News & Events


Energy in the News: Friday, February 23

The race to improve fuel economy

Consumer Reports, feat. John DeCicco

For Christi Mulkey, a Texas businesswoman, government fuel-economy rules are more than dry numbers and technical jargon. Money saved from the improved efficiency of her truck fleet improves her bottom line and helps pay for richer employee bonuses.

As CEO of Diverse Construction, one of the state’s few female-owned communications contractors, Mulkey sweats the fuel expense for her 15 work trucks. They’re mostly big, brawny Chevrolet pickups of various sizes, some strong enough to haul 18-foot trailers fully loaded with tools and materials for building and maintaining cell towers.

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This company may have solved one of the hardest problems in clean energy

Vox, feat. Levi Thompson

It is an odd twist of chemistry that there is fuel embedded in the most common substance on earth: water.

Hydrogen — the H of H2O fame — turns out to be something of an all-purpose element, a Swiss Army knife for energy. It can be produced without greenhouse gases. It is highly flammable, so it can be used as a combustion fuel. It can be fed into a fuel cell to produce electricity directly, without combustion, through an electrochemical process.

It can be stored and distributed as a gas or a liquid. It can be combined with CO2 (and/or nitrogen and other gases) to create other useful fuels like methane or ammonia. It can be used as a chemical input in a range of industrial processes, helping to make fertilizers, plastics, or pharmaceuticals.

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US seeks energy ‘dominance.’ But is that a shield against geopolitical risks?

The Christian Science Monitor, feat. Daniel Raimi

For decades, haunted by fears of oil shortages, the United States made “energy independence” its goal. Today, with the nation poised to become the biggest oil and gas producer in the world, the administration has declared a new and bolder ambition: “energy dominance.”

What that means exactly is still unclear. But if Washington hopes to use its new hydrocarbon bounty to throw its weight around in the world it will be disappointed, say energy experts.

“There seems to be a desire to use energy as a geopolitical tool more aggressively,” suggests Meghan O’Sullivan, author of “Windfall,” a book about the blessings that America’s energy abundance has brought. “But global markets have a much bigger impact on geopolitics than policymakers do.”

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Toyota Prius software fix may reduce fuel efficiency, experts say

The Los Angeles Times, feat. Heath Hofmann

When Robert Enger took his Toyota Prius into a dealership for a safety recall, he didn’t expect that his fuel economy would drop.

Just six months after buying the new 2013 Prius, Enger learned that the company was recalling it to fix the car’s hybrid electrical system, which was overheating and frying itself. A technician plugged the car into a diagnostic tool that installed new computer code in two electronic modules. That was supposed to fix the problem.

The repair itself has become controversial amid allegations that the electrical systems are still overheating after the software fix. But Enger noticed something else: His fuel economy dropped by 5 miles per gallon in city driving. Enger, an electrical engineer from Hermosa Beach, checks his mileage every fill-up, dividing the number of miles he drove since the last fill-up by the number of gallons he pumped to top off the tank.

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Autonomous vehicle tech to focus on energy efficiency

Architecture & Design, feat. Gregory Keoleian

Driving efficiencies associated with autonomous vehicles can offset the significant environmental impact of their sensing and computing subsystems in terms of energy consumption and carbon emissions.

A study conducted at the University of Michigan has concluded that savings from driving efficiencies in self driving vehicles can help reduce both lifetime energy use and associated greenhouse gas emissions by up to 9 per cent compared to conventional vehicles, helping maximise the environmental benefits.

Gregory Keoleian, director of the Center for Sustainable Systems at the University’s School for Environment and Sustainability, who co-authored the study, underlined the need to focus on energy efficiency when designing autonomous vehicles to help realise their full environmental benefits.

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Autonomous vehicles: A lighter shade of green?

WardsAuto, feat. Gregory Keoleian

Autonomous vehicles’ lifetime savings on energy use and greenhouse-gas emissions are lower than at first glance, University of Michigan and Ford researchers conclude.

Their study finds the added weight, electricity demand and aerodynamic drag of the sensors and computers used in autonomous vehicles contribute significantly to their lifetime energy use and GHG emissions.

But the study says when the savings from the efficiencies associated with self-driving vehicles are factored into the equation, the net result still is a reduction in lifetime energy use and associated GHGs of up to 9%.

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Though EV demand is growing, range anxiety remains a concern

United Press International, feat. Michael Sivak

After a forecast for gains in deployment, feedback from a forum by a state public service commission found range anxiety for electric vehicles was a concern.

British energy company BP reported in an annual forecast that it expected 180 million electric vehicles on the world’s roads by 2035. That’s expected to crimp global oil demand in the coming years as about 30 percent of total miles driven in 2040 will be fueled by electricity.

From Michigan, one of the leading domestic centers for the automotive industry, a technical conference held by the state Public Service Commission found concerns in 2018 required forward-thinking mitigation efforts to address range anxiety, accessibility and public charger visibility.

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Brazilian trains hit their slowest speeds in 15 years

Scientific American, feat. Michael Sivak

Passengers in Brazil opting for the train over the plane or car have seen a 27% decline in train speeds, plummeting to approximately 15 mph (24 km/h) in 2016 from 21 mpg (33 km/h) back in 2001. This can be compared with an average US train speed of 28 mph (45 km/h), not exactly impressive either when compared to the UK’s 39 mph (100 km/h), Italy’s Frecciarossa trains going up to 190 mph (300 km/h), or France’s eye-watering 199 mph (320 km/h) TGV train.

