Energy in the News: Friday, February 16

Friday, February 16, 2018

Experts: Clock is ticking to cut back greenhouse gas emissions

Midwest Energy News, feat. Steve Skerlos and Sarang Supekar

Only a short time remains for the electric and automotive industries to cut back on greenhouse gas emissions in order to limit climate change for the rest of this century, according to reports released last fall.

Average annual temperatures in the Midwest over the last 30 years are already about 1.3 degrees Fahrenheit above those for the first half of the 20th century, according to a U.S. Global Change Research Program report released in November. Temperatures for the Midwest are expected to rise an additional 5.6 to 9.5 degrees by the late 21st century.

As a result, the Midwest can expect a host of climate-related problems, including more severe storm events, heat waves, flooding in some areas, more days with bad air quality, water quality problems, a possible increase in disease vectors and other hazards.

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Survey says: the American public is souring on coal

Vox, feat. Barry Rabe and Sarah Mills

The US coal industry is in terminal decline. Though it is flailing about desperately for subsidies, tax breaks, and regulatory loopholes — the kinds of political favors that have kept it afloat for so long — at this point it is merely delaying the inevitable.

What’s more, coal’s decline is not leading to any of the dire effects coal boosters warned: The lights are still on; grid reliability is fine; power prices are as low as ever.

The speed with which coal has lost status and position in US energy markets is startling. Most of it happened in the past 10 years! But do Americans know US coal is dying? Are they ready to leave it behind?

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Exposing the power vampires in self-driving cars

IEEE Spectrum, feat. Gregory Keoleian

By driving smarter, autonomous cars have the potential to move people around and between cities with far greater efficiency. Estimates of their energy dividends, however, have largely ignored autonomous driving’s energy inputs, such as the electricity consumed by brawny on-board computers.

First-of-a-kind modeling published today by University of Michigan and Ford Motor researchers shows that autonomy's energy pricetag is substantial — high enough to turn some autonomous cars into net energy losers.

"We knew there was going to be a tradeoff in terms of the energy and greenhouse gas emissions associated with the equipment and the benefits gained from operational efficiency. I was surprised that it was so significant,” says to Greg Keoleian, senior author on the paper published today in the journal Environmental Science & Technology and director of the University of Michigan Center for Sustainable Systems.

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Toyota failed to fix defect that can cause Prius to overheat and lose power, dealer claims in lawsuit

The Los Angeles Times, feat. Heath Hofmann

After Toyota issued a 2016 recall to fix a key electronic component on its Priuses, one of California's largest dealers said the cars were still coming in after overheating and leaving drivers stranded in traffic.

Toyota said the problem on model years 2010-14 had been taken care of with a software change.

But having seen more than 100 post-recall failures, Roger Hogan — whose family owns Claremont Toyota and Capistrano Toyota — warned customers about the issue and refused to resell used Priuses he'd gotten as trade-ins. Today, he has 70 of the cars, worth $1 million, parked at his dealerships.

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The Energy 202: Trump did more for 'clean coal' in one week than in all of 2017

The Washington Post, feat. Ines Ibanez

President Trump often says he wants to bolster “clean coal.” So far, he has been more bluster than action. Often the president doesn’t even seem to understand what the term means.

Yet in a few short days, Trump has taken concrete steps toward bringing carbon-capture-and-storage technology, often called “clean coal,” into mainstream use. The White House managed to do more work on carbon capture in one week than it fit into all of 2017.

Carbon capture has caught the attention of lawmakers because it offers both parties — and the president — a way to achieve their political goals without compromising on basic beliefs. Some Democrats concerned about climate change push the technology as a way of reducing the release of greenhouse gases without imperiling jobs, even if some environmentalists worry about prolonging the use of fossil fuels.

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Self-driving cars will kill things you love (and a few you hate)

Bloomberg, feat. UMTRI

Electric cars, robo taxis and self-driving trucks are coming to change the society we live in—possibly sooner than you think.

Limited tests of driverless cars are already happening today and they’ll be in use everywhere within six years, according to Carlos Ghosn, CEO of the Renault Nissan Alliance. A change on that scale would reach far beyond the automotive industry to upend businesses, transform our daily lifestyles and reshape cities.

