One of the biggest challenges I face is trying to keep up with all the great books my guests recommend as part of the show. One that I absolutely loved and found incredibly useful was The Grid: The fraying wires between Americans and our energy future. After the recent black outs in Texas I thought it a great time to speak with the author Gretchen Bakke, and ask why that happened, what needs to change, and what opportunities that creates for cleantech start-ups, scale-ups and VCs. I’m delighted that Gretchen accepted my request and joins me on the podcast this week.
About Gretchen Bakke:
Gretchen is interested in what people do when the systems they rely upon stop working. Whether speaking of the end of political systems like communism, infrastructural systems like the electric grid, economic systems like whaling, energetic systems like fossil fuels, or cultural systems like the contemporary university what unites my work is an abiding concern for both the inventive creativity and the normative impulses that systemic collapse begets. What is the nature of renewal, she asks, and what do people, diversely, make of things when all that is solid fades unexpectedly into air.
About Grid- The Fraying Wires Between Americans and Our Energy Future:
“A remarkable achievement. Bakke deftly shows us how a system most of us are happy to ignore–the electrical grid–is both inseparable from everything we think of as civilization and on the verge of complete failure.” Paul Roberts, author of The End Of Oil and The Impulse Society.
“This book, about our aging electrical grid, fits in one of my favorite genres: ‘Books About Mundane Stuff That Are Actually Fascinating.’ … even if you have never given a moment’s thought to how electricity reaches your outlets, I think this book would convince you that the electrical grid is one of the greatest engineering wonders of the modern world. I think you would also come to see why modernizing the grid is so complex and so critical for building our clean-energy future.” – Bill Gates, “My Favorite Books of 2016
- Gretchen Bakke on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/gretchen-bakke-485067135/
- Gretchen Bakke Website: http://bakkeconsolidated.org/about.php
About Hyperion Executive Search:
Hyperion are a specialist executive search firm working with some of the most innovative cleantech companies in the world, helping to find extraordinary talent to enable their growth and success. Partnering with leading cleantech VCs, as well as directly with founders and entrepreneurs in the sector. With our clients we are transforming business and growing a strong and prosperous cleantech economy.
If you want to grow your team, or move forward your career, visit www.hyperionsearch.com, or email firstname.lastname@example.org
- How to Access Venture Capital – eBook – https://hyperionsearch.co.uk/download-guide-to-access-venture-capital/
- The Fraying Wires Between Americans and Our Energy Future – https://www.powells.com/book/the-grid-9781608196104
- Mission is Possible- Guidehouse podcast – https://missionispossible.podbean.com/
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David Hunt 0:31
Hello, I’m David Hunt, CEO and founder of Hyperion executive search and your host for the leading clean tech podcast. For this bonus episode, we’re going to do something a little bit different. But before I tell you what I’d like to share with you, in particular, all founders and entrepreneurs listening, I’ve just published an ebook on how to access venture capital is based on my conversations with top clean tech VCs, both on this podcast and elsewhere. And that we are linked to access to book on the episode page for this episode. In terms of this week, as you run though, I always ask for book recommendations from my guests. One that has come up often and one that I absolutely loved reading is by Gretchen Barker. Gretchen is a cultural anthropologist and the author of the grid, the fraying wires between Americans and our energy future. It’s an outstanding book and on the back of recent blackouts and chaos in Texas and California. I thought I’d reach out to Gretchen to share so she would share her thoughts on why that happened, what needs to change, and what opportunities that creates for clean tech startups, scallops and VCs. I’m delighted that Gretchen accepted my request and joins me on the podcast this week. By way of her biography, Gretchen is a visiting professor of anthropology at the integrative Research Institute on transformations of human environment systems at Humboldt University in Berlin. She is also a member of the Anthropocene Working Group at the Max Planck Institute for the history of science. I hope you enjoyed the episode. Hello, and welcome to the reason clean tech podcast. Gretchen, it’s great to have you join me How are things with sorry, in Berlin at the moment?
Gretchen Bakke 2:01
A very grey and, and hopefully springy soon. But I suppose as well as all things could be anywhere at this particular moment in time.
David Hunt 2:11
Yeah, one room looks much like another at the moment. I think
Gretchen Bakke 2:15
it’s it’s the office or is the bedroom.
David Hunt 2:18
Yeah, exactly. Exactly. Anyway, great food for you to spend some time with us. So there’s clearly so much I’d love to cover. And we could talk for weeks about this broad topic. But we don’t have weeks unfortunately. So I’d like to cover three sort of main areas for our audience if we could, each complex in its own way. One of which is the blackouts in Texas, which are still relatively recent. Moving on to the sort of the broader energy transition. And then perhaps given our audience is quite entrepreneurial within the sector, looking at how businesses and entrepreneurs can help replace traditional fossil fuels based technologies and business models and how we can go about sort of playing our part in the transition that most of us have a mission to play a part in some way, shape or form. So So first of all, though, as I said, a few weeks ago, now the blackouts in Texas, can you perhaps share a little bit of what caused them and more importantly, what lessons we can take from that situation, not just for Texas, but also from the US and more broadly, globally.
