Energy in the News: Friday, February 10

Friday, February 10, 2017

Racing against the clock, UM scientists look for new ways to remove carbon dioxide from atmosphere

Michigan Radio, feat. John DeCicco

According to NASA, 2016 was the warmest year since record-keeping began in 1880. It was the third straight year to break the record for global average temperatures.

Around the world, governments, businesses and individuals are taking steps to reverse this trend.

Most of these efforts to combat climate change have centered on reducing emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the air, largely by limiting the use of fossil fuels. But what if simply reducing carbon emissions—even reducing them to zero—is not enough? That is the assumption behind a new initiative from the University of Michigan.

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Electricity costs: A new way they'll surge in a warming world

University of Michigan News, feat. Catherine Hausman

Climate change is likely to increase U.S. electricity costs over the next century by billions of dollars more than economists previously forecast, according to a new study involving a University of Michigan researcher.

The study shows how higher temperatures will raise not just the average annual electricity demand, but more importantly, the peak demand. And to avoid brownouts and absorb these surges, utilities will need to spend between $70 billion and $180 billion in grid upgrades—power plants and futuristic energy storage systems for which ratepayers would ultimately foot the bill.

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Vehicle fuel economy rose in January

University of Michigan News, feat. Michael Sivak

Gas mileage of new vehicles sold in the U.S. ticked upward last month, say researchers at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute.

The average fuel economy (window-sticker value) of new vehicles sold in January was 25.1 mpg—up 0.1 from December, but the same mark as January 2014 and January 2015.

Overall, fuel economy is down 0.4 mpg from the peak of 25.5 mpg reached in August 2014, but still up by 5.0 mpg since October 2007—the first full month of monitoring by Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle.

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Slightly better iPhones won’t fix the U.S. economy

Fortune, feat. Sridhar Kota

Last month, The Wall Street Journal's Greg Ip published a provocative article explaining the hidden problem with today's economy: "We're out of big ideas."

As Ip put it, "Houses, appliances and cars look much like they did a generation ago. Airplanes fly no faster than in the 1960s. None of the 20 most-prescribed drugs in the U.S. came to market in the past decade."

He's right. While there are more scientists and engineers than ever, historically high levels of R&D spending, and major advances in artificial intelligence and driverless cars, people's living standards still feel largely stagnant.

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Michigan corn growers tout environmentally improved ethanol

WEMU, feat. John DeCicco

The value of biofuels has long been a subject of debate. Corn-based ethanol is in our gasoline and, along with biodiesel, is a part of the nation’s long-term energy plan. Last week, WEMU spoke with a University of Michigan researcher whose team has declared that biofuels are causing more environmental damage than gasoline.  On this week’s ‘Issues of the Environment,’ you’ll get an entirely different perspective.

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Here’s a better way to regulate carbon – and change the tired environment-versus-economy debate

The Conversation

Is it possible to reduce carbon emissions without hurting economic growth and destroying jobs?

The recent spate of executive orders, including one to pause current environmental reviews for infrastructure projects and another to revoke two regulations for every new one requested, suggests the White House sees regulations as job killers.

And indeed, some regulatory approaches are problematic. For example, if companies are required to reduce the greenhouse gases they generate in a given territory, a company could simply relocate its emission-intensive activities to countries with less stringent rules.

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Trump’s energy plan doesn’t mention solar, an industry that just added 51,000 jobs

The Washington Post

The White House website may not even mention it as part of Trump’s “America First Energy Plan” — but the U.S. solar industry continues to post dramatic job growth numbers.

According to a new annual report by the nonprofit Solar Foundation, more than 51,000 solar industry jobs were added in 2016, a 24.5 percent increase over 2015. Overall, the foundation finds, some 260,000 Americans now work in the solar industry.

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U.S. utilities seek solar power as Trump sides with coal, fossil fuels

Los Angeles Times

The plunging cost of solar power is leading U.S. electric companies to capture more of the sun just when President Donald Trump is moving to boost coal and other fossil fuels.

Solar power represents just about 1% of the electricity U.S. utilities generate today, but that could grow substantially as major electric utilities move into smaller-scale solar farming, a niche developed by local cooperatives and nonprofits.

It's both an opportunity and a defensive maneuver: Sunshine-capturing technology has become so cheap, so quickly, that utilities are moving to preserve their core business against competition from household solar panels.

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Trump loves pipelines. But he just accidentally froze a bunch of them

The Washington Post

President Trump has vowed to revive oil and gas pipelines. But he just accidentally froze a bunch of them.

Here’s how. Trump elevated Cheryl A. LaFleur to the chairmanship of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. As a result, the sitting chairman Norman C. Bay, rather than remain an ordinary commission member, resigned effective Friday.

That wasn’t part of the plan. When Bay departs, the five-person commission, which already has two vacancies, will no longer have a quorum. No quorum means no approvals for contested issues including electric transmission lines, natural gas pipelines and utility plans.

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