Podcast 074: Esteban Gast: Is there anything to laugh about from the clean energy headlines in 2021?

Comedian Estaban Gast

In this special year end episode, Bill Nussey and Sam Easterby are joined by the brilliant standup comedian, Esteban Gast, host of the Comedians Conquering Climate Change Podcast, which is sponsored by Generation 180. The trio takes a look back at the biggest headlines impacting local energy, shares some favorite quotes from 2021 guests and offers a peek into what 2022 might bring. Plus, we learn about Estebans’s very original approach to the often difficult climate discussion. Esteban weaves his special brand of humor throughout and offers a few lighthearted tips for Bill in marketing his new book, Freeing Energy. 

Here are some of the highlights from their discussion…

“To even talk about clean energy or climate change or anything like that in a way that people don’t feel like a burden or they don’t feel like, “Oh no,” they don’t feel sick to their stomachs because of the negative news. To even think about that and to engage with it in a different way, itself is huge.”


“So these are the people who are up and coming comedians who are really, really funny. And a lot of times they don’t have too much information on clean energy and climate change. So Generation 180 helps give them some facts, and we prep them and we will see comedians start and end the podcast [with a very different perspective].”


“So we’re not just shifting the script because we go, “Ugh, doom and gloom is bad.” We’re shifting it because people aren’t talking about the hope and opportunity and what better way to bridge that gap and get people from point A to point B… from doom and gloom to open optimism with a whole bunch of silliness and jokes and humor… some people are experiencing some of these facts for the first time.”


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Transcript

Sam Easterby:

Howdy, Bill.

Bill Nussey:

Good morning to you. As everybody knows, our mission is to help bring some of the most talented innovators in the world, into the clean energy industry and to share their stories. So in this episode, we’re going to look back and we’re going to share the big headlines from our perspective and particularly how the local energy industry is rolling out and getting ready for next year.

Bill Nussey:

So today, we have a very special guest who’s going to help us with this year end wrap up episode. As you all know, at the Freeing Energy Project, we are on a mission to find the heroes of local energy. And our guest today is very much a hero, but what we’re going to talk about today, isn’t necessarily just technology and engineering. And he’s not going to bring to us a new financing breakthrough for financing, local energy, but he’s going to do something a little different that I think the discussion around clean energy and climate is in dire need of, he’s going to bring us some humor. I would like to welcome Esteban Gast to the Freeing Energy Project. Hello and welcome.

Esteban Gast:

Oh my goodness, a hero. This is very exciting. Happy to be here. Surely this is a mistake, but I’m going to go along with it and pretend I’ll fit in.

Bill Nussey:

Just roll with it, Esteban.

Esteban Gast:

Yeah, absolutely.

Bill Nussey:

So how did we come to meet Esteban? Well, for our regular listeners, you’ll think back in November, we had Wendy Philleo as a guest, and she is the executive director of Generation 180. It’s one of the most innovative and transformative clean energy nonprofits, it’s an advocacy group. And they’re turning interest in climate change into creative programs, especially around helping schools in the US realize the benefits of utilizing solar energy with their Solar for All Schools program.

Bill Nussey:

In that interview, Wendy shared with us, and I think for the first time for the world, the Generation 180 was going to bring a new voice into the climate discussion. And we were literally and deeply enthralled with this idea. And she was basically bringing a comedian in residents, Esteban Gast, who is with us today. So we are really excited to have him help us, and you talk about 2021 and what’s going forward.

Bill Nussey:

So who is this guy Esteban? He was born in New Jersey and is the child of Columbian immigrants. He was raised in Puerto Rico and lives in Los Angeles today. He’s been a touring standup comedian since he was 23. And he’s an educator writer, creator, performer, and a host on podcasts and movies, television, and on stage, so this guy gets around. And now for just one of his many projects, he’s the host of the podcast, Comedians Conquering Climate Change, which is sponsored by Generation 180. And it’s described as the funniest most accessible and shortest podcast addressing today’s critical climate change and energy topics. And it’s quite a change of pace and a change for your soul to take it with a little context and laugh a little bit just so we can continue pushing forward. So we have a lot to talk about with Esteban today.

Sam Easterby:

Esteban, I’ve got to say, we’re going to get to that description of Comedians Conquering Climate Change, but before we get to that, you started off as an educator and you’ve been doing standup all along. So how did you get into comedy?

Esteban Gast:

I’ve always been interested in comedy. I was the kid who would try to stay up late and watch Saturday Night Live and would watch Jerry Seinfeld standup specials before I even knew things, before I knew the things he was making observational comedy on. I was like, “Nice. I like this man. He’s making jokes.” And I always felt this push and pull. I was teaching, I taught at the high school level. Then I got a master’s and I taught at the college level. And I always felt this push and pull and felt like I was living these two worlds. I was teaching and then at night I would go do standup comedy. Or I would ask for a Friday off work because I would go travel and do standup at a club out of town or whatever it was.

Esteban Gast:

And so I mean this whole journey, my life, the last few years has been like, wait a minute, I think this education side and this entertainment comedy side can maybe coexist. And I think that’s where really exciting stuff started happening, where I was like, “No one asked me what I’m doing tonight.” And then at standup gigs being like, “No one asked what my day job is,” and started being like, “You know what both of these coexist.”

Sam Easterby:

Well, so when and how did you connect the dots between comedy and clean energy?