Gretchen Bakke 3:16
So I think most people know now what the causes were, I can go over them quickly. The, of course, the funnest of the causes is actually the fact that Texas has for historical reasons, essentially its own electricity grid. So only 2% of the electricity, which is made in Texas is export it and all of the rest of it is used in state. And the reason for that is as a way of avoiding federal oversight. Because in the US, it’s electricity which crosses straight borders, state borders, which is regulated federally, of course, they have their own regulation in Texas, but it’s a different it allows for kind of, I tend to say freedom and creativity but also in this case kind of disaster within the within the the grid, which is Texas, and historically the the fact that it allows them to secede quite easily. But what that means, of course, is that there’s only these very few inter ties between Texas and the larger grid. And then when you get a situation like this extreme cold weather, there’s no where to turn. And I think that’s this is exactly the problem is that these days, were all kind of all about islanding. Like if you can create an electricity system which can island itself, so that when there’s a distress of whatever sort on the larger grid, you can take that load off the grid and allow. We usually say micro micro grid, but it can be. There’s many different ways you can have an island double system, but to allow that to work on its own. That’s great, right? But it’s the interconnectivity piece that gets lost. In the Texas case, so it’s not just that they’re isolated, but that they can’t connect easily when there’s a stressful event, and so that, of course, is the true cause of the I guess how would you say the the the extent of the damage was the fact that they just didn’t have the ability to draw on available resources outside their network?
David Hunt 5:24
Yeah, yeah. It’s interesting. I think it goes back in my audience, whenever I’ve talked many times about your your book, in terms of the history of how you know that electricity grid in the US came about is how it is now and going back to sort of those early days where it was purely Ireland, but again, for different reasons. But yeah, again, I think that’s one of the factors were and there were a lot of anomalies that came from it. Of course, the weather in itself was an anomaly. But then again, as a as an end stressor, as a grid, where they have sort of time of use tariffs as well now, because of the sort of ability to regulate themselves. So I heard of some people paying sort of 9000 pounds for a kilowatt hour of electricity during the sort of those that could get it which, again, is rigged against
Gretchen Bakke 6:06
those who could get it who were so happy to have power. And we’re such a resource. I mean, in talking to people who were in Texas, the the thing was that everybody was somehow finding somewhere to charge their telephone, essentially, every day. And those places that were a resource to the community, and now are the ones not all of them. It depends the tariff in Texas, you can choose your your tariffs, but people who opted into this variable, real time price tariff, which in most places in the US is actually not allowed. There, they did have these $9,000 a kilowatt hour price tag to deal with, and I’m sure they’re not knocking on their neighbor’s doors. Now asking for the whatever $700 it cost to charge the phone that one afternoon in the middle of the blackout?
David Hunt 6:54
Yeah. So there were a lot of anomalies. But again, perhaps one of the learnings so interconnectivity, clearly is one and again, in our learnings, not just for Texas, but more broadly, in terms of how our grids have evolved. And I think this is one of the key things around becoming, you know, a decentralised, increasingly decentralised Island or multiple number of islands as opposed to sort of centralised command and control. But there were other learnings that you felt that could be addressed both in the US and elsewhere in terms of because of that, I mean, a these sorts of events are going to become more frequent. But also, you know, in terms of business models and regulations of what we need to consider what needs to change to avoid those sort of circumstances again. Yeah, I
Gretchen Bakke 7:34
mean, I think one of the one of the things that I’ve said before is that the grid is really built for the local weather conditions of the place where where it is. And so you have certain things that are in place to keep the system in good working order, in Texas that just aren’t made for cold weather. And even though everybody now says, of course, there was cold weather, extreme cold weather before Texas should have known blah, blah, blah, I think, generally speaking, what we’re beginning to see is that the grid is actually not prepared for the kind of stresses that we’re putting on it now. And so, at one level, at the most basic level, to sort of say, like, what are the strange things that are happening here? And what in this particular location? Do we need to prepare for in order to sort of keep the electricity system in good working order, while we actually are revolutionising it? And of course the answer for that it’s going to be very different someplace like Northern California, where it’s the it’s an interaction between the actual infrastructure of the grid and the dryness of the environment that’s creating these fires, it’s a very different problem than what you have in Texas. So I think that’s one thing, even though it’s easy to sort of push off, I think it’s one thing to just remember that it’s all the grid is always local. And so then, as local circumstances change, one has to adapt to those circumstances. interconnected. interconnect ability, of course, is another thing. In terms of business models. I think part of the problem right now is that the regulation is so unclear in many places, is that it’s really hard for even really forward thinkers in the industry to figure out how to take steps that will lead them someplace in five years, or seven years, or 10 years. Because it’s not, it’s not really sure yet how the legislation will support or undermine those kinds of steps. So it’s easy to say that it should be possible for For example, to have if you have solar panels on your roof to to be able to produce your own electricity during a blackout like this, just something that should be possible and it should be integrated into the market, that you don’t need to use the big grid under certain certain circumstances. But that just isn’t being done. And the way that it could be from the business side, because the legislation isn’t there yet to make it, you know, to make it work.
