Energy in the News: Friday, July 14

Friday, July 14, 2017

A crony cartel is running the corn crop

Houston Chronicle, feat. John DeCicco

The Environmental Protection Agency has reduced the mandate for renewable fuels, but subsidies for ethanol, the worst crony capitalism program in the country, will continue.

The announcement last week by President Donald Trump's EPA director, Scott Pruitt, reveals the difficulty in draining the Washington swamp. Republican politicians in the Midwest must appease corn farmers, who have become addicted to billions of dollars in government subsidies.

Congress mandated that U.S. refiners blend gasoline with renewable fuels in 2005, when oil prices were high and U.S. production was low. Battery-powered cars seemed like science fiction then, and phone apps for summoning rides were still on the drawing board.

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City driving spikes, rural driving falls as opportunity shifts

USA Today, feat. Michael Sivak

The divide between urban and rural America in widening in another area that has nothing to do with politics: driving.

U.S. city driving has spiked since 2000, while rural driving has declined in a sudden turnabout that cannot be explained by population trends, according to a University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute study released Tuesday.

The trend may show how economic activity is increasingly concentrated in urban areas, leaving rural communities with fewer opportunities.

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Michigan’s new motor city: Ann Arbor as a driverless-car hub

The New York Times, feat MCity

As the world looks ahead to a future of interconnected, self-driving cars, this college town 40 miles west of Detroit has emerged as a one-of-a-kind, living laboratory for the technologies that will pave the way.

Here, it is not uncommon to see self-driving Ford Fusions or Lexus sedans winding their way through downtown streets and busy intersections, occupied by engineers with eyes focused more on laptops and test equipment than the roadway.

Soon students and staff members at the University of Michigan will be able to get around the engineering campus on fully automated, driverless shuttle buses provided by a French company drawn to Ann Arbor by the university’s autonomous-car test track, known as MCity.

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2017’s most & least energy-expensive states

WalletHub, feat. Max Shtein and EAB member Howard Learner

Get ready to crank up your air conditioner — and utility budget. July tends to be the hottest month of the year. So if your heat-averse body forces you to be more consumptive than conservative, this month’s higher-than-usual power bill could burn a hole through your wallet.

In the U.S., energy costs eat between 5 and 22 percent of families’ total after-tax income, with the poorest Americans, or 25 million households, paying the highest of that range. And lower energy prices don’t necessarily equate to savings. Where we live and how much energy we use are a big part of the equation. For instance, although electricity is relatively cheaper in Southern Louisiana, its scorching summer heat raises costs for residents compared with the temperate climate in more energy-expensive Northern California, where heating and cooling units stay idle most of the year.

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Top U.S. solar car team goes small to win big in 2017

University of Michigan News, feat. Rachel Goldman and Neil Dasgupta

The sun-powered vehicle that the University of Michigan's top-ranked Solar Car Team will race in a global contest this fall is the smallest and most aerodynamic that any U-M team has ever built.

The long, skinny, single-fairing car is named Novum—Latin for "new thing."

For a week in October, a 17-member race crew will guide it across the Australian Outback in the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge. Top collegiate teams from around the globe compete in the 1,800-mile event, which takes place every other year.

The students unveiled Novum July 7 at the Michigan Theater. Measuring just over one meter across, it's roughly 40 percent narrower than the team's last vehicle, Aurum. Simulations show that it's around 20 percent more efficient. Beyond its design, the manufacturing process and solar technology behind this 14th-generation car are also unique compared with its predecessors.

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Can we stop climate change?

Calgary Today with Angela Kokott, feat. Richard Rood

Richard Rood, Professor of Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering, University of Michigan, asks a very good question AND has the research to back it up. If we stopped emitting greenhouse gases right now, would we stop climate change?

Listen

Electricity investment overtakes oil, gas for first time ever in 2016 -IEA

Reuters

Investments in electricity surpassed those in oil and gas for the first time ever in 2016 on a spending splurge on renewable energy and power grids as the fall in crude prices led to deep cuts, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said on Tuesday.