Esteban Gast:

I think it was, I don’t know, I think just comedy is best when it comes from something that you’re passionate about. I think it’s hard to write a joke about something that you don’t feel strongly about or that you don’t know anything about. And I think for me, I’ve thought a lot about climate change since when I was younger and when I was teaching and when just all of it, I’d like would read books and think about these things and just pass them through by weird, silly, creative, comedic brain and be like, there’s opportunities to talk about this in a way that’s different than what we’re doing now. There’s opportunities to, if a lot of comedies is maybe pointing out in consistencies or hypocrisies, there’s a lot of hypocrisies that in the right lens are sometimes sad or sometimes very silly. And the silliness allows us to sit in that and explore that a bit more.

Esteban Gast:

So I think it was this natural thing where it’s just something I’m spending time thinking about. I think, as a comedian too, what makes you different? What perspective do I have? I don’t want to just tell an airplane joke or a dating joke or whatever is maybe these tired tropes in comedy. And I was like, “Well, I’m reading weird nerdy books. Should I talk about these weird nerdy books that I’m reading on stage in some way or in videos?” So that was the sort of leap.

Bill Nussey:

So Esteban, I have to say that was a really thoughtful comment about comedy that I’ve never heard before. When you have these uncomfortable topics, comedy allows us to explore them, to be within them and set aside the discomfort for a few moments and really explore them. I’m huge fan of Mark Twain. And I read many of his books in his autobiography and he did a wonderful job of bringing a lighthearted context where you could get at these very difficult issues of the day in the 1800s, and make them accessible to everybody. And I love that echo of what you are doing and Generation 180 is doing today. And it needs it. Lord, we need it.

Esteban Gast:

Yeah. To even talk about clean energy or climate change or anything like that in a way that people don’t feel like a burden or they don’t feel like, “Oh no,” they don’t feel sick to their stomachs because of the negative news. To even think about that and to engage with it in a different way, itself is huge. We can still be realists about what’s happening. But look, I think to be like, what happens if you’re just invited to this silly thing that we’re just thinking about and processing, and we’re using humor to process? And you’re not walking away feeling the burden of, “Oh my gosh, I just taught something so heavy.” I think Mark Twain does that wonderfully, that you’re like, “Oh my gosh, we explored some heavy topics, but I don’t feel such a burden that I don’t do anything about it. I don’t feel weighed down by the topic.”

Sam Easterby:

You spent some time in Panama for a while. And it seems like you really touched on some of the local energy issues while you were there. Can you tell us a little bit about that time there?

Esteban Gast:

Ooh, we were as local energy as it gets, we were localists, the localiest energyiest. I ended up running this completely sustainable off the grid eco community. So we grew all our own food and we had our own electricity. So Bill, I know you use this analogy in your Ted talk. You go local energy, sort of like farm to table. And we literally like, to us, that’s an analogy. We had farm to table where we grew our own food. And then we had solar powered directly to the systems that would give us light. I could look to my left and see the farm and I could look to my right and I could see the solar powers that allowed us to have a little bit of light that night. And it was up to 200 people in this time. So we’re talking, I mean, we had a topic about a solar power. We had a little bit of hydro power, but mostly it was solar.

Esteban Gast:

And it was this really interesting experiment in sustainability. This interest of, could you come… Our whole main was import substitution. So we make a list of what are we bringing in? We’re bringing in peanut butter, let’s see if we can make our own peanut butter. We’re bringing in toothpaste, oh, we can definitely make our own toothpaste, whatever that looks like. It’s called Kalu Yala. There’s actually a TV show. One of the reasons I moved to LA was this TV show about it. They came, they followed us. VICELAND, which is Vice’s TV network, made this TV show about it called Jungletown. That occasionally I’ll be riding my bike somewhere and someone will be like, “Jungletown boy.” And then I’ll be like, “Yeah, that’s me.” That’s the level of fame I’m at that people yell. People are like, “I think I know you from a thing.”

Sam Easterby:

Okay. So let’s jump from Jungle boy to Generation 180. And so how did you get started with Generation 180? Tell us about that work and a little bit about how the podcast came to be.

Esteban Gast:

Just a bunch of things lined up. So I was teaching this class on creativity online and Wendy, who’s so wonderful, took it. And then I think she Googled me, and the last project that I had worked on was this comedic, road trip series in an electric car in the Hyundai Kona. And I remember all the lines, which is, “It’s 258 mile range.” They were like, “You can be silly and be yourself, but you have to mention it’s 258 mile range, the Hyundai Kona,” and be real, just follow their script. And then the rest of it was just like Lucy goosey. It was super funny, but she watched this series and she was like, “Wait a minute, you’re doing a funny road trip in an electric car. Just do that with us.” She was like, “I don’t know what you’re doing, but this is really relevant and do it with us.” So we connected and they’re just incredible.

Esteban Gast:

Yeah, you mentioned this, but they like work to inspire people and equip people to take action on clean energy. And I feel like they do that even in the way that we’ve been working together, they’re equipping me and guests. The guests on this podcasts are touring comedians, they’re big comedians. The last episode we had is Bianca Cristovao. And she literally just opened up for Bill Burr. Who’s one of the biggest comedians in a stadium. She sent me a picture of 12,000 people. So she’s doing 15 minutes before Bill Burr, this comedian does 60 minutes in 12… like a literal stadium.

Esteban Gast:

So these are the people who are these up and coming comedians who are really, really funny. And a lot of times don’t have too much information on clean energy and climate change. So Generation 180 helps give them a little bit, we give them some facts, and we prep them and we will see comedians start and end the podcast. And at the end, they’re fired up to do it. And we also hope that the people listening go on that journey as well. So genuinely, they’re equipping myself, they’re equipping these comedians, they’re equipping these listeners to take action on clean energy. It just is awesome. They really think outside the box. They’re wonderful. And it just happened to be, it was great timing, very aligned, and it’s been really great.

