Energy in the News: Friday, September 29

Friday, September 29, 2017

Using University of Michigan buildings as batteries

The Michigan Engineer News Center, feat. Johanna Mathieu and Ian Hiskens

Michigan researchers and staff are testing how to use the immense thermal energy of large buildings as theoretical battery packs. The goal is to help the nation’s grid better accommodate renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar.

For power grids, supply must closely track demand to ensure smooth delivery of electric power. Incorporating renewable energy sources into the grid introduces a large degree of unpredictability to the system. For example, peak solar generation occurs during the day, while peak electricity demand occurs in the evening. Because of this, California, the leading solar producer in the U.S., has had to pay other states to take excess electricity off of its grid, and at other times simply wasted potential electricity by disconnecting solar panels.

As renewable sources become more prevalent, so does the unpredictability and mismatched supply and demand, creating a growing problem in how to keep better control of both.

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Michigan's VIVACE goes with the flow, quite literally: BTN LiveBIG

Big Ten Network, feat. Michael Bernitsas

A team of researchers from the University of Michigan are marshaling the innate properties of flowing water to generate energy using an innovative device they’ve dubbed VIVACE.

“VIVACE stands for Vortex-Induced Vibrations for Aquatic Clean Energy,” says Dr. Michael Bernitsas, Professor of Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering at Michigan, who notes that the name as well is a nod to his love for classical music. “It’s also an Italian word, used in music, meaning the lively part of the music.”

In its current form, the VIVACE system consists of a metal cube framework containing a series of cylinders running from top to bottom. When this device is placed into flowing water with the cylinders perpendicular to the current, hydrokinetic forces – vortex-induced vibrations and galloping – move the cylinders up and down. That mechanical energy is translated into electrical energy via a connected generator.

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Dyson to spend £1 billion making ‘radical’ electric car


Dyson Ltd., best-known as a manufacturer of vacuum cleaners, hand driers and air filters, will build an electric car by 2020, founder James Dyson said Tuesday.

The company is investing one billion pounds ($1.34 billion) to develop the car, plus the same sum to create solid-state batteries to power it, Dyson said. These investments will dwarf money the company is spending on research and development for its vacuums and air filters.

Dyson is joining a crowded field, with manufacturers from Volkswagen AG and Daimler AG to Toyota Motor Corp. and Elon Musk’s Tesla Inc. all competing to popularize electric vehicles. While most of these companies are using lithium-ion batteries in their current models, Dyson said its car would use solid-state batteries that are smaller, more efficient, easier to charge and potentially easier to recycle. Toyota is also working on solid-state batteries and said earlier this year it hopes to have them in electric vehicles by the early 2020s.

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Mich.'s Palisades plant moves closer to closure

E&E EnergyWire

Michigan regulators gave Consumers Energy the go-ahead Friday to recover more than $142 million from ratepayers as the utility seeks to buy out the remaining years of a contract to buy energy from Entergy Corp.'s Palisades nuclear plant.

The state Public Service Commission's approval represents the biggest regulatory hurdle facing Entergy in its efforts to shut the 811-megawatt nuclear plant in southwest Michigan.

Consumers Energy, a unit of Jackson, Mich.-based CMS Energy Corp., sought PSC approval earlier this year to sell bonds to buyout the remainder of a purchased power agreement (PPA) with the Palisades plant. The PPA lasts through April 2022.

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General Motors making massive wind purchase to power 7 plants

Detroit Free Press

General Motors is making a big investment in wind power.

The automaker  announced that it is purchasing 200 megawatts of wind energy from wind farms in Ohio and Illinois, and that once the turbines are online next year, 20%  of the company's global electricity usage will be powered by renewables. The electricity generated will supply seven plants, including those that make the Chevrolet Cruze and Silverado and GMC Sierra light-duty pickups, according to a news release.

GM announced last year that it intends to source all electricity needs at its facilities worldwide with renewable energy by 2050.

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Who's winning and losing the tariff battle

E&E EnergyWire

It still isn't certain that the solar industry will be hit with a round of tariffs. But after a landmark decision by the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) last Friday, it is far more likely, and the winners and losers are coming into focus.

