Kyle King - Andy Chastain Transcript
Kyle King: Welcome to the Crisis Conflict and Emergency Management Podcast where we have global conversations and share perspectives about international crisis preparedness and how to build more resilient societies. My name is Kyle, and I will be your host. And just how vulnerable are we to the changing international environment and what can we learn from this experience?
[00:18] From AI to space warfare, to community development, and crisis communications. There's something here for everyone. Join us for unique international conversations and perspectives into the current threats, challenges, and risks to our society. This podcast is brought to you by Capacity Building International and sponsored by The International Emergency Management Society.
[00:46] Today we're joined by Andy Chastain. And Andy, welcome to the show. Thanks for joining us.
[00:50] Andy Chastain: Thanks for having me.
[00:52] Kyle King: Energy security is obviously something that has been in the news quite a lot lately, and with your background and working in that sector and stuff like that, I thought it'd be a great time to talk about energy security. What does it mean? And then how do we balance all of these different requirements that people wanna have in terms of green technologies, renewable or energy, and the integration of renewable energy into the grid systems? And then even though what I might call the practical reality of what we're seeing, say what was happening in Texas, or brownouts in other locations or in California talking about managing the grid remotely and for people through their devices and stuff like that. Just a lot of different things going on. And so maybe let's just start with that conversation there and let's talk a little bit about renewable energy and what are your thoughts about what does it mean to have energy security? Let's start with that.
[01:49] Andy Chastain: Absolutely. It's a lot more complicated than everybody thinks. When they think renewable energy, they assume you put up wind farms, you toss some solar out there and that it reduces carbon emissions across the board. It's a little bit more complicated than just plugging in a wind farm, and going as far as the energy security, a lot of it, what I do revolves around grid resiliency.
[02:13] And what we're talking about, grid resiliency rather than just grid reliability. Reliability is making sure that everybody has power as often as possible. You're trying to inconvenience the end customer as little as possible. So when you have to take an outage, the outage is 30 seconds or less. You're taking them from one substation to another.
[02:34] Grid resiliency is about improving the quality of the equipment that you have in individual substations on transmission lines. So it's reliable to give people power with as few outages as possible. It's resilient when you have redundancies in place, multiple lines going to the same locations, prioritizing deep metropolitan areas over rural areas. And then you have items as simple as putting ballistic plating on high priority equipment. So that in the event that you have a hurricane or tornado, you have heavy weather conditions, that the equipment that you have in individual substations and on individual transmission lines is sturdier and can hold up in the event when you have an emergency. Like you see the hurricane come through Florida, hear a lot of people talk about, "Oh well, we should bury all the transmission lines". That's expensive. And the utility has to balance how much money it costs to bury the transmission commodities versus the benefit that the customers are gonna receive. Because everybody wants to have power all the time, but not everybody wants to see their electric bill double from month to month.
[03:51] Kyle King: Yeah, that's true. I think there's a lot of things that would be taken in balance. And so, you were talking about the redundancy piece, the resilience piece, and then also balancing that with natural disasters and maybe we can highlight really quick here is the major policy changes that have to happen. An investment that has to happen. And I know, we see it in the news every day—activists. Like they do in Germany, they glue themselves to the highways and things like that in terms of climate change and pursuing these objectives and these ideals. But it takes significant investment. It takes significant time and significant policy changes in order to be able to have an impact upon our grid networks and things like that. So when you mentioned the hurricanes and burying the power lines, these are long-term projects that take substantial time to change.
[04:44] When we talk about these things, like what sort of timeframe are we looking at to really create an effective change in that route? Is it like 5 years, 10 years? If you take on something like that, what timeframes are we looking at?
[04:56] Andy Chastain: For something as simple as burying utility lines, depending on the length of the line, that will kind of determine your costs. But at the end of the day, you're talking about start to finish. From identifying the need for a project, taking it to your RTO or your ISO—those are just your regional transmission operators—to say, "This is just quantifiable reliability improvement. Here's where we are now. Here's what we'll be at the end to get your approval from whoever your RTO is at the time." And then you actually go to engineer it, design it. Because all the utilities are, for the most part, hyper regulated and what they can and can't do. You're gonna have an advanced bid process to get the contractors, the people who are linemen in the field, who do the work. By the time it's finished, and you've got a project wrapped up in probably five years, start to finish on just a local 15-mile route, maybe, to bury the utilities. So these projects aren't easy. They're not something that comes around every single day. And to identify these needs and to make them a priority is something that is harder to do than it is to say, because we've got a lot of projects out there that identify aging infrastructure. A lot of it is like, grid is just old. It's not necessarily malfunctioning yet, but that's another question of balance. But the utility needs to find a way to replace the equipment before it goes bad, but also not just change out equipment because it's old. At the end of the day, the people who pay for these projects, hardly ever they are great payers. They're the people who just wanna run the refrigerator, they wanna be warm at night. Those are the kind of things that need balance and to make the grid more resilient by burying the bulk electric system underground to prevent damage during hurricanes, that ends up being a lower priority than trying to reliably get the power to rural areas or to improve connectivity in metropolitan areas.