Esteban Gast:

And the goal of it is to switch, to just shift the narrative a little from doom and gloom to hope. And I think people sometimes are skeptical. They’re like, “So far, we’re doing this.” Even comedians who come in, they’re like, “All right, we’re talking about hope or opportunity. What? Are we being delusional? I’ve read some of… I see the big headlines.” And I think that’s a really… we’re coming from this place of hope and opportunity and humor from an informed place, like solar is now cheaper than any other energy source. It’s like tons of EVs. I connected with them because I was in a commercial for yet another electric car and the Kona’s fairly affordable. That’s one of the ways that we were pitching for it.

Esteban Gast:

There’s all these places that are divesting from fossil fuels. If we look a little bit deeper, there is a ton of hope and opportunity. So we’re not just shifting the script because we go, “Ugh, doom and gloom is bad.” We’re shifting it because people aren’t talking about the hope and opportunity and what better way to bridge that gap and get people from point A to point B from maybe doom and gloom to open optimism with a whole bunch of silliness and jokes and humor and people who are maybe experiencing some of these facts for the first time.

Sam Easterby:

I love it. And it leads us, I think, naturally into talking about some of that doom and gloom, and maybe some of the hopeful headlines from 2021. And so Bill, let’s turn it over to you here, and tell us a little bit about what were some of the biggest headlines from your perspective.

Bill Nussey:

I think if we look back at 2021 for the next 10 years, it’s going to be the pivotal year of climate change and the recognition and sufficient urgency to really focus on the transition to clean energy. We had so many things happen this year. We had epic numbers of large scale power outages because of weather events, which are generally made worse by climate change. And I think that raised awareness to people that took climate change from something that’s existential in the future, my children will have to deal with, to holy cow, hundreds of people died in Texas because crazy weather caused the grid to fail.

Bill Nussey:

So I think that this is a big year, and there’s also a lot of reasons for hope this year. And I do think that history will paint this as one of the pivotal years in the transition of awareness and action towards climate change, but I’m an optimist. But we’re going to break down the big news headlines into four categories, policy and politics, science, technology and engineering, essentially innovation, money and markets. And Sam’s going to tell us about one last big headline for the Freeing Energy world at the end of the podcast today.

Sam Easterby:

Sure. Certainly this year we saw a big change in the US administration with the election of our new president, not so new now. And we saw a renewed focus on inter local energy, we saw a new focus on renewable energy. What are some of your thoughts there about some of the changes from the administration?

Bill Nussey:

I think, and again, speaking like can optimist, a couple of years ago, climate change was this topic that you had to step really lightly around, maybe more so because I live in the Southeast US, but in general, you wanted to use other words, euphemisms for climate change. And I think what’s happened, and this shows the role of political leadership, is that I don’t see anyone stepping lightly around climate change anymore. Part of it’s because these big events, I mentioned a few minutes ago, but part of it’s I think the leadership that this is now on the table, and everyone’s thinking and talking about it.

Bill Nussey:

And also this was the year where we had the COP26, which is the annual gathering of the climate leaders in the every five years where they make some big prognostications and commitments. And that happened just a few weeks ago in Glasgow, Scotland. And I think that was another major headline. And the world waited for the week in a couple of days as these leaders hashed out. And I think generally some positive movement; methane was recognized as a greenhouse gas, which I written about extensively and have always been frustrated that it doesn’t get the attention it deserves as a negative impact on climate. But I think also the consensus is that the world governments fell far short of where we would want them to be in terms of action. Surprising? Not so much. But definitely was the pinnacle of the climate discussions in 2021, in my opinion.

Esteban Gast:

Yeah, it’s definitely when the leaders are like, “This is the most important thing we could ever do.” And that’s why we’re proposing to think about doing things.

Sam Easterby:

Well, so Bill, I mean, when we think about policy and politics, a lot of people, I think don’t realize that the federal government really has certainly has some influence over the direction of energy policy and the kinds of incentives that can be put into place to move some of these newer technologies along, but a lot of the action really takes place at the state level. And certainly there’s been some big changes in 2021 with regard to actions that influence how successful we’re going to be in this transition to clean energy at the state level. What are some of the biggest things, Bill, from your perspective that have happened this year, at that level?

Bill Nussey:

There’s two ways to look at the energy policy in the United States. Really, you could look at it as a rats nest of overlapping often conflicting rules and regulations, or you could look at it as the power industry does, as a 50 state laboratories, where you get to try different things and see what works. And so you have examples like Hawaii, which this year just continue to pass policy measures, embracing local energy, paying people to put batteries in their homes so that it could help balance out the grid. Some really very cool stuff, changing the way the utility makes its profits from just how many kilowatt hours it sells to actually things like efficiency measures and customer satisfaction, crazy idea. Utility actually makes more money if customers are happy, I can’t even… So cutting edge in the utility world.

Bill Nussey:

But the biggest news we’ll talk a bit more later is California. California has led the country and the world on local energy. They’ve had very forward thinking policies at scale about how to incent people to put solar on the roofs. So what happened very recently was the public utilities commission who oversees all those regulations, came out with their proposed changes in the attacks and other subsidy incentives for solar. And first read, not good. By the time people are listening to this, we’ll have probably a lot of mainstream media writing about it and analyzing it, but it’s hot off the presses right now. But California is I think going to be the most, talked about, looked at, analyzed point of focus for local energy and really clean energy broadly for the world for the next three or four months. This is going to be huge and hopefully we’ll learn something from it. But this really shows just how intense the state side of this regulation and policy is.

