News & Events


Energy in the News: Friday, September 1

Harvey adds new urgency to climate change debate

The Hill, feat. Barry Rabe

Barry Rabe, an environmental policy professor at the University of Michigan’s Ford School of Public Policy, said past extreme weather events have not moved the needle much on the public’s perception of climate change.

“People are extremely confident, increasingly so, one way or the other on this. And it’s not clear that past singular weather disasters have had an enduring effect,” Rabe said, citing polling data from past disasters.

Harvey’s unprecedented power, rainfall and impact could buck the trend, Rabe said.

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When it comes to autonomous cars, Google is “Waymo” advanced than competition

IndustryWeek, feat. Huei Peng

For months now, Tesla Motors has grabbed headline after headline for its autonomous car technology. Guess that’s what happens when a company actually delivers early batches of a wildly anticipated model that will incorporate more autonomy than ever. Uber, too, has remained near the top of the conversation, though in large thanks to culture snafus and executive moves. And all the while, older automakers like Ford, Volvo and Fiat Chrysler have at least hung around, never out of sight or of mind.

And then Waymo jumped back in.

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Foxconn’s Wisconsin plant raises environmental worries

ABC News, feat. Peter Adriaens

Foxconn Technology Group is being enticed to come to Wisconsin with numerous regulatory waivers, raising concerns from environmentalists who are wary of the company’s reputation in China, where it has been accused of polluting rivers.

The Taiwan-based company best known for manufacturing Apple products insists that its new plant won’t damage the environment. Regulators say they’re simply streamlining the process for the company to set up shop, while still policing its activities.

But this being Foxconn’s first plant in the U.S., the assurances from the company and its supporters have done little to quell worries about the long-term impacts to wetlands and the state’s waterways. Foxconn would be producing liquid crystal display panels, or LCDs, for computers, televisions and other devices.

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Carbon pricing durability and the case of California

Brookings, feat. Barry Rabe

Even before Donald Trump crashed the climate policy stage, the implementation of the Paris climate accord represented a tall order for participating nations. Collectively endorsing carbon pricing as the preferred route to achieve pledged reductions is relatively easy. Much harder is navigating the politics upon returning home.

In the nearly two decades since the advent of the Kyoto Protocol, there have been any number of carbon pricing flops. Remember Congressional failure to adopt cap-and-trade legislation in 2009-2010 and Canadian rejection in 2008 of the Liberal Party’s Green Shift carbon tax proposal? Or the Australian Clean Energy Act or the Midwestern Greenhouse Gas Reduction Accord where the policy was launched but was rapidly reversed? State of Washington residents soundly rejected a carbon tax via ballot proposition on the same day Donald Trump was elected President. Even policies that operate for over a decade, such as the European Emissions Trading Scheme, can face prolonged struggles amid hopes that recent reforms improve performance.

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Here’s what you can do about climate change

WBUR, feat. Michael Sivak

Concern about climate change has risen sharply among Massachusetts voters in recent years.

A June WBUR poll found that 88 percent believe the world is getting warmer, up from 78 percent in 2015. And the belief that human activities are primarily responsible for the warming is up 11 points over that same time period.

So we know there’s rising concern, but we also know climate change is the kind of problem that isn’t great at motivating people to act. Researchers say climate change’s massive potential consequences make us susceptible to a condition known as “psychic numbing,” or apathy about problems that are large in scale.

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Outstanding young manufacturing engineers honored by SME for 2017

India West, feat. Neil Dasgupta

Dasgupta is an assistant professor in the University of Michigan’s Department of Mechanical Engineering. Prior to joining the University of Michigan in 2014, Dasgupta was a postdoctoral fellow at U.C. Berkeley. His research focuses on the intersection of nanotechnology, energy conversion and manufacturing. Specifically, Dasgupta’s goal is to develop scalable, low-cost techniques for the manufacturing and assembly of nanostructures to address complex, energy-related environmental challenges.

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Brian O’Neill: A severance tax on gas drilling in Pennsylvania is only fair

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, feat. Daniel Raimi

America’s Largest Full-Time State Legislature is famously tardy. We’re now a solid two months past the deadline for a balanced state budget and Pennsylvania is also the last big gas-producing state without a severance tax.

