Energy in the News: Friday, January 8
The problem in the boom in auto sales*
The Washington Post, featuring Michael Sivak
FOR THE automobile industry, 2015 was a banner year. The latest data suggest new-vehicle sales of all brands in the United States probably exceeded 17.5 million, which would break the record of 17.4 million set in 2000. That’s a tribute to the private sector’s hard work and innovation — but the U.S. auto boom is also due to government aid, whether in the form of the taxpayer-funded bailout and restructuring of General Motors and Chrysler that began eight years ago or the low interest rates engineered by the Federal Reserve for roughly the same length of time.
In an important sense, too, the industry’s renaissance has not gone according to plan — or at least hasn’t matched the aspirations articulated during President Obama’s first term. Aid to Detroit, including both the bailout and a loan-guarantee program signed into law by President George W. Bush, was supposed to spur production of small, fuel-efficient vehicles in U.S. factories. That hasn’t panned out; not only GM, Chrysler and Ford but also U.S.-based Japanese and German automakers are shifting assembly of these vehicles from the United States to lower-wage plants in Mexico. Quite simply, fewer small cars are profitable to produce in the United States because U.S. consumer demand is shifting once again to larger vehicles. Of the 20 hottest-selling vehicles in December, 12 were pickup trucks, SUVs or crossovers.
While today’s pickups and SUVs use less fuel than their predecessor models, in part because of tougher federal regulations, they still burn more gas than passenger cars. As a result, the United States is starting to reverse some of the fuel-economy gains it achieved in the wake of the Great Recession. According to figures compiled by Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle of the University of Michigan, the average fuel economy of cars sold in November was 25.1 miles per gallon — better than the 20.8 mpg recorded in 2008 but down from the record 25.8 mpg set in August 2014.
*Interested in a related op-ed? Check out UMEI Director Mark Barteau’s December 21 piece for The Conversation, “What should America do with its $2 per gallon gas windfall?”
A single gas well leak is California's biggest contributor to climate change
The single biggest contributor to climate change in California is a blown-out natural gas well more than 8,700ft underground, state authorities and campaign groups said Monday.
The broken well at the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage site has released more than 77,000 metric tons of the powerful climate pollutant methane since the rupture was first detected on 23 October, according to a counter created by the Environmental Defense Fund.
Methane is a fast-acting climate pollutant – more than 80 times more powerful than carbon dioxide over a 20-year time frame.
Experts believe the breach, which has forced the evacuation of hundreds of residents from the town of Porter Ranch, is the largest ever in the US.
Locals have complained of headaches, sore throats, nosebleeds and nausea, caused by the rotten-egg smell of the odorant added to the gas to aid leak detection by SoCalGas, the utility that operates the natural gas storage site.
About 1,000 people are suing the company. There are also concerns about the leak’s effect on smog and ozone. The company said it was monitoring air quality.
Ann Arbor falling short of goals to reduce carbon emissions
Three years ago, Ann Arbor adopted an ambitious plan to reduce the community's carbon footprint and fight back against climate change.
That included goals of reducing the entire community's greenhouse gas emissions by 8 percent by 2015, by 25 percent by 2025, and by 90 percent by 2050 — all relative to 2000 baseline levels.
So, how is the city doing?
The short answer: Not good enough.
The city's efforts to date have not yet had a measurable impact on reducing emissions, members of the Ann Arbor Climate Partnership told the City Council this week, giving a progress report on efforts to implement the city's Climate Action Plan.
"So far, we should be able to give ourselves passing grades. We've done some of the first things that need to be done in addressing this problem. But the hardest work is yet to come," said Mike Garfield, director of the local Ecology Center.
According to the 13-page progress report delivered to the City Council, Ann Arbor's community-wide emissions grew by nearly 1 percent between 2000 and 2010. The city is now working to update estimates for 2015.
4 Steps Michigan Can Take To Exceed Its Clean Power Plan Targets
WRI’s fact sheet series, How States Can Meet Their Clean Power Plan Targets, examines the ways states can meet or even exceed their standards under the CPP while minimizing compliance costs, ensuring reliability, and harnessing economic opportunities. This post explores these opportunities in Michigan.
As part of the Clean Power Plan, the U.S. EPA requires Michigan to reduce its power sector emissions by 33 percent below 2012 levels by 2030. New analysis shows the state can go even further while harnessing economic opportunities.
By following through on its successful existing clean energy policies and improving the way it uses its existing power plants, Michigan can reduce existing power plant carbon dioxide emissions 36 percent below 2012 levels by 2030, surpassing its mass-based target under CPP.
Ford triples autonomous fleet, calls for drone tech
Detroit Free Press, featuring MCity
Ford unveiled a smorgasbord of technology initiatives here ranging from tripling its fleet of autonomous Fusion sedans to funding new mobility start-ups from Detroit to challenging software wizards to program drones and F-150 pickup trucks to navigate disaster relief sites.
There's a lot going on in Las Vegas. CEO Mark Fields, product development chief Raj Nair and Ken Washington, Ford vice president for research and advanced engineering, presented the wide-ranging projects Tuesday at CES 2016, a huge consumer electronics show.
Fields is expected to be asked about a partnership with Google, the subject of widespread media reports last month.
Fields said Ford plans to triple to 30 the number of fully autonomous Ford Fusion hybrid cars developed at its innovation center in Palo Alto, Calif.
“Using the most advanced technology and expanding our test fleet are clear signs of our commitment to make autonomous vehicles available for millions of people,” Nair said. “With more autonomous vehicles on the road, we are accelerating the development of software algorithms that serve to make our vehicles even smarter.”
EPA science advisers buck agency on fracking safety
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) went too far with its finding that hydraulic fracturing is safe, the agency’s science advisers say.
The 31-member Science Advisory Board is taking issue with the EPA’s conclusion in a landmarkreport from June that there is no evidence that fracking has “led to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources in the United States.”
The panel came out with an initial 133-page draft of its report on the study Thursday, saying that the main conclusion of the EPA’s findings does not follow the actual data that it precedes.
“The SAB finds that this statement does not clearly describe the system(s) of interest (e.g., groundwater, surface water) nor the definitions of ‘systemic,’ ‘widespread,’ or ‘impacts,’ ” the advisory panel said.
“The statement is ambiguous and requires clarification and additional explanation,” the scientists wrote, adding that the main conclusions “are inconsistent with the observations, data, and levels of uncertainty presented and discussed in the body of the draft assessment report.”
The panel’s members have been vocal about criticizing report in recent months. They plan to finalize their findings Feb. 1 and forward them to EPA leaders for their consideration.
EPA spokeswoman Melissa Harrison said the agency looks forward to receiving their contributions.