Energy in the News: Friday, May 4
Boom in West Texas oil patch lifts wages, prices
Reuters, feat. Lutz Kilian
In West Texas, rising oil prices are fueling a sharp economic upswing, lifting employment and pay to records, driving up spending at hotels, restaurants, and car dealerships, and raising the cost of housing and other essentials.
This parched patch of land, under which lies the largest oil-producing rock formations in the United States, is the epicenter of a growth binge that shows just how tight the link remains between low unemployment, rising wages, and upward pricing pressure.
After a two-year crash, the price of crude CLc1 began to recover in 2016 and pierced $60 a barrel early this year. But oil is still far cheaper than at the peak of the previous eight-year boom that began in 2006 North Dakota’s Bakken oil patch and supercharged the city of Williston.
How Trump might make SUVs pricier in Seattle than Omaha
E&E News, feat. John DeCicco
Add car models to the list of things dividing liberal coastal states and the conservative heartland.
The Trump administration's efforts to weaken vehicle pollution requirements could set up a split U.S. market, concentrating fuel-efficient cars in mostly Democratic states and gas guzzlers in the red states. President Trump's plans could drastically skew how much consumers pay for the same cars, depending on where they live.
For example, a person walking into a showroom in New York might see discounted electric vehicles and small cars; someone shopping in Ohio could get a cheaper truck or SUV. It's a divide that already partly exists: Manufacturers introduce EVs in California first because it has a zero-emission vehicles sales quota.
Harvesting clean hydrogen fuel through artificial photosynthesis
University of Michigan News
A new, stable artificial photosynthesis device doubles the efficiency of harnessing sunlight to break apart both fresh and salt water, generating hydrogen that can then be used in fuel cells.
The device could also be reconfigured to turn carbon dioxide back into fuel.
Hydrogen is the cleanest-burning fuel, with water as its only emission. But hydrogen production is not always environmentally friendly. Conventional methods require natural gas or electrical power. The method advanced by the new device, called direct solar water splitting, only uses water and light from the sun.
Roads, bridges would last longer, save money, with new concrete formula
University of Michigan News
Passing beneath a crumbling overpass or rumbling over a pothole-riddled street in Michigan and many other parts of the country this time of year, it’s hard not to wonder: Why don’t they make these things out of something that lasts longer?
Fifty years ago, the engineering community thought the concrete they incorporated into U.S. roads and bridges would last for a long time, said Sherif El-Tawil, a University of Michigan professor of civil and environmental engineering. But the state’s roads were given a grade of D- earlier this year by the American Society of Civil Engineers Michigan Section. A full 39 percent of them are in poor condition.
U-M professor elected to National Academy of Sciences
University of Michigan News, feat. Arun Agrawal
University of Michigan sustainable development researcher Arun Agrawal has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences, one of the highest distinctions for a scientist or engineer in the United States.
Agrawal is the Samuel Trask Dana Professor at the School for Environment and Sustainability. His research and teaching emphasize the politics of international development, institutional change and environmental sustainability. He has written critically on indigenous knowledge, community-based conservation, common property, resource governance, and environmental beliefs and identities.
India fully electric after last village connected, claims government
Electricity has reached every Indian village after the establishment of a connection at the weekend to Leisang, a tiny hamlet in the remote state of Manipur, the government has announced.
Opposition parties have been sceptical of the achievement, calling it a political ruse ahead of important state and national elections.
Indian media have also highlighted cases of villages supposedly electrified but where power appears to be non-existent, intermittent or available only to a few.
The Indian government considers a village to be electrified if basic infrastructure such as schools are connected to the grid as well as at least 10% of households.
Do Green Company Acquisitions Make Multinational Corporations More Sustainable?
Triple Pundit, feat. Andy Hoffman
It’s almost seems inevitable these days that the popular small eco-conscious company will eventually end up as a subsidiary of a multinational corporation. In the past two decades, more than 13 small companies that gained global notoriety through their “local” sustainability values have been bought by big, mainstream corporations – and often, by corporations that didn’t get their start using the same eco-conscious sourcing.
Big electric utilities want to change federal law requiring them to buy renewable energy
Stateside has been looking into changes to the Public Utility Regulatory Policy Act (PURPA). The federal act requires electric utility companies to buy energy from solar, wind, and other renewable generators as long as they don’t have to pay more than it costs to generate that power themselves.
Michigan Congressman Tim Walberg's bill would alter PURPA in a way that would let utilities decline to purchase energy from renewable resources.
We recently talked to the Congressman and a solar energy provider, but we felt like we needed to know more about PURPA itself.
Michigan lawmakers propose to boost consumer-generated renewables
Among other groups, the bill package would help the state's farmers who have been negatively impacted by the reduced amount of money utilities pay for excess energy.
The bills aim to restore "fair-value pricing" for excess renewable generation sold back to utilities, said Rep. Gary Glenn, R, chairman of Michigan's House Energy Policy Committee.
