News & Events


Energy in the News: Friday, November 16

Congratulations to EECS Assistant Professor Johanna Mathieu, who has received a $2.8 million ARPA-E award for her proposal, “Overcoming the technical challenges of coordinating distributed load resources at scale.” Team members are Pecan Street Inc., Los Alamos National Laboratory, and University of California at Berkeley. The goal of the project is the development of network-aware, communication-constrained, non-disruptive electric load control strategies that improve the ability of the grid to integrate renewable energy resources. See the full list of OPEN 2018 ARPA-E awardees here.

Through December 31, 2018 the Erb Institute will be soliciting applications for two post-doctoral fellow appointments.

This week’s Energy Economics Weekly Briefing by Ellen Hughes-Cromwick: Highlights from the Energy Institute’s TE3 Conference

The Battery Lab is booking 2019 time; talk to Greg Less to learn more.

After EPA rollback, a compromise on car standards could be in sight
Axios, by John DeCicco
Last April, the Trump administration set the stage for a legal battle with California by nullifying the Obama administration’s clean-car regulatory plan. Instead of requiring new vehicles to score an average of nearly 50 miles per gallon on lab tests by 2025, standards would flatline after 2020.
What’s new: Formal public reaction to this plan was due on Oct. 26, and the comments show that none of the major stakeholders supports the administration’s proposal. While the prospect of a compromise long looked slim, it now appears that the makings of a deal might be on the table.
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$1.6M funds solar cell windows, high-temperature solar power
The Daily Record, featuring Stephen Forrest
Electricity-generating windows and high-temperature solar power are the aims of two new University of Michigan projects, funded with a total of $1.6 million from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Energy Technologies Office.
Solar cell windows are supported with $1.3 million. Many building windows have a coating to reduce glare and unwanted heating, discarding 50 to 70 percent of the available energy. Instead of coating the windows, the researchers are developing flexible, clear solar cell sheets that would capture that energy instead.
“There’s a lot of surface area on buildings that is sun facing,” said Stephen Forrest, the Peter A. Franken Distinguished University Professor and leader of the photovoltaic window project. “Why not use this to generate electricity?”
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Issues Of The Environment: ‘Pee-Cycling’ To Create A Sustainable Source Of Fertilizer
WEMU, featuring Nancy Love
Searching for new sources of natural fertilizer is an ongoing process, and a University of Michigan research project is exploring use of an unending source.  In this week’s “Issues of the Environment,” WEMU’s David Fair talks with U-M professor of civil and environmental engineering Dr. Nancy Love about the Urine Diversion Research Project.

Blue Wave in Midwest Could Resurrect Climate Compact
Scientific American and E&E News, featuring Barry Rabe
What can a group of new state executives do together to solve one of the most complex environmental challenges of our time? And is there a chance of reviving the Midwestern greenhouse gas reduction plan?
“It’s really way too early to know whether that’s going to take form, but you can begin to see the contours and the outlines,” said Barry Rabe, a professor, author and climate policy expert at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan.
At the outset, Rabe said, Midwestern governors could pledge “some kind of new commitment to accelerate the energy transition,” including through greater reliance on renewable energy resources like wind and solar that don’t necessarily adhere to state boundaries.
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Climate change is getting too big and divisive to solve
Axios, featuring Barry Rabe
America’s divisive politics and the sheer math of cutting heat-trapping emissions indicate the world’s prospect of substantively tackling climate change is getting out of reach.
Why it matters: We often talk about this issue as though big solutions are coming sooner or later. But in fact, it’s a big “if,” not “when,” America and the world will do anything close to what scientists say is needed to avoid the worst impacts of a warmer world.
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How do wildfires start? All it takes is a spark
USA Today, featuring Jonathan Overpeck
All it takes is a spark.
Deadly wildfires such as the ones raging in California this week can begin with something as simple as a downed power line, a flat tire or a tossed cigarette butt.
That spark, combined with tinder-dry forests and howling winds, can be all that’s needed for a catastrophic wildfire to start. Once a fire ignites, the combination of heat, oxygen and fuel (trees, brush, etc.) can cause it to explode in size.
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Scientists: Wind, drought worsen fires, not bad management
Associated Press, featuring Jonathan Overpeck
The dean of the University of Michigan’s environmental school, Jonathan Overpeck, said Western fires are getting bigger and more severe. He said it “is much less due to bad management and is instead the result of our baking of our forests, woodlands and grasslands with ever-worsening climate change.”
Wildfires have become more devastating because of the extreme weather swings from global warming, fire scientists said. The average number of U.S. acres burned by wildfires has doubled over the level from 30 years ago.
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This article was also featured on NBC News.

