mail you something, I’m sure you could find it there. Let’s talk about models. I’m longtime critical of these electric system modelers who say, Oh, we can build all kinds of transmission we can build all this capacity for renewables and we can go to high penetration renewables etc, etc. Let me ask the first question, what is it gigawatt mile?
Steve Brick 1:01:24
A gigawatt mile is a is a construct, that modelers have developed to imprecisely define how much nutrients permission will be required under different different possible future scenarios. But it’s it’s a construct, and it’s not a very good construct. It’s it’s pretty weak construct. Okay,
Robert Bryce 1:01:49
because I made fun of this, as there were models, the Department of Energy, put out a model and said they need 47,300 gigawatt miles of new high voltage transmission, the New York Times dutifully parroted this line. And I called it phony baloney, because I did a Google search and could not find it anywhere. So you’re saying that some people do use this metric and in the real in the real world, which was news to me, because after talking to other consultants and engineers, they’d never heard of it.
Steve Brick 1:02:17
Yeah. Well, again, so So what are these models do? And again, again, so first of all, let’s talk about models. And I want to I want to channel, the great statistician, George Box. Who said, all models are wrong, some of them are useful. So So why do we why do we use models to begin with, right? I have a model of my retirement portfolio. I have a model of my investments. And I and I, and I, and I use it to, you know, to do what all people in, in my age category do? Will I have enough? You know, to to, you know, to make it to my expected age of 127? The answer to that the answer to that question is? Well, it depends, right? It depends on certain key assumptions that I put on that model. That model, that model is highly accurate, if you want me to tell you what my investment portfolio is going to be worth in a month. Right? If you want me to tell you what my investment portfolio is going to be worth in 20 years that model is, is there’s a lot of uncertainty. Right. Right. And I, I use that example. Because I think I think a lot of people can kind of understand the financial analogy, the closer you are in time, the more secure you are with the kind of assumptions that you make. And you know, you’re probably going to be 90%. Right? Same is true for the electric grid. So so we do all kinds of modeling in this business to do various things. So for example, utilities will model for a particular region. And this could this could be this could be an entire RTO. This could be a portion of an RT RTO, they run a model to sort of say this is what the dispatch, this is what the utilization of power plants is expected to be for the next 24 hours, right. So that that kind of modeling gets done all the time. And that that actually is done with a fairly high degree of accuracy. We also use models to kind of figure out, we’re looking at our existing system. We’re looking at our forecasted load over time. And we know that at some point in time load is going to exceed the capacity of the existing resources generation resources that we have. And we use models to sort of analyze Well, what is what is the next power plant we should build? And that kind of modeling has been going on for a long time and again, that is that isn’t model that is dependent on the assumptions you put in it is dependent upon whether or not the load growth that you forecasted actually happens, whether it’s actually more or less. But but we use it, we use it to run a bunch of scenarios. And we use it to say, well, you know, of these 27 scenarios, 24 of them say that plant x is the kind of plant we want to build. So, so it literally is a is a single, incremental, new generation alternative. As climate has become a driving concern, suddenly the question has been converted to one of how do we take the entire existing footprint of whatever it is, we’re modeling. And over time, transition it from its present state, whatever that is, to a state that is lower carbon, right? Okay. So, so think about that, in the sense of, instead of sort of saying, well, what’s the next power plant? We’re going to build? You’re really asking, what are the next 500 power plants we’re gonna write, and and
Robert Bryce 1:06:17
when they’re under a time constraint that would be different from what another more traditional modeling would be, would be would lay out right, instead of five years saying, Oh, we’re going to do this in 30 years, or something to that effect is that,
Steve Brick 1:06:31
