News & Events


Energy in the News: Friday, February 1

A note from from Anna: To build connections among us, the Energy Institute is launching a series of focused and informal faculty presentations on Thursdays from 3:30-5:00 PM. The theme for the next month is on battery needs for accelerating and decarbonizing emobility. I hope your teaching schedule and other responsibilities will allow you to participate. Got ideas for a theme? Reach out to Anna!

-For your students: The Energy Institute’s UROP program and the Graham Scholars program are both accepting applications!

-Don’t miss Monday’s evening’s lightning talks at SEAS!

-Congratulations to Barry Rabe, Sarah Mills, and Tony Reames on their Ford School catalyst grant.

-A new publication by CLOSUP’s Sarah Mills was highlighted by the Ford School.

-Emeritus Professor Katta Murty is currently editing a textbook titled “Optimum Decision Making in crude oil production and refining,” and is seeking chapter contributors. Contact him to see a draft and discuss.

-Check out Shelie Miller’s EWRE seminar on February 8.

-Here’s a crib sheet on this week’s polar vortex grid strain in Michigan:
Free Press: How fire and ice almost took down Michigan’s energy supply
Midwest Energy News: Polar vortex offers utility customers lesson in demand response
E&E News:  Gas plant fire during polar vortex prompts review

Why electric cars struggle in the cold- and how to help them
Wired, featuring Anna Stefanopoulou
“Batteries are like humans,” says Anna Stefanopoulou, director of the University of Michigan’s Energy Institute. They prefer the same sort of temperature range that people do. Anything below 40 or above 115 degrees Fahrenheit and they’re not going to deliver their peak performance. They like to be around 60 to 80 degrees. As the temperature drops, the electrolyte fluid inside the battery cells becomes more sluggish. “You don’t have as much power when you want to discharge,” says Stefanopoulou. “The situation is even more limited when you want to charge.”
Modern cars are designed to take that into account, with battery thermal management systems that warm or cool a battery. But while an internal combustion engine generates its own heat, which warms the engine and the car occupants, an EV has to find that warmth somewhere else, either scavenging the small amount of heat that motors and inverters make or running a heater. That takes energy, meaning there’s less power available to move the wheels.
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On this same topic, featuring Anna Stefanopoulou, Andre Boehman, and Margaret Wooldridge: How do sub-zero temps affect car engines, batteries?
Featuring Anna Stefanopoulou: Towing companies see spike in business with extreme cold killing batteries

