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Energy in the News: Friday, March 23

Plight of Phoenix: how long can the world’s ‘least sustainable’ city survive?

The Guardian, feat. Jonathan Overpeck

Phoenix and its surrounding area is known as the Valley of the Sun, and downtown Phoenix – which in 2017 overtook Philadelphia as America’s fifth-largest city – is easily walkable, with restaurants, bars and an evening buzz. But it is a modern shrine to towering concrete, and gives way to endless sprawl that stretches up to 35 miles away to places like Anthem. The area is still growing – and is dangerously overstretched, experts warn.

“There are plans for substantial further growth and there just isn’t the water to support that,” says climate researcher Jonathan Overpeck, who co-authored a 2017 report that linked declining flows in the Colorado river to climate change. “The Phoenix metro area is on the cusp of being dangerously overextended. It’s the urban bullseye for global warming in north America.”

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Federal government’s silence on climate could stymie disaster planning

Scientific American, feat. Kaitlin Raimi

As hurricanes slammed into Texas, then Florida, then Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands last summer, the White House said it wasn’t the right time to talk about climate change. Those types of questions politicized present disasters, officials said.

Months later, the Trump administration still hasn’t found a voice to discuss the impacts of rising temperatures. Now the omissions are seen by some observers as overtly political as the administration grapples with historic damages from extreme weather without mentioning greenhouse gases.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s strategic plan for 2018 through 2022 lacked the words “climate change,” “sea-level rise,” “extreme weather” or “global warming.”

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This skyscraper-sized air purifier is the world’s tallest

NBC News, feat. Ming Xu

It may look like just another giant smokestack, but a 200-foot tower in the central Chinese city of Xi’an was built to pull deadly pollutants from the air rather than add more. And preliminary research shows the tower — which some are calling the world’s largest air purifier — has cut air pollution significantly across a broad swath of the surrounding area.

Given those findings, the researchers behind the project say they hope to build an even taller air-purifying tower in Xi’an, and possibly in other cities around China.

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Computing power causes self-driving cars’ emissions to soar: study

Wheels Magazine, feat. Gregory Keoleian

The current crop of autonomous cars are bad for the environment, a recent study into the technology from the University of Michigan has found.

The study, carried out by the university’s Centre for Sustainable Systems found the added weight and aerodynamic drag created by autonomous cars were “significant contributors to their lifetime energy use and greenhouse gas emissions”.

However, trade that off against all the fuel savings that an autonomous cars are expected to make, and over their lifetime the energy use and greenhouse gas emissions improve by around nine percent over conventional cars, it says.

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Advancing a research agenda in solar energy and photonics for a sustainable future

255th American Chemical Society National Meeting & Exposition, feat. Suljo Linic

Solar energy and photonics promise the potential of harvesting the sun’s energy and manipulating light to sustainably fuel our world. This press conference will release the findings of the 2017 Chemical Sciences and Society Summit (CS3) on Solar Energy & Photonics. CS3 is a multilateral approach to understanding and proposing solutions to challenges in frontier chemistry topics. Delegations from China, Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom and the U.S. participate in the series.

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Wanted: A shortage of qualified automotive technicians has left service departments scrambling to find new talent

Car and Driver, feat. Bruce Belzowski

Even the most high-tech automobile is, at its core, a machine. And machines break sooner or later, sending most owners into a dealership or independent garage for service. But lately, and no pun intended, there’s a wrench in the works: a shortage of qualified mechanics. This comes just as the proliferation of electronic controls for the engine, suspension, steering, brakes, and nearly everything else has made already complicated motor vehicles even more so.

The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics says an average of 76,000 mechanics are needed each year between 2016 and 2026, both to replace those retiring or leaving the industry and to fill some 46,000 projected new openings. Employment in the field dropped by 10 percent during the Great Recession, bottoming out at 587,510 jobs in 2010.

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Self-driving Uber vehicle strikes and kills pedestrian

The Washington Post, feat. Carrie Morton

Uber abruptly halted testing of its autonomous vehicles across North America on Monday, after a 49-year old woman was struck and killed by one of its cars while crossing a Tempe, Ariz. street Sunday night.

The moratorium on testing includes San Francisco, Phoenix, Pittsburgh and Toronto. Sunday’s crash was believed to be the first fatality in any testing program involving autonomous vehicles.

The National Transportation Safety Board opened an investigation into the crash, NTSB spokesman Eric Weiss said.

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Op-Ed: What’s next? Time for Michigan to lead on climate change

The Michigan Daily, feat. Tyler Fitch

Just over three months ago, University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel announced his signing of the “We Are Still In” declaration, committing the University to supporting the Paris agreement and joining a nationwide group of leaders who are acting on climate change. To me, Schlissel’s action represented the latest of a long tradition of leading on the most pressing issues of the day, from the 1965 Teach-Ins to the first Earth Day. Acting on climate change is a pure distillation of the University’s mission: to “challenge the present and enrich the future.”

But facing up to the climate challenge entails more than signatures. It requires action. The University has committed itself to reducing its emissions by 25 percent by 2025, but fulfilling the ambitions of the Paris agreement to keep the world’s average temperature from warming more than 2 degrees Celsius means even deeper commitment.

