Energy in the News: Friday, June 8
After years of green promises, automakers renege on emissions standards
Yale Environment 360, by John DeCicco
When General Motors CEO Mary Barra recently affirmed a commitment to “a world with zero crashes, zero emissions, and zero congestion,” she echoed similar statements from the company’s executives over the years. Back in 1972, GM Vice President Elliott Estes had declared that “the automobile will be essentially removed from the air pollution problem in the United States” within another decade or so. That didn’t happen, yet two decades later President Bill Clinton played along with this fantasy. Bowing to the power of GM and its then-Big Three partners, Ford and Chrysler, Clinton broke a campaign pledge to raise Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards and instead underwrote industry research on super-clean future cars. Meanwhile, fuel economy fell while CO2 emissions continued to rise.
Automakers struggle to head off the California–EPA legal battle
Axios, by John DeCicco
The Trump administration sent its proposed revisions of automotive fuel-economy standards to its budget office last week, the final step before public rollout. A key effort to address climate change, this Obama-era regulatory plan would greatly reduce car and light-truck greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2025, while the Trump administration seeks to freeze standards after 2020.
What to watch: The freeze would spark a legal battle with California, which wants to maintain the Obama-era standards. Automakers publicly say they don't want this fight, but they set the stage by investing in groups like the Competitive Enterprise Institute, whose Myron Ebell headed the Trump EPA transition, and asking the transition team to reconsider the standards two days after the election. Now, they might look for California to make concessions before it enters the risky litigation process.
DOE chief spoons out Perry-isms to sweeten bitter battles
E&E Greenwire, feat. Barry Rabe
Energy Secretary Rick Perry loves to talk about the Trump administration's big-picture "energy dominance" theme, but listen closely and you'll hear him repeating words and phrases that might be more revealing.
The Department of Energy chief sprinkles Perry-isms through his appearances at congressional hearings, in off-the-cuff remarks to reporters and in speeches.
While some expressions — like his use of "all of the above" in reference to energy strategy — aren't unique to the former Texas governor, others highlight his style and philosophy.
To bring on the robocars, scientists musts understand how humans ride
Wired, feat. Carrie Morton
What do you look like when you’re excited? How about a little nervous? Bored? Full-on freaked out? If you happen to hop on one of the two very special shuttles that are now running 1-mile loops around the University of Michigan’s North Campus, a bunch of people with fancy degrees may very soon find out.
Those shuttles, you see, will drive themselves. And these researchers are affiliated with the University of Michigan, the marketing firm JD Power, and Navya, the French maker of autonomous vehicle tech. They’re going to spend the next year studying how humans interact with, use, and feel about the autonomous vehicles, with the help of rider and community surveys, Wi-Fi data, and camera footage from inside and outside the vehicle. (The shuttles will come with human operators onboard, to deal with passengers and take control of the vehicle if there’s an emergency.)
Michigan Memorial Phoenix Project awards $75,000 in nuclear research seed funding
University of Michigan Energy Institute
A new round of seed funding from the Michigan Memorial Phoenix Project (MMPP) will allow exploration of projects aimed at improving radiation detection, laboratory research, and healthcare imaging.
Phoenix Project seed grants are an outgrowth of the MMPP’s original mission, established in 1948, that: “…the University of Michigan create a War Memorial Center to explore the ways and means by which the potentialities of atomic energy may become a beneficent influence in the life of man.” Seed grants allow researchers exploring peaceful nuclear projects to better define projects that appear promising for funding by an outside source.
This is how we might pull CO2 out of the atmosphere
Researchers convened in Sweden last month for a first-of-its-kind international conference on "negative emissions." They were looking for strategies to combat climate change by pulling carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.
At the same time, 20 scientists from around the world published a hefty three-part literature review in the journal Environmental Research Letters on the same topic: negative emissions.
Both events reflect rising interest in negative emissions technology. It's fueled by growing concern about the world's ability to meet its climate targets under the Paris Agreement. Nations are working to keep global temperatures within at least 2 degrees Celsius of pre industrial levels. But scientists increasingly warn that world leaders won't hit those targets without stronger action
Residential batteries almost beat utility-scale deployments last quarter
The historically tiny residential energy storage segment won big in Q1 2018, according to the latest deployment data.