That’s just a coincidence. Even if we had a reasonable tax, it couldn’t balance the budget all by itself. But we should do it anyway because the rest of us are about to be asked to make serious sacrifices, and the drilling industry needs to do its share, too.

Anyone who doubts that this is the right course should read a recent blog post by a senior research associate for Resources for the Future. That’s a nonprofit think tank that’s been around 65 years and doesn’t advocate for any governmental policy or candidate. But after Daniel Raimi of RFI looked at the severance tax approved in July by the Pennsylvania Senate (and as yet unapproved by the House), he wrote this:

“Given the productivity of the Marcellus shale, it is hard to imagine drillers abandoning such a prolific resource en masse, particularly since many have sunk billions of dollars into acquiring leases, building office parks and training workers.”

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Ford teams with Domino’s on self-driving pizza delivery test


Ford Motor Co and Domino’s Pizza Inc in September will begin testing Michigan consumers’ reactions to having their pies delivered by self-driving vehicles, the companies said on Tuesday.

It will not be the first experiment with advanced pizza delivery technology. Australia-based Domino’s Pizza Enterprises, the Ann Arbor-based company’s largest independent franchisee, has tested delivery to customers in New Zealand via drone and self-driving robot.

In a blog post last week, Sherif Marakby, head of Ford’s autonomous and electric vehicles, signaled the automaker’s broader ambitions, saying Ford planned to cooperate “with multiple partners” in deploying self-driving vehicles “designed to improve the movement of people and goods.”

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The national debate unfolding over PURPA and solar power

Greentech Media

Later this month, Michigan’s public service commission will hold a final hearing that is expected to cement the state’s approach to PURPA. Though the details won’t be released until after the hearing, for solar stakeholders, the contrast with Montana could not be more stark.

“It’s the exact opposite,” said Smeloff, who has been active in both Montana and Michigan. “They are doing everything right. The proceeding was initiated by commission staff who saw the opportunity for solar development, because there is not a lot of it now.”

The commission process involved some back-and-forth between solar advocates and Michigan’s large utilities, Consumers Energy and DTE, about how to establish the avoided-cost rate, but the goal of using PURPA to spur more development was widely shared. Smeloff expects the ultimate result will provide independent solar developers of projects 2 megawatts and smaller the certainty they need to invest.

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Could states lure new businesses with renewable energy?

Yale Climate Connections

When companies decide where to open a new plant or office complex, they consider lots of factors, like tax incentives, regulations, the cost of living, and the available workforce. And now, some companies are weighing an additional factor: whether a location can help them go green.

Wheeler: “Close to half of the Fortune 500 companies have clean energy goals that they’ve put on the record already, and that’s been growing very quickly. So this is part of the language that everybody is speaking now.”

That’s Brian Wheeler, spokesperson for Consumers Energy, a Michigan utility. He says that when a company called Switch was looking to open a new data center in Michigan, one of the company’s priorities was to be powered entirely by clean energy.

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How an Illinois utility used wind, solar and storage to power a microgrid for 24 hours

Midwest Energy News

A Midwest utility has taken a critical step closer toward a distributed, decentralized power grid.

Ameren, in partnership with S&C Electric, a Chicago-based smart-grid engineering firm, successfully completed a 24-hour “islanding” test earlier this month at the utility’s newly built microgrid in Champaign, Illinois, using wind, solar and battery storage.

“Islanding” refers to a microgrid — itself a network of power generation and consumption — temporarily disconnecting itself from the broader, regional power grid. Many analysts believe the power grid of the future will consist of these kinds of localized, networked microgrids over the centralized “hub-and-spoke” model that has existed for over a century. The ability to island is seen as a core function of microgrids.

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Harvey’s energy impact


Hurricane Harvey has forced shut nearly a quarter of America’s fuel refining capacity, while paralyzing major petrochemicals ports, and hampering offshore crude oil production. It has also pushed global crude prices lower as the hard-hit Gulf Coast refiners slow their purchases of foreign and domestic cargoes, reducing demand from the world’s top oil consumer.