[07:01] Kyle King: I think that's also an interesting point. This conversation was happening, or at least it was a conversation in the news. I think maybe it was last year, the current administration in the US was wanting to pass a big infrastructure package and the conversation came up a lot about the US infrastructure, roads, bridges, power, everything. And in terms of the age of the infrastructure and where the improvements are needed. And so when we're looking at the grid networks, I know this is all just your personal opinion on this and your professional opinion from your time in the industry. But when we look at our grid networks today and a city or community has to decide what they want to do, what are they looking at? What is your feeling about the state of infrastructure and energy infrastructure specifically the aging of the infrastructure and how much investment that's gonna take to be able to bring things forward before we could never really get to a more modern, advanced, renewable, sustainable sort of energy infrastructure?
[07:59] Andy Chastain: Yeah. On the renewable side, it's really a complicated conversation and I think part of the issue is that the policy is dictated by people who don't understand the utility. So the policy is dictated by politicians who haven't ever worked as an electrical engineer. They've never worked in operations. They don't understand necessarily how the process works. So the Inflation Reduction Act, which ironically does reduce inflation, is designed to throw money into renewable energy, which is great except that we don't really have a strategy in place. So, the strategy seems to be like electrify everything. So you're gonna see more Teslas on the road and they're gonna need to plug in places. But until we know where that demand is coming from, we don't necessarily know how to help. So the grid can only be improved based on what we know. And right now we don't really know what the long-term strategy is at this point. Policy-wise, I think what needs to happen would be to organize all of these RTOs together to take a look at what the need is going to be and to identify the transmission improvement projects to improve the grid where it needs improved.
[09:21] But at this point, we don't necessarily know. So, micro version of this, when will we plug the electric cars? So if we were all going to an office, then every downtown office would have charging stations. We would plug the cars in during the day, we would work, and then we'd go home. If you charge your car at night, nighttime is typically when the grid gets a break, so everybody wakes up, they turn on their electronics. Everything from electric kettles to televisions to washer and dryers, all this stuff comes on, the grid heats up, we put more power on, and then the evening, everything kinda cools off. Most people in the US don't use electricity for heat. So get into the overnight hours, the electricity demand reduces. But if we're gonna see people plugging their cars overnight at home, then the electrical demand overnight is substantially higher. And in my opinion, the perpetual need for electricity around the clock is so very different from where it's been in the past that the solution is to increase the amount of baseload energy rather than to add renewables, which are not producing power 100% of the time. Windmill would generate electricity when the wind is blowing. Solar panels only produce electricity when the sun is out. So at night, to rely entirely on one single source of renewable energy to power everything, especially with an increased grid demand, it feels shortsighted, it feels like a solution in search of a problem. And at the end of the day, we need to know where we're going before we start making improvements. Otherwise, we'regonna be spending a lot of money improving the electrical grid to be more stable for what it is now or for a future that we just don't quite understand yet.
[11:12] Kyle King: That's actually something I never really thought about before. I have a planning background, so I appreciate the nuance here. But it is interesting when you're looking at it from a utility side perspective. When you get a requirement to increase electrical vehicle charging stations in a community, and nobody can tell you how many vehicles will be coming or would be going into the community. And then you don't really know, what's the plan then? Do you put out a thousand, do you put out a hundred of these charging stations? And then ultimately at the end of the day, the increased demand on that community grid system, because these electrical vehicles are coming into the community, and there's been a change over the long term effect of that might be. So that's quite interesting that there is a requirement coming down. And yet we don't really know the adoption rates and integration in the communities and then the subsequent impact of that. And then you're pretty much stuck in, I guess and I would presume. And you could tell me if I'm wrong, but presume in a rather difficult position because getting pressure to change, but not having a real clear direction on where to apply your resources.
