News & Events


Energy in the News: Friday, November 10

China signs on to Alaska gas pipeline, but it’s far from set

The New York Times, feat. Mark Barteau

The latest push in a decades-long effort to commercialize vast stores of Alaska’s natural gas got a boost when the state announced a deal with three Chinese companies. But the $43 billion project is far from reality.

The agreement advances a project to move gas through a pipeline to the Alaska coast, where it would be liquefied and shipped to China and other points in Asia. U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping looked on as Alaska’s governor and representatives from the companies signed the deal Thursday in Beijing.

But the fanfare does not ensure one shovelful of tundra gets overturned. Similar efforts to build a natural gas pipeline have fizzled repeatedly.

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Environmental worry rises as concerns about energy costs 

U-M Energy Survey, feat. John DeCicco

Over the past year, the degree of concern that American consumers express about the effect of energy on the environment has increased even as their concern about what they have to pay for energy has decreased. That’s the clear picture that emerges in the latest data from the University of Michigan Energy Survey, which has tracked U.S. consumers’ concerns about the affordability, reliability and environmental impact of energy over the past four years.

As seen in this chart, 65 percent of survey respondents say that they personally worry at least a fair amount about how energy use affects the environment. That’s roughly 20 percentage points higher than the number who express that degree of concern about the affordability of energy. (See our questionnaire for the exact questions asked and their sequence in the survey.) As it has since the start of the U-M Energy Survey, concern about energy reliability is much lower, with an average of 30 percent of respondents expressing at least a fair amount of concern about whether they will reliably have electricity, heat or fuel.

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Experts ponder why administration released tough climate report

Eos, feat, Rosina Bierbaum

Rosina Bierbaum, acting OSTP director in 2001 during the George W. Bush administration, told Eos that “the political leadership at OSTP made it clear to the USGCRP early on in the Trump Administration that they were aware of the problems the Bush Administration had run into over censored climate science, and had no interest in interfering with the science.”

Bierbaum, professor and former dean of the University of Michigan’s School for Environment and Sustainability, called the report “impeccably reviewed” and said that Shah’s statement about the report is “disingenuous” and “obfuscates the fact that uncertainty about future emissions will dominate the long-term climate outcomes.” Bierbaum highlighted report language that states that “most of the difference between present and future climates will be determined by choices that society makes today and over the next few decades.”

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The best and worst countries for emissions from electric cars

Quartz, feat. Michael Sivak

Not all electrons are created equal. Electric cars need electricity to recharge. Batteries can draw their charge from clean hydroelectric dams, wind turbines, and solar panels, as well as coal, oil, and gas power plants. As a result, the indirect emissions from electric vehicles (EV) vary wildly from country to country.

To rank nations, researchers at the University of Michigan calculated emissions from EVs by analyzing the power grids in 141 countries (pdf) with data from the Union of Concerned Scientists and the International Energy Agency. To do this, they estimated the equivalent greenhouse gasses EVs emit per mile based on their national power grid. The more fossil fuels on the grid, the higher the emissions (MPGghg).

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Out of the Cold War’s shadow

The Michigan Engineer News Center, feat. John Lee and Sara Pozzi

“My God, what have we done?”

These words echoed in the mind of Enola Gay co-pilot Robert Lewis after watching a radioactive ball of fire swallow Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 in the first attack of the Atomic Age. Tens of thousands of people were killed instantaneously. Burns, radiation sickness and other injuries brought the death toll to around 200,000. It was the world’s first look at a terrifying weapon that is still both coveted and abhorred.

The attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki set off a worldwide race to produce nuclear bombs. The mushroom cloud of a successful test sent a message to other countries: you mess with us, we’ll annihilate you. The international community tried to put on the brakes, but the past 70 years have seen more countries gradually arming themselves. In the heat of the Cold War, nuclear warheads piled up to a global peak close to 60,000.

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Full tilt: When 100% of cars are autonomous

The New York Times, feat. MCity

Street signage is the iconography of the automobile age. It’s like highly functional pop art: silhouettes of schoolchildren, white arrows, rectangular cries of WRONG WAY and, most central of all, the ubiquitous stoplight. The traffic light might be the first part of that iconographic world to be transformed, or vanish altogether, once we are fully in the age of autonomous cars. Robots, after all, won’t need signs to optimize the way they move through urban landscapes.

Urban-transportation experts have been busily creating computer simulations to show how this might work. In one model, each crossroads would have an “intersection manager,” a computer that senses the approaching traffic and uses wireless communication to talk to the oncoming cars. When each self-driving car is perhaps 300 yards away, it sends a request to the intersection manager — to turn right, say, or to move on through. The intersection manager then does an on-the-fly calculation to route that vehicle most efficiently, like an omnipotent and tireless traffic cop.

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The future of wind farms

Utility Dive, feat. U-M Center for Sustainable Studies

For those who don’t see them every day, there’s nothing quite like the sight of wind turbines.

At a distance, they seem to spring out of the earth as pale, 200-plus-foot-tall stems with rotating, petal-like blades more than 100 feet long.

