News & Events


Energy in the News: Friday, August 4

‘Missing lead’ in Flint water pipes confirms cause of crisis

University of Michigan News, feat. Brian Ellis

A study of lead service lines in Flint’s damaged drinking water system reveals a Swiss cheese pattern in the pipes’ interior crust, with holes where the lead used to be.

The findings—led by researchers at the University of Michigan—support the generally accepted understanding that lead leached into the system because that water wasn’t treated to prevent corrosion. While previous studies had pointed to this mechanism, this is the first direct evidence. It contradicts a regulator’s claim earlier this year that corrosion control chemicals would not have prevented the water crisis.

Researchers say the findings underscore how important uninterrupted anti-corrosion treatment is for the aging water systems that serve millions of American homes.

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Faculty members testify in D.C. about biofuels, plastic debris in water

U-M University Record, feat. John DeCicco

Two University of Michigan faculty members testified recently before congressional panels regarding topics related to biofuels and cleaning up plastic debris in the oceans and U.S. waterways.

John DeCicco, research professor at the U-M Energy Institute and director of the U-M Energy Survey, testified July 25 before the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee’s Subcommittee on Environment and Subcommittee on Energy.

The hearing titled “Examining Advancements in Biofuels: Balancing Federal Research and Market Innovation” focused on federal funding of biofuels projects and how it affects the private market.

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Driving trends shifting gears

Great Lakes Echo, feat. Michael Sivak

Where are Americans driving? Researchers from the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute analyzed data from the Federal Highway Administration, and the results are in:

City driving is rising, and it’s risen high.

Researchers Brandon Schoettle and Michael Sivak found a 33-percent rise in city driving over the past 17 years. This mirrors a 19-percent growth in the U.S. population.

The study found a widening gap between urban and rural driving, with rural driving falling by 12 percent since 2000. This dramatic growth in urban driving and decrease in rural driving left the professors in disbelief.

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The troubling return of Al Gore

New Republic, feat. Andrew Hoffman

It’s the year 2015, in Paris, and negotiations over an international climate accord are falling apart. India‚ the world’s fourth-largest polluter, is wary about signing onto the deal, fearing the commitments are too strict for a developing country with high energy needs. So Al Gore whips into action—by pulling out his cell phone. He dials Larry Summers, the former U.S. Treasury secretary, and says, “Elon suggested I call.” Naturally, the former vice president is on a first-name basis with the founder of Tesla and SpaceX. But Elon Musk is more important to Gore as the chairman of SolarCity, which The New York Times describes as “the nation’s leading installer of rooftop solar panels and a renewable energy darling.” Gore is thus connected with SolarCity’s president, and asks him to give the company’s intellectual property to India, free of charge. “SolarCity could be the corporate hero of Paris,” Gore says into the phone. “Think about it.” The company eventually agrees, and India signs the agreement. Gore saves the day—and perhaps the planet.

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Do you speak V2V? Understanding the language of connected vehicles

GCN, feat. Huei Peng

As cities look to incorporate connected vehicle technologies in their smarter futures, they should keep an eye on the University of Michigan’s connected vehicle research at its Mcity test bed. A public-private partnership between the university and Michigan’s Department of Transportation, Mcity is a 32-acre simulated environment that features both urban and suburban areas, including roads with intersections, traffic lights, signs and sidewalks designed to evaluate the capabilities of connected and automated vehicles and systems. UM researchers are also gathering real-world traffic data from about 30 roadside units throughout Ann Arbor.

Huei Peng, a mechanical engineering professor at the university and the director of Mcity, spoke with GCN about how cities might plan for the future of connected vehicles.

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Meet the lab-coat liberals

Politico, feat. Andrew Hoffman

The lab-coat liberals are marching on Washington.

Dismayed by President Donald Trump’s perceived hostility to climate science and other areas of research, a surge of scientists is entering the public arena and running for political office for the first time.

They represent an evolving brand of Democrat that has been gaining steam for months. What began with rogue Twitter accounts and protest marches has graduated into candidacies in House races in places as varied as California, Texas, Pennsylvania and New York.

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Nutrient pollution: Voluntary steps are failing to shrink algae blooms and dead zones

The Conversation, by UMEI Executive Committee member Don Scavia

Summer is the season for harmful algae blooms in many U.S. lakes and bays. They occur when water bodies become overloaded with nitrogen and phosphorus from farms, water treatment plants and other sources. Warm water and lots of nutrients promote rapid growth of algae that can be toxic and potentially fatal to aquatic life and people.

Eventually algae settle to the bottom and decay, depleting dissolved oxygen in the water, creating hypoxia – “dead zones” where oxygen levels are low enough to kill fish.

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Shake it up: Human-induced and natural earthquakes in central U.S. are ‘inherently similar’

University of Michigan News

The stresses released by human-induced and naturally occurring earthquakes in the central United States are in many cases indistinguishable, meaning that existing tools to predict shaking damage can be applied to both types.

That’s the main conclusion of a study by a University of Michigan seismologist and two Stanford University colleagues, published online Aug. 2 in the journal Science Advances.

“Our study shows that induced earthquakes and natural earthquakes in the central U.S. are inherently similar, and we can predict the damaging effects of induced earthquakes using the same framework as natural earthquakes,” said Yihe Huang, first author of the Science Advances paper and an assistant professor in the U-M Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences.

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DTE Energy to replace coal units with 1,100-MW gas plant

E&E News

DTE Energy Co. plans to build a 1,100-megawatt natural-gas-fired power plant by 2022 to replace generating capacity that will be lost as the utility closes three coal plants.

