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Energy in the News: Friday, November 30

A fond farewell to Bruno Vanzieleghem, Energy Institute Assistant Director of Operations, who is departing after over 20 years (counting his student days) at the University of Michigan. He has been a key figure at the Institute since its relaunch, and has been integral to the Battery Lab’s launch and success.

Save the date: We’d love Energy Institute faculty affiliates to join our Advisory Board for a reception on Thursday, December 13 from 3:30-5:00PM, with remarks at 4PM.

New from the U-M Energy Survey: As Americans enjoyed a dip in fuel prices for Thanksgiving, a reminder that travel alternatives will matter if prices spike again

The 2018 TE3 Conference report is now available!

The Energy Institute is co-sponsoring a Community Climate Conversation with the City of Ann Arbor, SEAS, and many other partners on Friday, December 7. Join us for an interactive discussion about climate change: the latest science, current impacts, and how Ann Arbor can take action. It’ll be held Friday, December 7, from 6-8PM at the Ann Arbor Downtown Public Library.

Congratulations to Amit Misra, who was named a AAAS fellow “for seminal contributions to the nanomechanics and radiation effects in nanolayered composite materials, mentoring of early career scientists, and leadership in academia and professional societies.”

Check out this new publication from the Tony Reames group: People, place and pollution: Investigating relationships between air quality perceptions, health concerns, exposure, and individual- and area-level characteristics

A new CLOSUP study notes that a majority of Americans of both parties support a carbon tax when they are told how the revenues would be used. Read it here.

Pass it on: The Erb Institute is seeking postdocs “to conduct high-quality research, write jointly authored and peer-reviewed articles, and contribute thought leadership content.” Apply here.

 

For the American economy, storm clouds on the horizon
The New York Times, featuring Ellen Hughes-Cromwick
“We’re in the 10th year of the expansion and there are some soft points,” said Ellen Hughes-Cromwick, a former chief economist at Ford Motor Co. and the Commerce Department who is now on the faculty at the University of Michigan. “The auto sales cycle has peaked and the housing cycle also has peaked.”
Ms. Hughes-Cromwick said higher interest rates, combined with rising inflation and faltering corporate confidence, could set the stage for a recession. In that scenario, she said, “I don’t really see how the economy can keep powering ahead.”
Read more

Hughes-Cromwick was also quoted inTwo Words From Fed Chairman Jerome Powell Sent Markets Soaring,” also in the New York Times.

Climate change is driving wildfires, and not just in California
The Conversation, by Jonathan Overpeck
Rains in northern California have helped firefighters contain the Camp Fire, which now ranks as the state’s most deadly wildfire. But unfortunately, all signs point to worsening events ahead in the North American West. Critically, the risk extends well beyond California, and better forest management alone won’t solve the problem.
There are multiple reasons why wildfires are getting more severe and destructive, but climate change tops the list, notwithstanding claims to the contrary by President Donald Trump and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. According to the latest U.S. National Climate Assessment, released on Nov. 23, higher temperatures and earlier snowmelt are extending the fire season in western states. By 2050, according to the report, the area that burns yearly in the West could be two to six times larger than today.
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Belief in global warming grows despite Trump
E&E News, featuring Barry Rabe
Climate change skepticism may be alive and well at the White House, but nearly 3 in 4 Americans believe there is “solid evidence” that global warming is occurring, according to new survey data released by Muhlenberg College and the University of Michigan.
That 73 percent of respondents agree average atmospheric temperatures are rising reflects growing public confidence in climate science, experts said, especially after 2014, when the Obama administration’s Climate Action Plan resulted in an upwelling of conservative opposition to federal greenhouse gas reduction programs.
“In a way, we’ve really moved back to what we saw about a decade ago, before there was this huge [negative] shift in public opinion around climate policies,” said Barry Rabe, a professor of public policy and director of the University of Michigan’s Center for Local, State and Urban Policy, which co-directs the biannual National Surveys on Energy and Environment (NSEE).
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‘Don’t panic yet’ economists advise, though GM cuts seen as warning
Detroit Free Press, featuring Ellen Hughes-Cromwick
“Now, you will start to see a lot of cutbacks, not just trimming. These are leading cyclical indicators,” Hughes-Cromwick said. “You can look out your window and say, ‘Wow, we’re going to have an incredible holiday season. Retail sales are doing great, there’s a low unemployment rate, wage growth is moving up.’ All of that is great, to be sure, but it may be misleading. We don’t want to rain on good news, but the leading indicators are worrisome. News of job cutbacks at major companies is a signal.”
In three to six months, things will likely pivot, she said.
“It’s a false premise to think that we can do well and everybody else doesn’t. There’s a codependency relationship because of the way our global economy has grown up over the years. We can never spin out, so to speak, and be a planet independent of all the other stars in the universe.”
That applies to Detroit. To Michigan. To the Midwest. To America.
Read more