David Hunt 10:08
Yeah, I think is very difficult for legislators by and large, because things happen so fast and are happening too fast to keep up with technological changes as much as sort of business model changes. And, and we want to have slowly a lot of both large corporations, but more so government’s work and think and are able to sort of put into place legislation.
Gretchen Bakke 10:26
Yeah. And I think in the European situation, it is there is this big fear that the choice, the wrong choice will be made. And even when I first moved here, three years ago, now, there was all of this question about how to deal with electric cars. What is that what kind of infrastructure needs to be put into place in order to facilitate electric cars? And now and nothing really happened, right? And now suddenly, hydrogen is coming onto the scene. And there are people that are like, thank God, we didn’t build all that electric car infrastructure, because now there’s some other there’s a competing technology. And the question is, which of these things do we build for? Or do we just wait longer to see if something else happens? And so it’s, I kind of I have sympathy for the regulatory or the governmental side. But at the same time, I think that there some leadership is actually needed in order for there to be, you know, to expensive technological changes, people have to invest in these things. Yeah.
David Hunt 11:28
Yeah, I think that’s an interesting point as well, that I noted reading the book, and was familiar from, from my own time of working with good operators in the UK, and within Europe is the case of who actually owns the lines, and who makes money from the lines, because it seems, you know, there are huge infrastructure issues and, you know, dilapidated dilapidated systems across Europe, across the US. And the incentive seems to be for generation of power over electricity, and obviously use and storage, but no one really is making money out of the lines. And that’s, I think, an issue.
Gretchen Bakke 12:02
Yeah, there was a there was a moment that I was talking to somebody quite casually, two or three years ago, and they mentioned offhand that they had invited the people who are managing the lines to the table. And I was just like, I cannot believe that this is some sort of new idea. Like you have your generation, which is variable, you have your use, which is variable, right. And it’s some sort of bright idea that you need to bring the people managing the lines into the conversation. And so there is I think this might be an American thing. But there is this kind of like optimism, of product. That’s like, Look, we have this awesome new generation product. Or look, we can manage people’s use or like on the smart grid side of things, right, and figure out their machines and get everything to connect. But in fact, the balancing is happening, given line capacity. And the people who who care for those lines need need to be included in the conversation, but there also needs to be recompense for the service they provide. And in Europe, it’s different because this is the grid is built out so much more intensely. So that you don’t have the same in some ways, it’s quite overbuilt, in fact, but you don’t have the same outage problems that you have in the US. And I think a lot of the dynamism of what has happened there is, is just people being kind of frustrated with the fact that the power system doesn’t work that well, or did it work that well?
David Hunt 13:23
Yeah, yeah. And you were kind enough to send me prior to today, your your paper that you’re still working on. And I’d like to sort of perhaps use a couple of lines from that which really stood out to me and use them as a bit of a backdrop to address a few other issues around electricity, energy and mobility transitions. Firstly, what struck me was you say, if transition is taken to mean the replacement of one mode of making power with another thing globally, there is no energy transition underway. Can you share why you say that? And are we incorrectly using the terms transition and transformation in this regard?
Gretchen Bakke 14:01
So I think the I
think that idea that people have when we talk about an energy transition is some kind of swap. Like we’re using oil, and we’re going to swap that out for some other thing. And that swap means that the original energy source will go down. And so when I say there is globally, no energy transition underway, what it’s because globally, what we see is that every time we’re adding an energy source or just a source of generation power generation, not just electricity systems, but generally, you know, manufacturing, transport, everything, it’s going in on top of what was there before, so we’re simply using more power, but we’re not getting rid of any sources of power. And even coal, everybody’s like, Yeah, but coal is going away. Right? But actually, coal is gone down to to the year 2000 level. So it’s it is gone down but it’s still here. It’s a huge part of the global energy transition. So what I take from this, then is two things. One is that locally what we do, in fact, the are pretty serious transitions going on. So if we’re looking at global energy use, we don’t see we see addition, we see different sources of generation added to the energy mix. But locally, we do see a lot of I think, dealing with the technical side of how you use less of one particular energy source and more of another one, you can just look at the phase out of nucular in Germany, for example, that then trying to couple with a phase out of coal. And you can see, there’s the nitty gritty of a transition is underway, here, right. And more importantly, I think that if we look at the electricity sector, what we see is not a one to one replacement. And this is really what I want to point attention to, what we see is radical diversification. So we’re going from one or two or three ways of making electricity, all of which were command and control. So you’ve got coal, nuclear, hydro, for the most part. And what’s happened in the last 10 years is that now you’ve in many places, you’ve got nine, you’ve added biomass, we’ve added in solar or you’ve added in wind, you know, you’ve added in actually some sort of demand response possibilities. So it’s like has, so what is what’s actually happening is not a swap, but actually the removal of sort of a single solution. And we see this even more, of course, in the transport sector, right, this removal of a single solution to be replaced with multiple solutions, all of which then have to interact with each other. And I want to then go back to what I just said about, you know, will it be electric cars? Or will it be hydrogen cars, right? I think that what I’m trying to put forward is like, it will be both of these things. And probably three or four other things that we haven’t even thought of yet. And then this requires a different kind of infrastructural planning, but it also requires a different kind of business motive. If you’re not trying to capture the market. What you’re trying to do is work within a diversified marketplace.
