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‘Investing in Zero’ podcast with Nat Bullard

26 May 2021

By Andy Vesey

This week on my podcast, I had a fascinating conversation with Nat Bullard. Nat is Chief Content Officer at Bloomberg NEF, focused on energy, transport technology, climate, and finance. Since joining in 2010, he’s held a number of roles, including Global Head of Executive Insights, analyzing energy transitions and technologies; Content Director for Bloomberg New Energy Finance; and Lead Analyst for the North American New Energy Market. Nat is also a member of the The Commodity Futures Trading Commission’s Climate-Related Market Risk Subcommittee since 2019. 

Off the bat, I confessed to Nat that I’d been looking forward to our conversation for some time, as he has been closely following the story of climate change for years. He told me that, at Bloomberg, he aims to look very broadly at the carbonization of our big integrated systems and what that means. He said he began looking at carbon capture and storage, biofuels, and bioenergy years ago but that now his point of view focuses on the electricity system, transportation, industrial systems, building systems, and the technological layers that wrap them all together. He also told me how he came to the energy sector from a humanities background, and that spending a year in Egypt as a young teacher fresh out of his undergraduate degree shaped his view of the world, as it was the first time he saw a developing nation up close. 

I then asked Nat, systematically thinking, how organizations respond to the new risks that are being presented to them with climate change. Especially now it’s not an academic conversation and we’re close to 420 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere and we’re already seeing climatic impacts. Nat replied that he believes the big challenge is to understand that the future might be much different. Rather than projecting forward from today, it’s about what kind of questions business leaders ask themselves: are they prepared for things to be much different? He asserted the classic example is when we talk about weather systems: these so-called “100-year storms” now happen annually. 

How much, Nat wondered, are people able and willing to position their organizations for something that is more dynamic than it is static? He said we could also probably walk through the decision trees at a company or a regulatory level that not all of these sort of cascading issues happen, but really it comes down to how much people in the position of governance are comfortable with expecting things to be very different than what they’ve known. In point of fact, this part of our conversation reminded me of an article I wrote not long ago. Fittingly, Nat paraphrased Mike Bloomberg on the topic: you cannot manage what you cannot measure. To that end, we need to get better at measuring and, and more importantly, decide what it is that we need to be measuring. But, as Clay Christensen, has written, “Data is only available about the past. A useful theory, however, can help you look into the future.”

Nat and I then batted a number of scenarios back and forth for varying methods of updating the grid and working toward electrification. He emphasized that the way that we got our system today was through investment, not spending—for the most part. In this scheme, he said the government made decisions such as guaranteeing or a return on equity for, for many of the assets that US utilities make, or guaranteeing natural monopoly status for network operators for both reliability and cost, but also to avoid duplication. He mused that we will need to make more major decisions in this vein on that kind of fundamental, macro level. I agreed that we will potentially have to make decisions to invest $30 trillion and to do so quickly—we only have maybe 10 or 20 years to overhaul our infrastructure. Energy security will be of paramount importance as we do so. Pretty much everything hangs in the balance. What moves we decide to make ultimately depends upon our abilities to conceptualize risk and its place in our future. 

I definitely got a lot of food for thought from my conversation with Nat. And I think you will, too! Listen to our full conversation at https://www.investinginzero.fm


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