In a unanimous decision, the four commissioners of the ITC voted that a struggling set of manufacturers have suffered "serious injury" from Asian competitors that barraged America with inexpensive product. Next, on Oct. 3, the commission will hold a hearing on what penalty to place on importers.

But the ITC's recommendations, while influential, are just recommendations; the issue then goes in November to President Trump, who could take any trade measure. He has told aides to "bring me some tariffs," and on Friday hinted that solar manufacturers deserve protection (Greenwire, Sept. 22).

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Economic storm on the horizon

Houston Chronicle

Halfway around the globe, a storm is brewing that will pose a greater threat to our oil and gas industry than Hurricanes Harvey or Ike, or even a massive storm surge right up Houston Ship Channel.

The danger: China wants to stop buying gasoline. Specifically, at an automotive conference in Tianjin, the nation's vice minister of industry and information technology stated that the government is planning on a total phaseout of vehicles powered by fossil fuels. This announcement follows similar plans from Britain and France to ban sales of diesel and gasoline cars by 2040. That's decades away, but the world is undeniably moving towards a future where the internal combustion engine is a thing of the past.

Houston, this is the big one. As the auto industry approaches an electric revolution, we need to start considering how this will affect our petroleum-based economy.

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How electric cars can create the biggest disruption since the iPhone


It’s been 10 years since Apple Inc. unleashed a surge of innovation that upended the mobile phone industry. Electric cars, with a little help from ride-hailing and self-driving technology, could be about to pull the same trick on Big Oil.

The rise of Tesla Inc. and its rivals could be turbo charged by complementary services from Uber Technologies Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Waymo unit, just as the iPhone rode the app economy and fast mobile internet to decimate mobile phone giants like Nokia Oyj.

The culmination of these technologies — autonomous electric cars available on demand — could transform how people travel and confound predictions that battery-powered vehicles will have a limited impact on oil demand in the coming decades.

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Driving the future: Electric vehicles in the U.S.

Energy Today

Rapid battery cost declines, rising commitment from major automakers, strong policy support from state and local governments, and low operational costs (including discounted charging tariffs from utilities) have put electric vehicles (EVs) on track to pass gasoline-powered vehicles. Indeed, U.S. EV sales have grown an average of 32% annually from 2012-2016 and 45% over the year ending June 2017.

Considering these advantages, automakers and investors face several big questions: How fast can we expect EVs to increase market share in the United States?  What penetration will they achieve, by when?  How will these outcomes be affected by external factors like oil prices and government policy support?

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I’m an environmental journalist, but I never write about overpopulation. Here’s why.


I did an event with environmental journalist (and personal hero) Elizabeth Kolbert late last week, in which we discussed various matters related to journalism and climate change. Subsequently, one of the attendees wrote and asked why I hadn’t talked about population. Isn’t overpopulation the real root of our environmental ills?

Anyone who’s ever given a talk on an environmental subject knows that the population question is a near-inevitability (second only to the nuclear question). I used to get asked about it constantly when I wrote for Grist — less now, but still fairly regularly.

I thought I would explain, once and for all, why I hardly ever talk about population, and why I’m unlikely to in the future.

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Puerto Rico's grid needs a complete overhaul


Puerto Rico barely had a minute to recover from being grazed by Hurricane Irma when Maria approached the island. Maria was one of the strongest and most powerful storms ever recorded in the Caribbean; her eye spanned the entire Puerto Rican territory.

With wind gusts of 150 mph, the storm left massive flooding across Puerto Rico. The island lost its entire electricity supply. On Friday, Ricardo Ramos, the CEO of PREPA, the island’s utility provider, told CNBC that the company had lost more than three-quarters of its infrastructure to the storm. (The utility was struggling long before Maria made landfall: PREPA filed for bankruptcy in July.) San Juan’s mayor, Carmen Yulín Cruz, recently confirmed that the whole island could be without power for up to 6 months.

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Multiple challenges remain to Fukushima nuclear cleanup

The Washington Post

Japan’s government approved a revised road map Tuesday to clean up the radioactive mess left at the Fukushima nuclear power plant after it was damaged beyond repair by an earthquake and tsunami in 2011. Decommissioning the damaged reactors is an uncertain process that is expected to take 30 to 40 years.

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