David Hunt 17:19
Yeah. Yeah. That’s, that’s really interesting. Also, just going back to your point in terms of you know, additionality, I guess, because we do get excited, those of us who watch these things of, you know, certainly in UK or Europe, parts of us where there’s high density now of renewables or some form of clean generation, and we should be excited about that. But when we look at the percentage figures, and we think that’s great, that’s sort of the percentage of is now increasing. But overall, those percentages hide the fact that we’re actually not using less necessarily, of the fossil fuels.
Gretchen Bakke 17:48
Yeah, exactly. Exactly. And so you’re like, Okay, we’re at 33. Now we’re at 30%, wind energy, that’s great. But if you don’t, if you don’t, like track the other line across, like, where are we with coal? You know, in Germany, we’re not making great progress. And part of that is that there’s, it’s the coal isn’t just for heat, right? It’s that or for manufacturing. Coal is also for here, at least we have district heating systems. And so we have coal fired power plants that we don’t need to make electricity with anymore, but we’re still running them because they run the district heating system. So there’s these entanglements, these infrastructure entanglements that then, like very quickly kind of rise to the fore as soon as you try to actually phase out something. Not sector by sector, but in fact, phase it out.
David Hunt 18:40
I know. Yeah. Yeah. So good notes on the I was, again, you know, across clean tech, broadly, I think what clean technology is broadly, there’s a sort of a good deal of collaboration, but there is some tribalism, particularly around sort of, and we touched on this and sort of molecules versus electrons, hydro versus electricity, or sort of renewable generation of electrons. But most of us all acknowledge that there is no silver bullet. And we’re going to need sort of a number of factors. And again, going back to your paper, you say, replacing fossil fuels whoever is not a process with a single silver bullet there is there is no non Petro chemical with the same remarkable energetic density as fossil fuels. And instead, what we’re seeing is the emergence of great unholy tangle of solutions attempting to do hydrocarbon has done so done so well for so long. And again, that’s something which no I’ve seen for and thought about for some time. The problem is if you ignore the pollution and environmental impact of hydrocarbons, and many people still, of course, like to do so. They’re actually brilliantly useful and really energy dense. So replacing them isn’t as straightforward isn’t necessarily easy. Which again, goes back to I think the point you were making, and again, Rick comes up in your paper that again, you say the very idea of singular solutions to complex problems is an artefact of 20th century fossil fuel era thinking. I’d like to again perhaps elaborate on And is it the way that we think as much as the technologies we’re producing that are part of the problem?
Gretchen Bakke 20:07
Well, the technologies we’re producing come from how we think. I mean, they they produce us as thinkers. But you know, it’s absolutely the case that the the electric grid, as it came into being in the 20th century was designed to work with fossil fuels. And so part of the problem that we have right now is that we have this giant infrastructural system in place. And that if you stop thinking about a fuel swap, and you start actually thinking about how different you might need to organise this differently, you might need to organise the system. If you’re not using fossil fuels, suddenly, it all just starts to fall apart. You know, it’s like, you have to think too much in a certain way. And the reason for that is because the system was in fact made for fossil fuels. So it’s not a system we put fossil fuels into. Yeah, that we can pull them out of, but that these two things are completely ingrained. But I think to your question to is something that we’ve seen historically, which I find really fascinating is that everywhere, we start to get fossil fuels, we you we use them more and more singularly. And so I think that this idea of of a singular solution, or of one thing that’s going to just make everything, okay, it’s something that we didn’t necessarily see before the 1880s. And I actually went looking at the history of this silver bullet or single bullet phrase to see like, when did you know when did this thing happen? When did it become part of how we talked about things? And it’s about the same, it’s at about the same time, I can’t say that there’s a link there. But what you what you see is this resolution toward one, fossil fueled way, from multiple ways. And the reason for that is because fossil fuels are completely awesome. Right. And that’s your point is that if they didn’t pollute, you know, if they weren’t having the environmental, social, and atmospheric damage, you know, we’d be fine to use them until they ran out there. They’re amazing. And we’ve built, you know, the everything about the world we live in today upon their back. And in getting rid of them, though, I think it is important to think about reversing that process of thinking like, what is the one thing that’s gonna save us and start to think like, Okay, what are the many, many, many things that are gonna save us meeting save this world somehow? And how are those things going to work together? And of course, you can’t discount something, you know, like fusion, like, it may be that we’re where we don’t even think about it anymore, right? Because it’s been so long, just a few years in the future. But, you know, it’s possible that there will be some sort of silver bullet, in fact, that will kind of change everything. But since we don’t have that thing yet, I think it’s wise to try to understand how fossil fuels even how how they make us think, in a certain way, and that if we can pull them out of our minds, we might do a better job of sort of approaching the problem of pulling them out of our world.