Fill up your gas tank before big warm-up this weekend. Here’s why
Detroit Free Press, featuring Andre Boehman
Sure, the polar vortex is hard to love. But it can help you save at least a few coins on gasoline.
The arctic air blast over the last few days sent Michigan and the rest of the Midwest into a deep freeze, with Detroit reaching a record-low temperature of minus 13 on Wednesday.
It will be warming up to a high of about 17 on Friday, but then a big “heat wave” rolls in, with temperatures expected to reach 48 by Monday — a whopping 61-degree swing from Wednesday’s low.
If your car needs a tank of gas, bundle up, clench your teeth and go get a fill-up before that big temperature rise: You’ll get slightly more fuel for the money than you would filling up after the warm-up. Consider it a scientific cheat code.
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Researcher talks American behaviors regarding energy consumption
The Michigan Daily, featuring Lauren Knapp and John DeCicco
Due to the increasing effects of global warming, Lauren Knapp believes it is important for energy consumers to be informed about the varying types of alternative energy sources.
“Arguably one of the largest challenges in society today is the pressing need for deep, deep energy prioritization,” Knapp said.  
The research, coming from a five-year survey, showed consumer concerns about energy affordability have decreased, and concern regarding energy’s effect on the environment has increased significantly over the past five years.
For a little over five years, the Energy Institute has been working in collaboration with researchers at the Institute of Social Research (ISR), the world’s largest academic social science survey and research organization, to create an all-purpose study that looks into the human concern about the environmental impact of energy usage.
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What 4 economists say about the state of the union
The Conversation, featuring Ellen Hughes-Cromwick
Business investment, the lifeblood improving the nation’s standard of living, has been one of the big economic bright spots fueling strong growth in the past couple years.
Combined with a healthy labor market, solid spending on new plants, equipment and intellectual property are all achievements in this near-decade-long expansion. Without it, expanding possibilities and the promise of new horizons for the next generation could be lost.
Signs suggest the party is about to end.
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Beyond Drought: States Rebalance Their Colorado River Use as Global Warming Dries the Region
Inside Climate News, featuring Jonathan Overpeck
From 1916 to 2014, flows in the Colorado dropped 16.5 percent, even though total precipitation in the upper basin increased slightly during that period, said Jonathan Overpeck, a climate researcher at the University of Michigan, who has written several studies showing the lasting impacts of warming.
In a recent study, Brad Udall and other researchers found that rising temperatures and changing precipitation patterns reduced Colorado River flows between 2000 and 2014 by 19 percent compared to the 1906–1999 average.
“This drought is not going to end until we stop global warming,” Overpeck said. “It’s not just precipitation, it’s temperatures. We need to understand how what’s happening on the land and to plants affects flows. It would be crazy to bet on increased precipitation.”
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President honors Bierbaum, Ryan for Public Engagement efforts
U-M Public Engagement and Impact, featuring Rosina Bierbaum
Two University of Michigan professors are being honored by President Mark Schlissel for their pursuit of public engagement and using their knowledge to positively impact society in the areas of science policy and child advocacy.
Rosina Bierbaum, a professor in the School for Environment and Sustainability and former dean of its predecessor, the School of Natural Resources and Environment, will receive the President’s Award for National and State Leadership. This award honors individuals who have provided sustained, dedicated, and influential leadership and service in major national or state capacities.
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Keeping the lights on during extreme cold snaps takes investments and upgrades
The Conversation
Polar vortexes. Hurricanes. Wildfires.
With climate change making extreme weather events more frequent and intense, it is getting harder to keep the lights on and HVAC systems running.
As a power system researcher, I believe utilities need to get better at withstanding disasters and the disruption they cause. Investing more heavily is key, especially in infrastructure upgrades, renewable energy and microgrids – small and self-sufficient sources of power that help consumers either stay off the grid by choice or simply stay connected during outages.
In extreme cold snaps, like the one that froze a large swathe of the U.S. in early 2019, crucial equipment like circuit breakers, switches, grid sensors and other electromechanical support equipment can operate slower or faster than normal, sometimes leading to plants shutting themselves down – potentially causing power outages.
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The EV Revolution Will Be Heavily Subsidized
Haas Energy Institute Blog
In California, we’re super ambitious. We all eat kale. We also want to see 1.5 million Zero Emission Vehicles on California’s streets by 2025. And 5 million by 2030.  That’s 6 and 11 years out, respectively. So we’re going to throw some money at the problem. Our schools and roads are falling apart, so the question we should be asking is, how much is it going to take to get these cars on the road and is it the best use of public funds? There are some older reports out there that use the early EV subsidies to estimate consumers’ response to these programs, but to put it bluntly, these subsidies largely went to rich people buying Teslas. Until now, we knew relatively little about the response of people buying non ridiculously expensive cars.
Enter Dave Rapson and Erich Muehlegger of UC Davis and frequent visitors to the Energy Institute. During the busy holiday season they published a working paper that fills this important gap. They study the impacts of the Enhanced Fleet Modernization Program (“EFMP”), which is a California retire-and-replace subsidy program for EV purchases. The design of the EFMP program provides clean quasi-experimental variation in the availability of the subsidy to some buyers and not others. This is nerd speak for: “Woah. Cool statistics. Let me Scotch tape my broken glasses together and read on.” In short, this paper is causal, not casual.
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Who wants to be a resilience millionaire?
-The Department of Energy (DOE) on Thursday announced an upcoming contest to award $1 million “for ideas that advance the resilience and reliability of the nation’s bulk power system.”
-The DOE also announced $40 million in funding for the Grid Modernization Initiative, which will focus on resilience modeling, advanced sensors, energy storage and cybersecurity, among other topics.
-While DOE said more details about the $40 million program would be released by March, the timing for the $1 million contest was specified only as “the near future.”
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Negaunee, MTU investigate turning abandoned mines into “green” batteries
The City of Negaunee is partnering with Michigan Tech to explore using abandoned mines to store electrical energy.
The pilot study would determine if abandoned mines can be profitably converted into utility-scale batteries, storing “green” energy for consumers on the electrical grid. The project would use underground pumped hydro storage—a technology that stores water at a high elevation, then allows it to flow down through a turbine to generate electricity.
The storage facility would use surplus power generated during low-demand times to pump water up to a certain elevation. When demand outpaces power supply the water would be released into the turbines.
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Carbon capture and conversion must not rely on rare metals
The Conversation
Last year, humans emitted approximately 37 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere – a disastrous and unsustainable figure. To avoid the worst effects of climate change we could capture some of that carbon as it is released by power plants and store it permanently below ground. Better still, some of that waste carbon dioxide could be converted into useful chemicals or fuel.
These processes are known respectively as “carbon capture and storage” and “carbon dioxide utilisation”, and both require large amounts of raw materials. As an example, carbon capture can involve running emissions over some metal, which then reacts with (and hence captures) the CO₂ before turning it into a different substance that can be stored or reused.
To make a dent in climate change, the amount of metal required would be huge. For example, if 1 gram of a metal, in a metal catalyst, could capture 100 grams of coal-based carbon dioxide emissions (an optimistic scenario), around 1.5m tonnes of this metal would reduce global emissions by just 0.4%.
So, although keeping carbon out of the atmosphere is important, it is equally important that we do it in a green and sustainable manner. If large amounts of a metal are ever used to significantly decrease carbon emissions, it must have a sustainable supply so that reserves are not depleted.
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