News & Events


Energy in the News: Friday, May 25

Bendable concrete, with a design inspired by seashells, can make US infrastructure safer and more durable

The Conversation, feat. Victor Li

Spring construction season is underway, and many tons of concrete will be used in the coming months. Unfortunately, concrete is a brittle material: Placed under stress, it cannot bend very far before it fractures. Some pavements that are being poured now will crack within a few years and require expensive repairs. New concrete will be mixed, and the cycle will start again.

But a better solution is in view. My laboratory at the University of Michigan, along with many other laboratories around the world, has shown it is possible to make concrete more ductile – that is, bendable without fracturing. Bendable concrete makes infrastructure safer, extends its service life and reduces maintenance costs and resource use.

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Why aren’t automakers connecting better with green-minded consumers?

Automotive News, feat. John DeCicco

A longtime friend of mine, let’s call her Jen, is a children’s book illustrator and genuine tree-hugger. She has a farmette in the foothills back East and likes to hike and ski, with her two dogs along for the ride. Her personal values are as green as they get. But a Prius doesn’t work for her, let alone anything that plugs in. So what did she buy a couple of years ago when it was time for a new car? A Jeep Cherokee. She didn’t really cross-shop. “I need a Jeep,” was what it came down to in Jen’s mind.

She realized it burned more gas than she’d like to burn in an ideal world. She compartmentalizes her eco-ethics as far as car buying is concerned. So when considering her choices she just focused on the usual options and price.

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Energy-efficient light bulbs harder to find, more expensive in high-poverty neighborhoods

Greentech Media, feat. Tony Reames

One of the easiest ways for a household to save energy and money is to install energy-efficient light bulbs in as many sockets as possible. But, according to a new University of Michigan study, the low-income households that benefit most from these savings have a harder time finding CFL and LED bulbs than do households in more affluent neighborhoods. They pay more money for them, too.

For the study, a team led by Tony Reames, assistant professor at the School for Environment and Sustainability and director of the Urban Energy Justice Lab, canvassed 130 stores across Wayne County, Michigan, which encompasses Detroit and surrounding suburbs. Graduate students Michael Reiner and M. Ben Stacey conducted much of the on-the-ground data collection.

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What are these ‘levels’ of autonomous vehicles?

The Conversation, feat. Huei Peng

As automated and autonomous vehicles become more common on U.S. roads, it’s worth a look at what these machines can – and can’t – do. At the University of Michigan’s Mcity, where I serve as director, we’re working to advance connected and automated vehicle technologies, to make cars safer, save energy, and make transportation more accessible to more people.

In 2014, the professional society SAE International, originally founded as the Society of Automotive Engineers, described six levels of autonomous vehicles, which it updated in 2016. Also in 2016, the U.S. Department of Transportation used that description as part of its official policy on automated vehicles on U.S. roads. What are those levels?

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The Green Room: Can automated vehicles drive an energy-saving future?

WEMU, feat. Greg Keoleian and Mcity

Driverless technology is here!  Two fully-automated, 11-passenger, all-electric shuttles manufactured by French firm NAVYA will soon begin transporting University of Michigan students, faculty, and staff on a non-stop two-mile route between the Lurie Engineering Center and the North Campus Research Complex. As it grows, this paradigm-shifting technology promises to change our world in many ways.  In the May edition of 89.1 WEMU’s ‘The Green Room,’ we examine its potential to help, or hurt, in our challenge to reign in the energy costs and emissions of our transportation sector.


In a warming West, the Rio Grande is drying up

The New York Times, feat. Jonathan Overpeck

Mario Rosales, who farms 365 acres along the Rio Grande, knows the river is in bad shape this year. It has already dried to a dusty ribbon of sand in some parts, and most of the water that does flow is diverted to irrigate crops, including Mr. Rosales’s fields of wheat, oats, alfalfa and New Mexico’s beloved chiles.

Because last winter’s mountain snowpack was the second-lowest on record, even that irrigation water may run out at the end of July, three months earlier than usual. But Mr. Rosales isn’t worried. He is sure that the summer thunderstorms, known here as the monsoon, will come.

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For additional coverage on this topic:

Minnesota’s renewable energy revolution, Minnesota Public Radio, Listen

Ask a Scientist: How to make talking about science personal

High Country News, feat. Jonathan Overpeck

The consensus is clear: Human-caused climate change is real, and it’s already altering ecosystems — and the human communities they support — across the West.