Even if the skeptics are right and the technology necessary for full level-five autonomy develops more slowly, the revolution could still claim many victims.

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Case to decide if Ann Arbor can keep taxing solar energy systems


Ann Arbor resident Mark Clevey has found himself at the center of a taxation debate that could have implications for property owners across Michigan who use solar energy.

The dispute is over how much value a residential solar energy system adds to a home and whether or not that value should be taxed.

The City of Ann Arbor has taken the stance that solar energy systems are improvements to real property and therefore should increase the taxable value of a property, because state law does not specifically exempt solar systems from taxation.

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Renewable energy group launches Mich. ballot campaign

The Detroit News

Michigan electric providers would be required to produce at least 30 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2030 under a potential ballot proposal organizers hope to put before voters this fall.

A group called Clean Energy, Healthy Michigan is preparing to launch a petition drive this week for a statutory initiative designed to increase development of solar, wind and other renewable energy sources.

Clean energy and environmental advocates lost a similar fight in 2012, when utilities opposed and voters soundly rejected a proposed constitutional amendment for a 25 percent renewable requirement by 2025.

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DTE questions renewable proposal: ‘Why Michigan?’

The Detroit News

DTE Energy Co. and Consumers Energy say they are already moving toward more renewable energy sources and argue a newly proposed mandate could hurt their ability to do so in the most cost-effective way for their Michigan customers.

The Board of State Canvassers on Tuesday approved the circulation of a petition that would require electric providers to generate 30 percent of their supply from renewables like wind and solar by 2030, upping a current requirement of 15 percent by 2021 established under bipartisan legislation in late 2016.

“My first reaction was, why Michigan?” said Gerry Anderson, chairman and chief executive officer of Detroit-based DTE. “I am talking to the supporters of the ballot proposal, because I’ll be honest, I don’t think this is good for the cause of climate change or renewables in Michigan, and I’ve told them that.”

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Coal is dead. A Michigan town is at center of battle over what’s next.

Bridge MI

Jeff Bohm pointed out the few bits of skyline as he steered his pickup truck around this community along the Michigan side of the St. Clair River. Over there, the rising stacks of DTE Energy’s Belle River Power Plant. Next door, DTE’s St. Clair Power Plant, fed by the same coal terminal.

These coal-fired power plants generate enough electricity to power hundreds of thousands of homes in southeast Michigan and the Thumb, and for years dominated the landscape in this rural stretch of St. Clair County. The plants also provided hundreds of high-paying jobs and a sizeable chunk of the municipal and county tax base.

But the plants’ steam turbines won’t churn forever, and the remaining days for one of them — the 64-year-old St. Clair plant — are particularly few.

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Burying carbon emissions gets boost in U.S. budget deal


Oil drillers that use a method to store carbon dioxide emissions underground to boost crude production, a technique that coal miners and some environmentalists support, got a boost in the budget agreement President Donald Trump signed on Friday.

The deal raised the so-called 45Q tax credit, for storing underground emissions from crude production and coal and gas fired power plants, to $35 a metric ton, up from $10 a ton.

Occidental Petroleum Corp, Denbury Resources Inc and other oil producers with ready access to carbon dioxide have used the existing credit to keep output going even during downturns in the industry.

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Researchers rev up electrification outlook

E&E Energywire

The electric grid industry's leading research organization is drafting a visionary blueprint for a dramatic increase in electricity use, as electrons push carbon molecules aside in transportation, building climate control, industrial processes and food production.

For the Electric Power Research Institute to advocate for electric vehicles and advanced heat pumps is hardly remarkable, but key to EPRI's most ambitious view of the potential for the economy's deep electrification is persuading their own industry members, as well as its regulators and policymakers, to buy into the vision.

"This is a window of opportunity" if utilities change their business models to adopt electrification strategies quickly enough, said Arshad Mansoor, EPRI's senior vice president for research and development, speaking to the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners' winter meeting in Washington.

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Record U.S. energy exports barely move overall deficit

E&E Energywire

Booming exports of fossil energy from the United States have yet to put a dent in the nation's massive trade deficit, and trade statistics from 2017 cast doubt on whether they ever will.