[12:19] Andy Chastain: Yep. And then there's one layer deeper on top of all of that, which is the way the grid is mixed right now. The process in ultra macro version is the RTO knows a guesstimate of how much power it needs for the next day. So it basically goes out and says, "Put an offer in for all of your utilities on the power you're generating and that we will buy it for the next day."
[12:45] What these RTOs need is they need baseload energy, which is power that runs 24/7 all the time at a relatively low rate so that they could say, "We're gonna have a minimum of X number of megawatts per hour throughout the day." I need this nuclear power plant which produces 1200 megawatts and I want this coal-fired plant which is making a thousand. And then from there they say, "This hydroelectric makes so much." And then it just compiles until the RTO is decided. "This is the sufficient power that we need. This is what we're gonna buy from you guys. Here's the green light. We're good to go." If they buy power from a wind farm and then the wind farm doesn't produce, then they need to turn around and buy energy in real time. And the short version is when you buy in advance, it's cheaper than when you buy day-of. So, if PJM interconnection, which runs from Chicago through Philadelphia, if they say, I need X number of watts, and the weather tomorrow looks favorable for wind. And they buy up a bunch of wind assets and then the weather man is wrong, you'll figure then they're up a creek without a paddle. They need to find a way to allocate that power, and it's not easy in the moment. So nuclear power plants, you can't just turn off and turn on. That's a multi-day process. Whole fire plants take hours to turn on or turn off. Natural gas plants are relatively the same, although they're a little bit quicker. So the power that you have access to that you could turn on quickly in an emergency, you're looking at things like diesel energy, which is obviously not green. So whoever's in power on the state side, it's Congress. When they say we need to have this percentage mix of green energy by such and such a date, the energy is available and we don't use it because it's a) expensive, or b) not available when we need it. So my utility has plenty of wind farms. We get a lot of energy from hydroelectric. We've got wind and we've got solar in the mix. The issue that we have is, with all the solar and all the wind that we have, it just doesn't produce as much energy as these big baseload power plants. So it complicates the policy issue when they say, "Here's your target, meet it." It's difficult for us to go in there and meet it without destabilizing the grid. For decades, it's been nuclear and coal. And now we have access to cheaper natural gas, but it's only cheaper because of fracked sand. So as long as the environmentalists are fighting fracking, that's not gonna be seen as a green energy source. Which it leaves us with wind and solar and hydro. And when you're in a time of drought, hydro's not available. Solar's not available at night. Wind is variable in its availability. So the ask from the government is different from the reality of the utility, and we can't switch over to 100% renewable energy at this time even if we could get all of the assets in the field right now. For no reason other than it's not producing stable enough, reliable enough electricity for us to meet grid resilience, grid reliability, and renewable energy standards. So in that triangle you can have two, but you can't have one. So if you alter one end of that triangle, the other two have to be impacted, and it's just not something that's feasible at this time. So grid operators and utilities are in a difficult spot. So all we can think of is to put more wind out there and put more solar out there to meet these guidelines. We don't really have a fantastic strategy, mostly because we're just not 100% sure the direction that we're going.
[16:50] Kyle King: When you were explaining that, it highlights the complicated issues surrounding these major changes in our society. And if it's going to be a supply site issue or a demand site issue in terms of that. And I wonder, and again, I'm uninitiated in the topic in terms of the application of the grid and things like that. But I wonder for this could somehow convert down to a codes and standards thing for housing to where instead of being that pressure being placed upon the suppliers, that it's being driven and pushed down to the actual demand level where houses, for example, would be coded or required to have solar to supplement the nighttime and give the grid a break, so to speak. Has that been a point of discussion or am I way off track on that? What are your thoughts about shifting that responsibility, so to speak?
[17:43] Andy Chastain: Yeah, the discussion has been a lot around net metering. The shortest possible version on net metering is if I put solar in my house and I produce more than I consume, I can set it through the meter the other direction, and then the utility pays for it. What the utilities are kinda looking at this point is if you plug in your electric car and you take the [met] off the grid, when that reverses, that the utility wants to be able to reach through the meter and pull electricity out of your car's battery. So when demand is hot and we need to put power on the grid, the utilities are gonna wanna have access to your Tesla smart wall, your solar, and your car's lithium ion batteries, the cobalt or whatever your tech is. So the utility's response to that on the demand level, shrinking it down as micro as possible, is most likely to be the pole, the battery power back onto the grid to supply basically your neighbor's homes.
