Energy in the News: Friday, December 15

Friday, December 15, 2017

In Michigan, study shows utility energy savings mostly benefit wealthier customers

Midwest Energy News, feat. Tony Reames

Michigan utilities spend tens of millions of dollars each year on rebates, energy audits and other programs to help customers cut their energy bills.

Most of that spending isn’t helping the customers who could use the savings the most, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Michigan.

The study from the school’s Urban Energy Justice Lab found energy efficiency programs at Michigan’s two largest utilities disproportionately benefit wealthier ratepayers.

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For more on this topic:

Wealthy benefit most from Michigan’s energy savings plans, study finds, Michigan Radio Read more

Wealthy benefit most from Michigan’s energy savings plans, study finds, Bridge MI

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A new kind of soft battery, inspired by the electric eel

The Atlantic, feat. Max Shtein

In 1799, the Italian scientist Alessandro Volta fashioned an arm-long stack of zinc and copper discs, separated by salt-soaked cardboard. This “voltaic pile” was the world’s first synthetic battery, but Volta based its design on something far older—the body of the electric eel.

This infamous fish makes its own electricity using an electric organ that makes up 80 percent of its two-meter length. The organ contains thousands of specialized muscle cells called electrocytes. Each only produces a small voltage, but together, they can generate up to 600 volts—enough to stun a human, or even a horse. They also provided Volta with ideas for his battery, turning him into a 19th-century celebrity.

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Charge Ahead

The Future According to Now Podcast, feat. Senior Battery Lab Manager Greg Less

Battery-operated cars and homes are not far off. Scientists are already imagining the ways that a new type of battery will change the world–but first, they have to create it. Several groups are on the cusp of a portable power revolution. We explore the potential of a new type of battery, and the challenges scientists face in creating it, in this episode of “The Future According to Now”, a podcast from Atlantic Re:think, the branded content studio at The Atlantic and Fidelity Investments.


Are we going too fast on driverless cars?

Science, feat. Michael Sivak

One of the biggest selling points for AVs is that former drivers will be able to use their travel time more efficiently, for work or leisure. But motion sickness might mar that idealized vision, says psychologist Michael Sivak of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Sivak, founder of an industry-funded transportation research consortium, says his team wanted to examine whether the productivity benefits really exist. And soon, he says, they realized that, "by moving from being a driver to a passenger, you are increasing your susceptibility to motion sickness because the visual and vestibular inputs do not match."

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The most overlooked environmental crisis of 2017

New Republic, feat. Executive Committee member Don Scavia

Off the coast of Louisiana, in an 8,000-square-mile swath of ocean, the marine life is suffocating to death. Nutrient pollution, flowing from the Mississippi River into the Gulf of Mexico, is birthing huge clumps of algae that are sucking oxygen from the water. Without oxygen, fish are struggling to respirate, and fleeing the scene en masse. Plants and worms, being unable to flee, are wasting away. This so-called “dead zone” in the Gulf has been appearing every spring and lasting until the winter since monitoring began in 1985, but this year it grew to the size of New Jersey—the largest dead zone ever recorded in the world. Next year it will probably be bigger.

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Fracking linked to low-weight babies


The extraordinary growth in fracking—the hydraulic fracturing of deeply buried shale rock to extract natural gas—has transformed the United States over the past 15 years, boosting energy stocks, cutting pollution from conventional coal-power plants, and creating new jobs. But this boom may have come at a cost. According to the first large-scale study of babies born before and after natural gas extraction began in Pennsylvania, those living near fracking sites had significantly lower birth weights—and worse health—than other babies.

Concerns about the health effects of fracking aren’t new. Absent solid evidence, some states, including Maryland and New York, have even banned the practice altogether. Now, a growing number of studies suggests that living near oil and gas developments is associated with a wide range of negative outcomes, from higher rates of asthma and migraines to more hospitalizations for cardiovascular disease, neurological disorders, and cancer. Earlier studies have also found associations with low–birth weight babies, but those were plagued by low sample sizes or a failure to show that health effects got worse closer to drilling sites, as expected if fracking were to blame.

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State pipeline panel to Snyder: Halt Line 5 for now

The Detroit News

A state pipeline safety panel on Monday urged Gov. Rick Snyder to temporarily shut down Enbridge Energy’s Line 5 until sections missing protective coating on the pipeline can be repaired, although a majority of the panel’s members abstained from voting.

The Michigan Pipeline Safety Advisory Board voted 5-1, with seven members abstaining, to back a resolution calling for the action. It came after at least four board members expressed discontent with a recent legal agreement between Snyder and Enbridge requiring new safety measures for the twin pipelines that run under the Straits of Mackinac.

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Power On: DTE develops first of its kind portable energy option

The Oakland Press

DTE Energy has developed a new, portable substation, the first of its kind in the country according to the energy supplier.

Engineers from DTE partnered with ABB, a company specializing in power grids and other energy technologies, to design the 55,000 pound substation, which has enough capacity to power up to 2,500 homes.

Traditional substations are built on site, while the portable design was constructed on a single skid inside a factory in Sterling Heights, according to DTE, cutting down the build time from two years to under nine months.

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California did it. North Carolina did it. Can Minnesota government go green?

Star Tribune

Larry Herke’s budget never quite covered the electric bill for Minnesota’s state-operated military facilities — until he discovered energy conservation.