Bill Nussey:

And many of our listeners remember a guest we had earlier this year, Bernadette Del Chiaro, who’s the executive director of the California Solar & Storage Association. And they are at the forefront of this battle in California. And really one of the leading voices in helping navigate, which has proven to be a very, very contentious path. Let’s listen back to what she said.

Bernadette Del Chiaro:

If they make changes that are drastic to that program, to this net metering policy, it could actually ruin the market. I mean, simply put, California’s rooftop, solar market, local solar energy market could drive right over a cliff within the next 18 months.

Bill Nussey:

So one of the most important policies in local energy is this notion of net metering. So if the solar panels on your roof generate more electricity than your house needs at a given moment, which is almost always the case happens throughout a day, the utility pays you for it. And what’s at debate here is how much the utility pays. And what California’s done is we’re going to pay you what you pay us net metering 1.0, net metering 2.0, they call it. And what looks like is changing going forward is no we’re going to pay you for that excess electricity, a number that’s much more convenient for the utility and really irrespective of what’s good for the customers and consumers. So that’s a big hit and we’ll see how it plays out in the next 30 days as people comment on this.

Sam Easterby:

Bill, California is not the only state that’s taking action on clean, renewable energy. In fact, from our friends at the North Carolina clean energy technology center, they keep track of all the activity that’s going on across the country. It’s a wonderful resource for people that are interested. You can see the links to their reports in our show notes. But in the third quarter of this year, some 40 states took a total of 174 actions related to distributed solar policy and to rate design. So they were touching on things like net metering and community solar and third party ownership across the country.

Sam Easterby:

And one great example of that sort of activity took place in Illinois. And most of the time we think about states like California and Texas, when we’re thinking about advances in solar and solar rate design and activity around the transition into clean local energy. But Illinois passed the Clean and Equitable Jobs Act, which was just signed into a law late in the year. And it puts Illinois on a path to 40% renewable energy by 2030 and 50% renewable energy by 2040.

Sam Easterby:

And what was significant from my perspective with regard to that legislation being signed in a law is that there were some really huge titans that were clashing over piece of legislation, but importantly, they found a way to get there. And so I think it was really wonderful to see Illinois step up as one of the champions, one of the heroes with regard to this transition in the Midwest in particular taking a huge leadership role. And in fact, we had in one of our episodes, Episode 71, Tim Montague, who is the host of the Clean Power Hour podcast, made a comment about what’s going on with regard to that legislation. And here’s what he had to say.

Tim Montague:

What we’re doing here in Illinois is we’re going to shut up down coal plants and replace them with solar, wind and battery storage. And that’s a win-win, it’s clean infrastructure. It’s a lot of construction, it’s high wage jobs.

Bill Nussey:

As we wrap up the conversation on policy and politics, Wendy Philleo had a really powerful insight.

Wendy Philleo:

I don’t think that policy and technology alone are going to save us. And if we want to speed up this transition and we have to, we need to capture the hearts and minds of Americans. Widespread clean energy adoption, it’s going to require a massive cultural shift.

Sam Easterby:

And Esteban, is there anything that you’d like to add there with regard to Wendy and what her thoughts were?

Esteban Gast:

Yeah. Shout out Wendy, making it happen. No, absolutely. Remember earlier when you were asking me questions and I sort of rumble trying to say what Wendy just said really beautifully and eloquently? That’s an executive director move right there. Beautiful, perfect quote, capturing Generation 180, and then me rambling around it. Comedian and residents, executive director, that’s the difference.

Bill Nussey:

Yes. So it’s been a crazy policy year and I suspect that 2022 is going to make 2021 look like we were sitting still. Federal policy as the Democrats try to push out some much needed legislation around extending the tax credits and maybe some Boulder things in that. And of course, we’ll see how California plays out because that won’t happen until next year. So boy, buckle up folks because 2022 is going to be a wild ride on policies.

Sam Easterby:

Well, in particular too, because it’s an election year. So we should see lots of activity going on. Bill, that’s enough on policy and politics. Let’s talk a little bit about science and technology and really innovation that’s taking place in this transition. So from my perspective, it seems like hydrogen of all colors, blue, green, gray, it seems like they’ve captured a lot of headlines this year.

Bill Nussey:

So why is it such a big deal? Some people paint it as a panacea, it’s going to fix everything. And other people say it’s too expensive, it’s a poor fit for where we need to go with broad electrification. But here’s the fact, our world is built on fuels of a hundred years, fuels of all types; for industry, for transportation, for heating, fuels are everywhere. Nearly all those fuels for a century and more have been fossil fuels and nearly all the fuels, even back to when we burned wood, put off carbon dioxide. So while hydrogen is expensive and most often made in a very dirty carbon dioxide intensive way, the fundamental technology holds a promise to being the very first widely available and affordable 100% clean fuel.

Bill Nussey:

So I talk about this debate in my book and I talk about the cost competitiveness and I call it fuels 2.0, and I cover both sides of the debate, whether it’s going to become big or not. But I think most of that debate really misses the core point. Hydrogen is the only hope for what’s arguably the largest industry on a planet earth, the oil and gas business, a trillion dollar a year, geopolitically supercharged business. And they make the money by pulling stuff out of the ground and sending it around the planet and we burn it and it makes climate change happen faster and worse.

Bill Nussey:

But it takes a lot of work, a lot of assets to pull this stuff, distribute it, to get containerized and shipped. And so hydrogen is a pretty good fill-in for oil and gas. And so I think that if hydrogen doesn’t work, this industry has no future. And I think you’ve probably read about some of these companies in the fossil fuel business. They really like being in that business. They don’t want to just curl up and go into irrelevance. So I think we’re going to see hundreds of billions of dollars in technology, probably in lobbying to try to push us towards a future where hydrogen is incredibly relevant, if not central to the future clean energy economy.

