News & Events


Energy in the News: Friday, January 5

It’s cold outside, but that doesn’t mean climate change isn’t real

USA Today, feat. Jonathan Overpeck

Even this week’s cold weather is probably being caused at least in part by global warming, said Jonathan Overpeck, a climate scientist at the University of Michigan.

The Arctic is warming much faster than most of the planet, leading to a dramatic decline in the amount of sea ice that covers the region each winter. That loss of ice has allowed more heat to transfer from the ocean to the atmosphere, causing a weakening of the polar vortex winds over the Arctic. Those winds usually “insulate the rest of the Northern Hemisphere” from freezing Arctic temperatures, Overpeck said. But as the winds have weakened, it’s gotten easier for freezing Arctic air to swoop further south, he said.

“That is due to the warming of the Arctic, which in turn is due to human emissions of greenhouse gases and primarily burning of fossil fuels,” Overpeck said in an interview.

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This brutally cold winter could mean life or death for the poor

Earther, feat. Tony Reames

The weather is all anyone can talk about these days—and for good reason. A “bomb cyclone” is on its way to tear up the East Coast, so it’s freezing outside. But for poor people who struggle to pay their energy bills, weather like this is more than a nuisance. It can be a life or death situation.

More and more often, Americans are getting their electricity cut off—even if it’s freezing outside. In a single year ending May 2016, Ohio utilities disconnected more than 314,000 residents from power, 84 percent more than 10 years ago. Pennsylvania saw 220,000 shutoffs in 2015. A disproportionate number of communities facing shutoffs are low-income and/or predominantly made up of people of color, according to a report the NAACP released earlier this year.

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China, moving to cut emissions, halts production of 500 car models

The New York Times, feat. Bruce Belzowski

China is suspending the production of more than 500 car models and model versions that do not meet its fuel economy standards, several automakers confirmed Tuesday, the latest move by Beijing to reduce emissions in the world’s largest auto market and take the lead in battling climate change.

The government-affiliated China Vehicle Technology Service Center said that the suspension, effective Jan. 1, would affect both domestic carmakers and foreign joint ventures.

The move was expected to affect a small share of car manufacturing in China, where 28 million vehicles were produced in 2016. China has dozens of small-scale automakers — some producing just a few hundred cars a year — and the central government has tried to consolidate its auto industry, a factor that most likely also played a role in the suspension. Model versions — for example, different combinations of an engine and transmission — are constantly being deregistered.

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The cockpit of the future: intelligent, powerful and feature-rich

Automotive World, feat. Michael Sivak

Picture the car of the future and the words ‘autonomous’ and ‘connected’ spring instantly to mind. On the inside, the cabin resembles something straight out of a sci-fi movie – highly futuristic, with flat screens, intuitive lighting to match the user’s mood and a whole host of  features that ease the pain of a morning commute.

This vision is some way off, however, and according to Marques McCammon, General Manager of Connected Vehicle Solutions at Wind River, there are several focus areas that must be addressed before it can be made possible.

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Cybersecurity in self-driving cars: U-M releases threat identification tool

University of Michigan News, feat. Huei Peng

Instead of taking you home from work, your self-driving car delivers you to a desolate road, where it pulls off on the shoulder and stops.

You call your vehicle to pick you up from a store and instead you get a text message: Send $100 worth of Bitcoin to this account and it’ll be right over.

You buckle your seatbelt and set your destination to a doctor’s appointment, but your car won’t leave your driveway. It senses it’s been hacked and your home is its pre-programmed safe destination.

These three hypothetical scenarios—posited in a new white paper by University of Michigan researchers working with Mcity—illustrate the breadth of the cybersecurity challenges that must be overcome before autonomous and connected vehicles can be widely adopted.

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Ann Arbor’s new clean-energy goal: go 100% renewable by 2035


It’s a new year and people all over are making resolutions to change the way they live.

Ann Arbor also has a new resolution: power 100 percent of the city’s municipal government operations with clean and renewable energy sources such as wind and solar by 2035 or sooner.

The City Council unanimously approved the resolution in December, directing the city administrator to provide a multi-year action plan by September 2018 with five-year target objectives.

Those targets are to be revised as necessary within each year’s city budget starting in fiscal year 2019-20.

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Renewable energy residential, business projects up in Michigan

Crain’s Detroit Business

Private, non-utility-owned renewable energy production led by residential and business solar electricity generation grew by 28 percent in 2016 and was expected to continue at that pace in 2017, the Michigan Public Service Commission said in a new report.

It is unclear whether that growth in residential, commercial and industry solar projects will continue in 2018, given Michigan energy legislation approved in 2016 that has eliminated the popular net metering program for future customers. Net metering allows customers with solar panels or wind turbines to receive a credit for excess electricity they produce.

Michigan’s new energy law requires the MPSC to establish a distributed generation program and tariff to replace the current net metering program. Existing net metering customers can continue to participate in the program for 10 years. The MPSC is expected to set a tariff later this year in a hearing.

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Q&A: Michigan energy director says pipeline shutdown ‘still very much on the table’

Midwest Energy News

Since Gov. Rick Snyder took office in 2011, Michigan’s energy sector — like those across the country — has undergone a major shift.