It took five years and a transformation in the military’s “use-it-and-dispose-of-it culture,” but he succeeded in eliminating a $1 million annual shortfall in energy funds.

“It was a way of survival,” said Herke, who was a facilities manager for the state Department of Military Affairs.

Now he’s spreading the same ethic for energy, water and waste throughout Minnesota’s far-flung government agencies and their 30,000 employees.

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Why big oil is slowly turning green


The world's biggest oil and natural gas companies are inching toward greener businesses, driven by a handful of market and policy trends.

Why it matters: The shift shows that global oil companies see cleaner energy technologies as sound investments, not merely greenwashing and public relation stunts. The changes, underway at most international oil producers and particularly pronounced among European firms, are happening even as President Trump's policies are heading in the other direction.

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Bitcoin mining on track to consume all of the world’s energy by 2020


A network that underpins the virtual currency bitcoin is projected to require all of the world’s current energy production in order to support itself within three years, according to estimates.

The amount of power necessary to support bitcoin has increased significantly in recent months, as its price has surged to record levels. On Monday, one bitcoin was worth around $16,500—a twentyfold increase since the start of 2017.

Bitcoin mining—the process of generating new units of the currency by confirming bitcoin transactions on an online ledger called the blockchain—requires computing power, which is used to solve the complex mathematical puzzles used in the mining process. These problems are designed to become more complicated as more computers join the cryptocurrency's network.  

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Toyota deepens Panasonic battery ties in electric-car rush


Toyota Motor Corp. deepened a partnership with battery producer Panasonic Corp. as Asia’s biggest carmaker, which bet big on hydrogen for clean technology, accelerates efforts to make its presence felt in electric cars.

The largest supplier of electric-car batteries and Toyota together are exploring the development of prismatic cells, and the collaboration will include solid-state batteries, the two companies said at a news conference in Tokyo on Wednesday. The agreement builds on a joint venture Toyota and Panasonic have had for over two decades.

As global rivals from Volkswagen AG to General Motors Co. spend billions of dollars to shape the future of electric cars, Toyota is on a mission to catch up.

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EIA: US solar output increases 47% in 2017

PV Magazine

The latest Electric Power Monthly by the U.S. Energy Information Agency shows solar PV continuing its impressive growth, generating 47% more electricity from January through September 2017 than the same time period in 2016.

Every state in the U.S. increased its output from solar, from South Dakota, the only remaining state that did not generate more than 1,000 megawatt-hours (MWh) or one gigawatt-hour (GWh) in the nine month period, to perennial PV giant California.

California, with its 24,877,000 MWh, more than laps the field over next place Arizona, with 4,593,000 MWh. However, as PV output growth across the U.S. accelerates, the Golden State’s share of PV generation, shrank from 48% in 2016 to 43% in 2017.

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Big firms call on EU to set 35 percent renewable power supplies target


A group of big technology, industry and power companies have called on the European Union to set a target for renewables of at least 35 percent when EU energy ministers meet next week.

The energy-hungry firms, including Amazon, Facebook, Google <Google LLC>, IKEA, Microsoft, Philips and Unilever, say an ambitious target would encourage their investment in multi-year wind and solar power supply contracts, known as Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs).

In a letter, the 50 big firms called on EU energy ministers to lift all regulatory barriers to PPAs, to which firms are increasingly turning to source electricity needed for energy-intensive data centers or to run heavy machinery.

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Calif. energy storage firms to build virtual power plants in Japan

E&E Energywire

Stem Inc. and Sunverge Energy, two California companies that pair batteries with advanced software, are working with Tokyo's power company to build "virtual power plants" that could ease Japan off nuclear power.

The projects are a beachhead in Asia for both companies, whose work to date has centered on the U.S. They will serve as contractors to Mitsui & Co., a Japanese conglomerate that is also a leading investor in Stem and Sunverge.

The concept behind a virtual power plant is to manage the energy use of a fleet of buildings as a single entity. Intelligent software projects the energy needs of buildings and the output of renewable energy plants minutes in advance, and then uses batteries to make those jittery components into a smoother energy profile.

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China to spearhead US$1 trillion autonomous driving revolution

South China Morning Post

Car-based “mobility services”, such as car-sharing, ride-hailing as well as driverless cars with entertainment, information and communications services, are projected to generate US$1 trillion in revenue for suppliers globally in 2040 from nearly zero a decade ago, according to latest industry figures from information and analytics provider IHS Markit.

And China, the world’s largest market for electric cars, is predicted to be in pole position to shape the future of such services, transform global business models, improve road safety conditions and cut pollution, according to industry experts.

So far, 290 cities have initiated “smart-city” pilot projects controlled by artificial intelligence (AI) technology, including 93 that are focused on mobility that could potentially use infrastructure interlinked by software to allow driverless cars, or autonomous vehicle (AV), and shared-driving models.

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Wind energy is supposed to help fight climate change. It turns out climate change is fighting back.

The Washington Post

A changing climate is beginning to change wind energy’s potential to provide power in key regions, part of what could be a broader diminishment of a key renewable energy source in part of the world, according to two scientific studies.

The world is turning more and more to renewable sources of energy – wind, solar power, and in some cases energy from flowing water – to fight climate change. But what if climate change itself alters the distribution of wind, or sunlight falling on the Earth’s surface, or river flows, and so changes or even shrinks the potential of these energy sources?

The studies suggest that, at least for wind energy, that is not only happening — at least in some key locations — but that it could grow worse.

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