GM Closure News Signals Hard Times Ahead for Auto Industry
Bloomberg Law, featuring Ellen Hughes-Cromwick
The U.S. auto market saw sales peak about two years ago and are now on the downside of a sales cycle, according to University of Michigan Senior Economist Ellen Hughes-Cromwick. She formerly served as chief economist at Ford Motor Co. and the U.S. Department of Commerce.
“These companies like GM have to really start aggressively restructuring in order to put themselves in a position for their longer-run viability, frankly,” Hughes-Cromwick said.
GM will save about $6 billion by closing ve North American plants, adjusting product development, and reducing salaried and contract sta by 15 percent, according to a company statement.
Read more (this story is behind a paywall. Click here to find it in pdf format)

Why lower oil prices won’t necessarily boost the U.S. economy
PBS Newshour, featuring Lutz Kilian
Thanks to Saudi Arabia pushing oil production to an all-time high, prices have hit $50 per barrel — their lowest levels since 2017.
President Donald Trump has hailed the drop, a decrease of 32 percent from the most recent peak, as a win for Americans.
But despite lower prices at the gas pump — welcome news for the millions of travelers hitting the road during the holiday season — the drop is unlikely to be a net gain for the U.S. economy. And where some stand to gain from lower prices, others may lose, experts say.
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The Green Room: Pipelines-Part 5
WEMU, featuring Eric Kort
According to the Association of Oil Pipelines, pipelines are energy “lifelines.”  They create jobs, keep costs down, and are the safest way to transport oil and gas.  It’s easy to see they currently fuel the American way of life. But there’s disagreement on whether building more pipelines is in our collective best interest.
This is 89-1 WEMU and I’m David Fair.  Welcome to the November edition of “The Green Room.”  In previous installments of this multi-part series, we explored the web of pipelines under our feet—their safety and potential impacts to our water quality.  Last month, we found that decisions on pipelines are made by appointees of the state governor, and the U.S. president. They base pipeline decisions on what is in the best interests of “the public good.”  In our final installment, Barbara Lucas explores the question; what is the public good?
Listen or read

Climate change is more extensive and worse than once thought
The Associated Press, featuring Jonathan Overpeck
Non-experts who reject mainstream science often call scientists “alarmists,” yet most researchers said they tend to shy away from worst case scenarios. By nature, scientists said they are overly conservative.
In nearly every case, when scientists were off the mark on something, it was by underestimating a problem not overestimating, said Watson, the British climate scientist.
But there are ultimate worst cases. These are called tipping points, after which change accelerates and you can’t go back. Ice sheet collapses. Massive changes in ocean circulation. Extinctions around the world.
“In the early 1990s we only had hints that we could drive the climate system over tipping points,” said Jonathan Overpeck, environment dean at University of Michigan. “We now know we might actually be witnessing the start of a mass extinction that could lead to our wiping out as much as half the species on Earth.”
Read more

Also featuring Jonathan Overpeck: Trump says he ‘doesn’t believe’ his own administration’s report on climate change