David Hunt 23:21
Yeah, yeah. As an anthropologist, I guess, I think it’s interesting. And we see, I think, most obviously, going back to your point of, sort of the silver bullet thing is that with the transition for mobility, you know, most people, a lot of the argument is no to assume that we’re just gonna replace every internal combustion engine car with an equivalent electric car. But what we need to do something was rewrite mobility from scratch, which again, is a challenge because every road system has been built on the basis of an internal combustion engine car. So it’s kind of the same thing in in a sort of microcosm, perhaps, to some extent easier to understand, because cars, people can kind of understand perhaps more than the kind of grid systems or electricity, which is obviously a bit of a strange entity. But again, is that thinking of No, we just do this, and we swap that for that. And that’s how we sort of just prisoner to that way of thinking or is that again, just something which we is more recent, going back to what you just said, Well, we
Gretchen Bakke 24:15
might be a prisoner, but I don’t think the younger generations are a prisoner. And, and, you know, so I’ve been doing some work in the Shetland Islands, some research in the Shetland Islands. And that one of the reasons that it’s an interesting place to me is that you can’t think this, right? You can’t think okay, we’ll just pull out the fossil fuels and replace it with electricity because you’ve got ferries and an electric ferries just very soon as you start putting electric and battery systems on boats, you don’t have enough torque to deal with a storm. You can’t be hauling 18 wheelers, you know, on a ferry boat that’s got an electric motor, it’s just it’s just doesn’t work. So you have that then you have the 18 wheelers, which are delivering everything. Then you have all the cars that everybody absolutely Depends on to get from place to place, or even even inter Island ferries that are just transporting, it’s like fossil fuels using to use to move fossil fuels back and forth, right. And then you have oil for the heating systems. And so it just becomes this. And in fact, it’s actually they still have a diesel burning power plant there. So you start to be able to really see all of the different sectors that are relying upon the oil and gas, including the economy, because the North Sea is a is a giant oil and gas producing region. And there are terminals sort of everywhere around related to that. And you know, the fishermen are using gas and their boats. And so in some ways, I think like, it’s, it’s not exactly a no brainer, but it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to sort of say, like, instead of thinking about how we replace fuel, you think about how can we deal with what a ferry boat is and what a ferry boat does? Yeah, right? And then that’s going to give you a different set of answers, then, how do we deal with heating a home, which is relatively speaking, isolated, and in a cold, wet place. So and at that point, as you begin to solve these problems, to see where the solutions to them interlock, where they’re totally different from each other, where they actually connect to each other, and then build the system up from starting with these very, very practical questions. And it was one answer. I mean, I think that’s really a great, it’s a really a great place to sort of say like there was one solution. And it’s, you know, if if we get rid of that, which is what we’re proposing to do. And again, this point is important, like, we’re the ones deciding we shouldn’t use oil and gas, or at least not burn it anymore. So that’s totally cultural, right? To make that decision where we’re creating the problem for ourselves. But given that we’re creating this problem, which is the desire is to avoid other problems, especially in the future, to see how that plays out in in sort of the at the end of the tendrils of influence that oil and gas have had? I think that’s, I mean, I don’t have an answer to this. But you could really see in these communities that it’s not going to be one answer.
David Hunt 27:19
Yeah. I think that’s the one that you touched on, right, from the very beginning is that, again, not only are we just looking for a technology solution, but we’re also thinking over this very, very much as globalist one solution. And as you said, even within somewhere very small, like the British Isles, you’ve got very different geographic and energy potential needs and use cases. So if you extrapolate that across the world, you know, it’s quite complex, because what works someplace is not going to the answer somewhere else. And I think often is the case that there is just gonna be this one simple solution.