Bill Nussey:

So regardless of how you assess the technology, how you assess the economics, I think the political and corporate interest will push us towards hydrogen, which is the cleanest fuel done right. And generally, I think that’s a good thing. So I’m optimistic that hydrogen has a very big future, but we’ll figure it out. But we had a guest on a few months ago who is one of the most vocal and thoughtful people in the entire world, and his models on hydrogen are really shaping thinking by governments and corporations alike. So Michael Liebreich who’s the head of Liebreich and Associates and the one time founder of Bloomberg New Energy Finance, chimed in with some fantastic thoughts. Here’s what he had to say.

Bill Nussey:

The first one is green hydrogen that is hydrogen generated bio electrolysis through renewable energy, uses as a feed stock for chemical processes. Is this going to be big? Is it going to replace the old natural gas hydrogen or what’s it going to do?

Michael Liebreich:

Go big on [crosstalk 00:30:13]. Absolutely. And that’s because we are already using hydrogen, but we’re using gray hydrogen. Hydrogen production currently accounts for about 2% of global emissions. So we need green hydrogen, maybe blue hydrogen, but go big on green.

Bill Nussey:

All right. Next one is green hydrogen is an industrial heat source. People don’t realize that when you’re making steel and cement, you need really, really hot temperatures usually from natural gas. So can we replace that with green hydrogen?

Michael Liebreich:

On that one, go home. A lot of people say, you’ve got to use hydrogen to get to the high temperatures for industrial heat, that’s not true. You can get to high temperatures with electricity.

Sam Easterby:

So Bill, while hydrogen has grabbed a few headlines and likely will continue to do so, a lot of people have described this, that we’re moving into the decade of solar plus storage and that involves batteries. So Bill, tell us a little bit about where you see the biggest headlines with regard to batteries and solar plus storage from 2021, and what should we keep an eye on for 2022?

Bill Nussey:

Batteries in electric storage, generally huge stories in 2021, and one of the best ways to measure this is the staggering amount of money that has gone into batteries and other types of energy storage. So you look at QuantumScape raising a billion and a half dollars at a 10 billion market cap, SES raised 500 million, North Fault, which is based in Europe, 6 billion raised for a single company to build battery factories, Synano technologies raised a billion. This list goes on and on and on. And it’s important to mention that a lot of this battery funding is to build capacity and to perfect some new technologies. Most of it, to build new capacity so we can meet the demands of not the grid and not my house, but actually electric vehicles, which is really the sharp tip of the spear for battery innovation and capacity.

Bill Nussey:

But this is just the beginning and some of these companies won’t succeed, but we don’t need all of them to succeed. We just need a few of them to really nail it and we’re going to see batteries, completely change transportation. And that technology as I talk about in my book will bleed over into grid, power, residential, commercial scale energy. One of my favorite stories, which I talk about in the book is you can store energy in a lot of really interesting ways, chemical storage, which is batteries, kind of get it, getting smarter, getting better. One of my favorite ones is energy vault by an energy hero of mine named Bill Gross. Esteban, have you heard of energy vault? Do you know what these guys do?

Esteban Gast:

I don’t know.

Bill Nussey:

I just think of you when I think of this company. So Bill Gross is an old hero of mine from the tech space who became a clean energy entrepreneur. And he said, “What’s the cheapest way to store energy?” And he looked at the analysis and realized pumped hydro, where you put water behind a dam and then it flows back out, that’s the cheapest and the biggest source of energy storage today. But it doesn’t scale because turns out people don’t want to take a pristine valley and fill it with water to do energy storage, go figure. So he did all math, and he took me through this great story, and he decided the best way to create energy storage is to move giant blocks of 30 ton rocks with a shipping crate framed cranes, like think about a loading dock for a port.

Bill Nussey:

And he uses those cranes to lift these things, these giant blocks of concrete up and lower them back again. And I’m just imagining, and they just raised 500 million. They have Stacey Abrams who we know here in Georgia is a governor, who’s run for governor and we’ll do it again. She’s actually just joined as board of directors. And I’m just imagining this video where they explain this, and you need to be there, Esteban. They need to hire you to be on site with one of these prototype projects can explain how lifting rocks, giant rocks don’t get underneath it, deck on it. But getting near these giant rocks is the best way to save the planet and store massive amounts of electricity.

Esteban Gast:

Yeah, that’s good. I was doing a minimum viable product of that when I was growing up, just throwing rocks up in the air and catching them. Who knew I invested in that I’d be a billionaire now. I’d be hanging out with Stacey Abrams. If I just would’ve been like, “Ah, that should have been my career this whole time.”

Bill Nussey:

Visionary, visionary. Nice.

Esteban Gast:

That is so cool. That’s fascinating. Also, what a create person Bill Gross to… That feels very outside the box thinking, that feels very creatively divergent of trying to think of what no one else is thinking of.

Bill Nussey:

I think Bill’s done that his whole career. A lot of people don’t know that he is the guy, or his company, created what’s now the standard way we search the internet. And he started a company that invented the search ranking system that Google made famous and wealthy. But he’s such a pioneer and has been for his entire life, one of the people I was so privileged to interview for the book. All right, well, let’s move on to the next topic.

Sam Easterby:

Yep. So Bill, I mean, there’s an awful lot of innovation that’s taking place around the funding of this transition. What are some examples there of what has happened in 2021 and what you see moving forward?