In addition, “current law places a cap on how many customers can participate in a utility’s distributed generation program,” Barrett said Monday in a statement. “We are quickly outgrowing the arbitrary limit to net metering, and my bill removes that cap."
Nearly half of Michiganders live in unacceptable smog levels, EPA says
The Detroit Free Press
Nearly half of Michigan's population — more than 4.7 million people — live in areas with unacceptable smog levels, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has declared.
In an action that has been in the works for years, the EPA on Monday declared seven counties of metro Detroit, and three communities in west Michigan, in non-attainment of tighter standards for ground-level ozone, which mixes with sunshine, typically on hot summer days, to make smog.
Michigan will have three years to develop and implement plans to bring the areas into compliance, or face the potential of EPA officials enacting their own corrective measures.
Trump administration drafts plan to unravel Obama-era fuel-efficiency rules, challenge California
The Washington Post
The Trump administration has drafted a proposal that would freeze fuel-efficiency standards for automobiles starting in 2021 and challenge California’s ability to set its own fuel-efficiency rules, changes that would hobble one of the Obama administration’s most significant initiatives to curb climate change.
The draft document, while not final, suggests the Trump administration is poised to make significant changes to planned auto standards over the next decade. A federal official who has reviewed the document described it in detail to The Washington Post.
Drafted in large part by the Transportation Department’s National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA), the plan outlines a preferred alternative in which the federal government would freeze fuel-efficiency standards for cars and light trucks at levels now set for model year 2021, keeping them there through 2026.
Grid stability isn't about saving coal — analysis
A trio of grid experts says protecting the power grid by subsidizing coal and nuclear generation, as Energy Secretary Rick Perry proposed, misses other important threats and ignores more affordable and effective defenses.
Alison Silverstein, a Texas-based consultant, and Rob Gramlich and Michael Goggin, former top staff at the American Wind Energy Association, prepared an analysis for the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Environmental Defense Fund. The report is meant to expand a debate around how to ensure the power grid is reliable overall and resilient when pipes freeze or a hurricane strikes.
The issue of power grid resilience has been kicking up dust in policy circles since President Trump entered the White House with a directive for his appointees to reverse the decline of U.S. coal. The Energy Department has tied that political goal to the complex issues associated with bringing more natural gas generation and renewable energy onto the grid.
Clean energy sector swings Republican with U.S. campaign donations
U.S. solar and wind energy companies have donated far more money to Republicans than Democrats in congressional races this election cycle, according to a Reuters analysis of campaign finance data, an unprecedented tilt to the right for an industry long associated with the environmental left.
While the money is modest compared with that donated by fossil fuel interests, the support provides GOP candidates with added credibility on clean energy, an issue polling shows swing voters care about.
Renewable energy has typically depended on government subsidies and policies to help fuel its growth, and the donations come at a time when Republicans control both houses of Congress as well as a majority of state houses across the country. Republicans have so far left subsidies for the industry largely intact.
2017 was weird for solar. What’s coming this year and beyond?
The solar industry weathered a particularly strange 2017, but is poised for global growth.
If the right factors come together, solar power could provide 15 percent of the global electricity mix by the 2030s, rather than the business-as-usual rate of 5 percent, said MJ Shiao, Wood Mackenzie's global lead for renewables and emerging technologies, during a presentation at GTM’s Solar Summit in San Diego Tuesday.
Achieving that level would make crucial strides toward global climate-change mitigation, but requires overcoming notable obstacles. In recent months, module prices have actually risen, growth in the U.S. has slowed, and policy fluctuation has introduced uncertainty.
Over the long term, the growth of solar creates problems for itself by reshaping grid dynamics, tanking prices in the sunny hours and ramping them up for the morning and evening peaks.
Shortage of minerals could slow EV adoption — Moody's
A shortage of minerals used in lithium-ion batteries and charging equipment could slow the advance of electric vehicles over the next several years, according to a new Moody's report.
Cobalt could enter a "significant deficit" as early as next year, with existing deficits of copper and nickel also likely to grow as battery makers — and, in the case of copper, manufacturers of charging units and wiring — seek them out in greater quantities.
In the near term, those deficits could "act as a constraining factor to [battery-powered electric vehicle] growth rates over the next several years," wrote the investor service.
Mercedes-Benz exits home battery market
Mercedes-Benz will stop manufacturing residential batteries and dissolve its U.S. energy subsidiary, ending a short-lived challenge to Tesla’s energy storage empire.
When parent company Daimler launched Mercedes-Benz Energy Americas in November 2016, it raised the stakes on the promising — if also untested — market. Tesla dominated public awareness with its Powerwall, even though few customers were actually buying it or any of the competing home battery products.
For industry watchers seeking a "Tesla killer" — the elusive, near-mythical challenger to the biggest name in home batteries — Mercedes-Benz fit the bill, at least on paper.