Energy in the News: Friday, April 7

Friday, April 07, 2017

Diversity dividends: The economic value of grassland species for carbon storage

University of Michigan News, feat. Brad Cardinale

A collaboration of scientists has developed one of the first models to assign a dollar value to the loss or gain of species in an ecosystem. The new work offers an economic argument for preserving biodiversity.

The findings were published April 5 in Science Advances. The lead author of the paper is Bruce Hungate of Northern Arizona University. University of Michigan ecologist Bradley Cardinale is a co-author.

"It's long been thought that biodiversity is valuable, but it's been hard to quantify that value in monetary terms," said Hungate, director of NAU's Center for Ecosystem Science and Society. "We tackled this by blending models of ecology and economics to make explicit, quantitative estimates about the value of species richness for carbon storage, one of the many ways species in nature provide value to people."

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Coal mining jobs are being replaced by clean energy

Time, feat. Mark Barteau

It was a cloudy February afternoon in Charleston, W.Va., but the mood inside the city’s civic center was downright celebratory. As bow-tied waiters mixed drinks and manned a buffet of shrimp cocktail and roasted meat, the hundreds of members and guests at the annual meeting of the West Virginia Coal Association mingled with a lightness that would have been unthinkable just a year before.

After years of steady decline, the price of a key type of coal used to make steel doubled in 2016, largely due to a spike in demand from China. This led some mines to hire more workers and prevented others from laying off workers. Meanwhile, the state elected Jim Justice, a billionaire coal baron, as governor, and the nation installed Donald Trump as President. Both men wooed West Virginia voters with the promise of more mining jobs and fewer regulations. For an industry in need of a boost, it might as well have been jet fuel. “For the first time in a long time, there’s hope and optimism,” West Virginia Representative Evan Jenkins told the civic center crowd. “Everyone knows it. Every­one can feel it.”

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Kota to receive 2017 Distinguished University Innovator Award

University of Michigan Engineering, feat. Sridhar Kota

A professor whose engineering design approach led to a revolutionary, shape-changing aircraft wing will receive U-M’s Distinguished University Innovator Award for 2017.

Sridhar Kota, who is the Herrick Professor of Engineering and a professor of mechanical engineering, will be honored at 4 p.m. May 15 at Stamps Auditorium in the Walgreen Drama Center. After receiving the award, Kota will deliver a lecture titled "The Long Road to Technology Commercialization: Getting There is Half the Fun."

Established in 2007, the Distinguished University Innovator Award honors faculty members who have made important and lasting contributions to society by developing novel ideas and insights through their research, and then translating them to practice.

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Renovated nuclear reactor building opens as world-class labs

University of Michigan Engineering, feat. Ron Gilgenbach

More than a decade after the Ford Nuclear Reactor shut down for the last time, the building comes back to life today as the Nuclear Engineering Laboratory.

Inside it, researchers in the nation's top-ranked nuclear engineering program will focus on advancing nuclear security, nonproliferation, safety, and energy. The equipment that the new lab will house includes a high-resolution system for imaging coolant flow in reactors in unprecedented detail, and an accelerator that will be used in development of faster, more accurate ways to identify nuclear materials.

“This new Nuclear Engineering Laboratory building is the culmination of some seven years of planning, design and construction,” said Ronald Gilgenbach, the Chihiro Kikuchi Collegiate Professor and chair of the Department of Nuclear Engineering and Radiological Sciences.

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Where the energy storage industry is happening now

E&E EnergyWire, Featuring the Energy Institute Battery Lab

While Tesla's Gigafactory in Nevada grabs the headlines, there are arguably more kilowatts of lithium-ion batteries now being produced on the shore of Lake Michigan. The cluster spans the southern part of the state and centers on the auto industry.

"There's an interest in staying cutting-edge and figuring out how to keep the jobs here," said Liesl Clark, president of the Michigan Energy Innovation Business Council.

To the east, the university town of Ann Arbor is a center for research, development and small-scale manufacturing. That's where the University of Michigan keeps its Battery Lab, a $10 million test facility that mimics industrial production. It's fully booked, with 75 percent of its customers being Michigan businesses.

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EPA cuts threaten to 'shut down' vehicle lab

E&E ClimateWire

U.S. EPA is considering making the auto industry pay to ensure that cars and trucks comply with vehicle emissions standards.

The move is aimed at replacing federal money that could be eliminated as part of White House budget cuts. The Trump administration has proposed gutting federal funding for EPA's vehicle program and halving its staff before gradually but fully filling the $48 million shortfall with increased industry fees.