Utility-scale projects, the usual workhorse of the energy storage industry, dropped massively compared to last year’s Q1, when the Aliso Canyon procurements came online and set a record for energy capacity. What saved the quarter from historically low performance turned out to be the aggregate growth of all the little systems popping up in customers' homes.
"Residential storage has been growing in popularity and prominence," said Brett Simon, senior analyst at GTM Research. "It’s getting cheaper. Folks are more aware of it and are asking for it. Solar installers are doubling down on it as a new business model."
U.S. subsidies may not save some coal, nuclear plants slated for closure
Several major U.S. operators of nuclear reactors and coal plants said they had not changed plans to close plants in coming years, even after the White House said it would take emergency steps to subsidize struggling operators.
U.S. President Donald Trump last week directed Energy Secretary Rick Perry to take steps to keep coal and nuclear power plants running, citing a decades-old national security law as justification.
That announcement triggered backlash from drillers, renewable energy producers and environmentalists, who call it an unfair attempt to prop up non-competitive industries and burden ratepayers with billions of dollars of additional power costs annually.
World Environment Day in 2018 silent on nuclear energy
ANS Nuclear Cafe, suggested by NERS Chair Ron Gilgenbach
According to the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP), World Environment Day (WED) occurs on the 5th of June every year, and is the United Nation’s principal vehicle for encouraging awareness and action for the protection of our environment.
First held in 1974, it has been a flagship campaign for raising awareness on emerging environmental issues from marine pollution, human overpopulation, and global warming, to sustainable consumption and wildlife crime.
WED has grown to become a global platform for public outreach, with participation from over 143 countries annually. Each year, WED has a new theme that major corporations, NGOs, communities, governments and celebrities worldwide adopt to advocate environmental causes.
Just in time for summer driving season, a Twitter war over the spike at the pump
A joke bouncing around Twitter these days is that U.S. gasoline prices are starting to resemble good GPAs. As the 2018 summer driving season begins, many Americans are seeing prices hitting as much as an A-minus average of $3.73 for a gallon of unleaded regular, according to gas-price tracker AAA. If current trends continue, many drivers could soon be paying valedictorian prices topping $4.
That’s a steep increase in a short period of time. Just two years ago, most U.S. drivers were enjoying a C-minus cost of $2 or less per gallon.
But there’s nothing new about such a swing. Gasoline prices have historically ebbed and flowed thanks to myriad global factors. On top of that, the Great Recession of 2007-09 and the U.S. shale boom from new (and controversial) oil and natural gas extraction hydraulic fracturing technologies have caused wild swings in gasoline prices over the past decade, from as much as $4.05 per gallon to as little as $1.63, according to official data.
'Huge variation' in AVs' potential energy use
If drivers meaningfully cede the wheel to artificial intelligence, the nation's transportation energy use could be slashed by half or more. But throw different assumptions into the mix and transport energy could triple, according to analysts who see a host of unknowns in the emerging sector of autonomous vehicles.
Autonomous features have gradually pushed into passenger and commercial vehicle markets. Features like automatic braking and lane correction have appeared in some cars even as the public warily eyes more ambitious tests of driverless driving and their occasionally disastrous results (Greenwire, March 20).
As the public debates the safety of putting computer code in charge of vehicles, questions around the technology's potential energy impacts have been less in focus.
The Tesla Model 3 cost $28,000 to build, German engineers say—and it still may not be profitable
German car engineers tore apart the Tesla Model 3 to see how much it costs to make the upstart electric vehicle threatening German dominance on the road. The engineers, working on behalf of German car makers, reportedly broke down four vehicles, according to the German business magazine WirtschaftsWoche (link in German). Musk called it the “best analysis of Model 3 to date.”
Test engineers came away impressed. Panasonic, the Japanese firm collaborating on Tesla’s battery factory in Nevada, brought down the share of cobalt in its Tesla battery cells from 8% to 2.8%. That’s an important line item in the cost of the car, as the cost of cobalt has been soaring.
The engineers estimate a total of $28,000 in costs to build the Model 3: $18,000 for materials and $10,000 for labor and production. “If Tesla manages to build the planned 10,000 pieces a week, the Model 3 will deliver a significant positive contribution to earnings,” said one test engineer. For a car eventually supposed to retail for $35,000, that sounds like a pretty profit for Tesla.