[18:52] Kyle King: Yeah. That's interesting. I hadn't thought about that either. I guess if there's a one-way requirement of, okay, we'll supply if you buy it, but then there's the opposite side of that, like you're just talking about. Whereas if the supplier, the utility itself needs additional energy, they need to be able to draw it or purchase it, like you said, or if there's some emergency or something, they want to be able to purchase that or bring that from across that distribution network, which is gonna be an interesting conversation. Did they have much success in those sort of discussions? Or when you listen to these conversations, what's the opinion from the individuals and the homeowners from that?
[19:30] Andy Chastain: Yeah, so basically it transitions back to long term strategy. So right now we have centralized power. We make it at the plant. We put all the transmission lines, we step it down through substations, we bring it to your home. If we see policy changes that dictate that individual residences are going to need to produce their own power with solar or wind or what have you, at Tesla wall. Then you decentralized the power grid. And if that's a long-term strategy and that's a goal that we decide culturally we want to get to, then that is a massive change to the grid. And that's where my complaints with just throwing money at the problem come from. So we can build up the grid, we can add more transmission lines, we can add more redundancies. But if at the end of the day everybody's gonna produce their own power and put it on the grid collectively, then there is no reason for us to raise everyone's electric rates and subsidize. What happens with the green energy is the green energy is more expensive. It's more expensive to put a windmill on the grid than it's to put coal on the grid. But because our government subsidizes the renewables, they can put their offer to provide energy on the grid and in the next day, review with these RTOs. They can produce power for less money because they're subsidized. But what happens with those subsidies is start subsidizing people to add renewable energy to produce their own power. That's gonna change the grid. And the windmill in rural Kansas, or the Dakotas that's producing energy to put on the grid doesn't necessarily have anywhere to go if everyone's producing their own power. And one last thing that kind of as a wrinkle here is what to do in large metropolitan areas. So, solar panels on a thousand square foot home in a suburb—that powers the home. But the surface area on the roof of a skyscraper is not adequate to provide power for everything that goes in there. Additionally, you've got large commercial customers that need substantial amounts of energy like Rivian. When they produce these new electric trucks, they have such a large demand on the grid that the utilities that support them are literally building dedicated assets on the grid to provide transformers and higher voltage power for these factories that are producing everything. So those factories are never gonna have enough square footage, surface area to produce the power they need from solar. So at the end of the day, the balance that we were talking about still needs to be struck where we need utilities to produce power for the large commercial customers in big cities, even if everybody converts to solar on the rooftops or panels in a farm. We still need more power than we're gonna be able to produce. The demand is going back up and we're expecting it to spike pretty substantially with the move to electric automobiles. Even after it's somewhat become for the first time since the air condition was invented, because everybody's going to more energy efficient appliances. Think about your refrigerator runs all day, every day, nonstop. Your washer and dryer. As things are converting to gas or getting more electrically efficient, like your television, the demand for electricity's kinda come down a little, so we're gonna see it spike again. And if we're decentralizing the grid at the same time, we expect a spike in demand, there's a lot of factors there, and the management of the grid becomes more difficult than ever.
[23:29] Kyle King: So where does that leave us then? If we're in this complicated place of where we don't quite have the technology and the infrastructure in place to go completely renewable but at the same time, we're seeing an increased demand to be renewable and increased requirements on the grid from new electrical vehicles. And so we have a demand and a supply issue, but we're not quite over the hump yet, right? So we're not over that obstacle of being able to provide that because, and I think it's a great point, we haven't made a decision culturally to shift to a decentralized network and don't even I think would argue, don't even really understand the impact of what that means. So where does that put us now in terms of renewable technologies and trying to implement these things?
[24:14] Andy Chastain: I think first and foremost it starts with nature strategy. We need to have a long-term grid strategy that focuses on reliability first, resiliency second, and renewables third. So if we can continue to prioritize keeping the grid reliable while integrating renewables in, we can reduce the total carbon footprint without crippling the grid or just people's pockets in general.