University tops National Science Foundation research volume ranking
The Michigan Daily, featuring Jack Hu
University of Michigan expenditures on research reached a record high for the third year in a row in fiscal year 2018, and the school remained No. 1 in research volume across all public universities for the eighth year in a row, according to the National Science Foundation.
The report stated the volume of research at the University increased by 4.4 percent from fiscal year 2017 — from July 1, 2017 to June 30, 2018, the volume of research at the University totaled $1.55 billion.
The highest volume of research was at the Medical School, with $624.4 million dedicated to the school, followed by Engineering, LSA and the Institute of Social Research, all of which had research expenditures totaling greater than $100 million.
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What would it take to decarbonize the global economy?
The Economist
When your destination is Rjukan, three hours west of Oslo, which in the early 20th century was one of the world’s biggest power plants, alternatives to fossil fuels look even more achievable. This is where one of the best potential zero-carbon options, hydrogen, was produced by hydroelectricity as far back as 1928. Cars powered by hydrogen fuel cells have now started to appear on Norway’s streets, even though there may be much better uses of the gas than powering vehicles over short distances. A Hyundai Nexo, owned by Nel, a Norwegian hydrogen company that traces its roots back to Rjukan, carries a message on its rear window: “Thanks for the ride, dinosaurs! We’ll take it from here.” That could be the motto for the age of decarbonisation. Or it could be extreme hyperbole.
Alongside China, Norway has helped supercharge demand for electric vehicles, but it could afford to finance the tax breaks and other incentives because of the immense wealth it derives from oil and gas. Hydrocarbons produced by the state energy company, Equinor, generated 310m tonnes of greenhouse gases in 2017. That was almost as much as the total carbon dioxide (CO2 ) belched out by Britain, a country with 12 times Norway’s population.
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Lawmakers roll out landmark bipartisan carbon bill
E&E News
A group of House lawmakers last night floated the first bipartisan carbon tax bill in nearly a decade, a move that boosters are calling a big step for climate policy heading into the next Congress.
The “Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act” would put a $15-per-metric-ton fee on carbon, rising by $10 per year, with net revenue given back to households as a rebate.
A co-chair of the Climate Solutions Caucus, Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), is the lead sponsor of the bill, joined by Reps. Francis Rooney (R-Fla.), John Delaney (D-Md.), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) and Charlie Crist (D-Fla.).
The bill isn’t likely to pass in this Congress, but the co-sponsors say it would reduce U.S. carbon emissions by a third in only a decade and 90 percent by 2050, all compared with 2015 levels.
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France to retire 14 nuclear reactors while Japan restarts 5 of its reactors
Ars Technica
In a speech this week, French President Emmanuel Macron talked about the country’s future plans for nuclear power, saying France would retire 14 nuclear reactors but on a slower timeline than had been suggested previously.
France is a major player in the nuclear industry: in 2012, about 75 percent of its electricity came from nuclear reactors. But since the Fukushima disaster that same year, the country has been pushing to retire some of its older reactors (although not as aggressively as Germany did). According to Power Magazine, in 2014 France’s lower house of parliament passed a bill that would have capped nuclear power at 50 percent of the country’s energy mix by 2025. Since then, the cap has been removed and reinstated by legislative bodies, and while reducing nuclear reliance to 50 percent of the country’s energy mix seemed to be certain, the timeline to do it was far from certain.
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Congress Urged To Give Energy Storage Same Tax Incentives As Wind And Solar
Forbes
A coalition of lobby groups from the breadth of the US clean energy industry is pressing Congress to make standalone energy storage project eligible for investment tax credits (ITC).
The credits, awarded at a rate of 30%, lit the fuse for US wind and solar power projects and could in theory grease the wheels of the nascent sector.
At the moment, there is ambiguity over the eligibility of storage equipment when paired with solar, wind or other compatible technologies. It does not qualify in its own right.
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Interior: Public lands spew 25% of U.S. emissions
E&E News
The National Climate Assessment wasn’t the only global warming report the Trump administration quietly released over the Thanksgiving holiday.
The U.S. Geological Survey reported Friday that about one-quarter of all U.S. carbon emissions come from fossil fuels extracted from public lands.
Environmentalists reacted by renewing calls to end leasing for oil, gas and coal leasing on federal tracts.
Between 2005 and 2014, an average of 23.7 percent of American carbon dioxide emissions came from energy produced on public lands. That includes the emissions generated by drilling, mining, transporting and refining fuel before it’s burned.
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Countries vowed to cut carbon emissions. They aren’t even close to their goals, U.N. report finds
Washington Post
On the eve of the most important global climate meeting in years, a definitive United Nations report has found that the world is well off course on its promises to cut greenhouse gas emissions — and may have even further to go than previously thought.
Seven major countries, including the United States, are well behind achieving the pledges they made in Paris three years ago, the report finds, with little time left to adopt much more ambitious policy measures to curb their emissions.
“We have new evidence that countries are not doing enough,” said Philip Drost, head of the steering committee for the U.N. Environment Program’s (UNEP) annual “emissions gap” report, released in Paris on Tuesday.
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Report: California Efforts to Reduce Transportation Emissions Are Not Working
StreetsBlogCal
California regions are not on track to meet their greenhouse gas emissions targets, not by 2035, and not even the “easier” targets in 2020. Other reports have announced that California will meet its 2020 targets, but those emission reductions are almost entirely from cleaning up the electricity sector, specifically because of an increase in hydroelectricity made possible by heavy rains in the past few years.
Emissions in the transportation sector, in contrast, are rising, even with cleaner fuels and more electric vehicles.
Read more