Mar 5, 2021 • 1HR 38M

Voltscast: Jesse Jenkins on energy modeling

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David Roberts
Volts is a podcast about leaving fossil fuels behind. I've been reporting on and explaining clean-energy topics for almost 20 years, and I love talking to politicians, analysts, innovators, and activists about the latest progress in the world's most important fight. (Volts is entirely subscriber-supported. Sign up!)
Episode details

Hello, People of Volts!

Today I’ve got a special treat for you: a podcast with Jesse Jenkins, energy modeler and assistant professor at Princeton.

Those of you on #EnergyTwitter already know Jesse. He’s been doing this as long as I have, working his way up from take-haver to think tanker to graduate researcher at MIT to Princeton prof. Along the way he’s developed a reputation not only as one of the sharpest, most empirically informed energy analysts in the country, but as a scrupulously nice guy, always willing to share what he knows and engage in good faith with questions and arguments. As a journalist, I’ve found him indispensable.

(Photo: Princeton University)
(Photo: Princeton University)

So it was a real treat to sit with Jesse for an in-depth conversation on energy system modeling. What exactly is it? How does it work? What does it tell us about the kinds of energy technologies we will need to decarbonize, and their relative scale? How do politicians use — and misuse — models?

We get into all of it (as you will hear, I kept Jesse talking so long that I started worrying I might be violating the Geneva Conventions). I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.


Here are a few links either mentioned in, or relevant to, the discussion:

  • A three-part series on the “rebound effect,” whereby energy efficiency reduces the price of a service, which then increases demand for the service, which then wipes out some of the energy and environmental gains of the efficiency. I wrote it in 2012 for Grist.

  • Jesse’s old blog Watthead, with posts going all the way back to 2005.

  • A 2015 post of mine about how the International Energy Agency (IEA) consistently overestimates the cost of renewable energy.

  • The Princeton University Net-Zero America project, an effort to model a variety of pathways to deep decarbonization in the US.

  • A presentation on the Net-Zero project with Jesse and Princeton’s Eric Larson.

Question for the type of folks who read to the bottom: would you be interested in a written transcription of this episode? It would be some work, but if enough people want it I’d be up for doing it, perhaps as a bonus for community members. Let me know in comments or at

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