and again, that’s, that’s the big issue, because instead of sort of saying this is, you know, typically, if a utility back and back in the good old days, they’d say, Well, you know, we’re seeing a need in the next five to seven years to add some capacity. And here’s the modeling that we’re going to do. And we’re going to present to the regulator to say, This is why we’ve concluded that a new coal plant or a new gas plant, or something else, is the best way to meet that load. Now, we’re typically focusing on timeframes like 2050, right? And we’re, and again, these modelers are not evil people. They’re, you know, they’re, they’re, they’re all smart, I think, in their own ways. They’re making the best set of assumptions in their judgment that we can. And they’re putting them in very complicated models, to yield scenarios that are somehow optimized for both cost and carbon. But over this incredibly long period of time looking at it at an endpoint of 2050. When you know that, from where we stand today, each one of those variables that goes into that model is, is is going to be surrounded by a fairly high cloud of uncertainty relative to 2050. We’re not very good at at, at at, you know, making really long term precise projections. And again, all of that is just part of the of the honest effort to try to figure out how do you decarbonize, but it’s driven heavily by assumptions. And I think that there’s either a conscious or an unconscious bias toward toward low balling the costs for a lot of things. And even more critically for ignoring factors outside of the model that are critically important in terms of the potential for success for any of these scenarios to come to materialization. So
Robert Bryce 1:08:46
so if I was going to read that, that back to you that would be quantifying the amount of land use that’s needed quantifying the resistance to encroachment, which is one of the obviously the issues I’ve been focused on. But yeah, I think that’s, that’s a fair discussion. And I, and I don’t want to spend too much more time on the models, because I think you’re right. I think that the timeframes are and I know, we need to end here pretty soon. We’ve been talking for more than an hour. Let me just one more quick question on on, what’s your take on nuclear right now I’ve become more sober in my assessment of nuclear, I’m adamantly pro nuclear. Are you hopeful now you’re getting more hopeful or less hopeful? Give me your very quick assessment of the prospects for new nuclear in the United States, specifically in the next five years?
Steve Brick 1:09:30
Well, I mean, you know, the prospects are, you know, a very large new nuclear power plant that has been under construction for a while and has come in, you know, considerably over its original budget is coming online and producing power in Georgia. That’s right unit three plant Vogel, yeah, plant Vogel. And so we have succeeded in building a new power plant, as a model for doing subsequent inter aerations we need to get better, we need to get cheaper, we need to get faster. There are technologies that are that are moving along, particularly some of the small modular reactors that are that are, I think, more appropriately sized to the kinds of load growth that we’re seeing. Right. So the the vocal units, the the AP 1000s, it’s 1000 megawatt reactor. And so you add, you add a, you know, unless you’re a very large system, which Southern Company, Georgia Power, the builder of Vogel is that 1000 megawatts is a lot to swallow in one lump, particularly if load is growing slowly. If you can add reactors in 250 megawatt increments, that is that is going to be better suited to the kinds of load growth that we’re seeing in places like America and Europe. Right. Can we we certainly have the potential to bring costs down. And so for example, if we look at the at the at the projects that have been completed, in the United Arab Emirates, a collaboration between Korean producer and Emiratis, as the as the buyers of these plants, those were those were produced, for very reasonable cost per kilowatt relative to what we’re doing here. In the US, what’s the difference? Well, they’re not burdened with the same kind of regulatory situation, that we are here. Right. And we’re also not not burdened with the the kind of baked in public resistance to nuclear power that we have in the United States. Right. So I’m, I’m, again, I think, I’m optimistic technolog technology technically. And as somebody who I think, from a precautionary standpoint, I’m I’m absolutely persuaded that climate change is something that we need to be thinking about. I think nuclear power is an absolute must have technology for addressing the problem in a cost effective way. And by the way, that, that is not the position that I have held all my life. But as I, as I, you know, 10 or 15 years ago, I started really thinking about what, what we needed, both from a power standpoint, but also what we needed from an environmental standpoint, I kind of changed my tune on nuclear. Yeah. And, but again, there’s there are a lot of hurdles out there, I don’t think the big progress is necessarily going to be made in the US and Europe I, or at least at least Western Europe, I look to other places where I think if progress is going to be visible and quick, it’s going to be there are places like Eastern Europe, for example, Poland is expressing a lot of interest in developing nuclear Romania is expected expressing a lot of interest in, in new nuclear. And so again, a lot of challenges, but, but at least from it from a technical standpoint, I’m optimistic that that a new generation of technology can come along that actually is you know, cost effective and, and buildable in a in a reasonable amount of time.