Bill Nussey:

This is really personal for me because when I left IBM and decided to write a book and I used to be in venture capital, I used to work for Greylock and I’ve run startups my whole life. And I called my friends up and I said, “Hey, this is 2017. I think I’m going to get into clean energy.” And my venture capital friend said, “You’re a moron.” Everybody knows that in 2011 and 12 cleantech industry imploded, investors lost billions and tens of billions of dollars. And it was generally declared a complete failure. Venture capital was declared a failure for funding cleantech. So here I was trying to convince him it was going to be huge. And I guess it worked because now cleantech venture capital is the hottest segment with, I think, upwards of 30, 40 billion of new funds being created to go exclusively after Cleantech.

Bill Nussey:

And so you went from a desert to a flood of cash available for innovative, fast moving startups. And it’s in a matter of years, it’s a real testament to the US economic system that we can move capital that quickly and that dynamically towards something that’s so important. And by the way, it’s probably the biggest business opportunity in human history on top of that.

Bill Nussey:

But here’s the problem. There’s so much money available and there’s a whole lot of science and a whole lot of interesting engineering sitting out there, but how do you connect them? How do you take the scientists and these young startup entrepreneurs and help them apply all that money in a way that’s going to create results that matter. So we had a really interesting, exciting, and honestly passionate and compelling guest, very recently, Bryan Hassin of Third Derivative, which is a incubator accelerator for early stage Cleantech companies to get started. And here’s what he said about why we need a change in an evolution, maybe not a revolution, in how early stage Cleantech companies are getting built.

Bryan Hassin:

This really gets to our theory of change. We believe that this deeply integrative approach can not only increase the success rate of promising early stage climatetech innovations, but almost as importantly, increase the speed to success. And if we can do that, we can de-risk the entire category such that the millions of dollars we’re investing today can attract those trillions of dollars that need to be invested in the category.

Bill Nussey:

So talking about finances and money and moving around, I think another remarkable and historically significant aspect of 2021 was the supply chain issues. And I think it’s going to be mostly known by a bunch of really unhappy parents of toddlers and middle school children who can’t get the toys they want for their kids in the next couple of weeks. By the time you hear this, it’s going to be a meltdown nationwide, I fear. But there were some actual massive high scale business impacts. The solar supply chain and the battery supply chain both took some pretty serious hits. And we saw prices actually rise a little bit for baseline solar products, which we haven’t seen happen in a long, long time, many, many years.

Bill Nussey:

And to really help our listeners understand that we went to Andy Klump, who’s the CEO of Clean Energy Associates, company based out of Shanghai, that arguably the smartest, most connected influential group in the world, helping make the supply chain experience, which largely starts in China for solar and delivered all over the world in a seamless, effective way for clients building gigantic solar farms or even small scale stuff that we talk about. So Andy took a few minutes to share with all of us, the things that he had learned in episode 70 about the supply chain and where it is today and where it’s going. Here’s what he said.

Andy Klump:

The reason that China and other Asian countries have made such a big successful effort in building a supply chain, they don’t just think about the end product, they also think about the sub-components and they create a cluster effect so that these different sub component manufacturers are grouped together. That reduces the need for working capital, reduces the cost of logistics, and they really do create an advantageous cost position. So that’s one of my piece of advice to folks in the US.

Sam Easterby:

Bill, one of the biggest changes that I saw in 2021 was in a report from an organization called Divest Invest. And they reported that asset managers and some 1500 asset managers overseeing a combined, what was it, almost 40 trillion of investments have decided that they’re going to turn their backs on fossil fuels, including oil and gas and coal. And they’ve now committed to offloading those assets. To me, that’s a huge change in where money is flowing and how people are viewing the securities behind some of those investments. In fact, a Bloomberg Green article noted that that movement of these funds now points to some real solid proof that divestment is a sound financial strategy and that fossil fuels are really a bad bet financially.

Bill Nussey:

Solar is taking off and particularly at large scale, but also at smaller scales depending where you are. But I think we’ll see for the third or fourth year in a row, that the largest amount of new energy power plant creation is going to be led by solar. It’s just the cheapest way to build energy, whether it’s on a large field or a desert. And it’s really the only option if you want to put solar at a small scale, like your rooftop or your neighborhood. So I think solar is building momentum. It’s clearing its way from wind, which we still need, but I think it’s just differentiating itself on costs and momentum and solar is the future.

Sam Easterby:

No, I was going to say, I understand it’s a great way to power a farm to table organization down in Panama too.

Esteban Gast:

Yeah. Solar also the best way to power eco community in the middle of a Panamanian jungle. You’re right. I mean, if it works there, it’s going to work in the suburbs of Cleveland.

Bill Nussey:

Well said, exactly. And I think that’s the big debate right now, and one that I am really passionate about, like, “Hey, I’m so passionate about it I’m going to start a organization and a podcast.” And we can build this giant solar stuff and we need to continue doing that. But boy, boy, oh boy, is it slow. 75% of the companies that put millions of dollars into proposing these large solar plants all over the US drop out because it takes the years, sometimes four years before they get approval to actually build it. And so this is a imperfect system. And so I think that there’s this tsunami of opportunity available if we lean into it more than we have, which is to put it on our roofs, not just our homes, but in communities and apartment buildings and office buildings and campuses and schools and military bases and shopping mall. Shopping malls would be huge.