Last year was one for the record books for the United States in exports of crude oil and liquefied natural gas (LNG). Energy exporters' fortunes have waned in the wake of the mid-2014 crude oil price collapse, but rising oil prices have brought greater export volumes. The customer base for U.S. crude oil has also widened, with new purchasers last year including Denmark, Germany and India.

All told, U.S. companies brought in revenues of more than $21.4 billion in mineral crude oil sales abroad in 2017, according to data published by the Census Bureau. Another $76.8 billion was earned through sales of non-crude oil liquids. About $3.5 billion in LNG sales abroad was achieved last year.

But between the United States and its major trading partners, only the trade deficit with South Korea was reduced as that nation ramped up its imports of U.S. energy products. Sales of fossil energy to China boomed, as well, but the trade deficit with China greatly increased.

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Is PURPA done? New bill takes aim at law's mandatory purchase obligation

Utility Dive

A new bill in Congress could take the teeth out of the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act, delivering a blow to some renewable energy projects.

For utilities, some of which have opposed PURPA since it became law in 1978, it could be a final victory in a decades-old fight that pitted utilities against independent generators.

PURPA has been a key driver in the growth of alternative and renewable energy. It also served as a wedge in opening the door to electric utility deregulation. PURPA’s importance has faded since deregulation, but in the past decade or so, it has found new relevance in states outside of the deregulation sphere.

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Geothermal: Tax breaks and the Google startup bringing Earth's heat into homes

InsideClimate News

During one bitter cold winter in upstate New York, Matt VanDerlofske spent $4,000 on fuel oil to heat his drafty, two-story home for the season. That was twice what he typically paid, and he had to cancel family vacations to afford it.

"I never wanted it to happen again," he said. His solution was an unusual choice for a homeowner in the U.S., but one that's gaining interest: He had a hole drilled hundreds of feet into his backyard and a geothermal heat pump installed by Dandelion, a startup energy company conceived at X, Google's innovation lab that's now part of its parent company, Alphabet.

Underground, below the frost line, the Earth is consistently around 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Geothermal heat pumps use that temperature to keep buildings comfortable by circulating fluid through a set of pipes that runs through the earth and then connects with a heat pump. The result is much more efficient heating and cooling with clean energy than commercial air conditioning and heating systems—and much lower emissions.

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Trump’s proposed budget slashes funding for clean energy programs

Greentech Media

The Trump administration released its proposed 2019 budget on Monday. The energy portion focuses on an “all-of-the-above” strategy and proposes cuts to several clean energy programs.

Under the blueprint, the Department of Energy would see a slight bump in funding to $30.6 billion over the current $30.1 billion, but that extra cash would go to administration priorities such as modernizing the nuclear arsenal and fossil energy research and development. Other programs, like the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) and the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), would receive far less than current funding levels.

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$1.5 trillion Trump infrastructure plan ignores power grid

Electric Light & Power

The long awaited White House infrastructure plan finally arrived Monday with much fanfare about investments to roads, rail, water supply, hydropower and education. When it comes to any spending on the electric transmission and distribution system, however, the silence may be deafening.

The $1.5 trillion wish list—called “The Legislative Outline for Rebuilding Infrastructure in America—says almost nothing about the smart grid directly and actually advocates selling off several large electric transmission assets the federal government does own.

Those proposed saleable assets include the transmission systems for the Western Power Administration, Tennessee Valley Authority, Southwestern Power Administration and Bonneville Power Administration.Those combined government-owned assets cover thousands of miles in lines and millions of customers.

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Automated, unmanned drones are poised to revolutionise the package delivery industry, with a number of companies already testing drone-based delivery methods.

Carbon Brief

A new study in Nature Communications looks at the climate impact of a shift from truck-based to drone-based package delivery. It finds that while small drones carrying packages weighing less than 0.5 kg would reduce greenhouse gas emissions compared to diesel or electric trucks anywhere in the US, the same is not true for larger drones carrying heavier packages.

The cost of drones has fallen dramatically over the past decade. At the same time, improvements in battery energy storage and a reduction in battery costs have led to drones that can fly much larger distances. Advances in automation and computer vision has made it possible to conceive of drones that could deliver packages to individual homes without requiring a human operator.

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