News & Events


Energy in the News: Friday, October 26

On October 23, two U-M faculty were named as part of the awardee class in the DOE’s $53 million solar technology advancement award. Andrej Lenert’s project, “Robust and Spectrally-Selective Aerogels for Solar Receivers”, was awarded $260,000, and Stephen Forrest received $1.3 million for “Semi-Transparent, Reliable and Efficient Scalable Organic Solar Cells for Building Integrated Applications.” Learn more about the awards and access the full list here.

Congratulations to Tony Reames, who was named as a JPB Environmental Health Fellow at Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health. JPB EH Fellows are engaged in rigorous interdisciplinary research on the social and physical determinants of environmental health disparities in vulnerable communities.

Energy Institute Director Anna Stefanopoulou received a surprise visit from Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office Andrei Iancu this week, who presented her with Patent U.S. 10,074,996, for “state of charge” improvement device for electric vehicles. See a great photo here.

Earlier this month, U-M Mechanical Engineers were represented in force at ASME. Check out a summary of U-M talks and awards here.

Upcoming event: Next Thursday (11/1) at 10:30 am in CSRB 2424, CLASP will be hosting Parke Wilde from Tufts University. Wilde is one of the founders of the effort to reduce academia’s carbon footprint.

Know someone who’s looking? Academic energy job listings:
Assistant Professor, Associate Professor, or Professor, U-M Civil and Environmental Engineering
Assistant Professor of Economics, Michigan State University

It’s the economics: Red states embracing wind energy don’t do it for the climate
The Conversation, by Sarah Mills
The federal government has never played a leading role in restricting the carbon footprint of the nation’s power plants. But now that the Trump administration is trying to dismantle many energy regulations, that national role is even smaller.

Many states have been trying to fill this vacuum for years with cap-and-trade systems, renewable energy mandates and other efforts to discourage the use of fossil fuels and encourage the deployment of renewable energy like wind and solar power. These policies have mainly taken hold along the East and West Coasts, where Democrats command a majority of the vote and concern about global warming is highest.

Yet as someone who researches these policies and incentives, I’m constantly reminded that renewable energy is on the rise in not just Democratic strongholds and the “purple” states where leadership is bipartisan. It’s booming in some of the nation’s most conservative bastions.
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How the U.S. Can Rebuild Its Capacity to Innovate
Harvard Business Review, by Sridhar Kota
Many U.S. firms have long had a simple mantra: “Invent here, manufacture there.” But, increasingly, those same companies are now choosing to invent as well as manufacture abroad. From automotive to semiconductors to pharma to clean energy, America’s innovation centers have shifted east, offering growing evidence that the U.S. has lost what Harvard Business School’s Willy Shih calls the “industrial commons”: indispensable production skills and capabilities. It’s not just that virtually all consumer electronics are designed and made overseas. It’s that the U.S. has lost the underlying capacity to make products like flat-panel displays, cell phones, and laptops; nearly half of the foreign R&D centers established in China now belong to U.S.-based companies.
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Rising insurance costs may convince Americans that climate change risks are real
Salon, by Andrew Hoffman
One of the great challenges of tackling climate change is making it real for people without a scientific background. That’s because the threat it poses can be so hard to see or feel.

In the wake of Hurricanes Florence and Michael, for example, one may be compelled to ask, “Was that climate change?” Many politicians and activists have indeed claimed that recent powerful storms are a result of climate change, yet it’s a tough sell.

What those who want to communicate climate risks need to do is rephrase the question around probabilities, not direct cause and effect. And for that, insurance is the proverbial “canary in the coal mine,” sensitive to the trends of climate change impacts and the costly risks they impose.

In other words, where scientists and educators have had limited success in convincing the public and politicians of the urgency of climate change, insurance companies may step into the breach.
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Andrew Hoffman is also interviewed in this Fashion article about the use of the word “sustainable”.

The economics—and politics—of carbon pricing
Brookings, by Barry Rabe
The selection of William Nordhaus as co-recipient of the Nobel Prize for Economics raises anew the question of whether a compelling public policy idea generated within an academic discipline can survive and endure in the real world of politics. Nordhaus has long led a sizable and diverse chorus of economists, contending that the only plausible path toward climate protection would entail a market-based strategy.  This would involve placing a price on carbon emissions from the use of coal, oil, and natural gas.

Either a carbon tax or cap-and-trade system could fit the bill.  Ideally, such policies would set clear price signals over an extended time period, discouraging fossil fuel use and accelerating the search for more climate-friendly energy alternatives.   Furthermore, they would foster this transition with the least possible economic disruption. The idea is both elegant and intriguing. It was propelled by a number of early experiments, ranging from a quintet of Nordic countries adopting carbon taxes to the heralded U.S. experience with cap-and-trade to cut sulfur dioxide emissions.
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From Axios, also featuring Barry Rabe:
In Washington state, a test of progressive climate policy

The Global CO2 Initiative: A Research-Based Approach to a New Climate Economy
The MacArthur Foundation Perspectives blog, featuring the Global CO2 Initiative
A few years ago, the University of Michigan Energy Institute started noticing that researchers across campus were expressing interest in a newer kind of climate change approach—work focused on reversing climate change by restoring balance to the carbon cycle. NASA defines the carbon cycle as “the process by which carbon moves between the atmosphere, land, and the ocean in a cycle sets the thermostat for Earth’s climate.”