Bill Nussey:

And the problem is that at superficial level, it looks like it’s very expensive. It looks like about $3 a watt to put solar on your roof. And utilities who are slowly embracing will tell you, “Well, it’s only a dollar in change to put solar in a giant field because it’s large, it’s scaled, and it cheaper to the utilities.” And this is a point I love to make in my book, it’s cheaper to the utilities to put it in a utility scale and they get the benefit of all the profits from solar, go exclusively to the utility. So why wouldn’t you love that? But if the utility put the giant solar field outside my neighborhood or in a rural area, 20 miles away, and it’s really cheap, does my electric bill it go down? Nope. So it’s not cheaper for me. If I put solar on my roof tomorrow, my electric bill goes down immediately.

Bill Nussey:

So I’m out here to tell the world that solar on a small scale is cheaper to the only people that really matter, which is you and me and homes and families and local businesses. It is cheaper to do solar at small scale than large scale. That’s just a myth we’ve absolutely got a bust. And by the way, at $3 a watt, we are just getting started. Either one of you guys know how much it costs to put the exact same solar panels and exact same inverters on a roof in Australia? If it costs $3 in the US, what do you think it costs in Australia?

Esteban Gast:

I was going to say lower, $2.

Bill Nussey:

I hear $2. I hear two, anyone going to go lower than two. It costs about a dollar and 10 cents US to put the exact same equipment on a rooftop in Australia as it does in the US. And this is all soft costs, all this bureaucracy. And I remember I mentioned earlier about all these overlapping regulations and things. Well, that’s part of the consequence. And so another really cool thing we should be remarking about in 2021 was the rollout of SolarAPP+, which one of our guests, Andrew Birchy Birch was the one of the fathers of that. And it’s now been adopted by the likes of the Department of Energy and Rocky Mountain Institute and a whole range. And it’s been rolled out, I think in 1500 now, local governments. And it just streamlines all that red tape. It’s a little app, they’re giving it away for free. And that $3 goes down to well, Esteban’s $2. And I think it’s going to be even lower and ultimately get us down to where Australia is and where we should be, which is a bit over a dollar. And so any arguments about large scale solar being cheaper are going to be absolutely history when we get there. So that’s another big thing about 2021, we’d be remiss not to mention.

Sam Easterby:

Well, if there’s one thing that we’ve got to talk about with regard to 2021, it’s probably the biggest event that took place this year, especially for the Freeing Energy Project. And that was the publishing of Freeing Energy. And that’s a book that Bill, our host today, wrote and authored. It only took him what, a couple of months to write. And it was described by Kirkus Reviews as, “A passionate, valuable, and detailed blueprint for remaking the shape of everyday energy production.” I absolutely love that quote about the book. I’ve had a chance to read it. It’s out now and available for folks around the world to pick up and study. It really is an indispensable guide for not only innovators and people that just want to advocate about the transition to clean energy, but also for regulators to study closely. So Bill, congratulations on getting the book out. Is probably what, the most intense three or four months that you’ve ever spent in your life.

Bill Nussey:

It’s the single biggest project I’ve ever done. This is a labor of love. And I think the timing could not be better. I didn’t anticipate this. I did not plan for California to throw out a net metering change that was draconian. I didn’t plan when I started writing it for Texas to lose hundreds of people to cold freezes, and Louisiana to have power outage for days. But it turns out that 2021 is the year that people are really starting to look at the resiliency and the cost effectiveness and the social equity that comes from these small scale systems. So hopefully the timing is good and we can really start an exciting dialogue around this.

Esteban Gast:

That’s so exciting, Bill, about the book. That’s so, so huge. I know you start with a story by Puerto Rico too. I know it opens up on that, which is a good open. It’s a good open, great place to start, great place to reel people in, but that’s so good. Here’s what I’m thinking, Bill. I’m a writer, I think a lot about words, and here’s what I want to say. I want to celebrate your book and I want to be like, “Ooh, Bill, you’re firing on all cylinders.” But then I want to stop and be like firing on all cylinders, wait a minute, that’s a fossil fuel idiom where hearing about your experience with the book, I want to say things like, “Wow, it felt like you were burning the midnight oil.” And well, you weren’t. So that’s the antithesis of your book. You weren’t burning the midnight oil, you were like charging your solar panels at night, whatever the…

Esteban Gast:

So here’s what I’m going to propose, some fossil fuel idioms. I’m going to pitch you some new ones. We’re going to come up with new phrases, so then when people talk about the book, people talk… Or you can it’s seamlessly, you can bring in conversation. If someone says like, “He’s got a short fuse,” to someone else, they’re talking about someone else, you can say, “Excuse me, he’s got short range.” I don’t know if that works. Or he’s got range anxiety, people in electric cars some dumb say. And then people will be like, “What do you mean by that, Bill?” And you’ll be like, “Well, you can find out more at my book, Freeing Energy, freeingenergy.com. Find it at local bookstores.” It’s called gorilla marketing.

Bill Nussey:

We can charge people up with the book. We can shine a very bright light with sunshine on a dark issue that people don’t appreciate.

Esteban Gast:

That’s exactly-

Bill Nussey:

You can shine a flashlight on a path.

Esteban Gast:

Ooh, people are going to be so fired up. It’s going to be like, they’re in a windy valley and they’re a wind turbine and they’re just going to be going.

Bill Nussey:

But see there, you said you did it again. You fell back to the fossil. They’re fired up. The fire is, you see, it’s so embedded in how we talk. We got to fix this, man.

Esteban Gast:

You’re right.

Bill Nussey:

We got to come up with a new set of idioms.

Esteban Gast:

So switched on to an electric.

Bill Nussey:

Nice. Yeah. Because when we get this right, I mean, when people start talking about the property, we are going to be cooking with gas. Oh no, no, no.

Esteban Gast:

There we go again. We’re going to be cooking on an electric stove. We’re going to be-

Bill Nussey:

Induction. Yes. That’s induction cooking, baby.