Robert Bryce 1:13:13
Good. Last two questions. What are you reading?
Steve Brick 1:13:17
What am I reading? You mean in all in all respects, or just in the energy world?
Robert Bryce 1:13:24
all respects. All right. So book books, we’re after here.
Steve Brick 1:13:28
Here we go. All right, I’m gonna I’m gonna tell you my newest discovery. The author of True Grit. Haha, I’m Charles Pettis, I knew about True Grit. I got this book, and came in a series of books that I own. And and the plug was this is the greatest American author that nobody has ever heard of. And his fiction, in my mind is fall off the chair funny in a dry and draw away and it’s not all Westerns like True Grit. So that was a that was a discovery. That’s what I read on vacation.
Robert Bryce 1:14:06
Charles Pettis, P E T T U S,
Steve Brick 1:14:09
you know what I’ve got? I’m, I’m terrible.
Robert Bryce 1:14:12
Steve Brick 1:14:14
People should remember, look up the author of true grit and it’s that guy, okay, got it. No problem. Okay. And then, you know, again, I read all I haven’t the last really great energy book that I read was the one that I plugged on last time I was on your show, which is Meredith. Meredith penguins book, shorting the grid. And generally speaking, and then I read your book, of course, but I don’t need to plug your book for you. I generally, I’m pretty disappointed by books. And I, but I tend to I tend to you know, read some of the more decent reporting economist just had a I Got a pretty good, pretty good piece on pretty good extended piece on transmission and the challenges of building transmission. I often look to them for some sort of more sober kind of kind of energy reporting. But, you know again there’s there’s there’s in the energy world there’s a there’s a there’s a lot of not very deep stuff out there as you well know, Robert
Robert Bryce 1:15:23
I do. It’s Charles Portis por where this is
Steve Brick 1:15:26
where it is. Thank you, Charles. Portis PRT is you can google and you can do two things at the same time. Charles, Portis, check him out. He’s he’s he’s quite funny.
Robert Bryce 1:15:36
No problem. And lastly, and then I’ll let you after this one, what gives you hope?
Steve Brick 1:15:43
What gives me hope. So I spent a lot of time as you, as you indicated, working for Clean Air Task Force, which is a rather unusual NGO, the focused on developing low carbon technologies, but absolutely technologically agnostic. The belief is we need as many of them as we as we possibly have, they need to be cost effective, they need to be wildly wide, widely deployable. And we have got a crop of 20 to 30 year old. Many of them are PhDs, many of them are, you know, masters. And they’re, they’re committed and they’re interested in, they’re open minded, and they’re hardworking. And they see the complexity of the of the climate problem. And they’re there. They’re putting their shoulder to the wheel and in an open minded way to try to come up with real, workable solutions that are that are fit to purpose, not just for America or Europe, but better fit the purpose for for the globe. And that that gives me hope.
Robert Bryce 1:16:53
Well, that’s a good place to stop then. My guest has been Steve, Steve brick, he is an independent power independent power systems consultant. You don’t have to look him up because you won’t find him. But he is my good friend and glad to have you back on for the second time on the power hungry podcast. Steve has been great to catch up and glad to get your latest insights on what’s happening in Africa and elsewhere.
Steve Brick 1:17:20
Great. My pleasure, Robert, always good to talk. And thanks
Robert Bryce 1:17:23
to all of you in podcast land, tune into the next episode of the power hungry podcast before you that do that if you haven’t done it already, subscribe to my podcast or to my substack Robert bryce.substack.com and give this podcast a five star review on whatever reviewing platform you’re on. And until the next time we will see you right back here on the power hungry podcast. See you