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DTE’s $1B gas plant reaches full boil

E&E Energywire

DTE Energy Co. shared a Kumbaya moment with clean energy advocates in 2016 when utility CEO Gerry Anderson announced the Detroit-based company would shut down eight coal-fired units between 2020 and 2023 as part of a broader strategy to transition to cleaner energy sources.

But the next phase of DTE’s strategy — to replace most of the coal capacity with a $1 billion natural gas plant — has set off a bitter fight over the state’s energy future.

With the 1,100-megawatt plant, DTE aims to take advantage of cheap gas from the nearby Marcellus and Utica shale formations. But the proposal has met with resistance from environmental and renewable energy groups, which argue that DTE’s big bet on a natural gas future would mean wasting a chance to accelerate Michigan’s clean energy transformation. It’s one, they argue, that would bring cleaner air, more jobs and lower bills.

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Ypsi seeks to expand access to solar power through Department of Energy challenge

Concentrate Ann Arbor

Ypsilanti already produces an impressive 50 watts of solar power per capita, and it’s aiming to continue demonstrating national leadership as it vies for U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) funding to expand renewable energy in the city.

The city is participating in the SunShot Prize: Solar in Your Community Challenge, a $5 million DOE competition aiming to make solar electricity more accessible to low- and moderate-income households, as well as municipalities and nonprofit organizations. About 170 teams across the U.S. are participating in the challenge by installing photovoltaic (PV) systems that collectively produce between 25 and 5,000 kilowatts.

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In Michigan, a conservative clean energy playbook emerges

Midwest Energy News

Renewable energy is getting cheaper and more popular, even among Republican voters, and that makes now a better time than ever for conservative candidates to support clean energy policies.

That was the message at this week’s annual Michigan Conservative Energy Forum conference in Lansing, where Republicans rallied around renewable energy and free-market principles. The group formed in 2013 and has since spawned a 20-state coalition seeking a seat at the clean-energy table long dominated by liberal and environmental groups.

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The uneven gains of energy efficiency

Wired

On a rainy day in New Orleans, people file into a beige one-story building on Jefferson Davis Parkway to sign up for the Low-Income Heating and Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), a federal grant that helps people keep up with their utility bills. New Orleans has one of the highest energy burdens in the country, meaning that people must dedicate a large portion of their income to their monthly energy bills. This is due in part to it being one of the least energy-efficient cities in the country.

For many city residents, these bills eat up 20 percent of the money they take in, and the weight of the burden can be measured in the length of the line.

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Your electric vehicle is getting cleaner

Greentech Media

The average electric vehicle is now as clean as a conventional car that gets 80 miles per gallon, and produces far less emissions than any gasoline-only car available, according to a recent Union of Concerned Scientists analysis of Environmental Protection Agency data.

For comparison, many hybrids get around 40 miles per gallon.

Plug-in cars aren’t always the most environmentally friendly vehicle choice, depending on the location. EVs getting cleaner stems in part from efficiency gains, but mostly from a nationwide electricity mix increasingly infused with renewable power.

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Trump’s tariffs could squeeze U.S. LNG ambitions in China

The Houston Chronicle

New tariffs on Chinese imports could make it harder for U.S. liquefied natural gas exporters to tap into China’s booming market and raise billions for the next generation of Gulf Coast LNG facilities.

If the Trump Administration follows through on plans to impose tariffs targeting roughly $60 billion in Chinese goods per year, the new trade policy could further complicate a complex relationship and add another layer of risk that could scare off investors already jittery about doing business with China.

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Climate science on trial as high-profile US case takes on fossil fuel industry

The Guardian

The science of climate change was on trial Wednesday when leading experts testified about the threats of global warming in a US court while a fossil fuel industry lawyer fighting a high-profile lawsuit sought to deflect blame for rising sea levels.

The hearing was part of a courtroom showdown between liberal California cities and powerful oil corporations, including Chevron, ExxonMobil, Shell and BP. San Francisco and Oakland have sued the world’s biggest fossil fuel companies, arguing that they are responsible for damages related to global warming.

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One-fifth of Americans are responsible for half the country’s food-based emissions

Popular Science

There’s no such thing as a truly average American. With more than 300 million people, it’s impossible for one person to perfectly embody the average or median for a set of variables, especially something as personal as what we eat. But usually when you hear about the U.S. diet, you’re hearing about the quintessential meat-eatin’ soda-guzzlin’ ‘Merican as a stand-in for us all.

Until recently, we had no idea how right or wrong that hypothetical average human’s diet might be. We knew that American diets varied a lot, just not how much or in what ways, exactly. That variability matters a lot to some people though—namely, it matters if you want to change how people eat.

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Scott Pruitt’s EPA is delaying, weakening and repealing air pollution rules

InsideClimate News

It is a seemingly pro-environment promise in an administration with almost none of them.

In speech after speech, Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, has vowed to double down on a pledge to improve America’s air and water. He’s promised to do so by working with states and following the “rule of law.”

“Let’s get back to the fundamentals of what we should be about as an agency,” he declared to supporters at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference.

Pruitt has repeated the promise even as the EPA has been leading a unprecedented unraveling of not just climate regulation, but of the agency’s basic clean air and water mandates. Under Pruitt, the EPA has ignored or denied pleas from several states to address ground-level ozone, or smog, a pollutant at the core of the agency’s work since its inception 48 years ago.

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