Utilities plan to have closed dozens of coal units by 2020, renewable energy and efficiency are playing a bigger role in the state’s portfolio, and utilities are rethinking their traditional business models in a shift away from expensive, centralized power plants.

Valerie Brader, whom Snyder appointed to lead the Michigan Agency for Energy when it was created in 2015, has been at the forefront of these issues. She began working for the administration in 2011 as deputy legal counsel and senior policy advisor to the governor

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Has the time finally come for offshore wind energy on North America’s Great Lakes?


It’s been eight years since a public–private partnership — the Lake Erie Energy Development Corp. (LEEDCo) — was formed in northern Ohio to attract an offshore wind energy developer to the North American Great Lakes. In some ways, 2009 and the following couple of years formed a pinnacle of excitement around offshore wind in the Great Lakes.

In Michigan, the governor-appointed Great Lakes Wind Council drafted model legislation for permitting, leasing and siting potential projects that was intended to be shared with other Great Lakes states. Illinois lawmakers established a similar council to study offshore wind potential. Canada was brought into the fold through the Great Lakes Commission — a compact between the U.S. and Canada established in 1955 — and signed agreements with developers to pursue projects in Lake Ontario.

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Some of New York’s pollution belongs to Virginia and Michigan


New York City is the ninth-most smog-choked city in America, but it’s not all New Yorkers’ fault. Air pollution travels on the wind, and wind doesn’t concern itself with state borders. In other words: When coal-fired power plants in Appalachian and Rust Belt states belch out smog-forming pollution, some of it ends up in the Big Apple.

That’s precisely why New York and seven other northeastern states filed a lawsuit on Dec. 22 against the US Environmental Protection Agency, in an attempt to force the agency to clamp down on pollution coming from Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.

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Winter storm challenges U.S. East Coast energy complex


The U.S. energy industry was facing a massive test of its infrastructure as an intense winter storm roared up the Atlantic Coast, threatening power outages, refinery shutdowns and spikes in heating prices.

The storm swept the U.S. Southeast and headed toward New England on Wednesday, adding snow, freezing rain and strong winds to a record-shattering cold already affecting much of the eastern United States. Temperatures were expected to keep dropping throughout the weekend, according to private AccuWeather forecasts.

The cold weather punishing most of the country already caused Phillips 66 to shut a crude and coking unit at its Wood River, Illinois, refinery after a line froze followed by a brief fire, a source told Reuters on Wednesday.

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Arctic blast heating up battle between energy lobbying groups


Just about the only thing heating up in the eastern half of the U.S. right now is the debate over what power source should be trusted to keep homes warm and the lights on.

There are 99 nuclear generating units in the U.S. and every one of them is currently operating — “an incredible but unsurprising testament to nuclear’s reliability,” said John Keeley, spokesman for the Nuclear Energy Institute.

Coal has become the dominant power-plant fuel across the Midwest, thanks to higher natural gas prices tied to record demand for that rival energy source. “Coal shines when temperatures plunge,” said Luke Popovich, spokesman for the National Mining Association.

And while there’s bound to be challenges in such extreme cold, the good news is that grid operators are finding it easier than ever to handle the adverse conditions — that is, “thanks to an increasingly diverse electricity supply featuring more wind energy production,” said Evan Vaughan of the American Wind Energy Association.

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New ITC report finds China ‘took advantage’ of US commitment to renewables

Utility Dive

President Trump has just three weeks to make a decision on the solar trade case, and it is not clear how the supplemental report will sway those deliberations.

The 10-page followup concludes: “The government of China’s industrial policies, plans, and support programs took advantage of the existence of programs implemented by the U.S. government to encourage renewable energy consumption that, consistent with U.S. WTO obligations, did not favor U.S. manufacturers but instead were directed at owners of renewable energy systems.”

Chinese industrial policies ultimately led to vast overcapacity in China, the report founds, “and subsequently in other countries as Chinese producers built facilities elsewhere, which in turn ultimately resulted in the increased imports of [crystalline silicon photovoltaic] products causing serious injury to the domestic industry in the United States.”

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America could become oil king of the world in 2018

CNN Money

America could be crowned the oil world’s new king in 2018.

The United States is poised to ramp up crude oil production by 10% in 2018 to about 11 million barrels per day, according to research firm Rystad Energy.

Surging shale oil output should allow the United States to dethrone Russia and Saudi Arabia as the planet’s leading crude oil producer, Rystad predicted in a recent report. The U.S. hasn’t been the global leader, nor ahead of both Russia and Saudi Arabia, since 1975.

“The market has completely changed due to the U.S. shale machine,” said Nadia Martin Wiggen, Rystad’s vice president of markets.

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The top 7 climate findings of 2017

Scientific American

As the potential effects of climate change are seen around the world – from starving polar bears to record-breaking storms – interest in climate science is soaring. Scientists are digging into the “how,” “why” and “what’s next” of global temperatures, melting ice, emission sources and sinks, changing weather patterns, and rising seas.

The last year has seen major breakthroughs and advancements in climate research. Here are some of the biggest findings reported by scientists in 2017.

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