This view is not available to most Americans on a day-to-day basis. Wind farms, a collection of turbines, tend to be located in relatively remote areas in locales with reliable winds at speeds sufficient enough to move the blades.

Through the third quarter of 2017, there were approximately 84,944 megawatts of installed wind capacity in the U.S., with another 29,634 megawatts in development, according to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA). During the last decade, wind energy has seen $143 billion of investment and, through the end of 2016, created more than 100,000 jobs.

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Ann Arbor seeks input on proposed solar energy system ordinance


The city has scheduled a series of public meetings to gather input on a proposed ordinance that would regulate the installment of ground-mounted solar panels in people’s yards.

City council completed a first reading of the proposed ordinance at a meeting on Oct. 16, and the council decided then to table the issue until January 2018 to allow for more time for public input.

Three public meetings will run from 7 to 8:30 p.m. on the following days:

  • Thursday, Nov. 16 at the Ann Arbor Senior Center main activity room, 1320 Baldwin Ave., Ann Arbor.
  • Tuesday, Nov. 28 at the Ann Arbor District Library Westgate Branch, 2503 Jackson Ave., Ann Arbor.
  • Thursday, Nov. 30 at Clague Middle School media center, 2616 Nixon Road, Ann Arbor.

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As solar booms in Michigan, townships tackle land use questions

Midwest Energy News

With the declining costs of solar energy and Michigan’s increased renewable portfolio standard, small townships throughout the state are confronting challenging land-use questions amid the increase in large-scale solar proposals.

Reactions have varied from blocking utility-scale solar projects until local zoning rules are adopted to accommodating developers as they amass land for projects that require hundreds of acres.

But in most of these cases, there were no local regulations permitting large-scale solar projects when developers came. Local planners are now revisiting their zoning rules and figuring out where large-scale solar projects could be located. It is similar to the way communities first responded to wind development here roughly 10 years ago, though solar brings a unique set of land-use questions.

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DuPont to sell cellulosic ethanol plant in blow to biofuel


DuPont Industrial Biosciences, a unit of DowDuPont Inc, on Thursday said it halted operations at a two-year-old ethanol plant and will sell it, dealing another blow to efforts to create biofuels without using food crops.

The decision to shut the Iowa plant comes as political winds are undercutting efforts to produce ethanol from plant waste and wood shavings. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) this year has pushed to lower the amount of cellulosic biofuels that need to be blended into the nation’s fuels under a 2007 mandate, arguing the industry has not produced enough.

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Tesla sparks fresh cash concerns after Model 3 rollout stumbles


Tesla Inc.’s delay in getting mass production going is increasing the likelihood that Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk will need to turn to Wall Street for more capital.

With battery bottlenecks holding up output of the cheaper new Model 3 sedan, Tesla may need more funds in 2018. While Musk has brought in more than $3 billion this year from equity, convertible bond and debt offerings, his electric-car maker has burned through about $2.6 billion in cash during just the last two quarters.

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How the House tax bill would impact wind, solar, electric vehicles and utilities

Greentech Media

House Republicans unveiled a massive tax reform bill last week. While it wasn’t as damaging to renewables as many feared, the changes still pose a threat.

Wind and electric vehicles stand to lose the most. Lawmakers are looking to slash tax credits for wind by more than a third and eliminate the $7,500 federal credit for electric-vehicle purchases. The Senate is crafting its own version of the bill, however, so many of the proposals in the House version may never become law.

“This bill is going to get written in the Senate, because a lot of this stuff is not going to survive,” said Greg Jenner, a tax attorney at Stoel Rives who works with renewable energy companies. “The sad thing is, it creates uncertainty in the marketplace — just the fact that this proposal is out there.”

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Republican’s tax reform bill is dimming the dream of electric cars for everyone


The proposed GOP tax bill is out. And so, it appears, are tax credits that have buoyed the nascent electric vehicle market.

Although less than 1% of the 17.5 million cars sold in the US each year are fully electric, that’s changing fast. Volkswagen, Volvo, and GM have announced they will go all-electric the coming decade. Countries from the UK to Germany have committed to phasing out fossil fuel-powered passenger vehicles.

As Republicans consider the biggest tax reform bill in a generation, support for the electric vehicle (EV) may be one of the first things to go. Automakers can now offer customers as much as $7,500 in tax credits for electric vehicles (the credit starts at $25,00 and increases with battery capacity). The tax credit phases out as manufacturers reach capacity of 200,000 EVs per company.

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The rise of renewables creates uncertainty in U.S. power markets

Greentech Media

Renewables have grown powerful enough to alter the workings of power markets, which will in turn affect the future growth of wind and solar.

This unprecedented collision course creates uncertainty for the markets, but also opportunity, according to the combined insights of GTM Research, Wood Mackenzie and MAKE Consulting. The key will be thinking through the unintended consequences of the wind and solar acceleration and adjusting behavior accordingly.

Wind already beats coal and combined cycle gas plants on levelized cost of energy. That number is expected to drop another 12.7 percent over the next five years, while solar costs sink 31.5 percent.

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