Gretchen Bakke 27:52
Yeah. And part of that is climatic, like, as soon as somebody says, like, Oh, well, we should just to perfect, it protected electricity from storms, we should just bury all the lines. And you look at the British Isles, and you’re like, no, because if you have soggy land, you do not want to bury your lines, right? So you know, and part of it then is also cultural. I had a very interesting discussion at one point, was sort of exasperated people in the energy industry in Ireland, because there was at that moment, all of this fear that Putin was going to control all the natural gas grant from England. And so they were like, We need more hydro storage. And they’re like, we have all like, we have plenty of hydro storage, we have plenty of pumped hydro, we don’t need more pumped hydro, from the grid point of view, but the population needed a feeling of security. Yeah, right. And I think that this is something that also gets lost is that there are technological solutions. And then there are human worries. And these two things cannot be disentangled from each other. As soon as you try to build a long distance power line that’s above ground, you run into this immediately. Nobody, nobody wants it.
David Hunt 29:08
Yeah, no. So again, sort of highlights the complexity of human feelings, fears, and sort of some of the rational rationality of that technology on the one side and something we drive along sort of thought and saddened, sort of preached quite often, perhaps when it wasn’t necessarily quite as true out of my optimism. But broadly, I think, you know, we have the technologies, or very close to having the technologies and tools we need to decarbonize energy and transport and maybe not to the same extent, but that to some extent, at least heat. So yet when we’re looking globally, not much has happened. And we’re still hurtling towards us two degree plus global temperature rise, which we all know is going to be catastrophic. So for our audience of people all committed towards the decarbonisation and towards a netzero society, how can we think differently, how can we adapt our business models to engage more and perhaps educate better people to to understand The choices that they are making, or need to make.
Gretchen Bakke 30:07
Oh, my gosh, I wish I knew the answer to that question. I feel like and this is me being an optimist, I feel like every time there’s a proof of concept, it goes really a long way. And anytime you can build out something and show that it works, and that it’s can be cost effective, even if it’s not cost effective right now, it goes a long way to giving people other people in other places both hope and a model to work from. So that’s a I mean, that’s sort of the pro startup, you know, a lot of things go bust, but to really try to see even if it’s at a very small scale, to see if you can get something to work. And part of that, as I said before, of getting something to work as actually, as you were saying to is not just about the technology, it’s figuring out how individual human beings or groups of human beings will interact with that technology will accept it, or will reject it, and working around whatever regulatory systems are in place. And whatever financial systems are in place, there’s a if any of your listeners are very, very, very rich. There’s this moment, right when technology is actually sort of scaling up to the point to just see, will this thing be viable, that people don’t really want to invest in it, because it’s not proven. And it’s expensive, and you’re going to get nine out of 10 are going to fail. And so there’s There is also this question of how to get really good ideas built out, even to this small scale testing phase, because there’s a million really good ideas. But it’s not a sure investment, it’s not a sure way to make money. And for the moment, at least, there’s just, there’s not a lot of reward, if what you’re after is sort of long term profitability in your business. And as you know, I’ve said always about the utilities, like people critique the utilities, but asking a company to put itself out of business is not a fair ask. And so everybody’s in somehow the same position of wanting to do something differently. But of knowing that if they do that they might actually go past. You know, I guess I would say maybe I wonder to how actually, companies or endeavours can support each other or work together in order to make maybe more complex trials. So that it’s not just, you know, each it’s not just competition, or it’s not just individuals trying to make it work.
David Hunt 32:55
Yeah, we see a lot of accelerators, a lot of large entities, utilities and or other organisations who are becoming much better at rather than stifling innovation, utilising and absorbing and sort of innovation from from startups. And I think there’s been huge improvements over the last few years in terms of that. And, again, we’ll see much more money, the likes of breakthrough energy ventures and other sort of funds, where they are taking bets on higher risk moonshot type of opportunities. And I think that’s there, and that’s positive. But going back to your point, nine out of 10 fail. It’s tough for as a founder and as a VC or as an employee to sort of face that. And yet, you still have to throw yourself at it 100% to just to see if you can be the 1%.
Gretchen Bakke 33:40
Yeah, exactly. And a lot of those ones that fail, they’re they’re not bad ideas. They’re not bad ideas. I think one of the things that has surprised me is, over time is the degree to which areas or communities which have understand themselves as energy providing areas want to continue to be that and you see that also with companies so that rather than thinking like, Oh, that’s a coal mining area, we got to shut that down and sort of let it die to think like, what are the energy? What are the ways in which energy can continue to be something that this particular community can produce? Right, or be engaged with? And the same thing with like, Oh, it’s a big oil company, what we need, what needs to happen, or what will happen to it as it will die, right, because oil and gas is going to become less profitable and less used. But again, the question is, and I know the big oil companies are asking themselves this, obviously right now to how is it that they can actually continue to be a part of the energy transition. And I think we have an awareness of this in terms of companies, but we don’t really have an awareness of this in terms of communities. As
David Hunt 34:51
such, that’s really interesting, actually, because, again, that’s a thought around cultural and geographic memory, if you like, to some extent, and I know in the Back in the 80s, in the UK when the mines were shut down not for carbon reduction purposes, but for political purposes, you know, communities were shut down, and they weren’t given an opportunity to recreate themselves. And that caused no end of problems than going back to a sort of, I guess now people like, you know, in the US, privledge and Detroit and it was motive sector. Is there an embedded national or local sort of memory of this is what we do as a people as a locality as a community.