But automakers and equipment manufacturers, which already pay more than $18 million annually in fees, are expected to balk at the changes. Environmental groups say funding the program with industry money could compromise EPA's work. And former officials warned that the move could limit the agency's enforcement of vehicle emissions rules.

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Former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz on coal, climate, innovation and his successor


Since he left office in January, former energy Secretary Ernest Moniz has seen significant change in Washington, and more specifically, to the policies he helped initiate.

Last week there was an executive order to dismantle former President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, put into place to reduce carbon emissions. The Trump administration is also reviewing fuel standards and rules governing methane emissions from oil and gas wells.

Moniz joins Here & Now's Robin Young to discuss the Department of Energy and his successor, Rick Perry.


Large-scale energy storage is the (virtual) power plant of the future

Fast Company

When utilities worry about meeting energy demand, they normally build more power plants and distribution networks. But when New York City’s utility, Con Edison, projected a power shortfall in the Brooklyn-Queens network back in 2014, it decided to take another tack.

Con Ed organized an auction for “demand response capacity” and awarded contracts to a variety of energy storage and efficiency startups. It reasoned that, if it could cut the amount of power high-users were taking off at certain times of the day, it could reduce the need to build out the network. Grids are typically designed with massive inefficiencies.

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Blue states sue Trump over delay of energy-efficiency rules

Bloomberg Politics

Ten states led by Democrats and a handful of national environmental groups sued President Donald Trump’s administration, claiming it’s violating federal law by delaying energy-efficiency standards intended to save Americans almost $24 billion.

Six rules for ceiling fans, walk-in coolers and other consumer products that are being blocked have been projected to slash emissions of carbon dioxide by 292 million tons, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said Monday in a statement.

The rules created under former President Barack Obama’s administration were to go into effect on March 20, but they were delayed until Sept. 30 without explanation. The delay is one of numerous steps the Trump administration has taken to reverse Obama’s environmental legacy.

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Analysis: Just four years left of the 1.5C carbon budget

Carbon Brief

Four years of current emissions would be enough to blow what’s left of the carbon budget for a good chance of keeping global temperature rise to 1.5C.

That’s the conclusion of analysis by Carbon Brief, which brings the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) carbon budgets up to date to include global CO2 emissions in 2016.

Our infographic above shows how quickly the budgets for 1.5C, 2C and 3C will be used up if emissions continue at the current rate. For 1.5C, this could be a soon as four years’ time.

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Trump declares end to 'war on coal,' but utilities aren't listening


When President Donald Trump signed an executive order last week to sweep away Obama-era climate change regulations, he said it would end America's "war on coal", usher in a new era of energy production and put miners back to work.

But the biggest consumers of U.S. coal - power generating companies - remain unconvinced.

Reuters surveyed 32 utilities with operations in the 26 states that sued former President Barack Obama's administration to block its Clean Power Plan, the main target of Trump's executive order. The bulk of them have no plans to alter their multi-billion dollar, years-long shift away from coal, suggesting demand for the fuel will keep falling despite Trump's efforts

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Coal plants near retirement age as EPA reviews emissions rules

Morning Consult

The 26 states suing over the Obama administration’s greenhouse gas-cutting Clean Power Plan may essentially get their wish, as President Donald Trump directed the Environmental Protection Agency to review the rule last week.

But the likely rollback of the plan might not make a big difference for these states, many of which were already on track to shift away from coal-fired electricity. Instead, opponents say they are more concerned about further emissions cuts  if the U.S. keeps the promises it made in the Paris climate agreement.

The Clean Power Plan set an ambitious goal of cutting 32 percent of greenhouse gas emissions between 2005 and 2030, primarily by shifting from coal to cleaner fuels like natural gas and renewable energy. But many states are retiring coal plants, regardless of the rule.

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Coal-fired power plants linked to low birth weights in downwind communities


A new study on the birthweight of babies born in areas downwind of a coal-fired power plant has reached a troubling conclusion: Babies in the study area were 50 percent more likely to have low birth weight than their counterparts in non-affected areas.

“Really, this is a big effect,” study author Muzhe Yang, an associate professor of economics at Lehigh University, said in a statement.

The study covered 52,000 full-term births between 2004 and 2010 in four New Jersey counties that are immediately downwind of Pennsylvania’s now-shuttered Portland Generating Station. The plant was already identified by the Environmental Protection Agency as the “sole reason” the area has sulfur dioxide levels that exceed EPA standards. The plant closed in 2014.

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