News & Events


Energy in the News: Friday, December 21

Energy in the News will be on hiatus for the next two weeks. Happy Holidays, everyone!

ARPA-E announces $21 million for second, third OPEN+ cohorts

Check out these SEAS lightning talks scheduled for:
January 18, 2019–Conservation + Restoration hosted by Inés Ibáñez (SEAS) and Deborah Goldberg (LSA EEB)
February 4, 2019–Climate Adaptation hosted by Maria Carmen Lemos (SEAS), Paige Fischer (SEAS), and Gretchen Keppel-Aleks (CLaSP)
February 13, 2019–Water hosted by Paul Seelbach (SEAS), Karen Alofs (SEAS), and Dick Norton (TCAUP)

Pumped storage could help put more wind and solar on the grid
Yale Climate Connections, feat Anna Stefanopoulou
Managing climate change in part involves rapidly scaling-up wind and solar energy.
But as independent videographer Peter Sinclair’s “This is Not Cool” video explains, significant obstacles remain in executing that strategy. One of the biggest challenges?
“The wind doesn’t always blow, and the Sun doesn’t always shine,” says Mark Jacobson of Stanford University. That’s why renewables like wind and solar are referred to as intermittent sources of energy.
Reliable methods of storing energy could help solve the intermittency problem, enabling wind and solar energy to be deployed at larger scales in coming decades.
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An Indian perspective on the Poland climate meeting: Not much help for the world’s poor and vulnerable
The Conversation, by Arun Agrawal
The international climate change conference that concluded in Katowice, Poland on Dec. 15 had limited ambitions and expectations – especially compared to the 2015 meeting that produced the Paris climate agreement. It will be remembered mainly for its delegates agreeing on a common “rulebook” to implement existing country commitments for reducing emissions.
The deal is vital. It keeps the new global climate regime alive. It maintains a path to deliver financial and technical assistance to vulnerable countries and peoples. Actors with quite divergent interests, including the United States, the European Union, oil producing states, China, India and small island nations all accepted a common approach to measuring progress.
But from my perspective as a social scientist focusing on conservation and international development, the technical orientation of the Katowice meeting failed to match the urgency of needed climate action. Negotiators made little progress toward deeper emissions cuts. Nor did the meeting do much to help the most vulnerable people, ecosystems and nations.
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Just chillin’: Is a refrigerated food chain a net win or loss for climate emissions?
University of Michigan News Service, featuring Shelie Miller
Few inventions have had a greater impact on our daily lives, and especially on the food we eat, than refrigeration.
But there are still places in the world, such as sub-Saharan Africa, where an unbroken refrigerated supply chain, or “cold chain,” that keeps perishable food cold from farm to market is not yet reality.
To researchers who study how various human activities affect the production of climate-altering greenhouse gases, the introduction of a cold chain into a region offers the opportunity to examine an understudied tradeoff:
Refrigeration reduces food losses significantly, but it’s an energy-intensive process responsible for an estimated 1 percent of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions. On balance, do the increased emissions from cold-chain operation outweigh the emissions avoided due to reduced food loss?
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The Southwest May Be Deep Into a Climate-Changed Mega-Drought
The Atlantic, featuring Jonathan Overpeck
Every so often, the American West seems to lurch into something called a “mega-drought.” The rains falter, the rivers wither, and the forests become tinder boxes waiting for a spark. Mega-droughts are notoriously hard to study—the last one happened in the 16th century—but what we do know is worrisome. In the 1540s, a few wet years in the middle of a mega-drought may have triggered one of the worst disease epidemics ever recorded.
“The definition of mega-drought technically is open to debate,” said Jonathan Overpeck, a climate scientist at the University of Michigan. Two decades ago, he and the climate scientist Connie Woodhouse coined the term mega-drought in a paper, specifying that such a drought must last 20 years or more.
“The drought in the Southwest is now in its 19th year. So it’s right on the cusp of technically being a mega-drought,” Overpeck told me.
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9 states team up to reduce transportation CO2 emissions
Nine Northeast and mid-Atlantic states are teaming up to cap and reduce carbon emissions from transportation in the region.
Why it matters: Cars, heavy trucks and other transport have surpassed electricity production as the largest source of U.S. emissions in recent years.
The big picture: The rough plan announced Tuesday is a stark new example of states pushing ahead with climate initiatives as the White House is dismantling federal policies.
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Higher module efficiencies and inverters driving solar power cost declines
PV Magazine
The purpose of the U.S. Solar Photovoltaic System Cost Benchmark: Q1 2018 is to provide bottom-up accounting for all system and project-development costs incurred – breaking down hardware, labor and engineering costs. It gives us a base price to start our work from.
The report, done by the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL), specifically notes that Q1 2018 system costs of $2.70 per Watt-DC (Wdc) for residential, a 4.9% decline, $1.83/Wdc for commercial, a 2.6% decrease, $1.06/Wdc for fixed-tilt utility-scale – a 1.9% increase, and $1.13/Wdc single-axis-tracking utility-scale – a 0.9% increase.

At a high level, the report authors noted that higher module prices, higher wages for labor, and higher steel prices raised costs – while higher-voltage inverter designs, lower inverter prices, and higher module efficiencies contributed to cost reductions. However, the effects varied by industry sector (below image), and change could be seen in many market areas.
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Idaho test reactor is pivotal in US nuclear power strategy
Associated Press
A nuclear test reactor that can melt uranium fuel rods in seconds is running again after a nearly quarter-century shutdown as U.S. officials try to revamp a fading nuclear power industry with safer fuel designs and a new generation of power plants.
The reactor at the U.S. Energy Department’s Idaho National Laboratory has performed 10 tests on nuclear fuel since late last year.
“If we’re going to have nuclear power in this country 20 or 30 years from now, it’s going to be because of this reactor,” said J.R. Biggs, standing in front of the Transient Test Reactor he manages that in short bursts can produce enough energy to power 14 million homes.
The reactor was used to run 6,604 tests from 1959 to 1994, when it was put on standby as the United States started turning away from nuclear power amid safety concerns.
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What’s next for Line 5: studies, permits and ‘inevitable’ lawsuits
Midwest Energy News
With a legislative and legal framework in place to build a tunnel for Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac, attention now shifts to a board overseeing the project, geological studies, and potential lawsuits.
Michigan’s Republican governor, Rick Snyder, last week swiftly approved legislation, appointed members to the newly created Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority, and presented two draft agreements meant to lock in the project before his Democratic successor takes office next month. Public comments on the agreements will be taken through Dec. 18 — five days after the agreements were announced.
As outlined in an earlier agreement between the state and Enbridge, the authority would ultimately be required to approve the “tunnel agreement” if it meets a set of criteria under legislation passed on Dec. 12. The authority — which would own the tunnel after it’s built and lease it to Enbridge — holds its first meeting Wednesday in the Upper Peninsula.
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As 67 coal plants in 22 states report coal ash violations, greens fear prolonged cleanup
Sixty seven coal plants across 22 states in the U.S. are reporting that toxic contamination in groundwater at their coal ash impoundments exceeds federal health standards, according to data from multiple utility filings obtained by a band of environmental groups.
In response, those groups on Wednesday filed a petition for review against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler’s rollbacks of Obama-era coal combustion residuals (CCR) requirements. The petition was filed by Earthjustice, The Environmental Integrity Project and Sierra Club, on behalf of Clean Water Action, Hoosier Environmental Council, Prairie Rivers Network, HEAL Utah and Waterkeeper Alliance.
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