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States dare to think big on climate change

The New York Times

The one bright spot amid the generally gloomy news about climate change, and the Trump administration’s resistance to doing anything about it, is the determination of a number of state governments to take action on their own.

California, as usual, has commanded the headlines on this score, having just strengthened its commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Now the nine Northeastern states that form the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative have done much the same, in a further rebuke to the know-littles and do-nothings like Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, who are now calling the shots on climate policy in Washington.

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Science advisers punt yet again on biomass guidance

E&E News

The fight over a wonky but high-stakes report about how U.S. EPA accounts for biomass’s greenhouse gas emissions continues.

A panel of EPA’s science advisers convened yesterday in Arlington, Va., to hash out whether the members of the 47-member Science Advisory Board (SAB) could reach a consensus on a long-awaited report to offer regulators guidance about how to account for carbon emissions from the burning of bioenergy. Their task: to close the gap between diametrically different and strongly held views on how emissions from the burning of forest trimmings and agricultural waste products like manure and sugar cane should be measured.

Things got heated.

Some members of the advisory panel say the report, which has been in the works since 2011, should be scrapped, an “unprecedented” option.

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If nuclear is not in the future US energy mix, what will replace it?

Utility Dive

The decision to not go forward with the V.C. Summer nuclear plant because of cost overruns and construction delays shows the 1960s dream of “too cheap to meter” nuclear-generated electricity is more like a financial nightmare today.

Policy specialists say significant new nuclear generation is unlikely for a decade or more. Many also agree existing nuclear plants should not be replaced by natural gas plants. They split, though, on crucial questions about nuclear power’s future, such as whether existing plants should get subsidies like zero emission credits or be replaced, when they should be replaced, and what they should be replaced with.

A report from Mark Cooper, senior research fellow at the Vermont Law School Energy and Environment Institute, was part of the proceeding that led to the decision by SCANA Corp and Santee Cooper in South Carolina to stop work on the Summer facility.

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Amazon says it just flipped switch on N.J.’s largest rooftop solar array

Amazon on Tuesday unveiled what the company says is the largest rooftop solar panel energy system in New Jersey on the 30-acre roof of its Carteret warehouse.

The 22,000-solar-panel system will power the online retailer’s facility. The company said it is one of the largest rooftop solar panel systems in the country and generates enough electricity to power 600 homes.

Inside the facility, 3,000 employees work with 900 robots on a million-square-foot floor and a mezzanine to prepare and package products sold by Amazon.

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Duke Energy could double Florida solar power as it drops nuclear plans

Bloomberg BNA

Duke Energy could double Florida’s solar power as part of a deal with clean energy advocates and business groups.

The company would add up to 700 megawatts of solar power to Florida’s grid by 2021 and stop billing customers for a halted nuclear project under a plan filed with state utility regulators Aug. 29. The parties to the settlement are asking the Florida Public Service Commission to consider it for approval by December so it can take effect in January 2018.

If Duke builds the full 700 megawatts of solar, it would approximately double the current amount of solar power generation installed in Florida. Other utilities in the state are working on another 600 megawatts of new solar plants.

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Wind power costs could drop 50%. Solar PV could provide up to 50% of global power. Damn.


Solar and wind energy have been underestimated by analysts and politicians again and again and again. They have gotten cheaper and scaled up faster than even the most optimistic forecasts of a decade ago, or even a few years ago.

And there’s good evidence we’re still underestimating them. In fact, two new reports — one on solar, one on wind — make the point vividly. They argue that the radical trends of the last decade are going to continue, which is all that needs to happen for the energy system to tip over from disruption into revolution.

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Renewable energy generates enough power to run 70% of Australian homes

The Guardian

Australia’s renewable energy sector is within striking distance of matching national household power consumption, cranking out enough electricity to run 70% of homes last financial year, new figures show.

The first Australian Renewable Energy Index, produced by Green Energy Markets, finds the sector will generate enough power to run 90% of homes once wind and solar projects under construction in 2016-17 are completed.

The index, funded by GetUp through supporter donations, underlines the advance of renewables, despite Australia’s electricity markets still leaning heavily on carbon-emitting coal and gas-fired generation.

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