Gretchen Bakke 35:24
Yeah, I think Ashley, so yeah, I think absolutely, if you go to Detroit and your say, like transportation, you know, revolution is here, we’re going to do that with you guys, you’re going to have like a sort of a warm embrace of that, in the same way that I mean this, nobody talks about this. But Texas is a historical oil producing. And current gas producing area is a leader in, in wind integration and in solar integration. And you see this also Ohio, which is a place which like nobody would say or hire would be a leader in renewable energy, right. But they’re an energy producing region. And so therefore, there’s expertise there. But there’s also sort of a local willingness to say, okay, maybe not coal. But what’s the other thing we can do? The Dutch North Sea, right? Okay, we’re extracting all this natural gas from that, how can we even use those platforms that are already in place to begin to convert over to a wind energy industry, this is happening all over the place, but there’s a kind of, I mean, just like you said, like, there’s a sense of like, maybe, with certain communities, the idea is like, we should abandon them, or what we see in Germany is like, okay, it’s a coal mining community, let’s bring a University in. And you’re just like, why that’s great if you’re, if you’re running on economic theory, right? And you just want to somehow rejuvenate, in a very kind of average way, a depressed area. But to actually say, like, No, these people were producing energy for the nation, and actually for the continent, how can they keep doing that? And then you get a very different kind of reaction, not just as like, Who are those? You know, who were those city people who were deciding for us what we should be doing and how we should live? Like, why are they the ones that have the have the say? So, and right, you didn’t? You didn’t see this in England, you barely see it here right now. And, yeah, in the US, you don’t really see it either. I think it would be interesting in China to to see what is happening in those regions.
David Hunt 37:26
It does strike me as we do. You know, those of us on the right side of history would like to think, you know, wagging our fingers at sort of, you know, Poland and places where there’s still bread, bun and lignite. And of course, Germany still got a long way to go in that respect, or, you know, we point our fingers at, you know, communities who are bad and you must stop, but not thinking about or not necessarily think about how to actually encourage, whether it’s as an individual or whether it’s a society or a community or a state that’s encouraged you to carry on doing what you’re doing, but just do differently. Different technology, different new cleaner, obviously, obviously. But yeah, I think it’s a challenge that sometimes we are a little bit, maybe it’s improved a bit. But I’ve certainly found and I was guilty of it, when I first got into sold, I was kind of very dismissive of anybody that wasn’t on the solar bandwagon, and it just isn’t healthy or necessarily the right way that you can get other people to change.
Gretchen Bakke 38:14
Yeah, or it’s not, it doesn’t really invite them to the solar bandwagon. Right, you could still have the bandwagon. But there needs to be some sort of Invitational proposition. And I think thinking about that, if you’re, if you’re talking about going mainstream with these technologies, is to think about how you actually invite all of these various stakeholders with all of their worries and their you know, the predispositions and, you know, especially people who really feel like they have been doing good for their entire career. And then somebody comes along and tells them like, actually, no, you’re, you know, you’re adopted dirty fossil fuel company. And it’s a, it’s a, it’s a critique of a sense of how one is a good person in the world, how
one contributes to a community,
what one’s life’s work has has made possible, and suddenly it’s like, no, that’s bad. Right? And then you don’t get a lot of converts in that moment.
David Hunt 39:10
Gretchen Bakke 39:10
And this I just, I say this, because I was very interested in why the Canadian universities refused to divest from fossil fuels. Even in places not Alberta, in Alberta, it makes sense because it’s part of the national economy. But you know, in Ontario and in Quebec, why was it that they weren’t there was such intense resistance to divestment. And it came down to this is that the people sitting on the boards of the universities wanted to continue that they believe that they were good people. And if you get a bunch of 18 year olds, with really good plans, but telling you that basically, you’re not a good person. It becomes a generational gap. It starts to feel like upstarts you know, who gets to set the agenda, all of these things come into play.