Total energy investment fell for the second straight year by 12 percent to $1.7 trillion compared with 2015, the IEA said. Oil and gas investments plunged 26 percent to $650 billion, down by over a quarter in 2016, and electricity generation slipped 5 percent.

"This decline (in energy investment) is attributed to two reasons," IEA chief economist Laszlo Varro told journalists.

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Minn.: A Midwest leader for energy storage

E&E ClimateWire

Minnesota could become a state leader when it comes to storing renewable energies like wind and solar power.

Efforts to pair solar power with energy storage technology could push the state to the forefront of renewable energy technology while helping to achieve tough greenhouse gas reduction goals more quickly and at lower costs, according to a new study.

The report, titled "Modernizing Minnesota's Grid: An Economic Analysis of Energy Storage Opportunities," comes from the University of Minnesota's Energy Transition Lab, a public-private research collaborative, with assistance from Strategen Consulting of Berkeley, Calif., and grid modeling firm Vibrant Clean Energy LLC of Colorado.

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'Steel for fuel': Xcel CEO Ben Fowke on his utility's move to a renewable-centric grid

Utility Dive

Even for veterans of the power sector, the pace of the energy transformation can astound.

“If I were talking to you 10 years ago, I don't think I'd be telling you that I think solar is competing with fossil,” said Ben Fowke, CEO of Xcel Energy. “I wouldn't tell you that wind is beating fossil. I am telling you that now.”

Fowke’s utility company serves more than 3 million electricity customers across eight states from Michigan to New Mexico. Last week, Minnesota regulators approved a portion of Xcel’s wind energy expansion in the upper Midwest — a total investment of 1.55 GW of wind that also includes Iowa and the Dakotas.

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Lawmakers scramble to advance credit for ailing industry

E&E News

Senators continue searching for a way to extend a key nuclear production tax credit as the clock ticks for utilities to decide whether to continue or abandon construction on delayed and expensive reactors at two plants in the South.

Under current law, nuclear reactors can only receive the production tax credit if they become active by Dec. 31, 2020. The House passed a bill last month to extend that deadline, allowing reactors put into service after 2021 to take advantage (E&E Daily, June 21).

But Senate backers of the same language have yet to pass it and are exploring options ranging from advancing a stand-alone bill, which is still stuck in committee, to tacking a rider to must-pass legislation.

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New York bucks national trend to curb net metering

Habitat

Utilities are successfully lobbying other state legislatures to dim solar energy.

As New York City co-ops and condominiums – and commercial buildings – continue to embrace solar energy, there are heartening and disheartening trends on the renewable-energy front.

First the good news. In New York, state-supported solar power has boomed by 800 percent over the past five years, according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo. In New York City, buoyed by incentives, tax credits and falling costs, the number of solar installations has soared from 1,037 to 9,700 since the beginning of 2013 – and there are more than 2,000 new projects in the pipeline. Nationwide, solar and wind energy accounted for a total of 10 percent of the electricity generated in March, the first time these renewable, non-polluting sources reached double digits, according to a new report by the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

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Renewable energy set to expand in bellwether Midwest market

E&E EnergyWire

Illinois' sweeping energy bill took effect last month, setting the stage for a significant expansion of solar and wind energy in the state. Now comes the hard part — putting legislative language into action.

The Future Energy Jobs Act is perhaps best known for a controversial provision that will provide up to $235 million a year in subsidies for Exelon Corp. nuclear plants (Energywire, Dec. 2, 2016). But the measure also paves the way for investments in energy efficiency and is expected to lead to development of 3,000 megawatts of new solar generation and 1,300 MW of new wind farms over the next 13 years.

A snapshot of the Illinois renewable energy market and the outlook for expansion under the new law were the focus of a policy meeting hosted by the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) yesterday.

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Fusion energy unlikely before 2050

E&E EnergyWire

A consortium of European laboratories and universities has predicted that fusion reactors won't start generating electricity before 2050.

In a revised energy "road map," the European Consortium for the Development of Fusion Energy (EUROfusion) said a demonstration fusion power plant called DEMO won't start running until "early in the second half of the century."

The original version of the "road map," published in 2012, forecast that DEMO could be fully operational by the 2040s and could supply electricity to the grid by 2050.

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