Esteban Gast:

We’re going to be, Ooh. Once we get this going, we’re going to be induction cooking. Ooh.

Bill Nussey:

That’s right.

Sam Easterby:

Exactly. And speaking of words mattering, we do something with every guest on the Freeing Energy podcast and that’s take our guests through what we call the lightning round of questions. And you get to experience that today. So are you ready?

Esteban Gast:

I’m ready for the lightning round. I’ve got my protective gear on [crosstalk 00:50:53].

Sam Easterby:

You’re all charged up.

Esteban Gast:

Yeah. I’m all charged up.

Sam Easterby:

All right. So what excites you most about being in the clean energy business?

Esteban Gast:

I think being in it at all, because then I get to contribute to, I think the single biggest issue that we’re facing. So just being asked that question, that excites me.

Sam Easterby:

Fantastic. So let me ask you this. If you had a magic wand and you could wave it and change just one thing about this transition, what would it be?

Esteban Gast:

It’s bad that all my first reactions are things like, I’m like I got that really bad haircut and got made fun of in third grade because I wanted to be like that band I saw on TV. But no, probably, the root of the problem here I think it’d be an educational system, teaches creativity, critical thinking, social, emotional skills. I think if we had that things would look different. But also, I don’t know, there’s so much, also it’s like stop JFK. That’s a Stephen King book. That’s like I would stop JFK from being killed. I don’t know. Kill Hitler, stop genocide. There’s a lot, I don’t know. This magic wand is too much power. Honestly, I get too anxious. I would give it back to the genie and I’d be like, “Honestly, Genie, whatever you’re thinking, Genie. I trust you. I want to empower you to make this decision for yourself, Mr. Genie.”

Sam Easterby:

Well, so when you say having experience life in a sustainable community in Panama, so what do you think will be the single most important change in how we generate and store and distribute electricity in the next say five years?

Esteban Gast:

I swear, I’m not saying this just because I’m in on this podcast and just because Bill released his book today, but I do think it’s going to be connecting with how electricity generate. Which is local energy, which is, I think if people, if you put a solar panel on your roof, it forever changes the way that your relationship to electricity and to power. Right now it’s so out of mind. Right now I drive up to a gas station. I don’t even think, at most I smell gas. I don’t see it, it’s so out of mind. I know this is lightning round and I’ve moved into like a thunderstorm territory with my answer. It’s much longer than it should be. But I think I’m a people person. I think how humans, how we connect with where we are getting our electricity sources and mostly through local energy.

Sam Easterby:

I love it. I love that answer. So Esteban, one last question for you before we wrap this up today. So when people come up to you and they say, “Oh, that’s Jungle boy,” what do you say to those people that come up and say, “Hey, how can I make a difference in this transition? What should I be doing?”

Esteban Gast:

Yeah. That is, I wish people who occasionally recognizing were that thoughtful. They interrupt a dinner, but then go like, “Hey, real talk. How can I best contribute to the world around me?” After they interrupt the conversation. Here’s what I would say, is that everyone is invited. I don’t have a science background. I don’t have a degree in this. What I have is skills, and what I have is resources, the books of generation, what I did was read books, books like Freeing Energy. What I did was do that and then bring those things that I’m passionate about into the skills and into my life.

Esteban Gast:

So I think Comedians Conquering Climate Change, the podcast, one final pitch. I can’t believe without one final pitch, is I think really interesting in the climate space. But I think it’s also interesting in the comedy space because both of it, we can just… Everyone’s invited. There are no industry outsiders. No one’s outside. All of us are impacted, so all of us are invited. So even if you’re like someone who knits, well, you can knit something, you can knit a message, you can knit in a particular way, that helps make this transition faster.

Esteban Gast:

I think that’s the thing. I think that’s the thing that I realized that I am admittedly nervous about the bike, because I’m not an expert. And then just like have experts, have books, have resources, do a little research and then that’s it. And then I get to like have fun conversations and I get to contribute to this. And we’ve gotten feedback from people that it’s helpful. Like there’s, “Oh my gosh, this whole time I could have been doing this.” I think I was just maybe waiting for an invitation. I was waiting to feel like I could show up instead of just being like, “You know what, let’s show up. Let’s do it.”

Bill Nussey:

Well, Esteban, your answers to those last questions really inspiring. I personally will probably stick to books and business, but I think knitting is valuable. And I think it just shows the tapestry that we can weave of solutions and voices, and the more people that get excited and passionate, everyone’s invited. That is so powerful. And I think sums up what we’re trying to do with the Freeing Energy podcast. And we’ve done a lot of these, and none of them have ever been like this today. And we are so privileged that you spent your time with us and brought your wit and humor and powerful perspectives. Irrespective of humor, you just have some great ways of looking at the world and we are lucky to have been a part of you sharing them. So thank you from all the way from Bogota, Colombia, joining us for this. And we look forward to continuing to find ways to get the word out there for knitters and everybody in the world of clean local energy. Thank you.

Esteban Gast:

Thank you so much. This was so much fun, so much thoughtfulness. And you’re doing… I mean, this is just such good, necessary work. Genuinely cannot wait to read the book. I’m going to get one now. And yeah, and I’m thrilled. I’m so bummed. This is the best. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Sam Easterby:

Thank you for joining us today. You have been listening to the Freeing Energy podcast, personal stories from the clean energy movement. To learn more about the Freeing Energy Project, visit our website, freeingenergy.com. Subscribe to the Freeing Energy podcast on Apple podcast, Spotify, Google podcast, and anywhere podcasts are found. Make sure more people learn about clean local energy by rating and reviewing the show on Apple podcast.

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