When complete, the company said, it would be the “most efficient power plant in Michigan.”

The announcement this morning is a concrete step to advance Chairman and CEO Gerry Anderson’s initiative to reduce carbon emissions by 30 percent by the early 2020s and close all of its coal-fired power plants by 2040 (Energywire, June 13).

Detroit-based DTE earlier this year unveiled a plan to curb its carbon dioxide emissions 80 percent by 2050. As part of that program, the utility is building 6,000 MW of renewable energy capacity and adding 3,500 MW of natural gas capacity. The project announced today is the first installment of that 3,500 MW

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In ‘automotive capital of the world,’ critics say electric vehicle policy is lagging

Midwest Energy News

Clean energy advocates say the automotive capital of the world could be doing more to support the growth of electric and alternative fuel vehicles.

While major automakers in Michigan are embracing a future of electrified transportation, state policy is still lagging when it comes to actually increasing the number of electric vehicles on the road. According to the group Clean Fuels Michigan, the state is one of only 13 that doesn’t have statewide incentives for purchasing electric vehicles and ranks 41st for deploying all forms of alternative fuel vehicles, such as those powered by natural gas.

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Solar-powered, mixed-income cottage community chosen for Ann Arbor site


Ann Arbor might be getting its first solar-powered, mixed-income, net-zero cottage community.

After months of consideration, Washtenaw County commissioners voted Wednesday night, Aug. 2, to choose a cutting-edge project called Veridian at County Farm as the development they’d like to see happen on a county-owned property at 2270 Platt Road.

The Veridian project aims to embed affordable housing within a mixed-income community, with integration of home types and styles.

“The goal is for affordable housing and market rate to both be approached with dignity, so as to increase social interaction and upward mobility,” the proposal states.

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The post-merchant power sector: What unintentional re-regulation could look like

Utility Dive

The distress of the merchant power provider is well-known. All across the nation, low gas prices, stagnating electricity demand and an influx of subsidized renewables are stressing the finances of power plants that play in the open wholesale markets.

The issue has largely affected older coal and nuclear generators with high fixed costs. But in recent months, it has become so pronounced to force even some young, modern gas generators offline, like the Sutter and La Paloma plants in CAISO last year and ERCOT’s Panda Temple Plant this spring.

Even the companies at the center of the merchant generation space appear to have lost faith in it. In a March earnings call, the CEO of NRG Energy, one of the nation’s largest independent power producers, said the merchant model is “now obsolete and unable to create value over the long term.”

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U.S. ethanol makers steer away from fuel, reach for booze


A U.S. glut of fuel-grade ethanol has major producers, including Green Plains Inc (GPRE.O) and industry pioneer Archer Daniels Midland Co (ADM.N), pursuing other markets and idling excess capacity in an effort to rebuild sagging margins.

ADM and Green Plains both said on Tuesday they are converting fuel-ethanol capacity into beverage and industrial alcohol production, as well as idling some mills. The announcements follow Pacific Ethanol’s (PEIX.O) decision in June to buy a beverage-grade facility in Illinois, a diversification away from fuel ethanol.

The shifts are the latest moves by the once-booming corn-ethanol sector that has struggled with thin margins for the past two years amid industry overcapacity.

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U.S. nuclear comeback stalls as two reactors are abandoned

The New York Times

In a major blow to the future of nuclear power in the United States, two South Carolina utilities said on Monday that they would abandon two unfinished nuclear reactors in the state, putting an end to a project that was once expected to showcase advanced nuclear technology but has since been plagued by delays and cost overruns.

The two reactors, which have cost the utilities roughly $9 billion, remain less than 40 percent built. The cancellation means there are just two new nuclear units being built in the country — both in Georgia — while more than a dozen older nuclear plants are being retired in the face of low natural gas prices.

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What’s missing from the 100% renewables debate

Utility Dive

A debate between Stanford professor Mark Jacobson and former National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) scientist Christopher Clack over whether the U.S. can be powered entirely by renewable resources in 2050 got a lot of attention. The New York Times headlined it “Fisticuffs.” The Washington Post called it a “bitter and personal feud.”

A 2015 paper written by a Jacobson-led team argued electrification of all U.S. energy sectors can be done by 2050 with almost 100% wind, water, and solar (WWS) resources, plus energy storage. That supply mix and demand response can keep the U.S. grid “stable at low cost,” it concluded.

But Clack, now CEO of renewable energy software firm Vibrant Clean Energy, argues that 100% renewables is a “valuable hypothetical aspiration” but should not be presented as a scientific article.

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Alphabet wants to fix renewable energy’s storage problem — with salt


Alphabet Inc.’s secretive X skunk works has another idea that could save the world. This one, code named Malta, involves vats of salt and antifreeze.

The research lab, which hatched Google’s driverless car almost a decade ago, is developing a system for storing renewable energy that would otherwise be wasted. It can be located almost anywhere, has the potential to last longer than lithium-ion batteries and compete on price with new hydroelectric plants and other existing clean energy storage methods, according to X executives and researchers.

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Finland wants to bury nuclear waste for 100,000 years


A site in Finland is set to use a labyrinth of underground tunnels for the storage of nuclear waste, in what could become a template for others to follow.

According to the World Nuclear Association, Finland is home to four nuclear reactors which provide almost 30 percent of its electricity.

The Olkiluoto 3 project is set to be Finland’s fifth. Energy company Teollisuuden Voima Oyj (TVO) says that regular production at the unit is set to begin at the end of 2018. The unit’s net electrical output will be around 1,600 megawatts (MW).

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