We are going to build a lot more wind and solar over the coming decades. It will inevitably lead to oversupply of these resources on the grid. But is that a good thing?

That’s the focus of this week’s show, featuring a conversation between Shayle Kann and Columbia University's Melissa Lott.

The stars have aligned for a rare win-win-win situation: Solar and wind are popular with politicians; they’re popular with customers; and they’re often the lowest-cost resource, making them an attractive bet for investors.

As we build more solar and wind, many regions will start to look like California does on a sunny spring day or like West Texas does on a windy night: Power prices drop to zero or below and producers curtail excess electricity, creating the dreaded "overproduction” of renewables.

So what can we do with all this carbon-free power?

We asked Melissa Lott, and as it turns out, quite a lot! She argues that renewable oversupply can actually be a feature of the grid, not a bug (even if it causes some minor hiccups along the way). There are all kinds of new resources we can harness with excess wind and solar. 

Melissa is a senior research scholar at Columbia's Center on Global Energy Policy. She and her colleague Julio Friedman wrote a paper making the case for intentionally overbuilding capacity — and thus intentionally creating oversupply. They lay out a framework for figuring out what to do with intermittent excess energy and zoom in on a case study in New Zealand.

What happens when an aluminum smelter — one that accounts for a whopping 12% of the county’s annual demand and is powered largely by hydroelectric power — closes down? It was one decarbonization modeler’s dream. 

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