[24:44] The second part of that in addition to the strategy, I think the second part is messaging. Because on both sides, the messaging is getting more politicized and therefore more extreme. We're running into issues where the renewables crowd is making claims that are blatantly not true, which is disenfranchising half of the world's population. Because the half of the world that wants to keep mining coal and wants to continue with fossil fuels, because of the necessity of maintaining grid reliability. They're gonna be tuned out to renewables anyway. So when a place like Sydney, Australia makes a claim that they are 100% renewable, they're producing more renewable energy than they use. The problem is that, as part of the laws that these countries are passing, to say "We're gonna be renewable", they also include a lot of transparency so that everybody can see how wonderful the renewable energy is. The issue that we're having is that, when you go to the NEM website to see what the energy mix is in New South Wales, which is where Sydney is, they're 85% black coal. So when the city of Sydney says, we're 100% green, anybody and their brother can go check and see if that's false. So we're doing a thing now where we're cherry-picking the data and altering the statistics to say what we want so that we can make claims that aren't true to advance whatever our agenda is. And that's a dangerous place to be because if we're operating from a position where the data that we're presenting isn't factual and then we are going to throw money at it without a good strategy, you leave the utility companies that are at the end of the day gonna be responsible for improving the grid and dictating the direction that we're going.
[26:47] You leave them in a really tight spot because there's no path forward. You're using bad data to extrapolate your long-term models from. And even if your model is accurate for the data you have, the data you have is false. So I think we need to adjust the strategy and adjust the messaging. We need to be making statements that are far more reserved and far more accurate than stating things like Greece recently. For five hours, Greece ran entirely on renewable energy, but during those five hours, the nation of Greece had the largest amount of wind in recorded history. So 100% of their wind turbines were operating, 100% of them were operating at or near capacity. So it was wonderful that for those five hours they had a carbon footprint, ostensibly zero. But what do you do for the other 19 hours a day? I think the messaging is key.
[27:55] And then the third piece is fostering an understanding among the everyday citizens who are in this political climate everyday. Citizens are just small political activists at this point. But we need to understand that if you get all of your power from wind, when it's not windy, you have no power. All your power from solar, you don't have any power at night. So we need to have an energy mix that's diversified. We see situations where France was almost exclusively nuclear. Which is great until you have an issue acquiring your nuclear fuel. Germany is reliant on natural gas, which is great until there's a war with Ukraine or Nord Stream 2 or what have you. So we need an energy mix for the sake of the safety and security of the grid in addition to the reliability of the grid. I think the push should be more renewable rather than all renewable. And I think that if you make that the strategy and you make that the messaging that it's really easy to foster understanding of people and say, globally, we want have our baseload energy provided by nuclear because it's zero carbon. We want to have clean coal and natural gas available when the grid is hot. And we want to have as much renewable energy as possible to reduce the carbon footprint. So the goal would be eventually to phase out coal with renewable energy. But the caveat all of that is you need to build more renewable energy than you're gonna use because it can't all be operational all the time.
[29:49] So you need 150% of the wind farms that you would expect to need because you expect a third of them not to be operational all the time. And that's, we're gonna talk balance like the 17th time, but that's the balance. At the end of the day, the utility bills it, customer pays for it. You don't want everyone's electric bills to be triple of what they are now so that we can have renewable energy. That's something that every utility's gonna have to balance, but I think it all starts with strategy and messaging.
[30:23] Kyle King: Actually, I think that's a perfect summary of the entire situation that we're facing right now. And the only thing I would add to that is some recent conversations I've had in some different symposiums and things like that. And it was more sort of security and military focused. But we need to all have a simple understanding, and we talked briefly about it before we started the show today, but we're implementing and developing things with the technology we have today. And if we're fielding ships and planes and everything else out of industry, those are gonna be in the use for the next 15 or 30 years. And so we have to understand that this is a long process to develop in the transition, and if we wanna do it smoothly, it does take this strategy that you are correctly talking about.
[31:04] So, very insightful, very interesting conversation. Thanks very much for sharing that with us today, Andy. And if everybody wants to find you, they wanna reach out to you and get in touch with you, what's the best way to find you?
[31:14] Andy Chastain: I'm on basically all of the old man's socials. Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn. I'm @andychastainstl and you can find me just about on every platform. Though, I post mostly on LinkedIn. If you want sports updates and me complaining, Facebook's the spot.
[31:34] Kyle King: All right, thanks Andy. Thanks a lot for joining us today. And it was really interesting conversation and I think we're a long way from having a solution, so I appreciate you highlighting the nuances behind energy and resilient grids and everything else like that. So thanks a lot and really appreciate your time.
[31:48] Andy Chastain: Thanks man. I appreciate it buddy.
[31:49] Kyle King: Alright, thanks.