Yet, things may not be as bleak as they seem.

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Let’s be real about state and local climate action

The Regulatory Review, feat. Barry Rabe

“Something is better than nothing.” “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”

Who could take issue with aphorisms like these? They seem especially difficult to dispute today in the context of U.S. climate policy. Congress failed to adopt comprehensive national climate legislation during the Obama Administration. The Trump Administration has announced plans to pull out of the Paris Agreement and to repeal the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan. In such a context, actions by state and local governments, along with voluntary efforts by industry, are all presumably better than nothing.

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Driverless cars could save American lives

Bloomberg, feat. UMTRI

This week, the London Assembly’s Transport Committee reported on the city’s approaches to new transportation technologies, concluding that connected and autonomous cars “won’t be on the road until the 2030s at least.” That’s a long wait for many who hope autonomous vehicles will make roads safer, but the cars could arrive far earlier somewhere else: the rural U.S. And when they do, the benefits will be immediate.

The deadliest state for road crashes in 2015 was Wyoming, with nearly 25 deaths per 100,000 people, according to the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute. The safest was the District of Columbia, with only 3.4 deaths per 100,000 people.

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In 46 states, people of color deal with more air pollution than white people do, study finds

BuzzFeed News

People of color face more air pollution than white people, and black people bear the biggest environmental burden of any group, according to a new study by EPA scientists.

This exposure could explain disparities in health quality among different communities, scientists from the EPA’s National Center for Environmental Assessment write in the paper, published Thursday in the American Journal of Public Health.

“It’s excellent work in a top journal making the point that environmental disparity is alive and well in the US,” Manuel Pastor, director of the Program for Environmental and Regional Equity at the University of Southern California, who was not affiliated with the study, told BuzzFeed News.

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An unfrozen North

High Country News

Like a giant dragonfly, the chopper skims over undulating swaths of tussocky tundra, then touches down at Wolverine Lake, one of a swarm of kettle lakes near the Toolik Field Station on Alaska’s North Slope. Even before the blades stop spinning, Rose Cory, an aquatic geochemist from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, gracefully swings to the ground and beelines to the spot where, four years ago, a subterranean block of ice began to melt, causing the steep, sloping bank to slump into the water. The lake throws back a somber reflection of the clouds swirling above, its surface riffled by the wind.

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Solar panels, electric vehicle charging coming to Jackson via Consumers Energy


A chunk of downtown Jackson will become a statewide hub for energy innovation, according to Consumers Energy, which plans to create its second energy district in Michigan there.

The Jackson Smart Energy District will incorporate future technologies including solar panels, electric vehicle charging, high performance buildings and battery storage units, Consumers President and CEO Patti Poppe said.

Poppe will announce the district Tuesday, Feb. 20, at the State of the City address at the Masonic Temple, 157 W. Cortland St.

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5 takeaways from Michigan’s renewable portfolio standard report

Midwest Energy News

The debate over renewable energy in Michigan is again in full swing. Within the past two weeks, advocates launched a ballot initiative to require utilities to hit 30 percent renewables by 2030, and Consumers Energy announced a goal to end coal use and up its renewable portfolio to 40 percent by 2040. (Consumers’ announcement follows a similar one last year by DTE Energy.)

Meanwhile, the Michigan Public Service Commission a week ago offered its latest annual report on the implementation of the state’s existing renewable portfolio standard. In short: it’s working as intended. Utilities met a 10 percent renewable standard by 2015 and are likely to meet a 15 percent target by 2021.

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How nuclear power became a Southwest Michigan powerhouse

The Herald-Palladium

What is it about Southwest Michigan that attracted not just one, but two nuclear power plants?

Reason No. 1, of course, is that massive natural resource that dominates our region: Lake Michigan, which provides the water necessary for the operation of both plants. That, coupled with the economic potential of this region as a whole, led to the unusual fact of two nuclear power plants being built within about 30 miles of each other.

The planning stages for Palisades nuclear power plant in Van Buren County and Cook Nuclear Plant in Berrien County occurred almost simultaneously in the mid-1960s. Palisades then went online first, in 1971, followed by Cook’s Unit 1 in 1975, followed by Unit 2 in 1978.

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Illinois regulators look to cloud computing to boost smart grid

Midwest Energy News

States could encourage investment in smart-grid apps and software by changing rules that reward spending on capital instead of services.

Smart meters produce an endless stream of data for utilities, but outdated regulations discourage them from investing in apps and software that could make use of the information.

A recent report from the Advanced Energy Economy Institute (AEE) urges states to consider reforms that would give utilities more financial incentive to embrace cloud computing and other technology. Illinois is among a handful of states already considering such changes.

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‘Much work needed’ to make digital economy environmentally sustainable

The Guardian

A cross-party group of MPs has raised doubts over whether the growing energy demand from digital technology and the proliferation of internet-connected gadgets can continue to be offset by energy efficiency improvements.

More efficient smartphones, networking gear and data centres have so far largely staved off increased power demand from the internet and computing – which now accounts for about 6% of global electricity use.

But there is uncertainty over whether those efficiency gains can keep going, according to a report by the Policy Connect think tank, which was advised by the all-party parliamentary climate change group of MPs.

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