Also featuring Jonathan Overpeck: Ivanka Trump’s Response To The California Wildfires Is So Different Than Her Dad’s

Weekly podcast: how to measure business outcomes and impacts, and capacity building to eliminate modern slavery
Innovation Forum, featuring Joe Arvai
Ian Welsh and Joe Arvai, professor of sustainability, and faculty director at the Erb Institute, University of Michigan, discuss how companies can measure impact and drive business benefits. Plus: good news for Adidas, and not for Starbucks, in the latest CHRB benchmark; why Iceland can’t show its palm oil Christmas ad, and are asset managers going to save the forests?
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PG&E could face financial trouble if utility is found responsible for California’s worst wildfire
LA Times
In a grim sign for the Northern California utility giant, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. said Wednesday that if it is deemed responsible for the fire that destroyed much of Paradise, the liability would exceed its insurance coverage.
The cause of California’s most destructive and deadliest wildfire has not yet been determined. But PG&E said a transmission line in the area went offline 15 minutes before the fire was first reported, and the company found a damaged transmission tower near where investigators said the fire began. Investigations are underway on the cause of the Camp fire, which has destroyed more than 10,300 structures and killed at least 56 people.
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Environmentalists Warm to Nuclear Amid Climate Change Threat
US News and World Report
Environmental groups are easing their opposition to nuclear power after decades of dire warnings and protests, conceding that – despite its shortcomings – the clean energy it produces is a key component in holding at bay the more urgent threat of climate change.
The Union of Concerned Scientists last week announced that it was “taking a hard look at nuclear power plant closures,” declaring that the “sobering realities” of climate change “dictate that we keep an open mind about all of the tools in the emissions reduction toolbox – even ones that are not our personal favorites.”
The announcement wasn’t exactly a change in policy for the union – it hasn’t explicitly opposed nuclear energy – but it did represent a significant shift for an organization that has regularly warned of the dangers of nuclear energy and in news stories was often cast in the role of cautionary voice.
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Storage will replace 3 California gas plants as PG&E nabs approval for world’s largest batteries
Approval of PG&E’s landmark energy storage solicitation is the most significant example to date of batteries taking the place of fossil fuel generation on the power grid.
Energy storage has helped decrease the California’s reliance on gas for years, particularly since 2016, when regulators ordered accelerated battery procurements to counteract the closure of a natural gas storage facility outside Los Angeles.
The PG&E projects, however, are the first time a utility and its regulators have sought to directly replace multiple major power plants with battery storage.
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Michigan utilities have a $7 billion plan to modernize state’s power grid
Midwest Energy News
Michigan’s two largest utilities plan to spend $7.2 billion over the next five years to improve electric reliability while preparing for more electric vehicles and distributed generation.
Clean energy groups, however, have raised concerns about the cost-effectiveness of the proposed plans and the extent to which DTE Energy and Consumers Energy are truly preparing a grid of the future instead of just updating old equipment.
The Michigan Public Service Commission required five-year grid modernization plans from Consumers and DTE based on the companies’ anticipated spending on increasingly out-of-date distribution assets. While upgrading equipment and tree-trimming are among the utilities’ top priorities, regulators also want to see a roadmap that accounts for more advanced grid interaction.
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