Two things stood out to us:
This work was startling in its range. University of Michigan (U-M) researchers were considering active approaches to carbon cycle balance in laboratories, in manufacturing processes, in forests, and in consumer perception and behavior.
This work was born of real passion from our faculty. For many, it represented a new research direction or a disruptive way of applying their existing expertise.
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Young People Are Suing the Trump Administration Over Climate Change. She’s Their Lawyer.
The New York Times, featuring David Uhlmann
Julia Olson climbed the slope of Spencer Butte, taking the steeper of the two paths. Near the summit, shrouding pines suddenly gave way to a vista of the Cascades. On this day, summer wildfires, their season lengthened by climate change, put a haze in the sky.

The climb and return, which she can power through in an hour, is a head-clearing ritual for Ms. Olson, an environmental attorney. It is also a place to compose the soaring language of opening and closing arguments. “I do my legal thinking here,” she said.

If all goes as planned, Ms. Olson will deliver her opening argument on Monday in a landmark federal lawsuit against the Trump administration on behalf of 21 plaintiffs, ages 11 to 22, who are demanding that the government fight climate change. It is a case that could test whether the judicial branch has major role to play in dealing with global warming, and whether there is a constitutional right to a stable and safe climate.
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Scientists push for a crash program to scrub carbon from the air
The New York Times
With time running out to avoid dangerous global warming, the nation’s leading scientific body on Wednesday urged the federal government to begin a research program focused on developing technologies that can remove vast quantities of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere in order to help slow climate change.

The 369-page report, written by a panel of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, underscores an important shift. For decades, experts said that nations could prevent large temperature increases mainly by reducing reliance on fossil fuels and moving to cleaner sources like solar, wind and nuclear power.
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Central Power Plant project moves ahead, expected to reduce emissions
The University Record
Plans are moving forward for the expansion at the University of Michigan’s Central Power Plant to make room for new equipment that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions significantly on campus.

A 12,000-square-foot addition to the power plant is being built to house a 15-megawatt combustion turbine that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by an estimated 80,000 metric tons per year, lowering emission levels approximately halfway toward the university’s 2025 sustainability goal.

The Board of Regents approved the schematic design and construction schedule for the project on Thursday during its monthly meeting. Regents approved the $80 million project and the appointment of Black & Veatch as the architectural firm in March.
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A Midwest Energy Transition Will Help Drive Future U.S. Emissions Reductions
Scientific American
America’s greenhouse gas emissions are declining, in large part thanks to the transformations taking place in communities like this one on the Ontario-Michigan border.

Coal freighters arriving from the Great Lakes have long plied the St. Clair River, which serves as the boundary between the U.S. and Canada here, feeding a pair of coal plants on the American side. The two plants, separated by 3 miles, help form the backbone of DTE Energy Co.’s generating fleet. They power the factories that churn out Fords and Chevrolets in Detroit, some 50 miles to the south.

Now the pair of plants are slated to close by 2031. Their replacement rises in a field between their towering smokestacks: the nearly $1 billion Blue Water Energy Center, a 1.1-gigawatt combined-cycle natural gas plant that DTE officials say will be the most advanced in the state when it comes online in 2022.
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Big Oil looks to stop utilities’ charging investments
E&E News
State utility regulators across the Midwest are revving up their interest in electric vehicle charging infrastructure. And the petroleum industry and its allies are urging them to hit the brakes.

The American Petroleum Institute, American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, and Americans for Prosperity have all weighed in at utility commissions in Illinois, Iowa and Kansas in recent weeks with the same message: Neither ratepayers nor taxpayers should be called on to fund EV charging infrastructure.

The comments echo what they and other oil industry groups told a congressional subcommittee earlier this year during a hearing on electric vehicles.
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Taxes and caps on carbon work differently but calibrating them poses the same challenge
The Conversation
Virtually everything most people on earth do these days involves, either directly or indirectly, the combustion of oil, gas and coal. Burning these fossil fuels is generating carbon emissions, which accumulate in the atmosphere, contributing to global warming.

Since climate change could become catastrophic, economists argue that fossil fuel producers and companies that emit massive amounts of carbon should have to pay a fee or a tax. Economists also say that the people harmed by these emissions – basically, everyone – should be compensated for this harm.
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These huge new wind turbines are a marvel. They’re also the future.
The declining price of solar power gets more press, but there are big things happening in wind technology too. And I mean big.

The math on wind turbines is pretty simple: Bigger is better. Specifically, there are two ways to produce more power from the wind in a given area.

The first is with bigger rotors and blades to cover a wider area. That increases the capacity of the turbine, i.e., its total potential production. The second is to get the blades up higher into the atmosphere, where the wind blows more steadily. That increases the turbine’s “capacity factor,” i.e., the amount of power it actually produces relative to its total potential (or more colloquially: how often it runs).
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Self-driving cars will have to decide who should live and who should die. Here’s who humans would kill.
Washington Post
Imagine this scenario: the brakes fail on a self-driving car as it hurtles toward a busy crosswalk.

A homeless person and a criminal are crossing in front of the car. Two cats are in the opposing lane.

Should the car swerve to mow down the cats or plow into two people?
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Momentum Builds For Nuclear Power With Referendum Approved In Taiwan And “Pride Fest” in Germany
Hours after pro-nuclear activists from Europe and the United States rallied in Germany to protest that nation’s replacement of nuclear plants with fossil fuels, Taiwan’s electoral commission gave the green light to a November referendum on the future of nuclear power

“We are overjoyed,” said Taiwanese pro-nuclear leader, Shih-hsiu Huang. “If we win, we will immediately ask the government to finish construction of Lungmen [power plant], and allow the other three plants to resume normal operations.”

A victory in Taiwan to restart closed nuclear reactors would boost similar efforts in Japan, which is struggling to reopen nuclear plants in the face of continuing post-Fukushima fears, and in South Korea, whose anti-nuclear president has sought to reduce the nation’s use of the technology.
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