Yet the Trump administration has marginalized the science of climate change, including by scrubbing references to human-caused climate change from reports and websites, appointing administration officials who deny its existence, and prohibiting some federal scientists from presenting on climate change.

In response, Westerners are demanding that climate change be taken seriously. Scientists have joined in, by marching, podcasting, writing and more. High Country News spoke with climate scientist Jonathan “Peck” Overpeck, a renowned researcher who is also passionate about public engagement.

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Michigan Agency for Energy sees jump in summer gas prices

WXYZ Detroit, ABC

This summer, Michigan drivers will pay more at the pump for a gallon of gasoline, but they’re still expected to use more of the motor fuel for the sixth year in a row, according to an appraisal by the Michigan Agency for Energy.

Demand for other forms of energy are also expected to increase, with electricity up 1.5 percent, natural gas expected to jump 8 percent and diesel fuel to rise 2.6 percent.

Nationally, gas prices are expected to be 20 percent higher this year than they were in 2017, with motorists paying an average of $2.90 per gallon through the April-September summer driving season, according to the federal Energy Information Administration.

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Michigan deal shows trend of ballot measures to boost renewable generation

S&P Global Platts

A recent agreement by two Michigan power companies to increase renewables by 2030 is part of a broader trend of using ballot initiatives to boost renewable development, but time will tell the impact of the deal, according to observers following the issue.

“Friday’s announcement may appear outwardly positive for renewable power buildout, but we caution that the announced details do not include penalties for noncompliance,” said Timothy Fox, vice president and research analyst at ClearView Energy Partners.

Consumers Energy and DTE Energy on Friday announced that they aim to get 50% of their energy from clean sources by 2030, through a combination of energy efficiency and renewable energy. In exchange for the plan, a ballot campaign called Clean Energy, Healthy Michigan agreed to pull a ballot initiative that would have required at least 30% of electricity sales to come from renewables by 2030.

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EV charging could significantly reduce storage needs, DOE lab finds

Utility Dive

Utilities increasingly see electric vehicles as a grid resource they want to encourage. But EIA’s data reminds us that, so far, little progress has been made in widespread adoption.

The share of “electrified vehicles,” including hybrid electric vehicles, plug-in hybrid electrics and battery electric vehicles, as a portion of total light-duty vehicle sales has remained relatively constant over the last five years — typically somewhere between 2.5% and 4%, according to the agency.

But changes are occurring. Hybrid electrics (think: Prius) made up most of those sales from 2012 to 2017, but their share has been declining as interest has grown in battery electric vehicles. Since 2012, battery-only electric vehicles have grown the most as a portion of light-duty sales, but still accounted for less than 1% each year. So while they may be viable grid resources some day, there is still work to be done.

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Electric buses are all the rage. Here’s why

E&E Climatewire

If you’re looking for an example of an electric vehicle going mainstream, look to buses, not cars.

The share of new transit buses that are electric has already surpassed the share of cars, and it is set to keep going up. Bloomberg New Energy Finance forecasts that electric buses will make up 84 percent of municipal bus sales globally by 2030, according to a report released yesterday.

By contrast, the BNEF analysts — who are generally considered to be on the optimistic side of the spectrum for EV forecasts — expect 28 percent of passenger car sales to be electric by 2030.

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Does 112% growth in 2017 mean community solar has finally solved its complexity problem?

Utility Dive

Utilities like big solar projects that they can own, and consumers like rooftop solar that they can own, but there is a third kind of solar emerging that may finally be ready to work for both utilities and consumers.

Community solar projects are interconnected with utilities’ distribution systems in ways that give utilities the same control they get with larger projects. But they are owned or leased by individual customers like rooftop solar. And they are big enough to get economies of scale that make them more affordable than rooftop solar.

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Small nuclear passes a milestone – but does it have a future?

U.S. News

Computers once filled rooms. Satellites are going miniature. And now the nuclear power industry is betting its future on going small.

Even as cheap natural gas and falling prices for solar, wind and battery storage have all but killed the prospects for expensive new nuclear power projects in much of the developed world – and especially the U.S. – a handful of companies is plunging ahead in an effort to design a small modular reactor promised to offer flexible, carbon-free electricity at a competitive price.

Earlier this month, NuScale Power, based in Oregon, passed a significant milestone, completing Phase 1 review from U.S. regulators for the design of its nearly $3 billion small modular reactor – an early but crucial step in the development of small nuclear technology

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