David Hunt 39:57
Yeah. Yeah, they So there’s so much to it. When we look at sort of environment, society, from intergenerational issues and gender, politics and everything, it’s very complex. So I guess they’re gonna put you on the spot, or at least give us your thoughts because there is such complexity. And to my mind, it’s both human behaviour is more important than the technology. I think, to my mind, the technology stuffs quite easy and happens. But how optimistic Are you that we can get to or can make sufficient changes in the next eight or nine years to try and keep below this two degrees. The rpp IPCC recommends for avoiding the very worst case of of climate change,
Gretchen Bakke 40:36
I have no idea about the two degrees, this seems to be a, this is a tough one. I’m very optimistic that we can make the changes, actually relatively quickly. One reason for that is because once installed, you have your renewables are just so cheap. So if you can actually set up a system where you’re using, if you’re where you’re producing hydrogen, essentially, from excess wind energy, which is, you know, somewhere down around a point five cents per kilowatt hour, right. And then you’re using, you’re beginning to figure out a way in which you can use that hydrogen to do things like run ferryboats, or run steel smelting or whatever. Like, as you said, like, it’s not it’s, it’s not exactly you don’t need to be a genius to start to figure this out. Right. So but the cost is the cost, the money case is also in place. And the the number and the violence of the storms is making it feel like a very, is less so in Europe, but certainly in the United States. There’s a kind of intimacy to climate change. Now, that was not there five years ago. And that then is translates over, in some cases to political will. Yeah. So I’m actually I’m actually quite optimistic. And there’s also the retirement question in the next 10 years. Who retires? Right? How does the age of the voting public in any given place change downward? You have the baby boomers are actually all sort of moving into retirement. And you know, and the younger generations are coming into the job market, and this decade, it’s called a decisive decade. But it’s not just because of ideas. There’s also a demographic shift that’s happening.
David Hunt 42:34
Yeah, I think it’s really just for the put back in history, as is often the case in terms of, you know, we went through 100 110 120 years ago sort of transition from Steam to sort of moderate use of fossil fuels and from horses to internal combustion engine vehicles. And that all happened very, very quickly. So we’re, we’ve kind of as a species, done it once. That’s hope we can we can do it again.
Gretchen Bakke 42:55
Yeah. I mean, I honestly, I see no reason why we can’t. There’s, there’s no, I mean, there’s absolutely no reason why we can’t. So let’s just admit, right, yeah,
David Hunt 43:07
let’s get on with it. I’d love to always end on the positive sort of optimistic note. And that’s just because there is so much optimism that we can do these things. Now, you first came on my radar because of this question from one of my guests. And that’s what I always close with in terms of any books, podcasts, thought leaders, sources of inspiration and or learning that you might recommend to our audience.
Gretchen Bakke 43:32
And, you know, this
is a hard question for me, because I feel like so much of what is great, or what is sort of coming into understanding is almost on the fringes of a book, right? I’m always working on a book, but but I’m always stunned by what’s happening on LinkedIn, you know, and just the way in which the contemporary media is pointing out these singular instances of like, Here is something that happened, right. And then there are some details about this, like, here’s an alliance. Here’s a, you know, here’s a instance of a virtual power plant that’s going to work here, somebody’s working really hard to shut down a mine, a coal mine in Australia. And that in a way, like we’re working with these fragments, and trying to each individually to knit them together into something sensible in our corner of the world. That said, I love the guide house podcast. I don’t know if that’s one that you know about, but they do. They do reports which are very expensive, but they also have sort of a
Unknown Speaker 44:43
kind of, I guess
Gretchen Bakke 44:44
you would say it’s a blog on contemporary issues and then they do podcasts about one one a month. On You know, things I think they just had one about like electric, two wheeled vehicles, you know, in the world, like what’s happening with those I just went to one of the virtual power plants, because I’m trying to figure out how that actually might change the dynamic. And then there’s this book that’s coming out. That’s about the history, which I’m looking at right now. It’s called the star builders. It’s called, it’s about the push the extreme push, both in terms of money in terms of technology for fusion. And so that’s why I mentioned it earlier is because it’s was not on my radar. And even students are like, oh, small nuclear, like these small nuclear power plants. That’s the future. And it’s sort of like maybe, maybe all of us talking about diversification and variability. And we’re all just going to be totally blown out of the water as soon as we managed to make power with fusion. But yeah, it might be in 70 years. Yeah.
Unknown Speaker 45:50
We really don’t know.
David Hunt 45:53
It certainly would be a game changer. So a few good friends of mine invest, or investors in work for fund that invested quite heavily one of the sort of the forerunners in that field. And we certainly hope to see some success there. And so thank you for that book. Is that published yet? I
Gretchen Bakke 46:06
mean, it’s, of course, coming. It’s Arthur terell, t u r. e LL. I think it comes up this summer.
David Hunt 46:14
Okay, we’ll keep an eye on that. And certainly on the episode page, we’ll post of course, links to your own books and to the podcast you mentioned and really fascinating, really appreciate your thoughts and insights today, and it was great to have you as a guest.
Gretchen Bakke 46:26
Yeah, it was actually a lovely conversation. So thank you for inviting me in.
David Hunt 46:33
Thank you for listening. I hope you enjoyed that conversation with Gretchen was the focus of leading FinTech podcast will always be clean tech startups and founders. If you enjoy sector specific conversations like that, then please do let me know and of course make any guest suggestions you may have. I’ll be back next week with another kintec SEO story. So in the meantime, have a good week. Thanks for listening.