Axios: A power primer for the Trump era

by Amy Harder

Electricity, the thing we all use but don’t really notice, has unexpectedly become a hot topic under President Trump.

Why it matters: His administration is mulling bailouts for coal and nuclear power plants in a questionable attempt to strengthen the electricity grid. Meanwhile, this winter’s cold snaps drove up New England’s power bills and Puerto Rico is still grappling with one of the world’s worst power outages. Here’s a primer + glossary to help light the way.

Energy vs. electricity

They’re not the same thing. Energy is the type of resource used to make electricity. Once they’re in the power lines, electrons are the same regardless of whether they came from wind turbines or coal plants.

America’s electricity resource mix is increasingly diverse: Natural gas and coal are each about 30%, nuclear power 20%, and renewable energy makes up most of the rest.

The electricity grid

This is a catch-all phrase describing America’s electricity infrastructure, most visibly through the power lines you see along the road.

The grid isn’t monolithic. Several, mostly separate, power grids exist across the country. Within each grid, there are different types of markets. Some are set up in an auction-based system where electricity sources compete, and others are not.

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CCAC: World Health Organization releases new global air pollution data

9 out of 10 people worldwide breathe polluted air, but more countries are taking action

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Neutron Bytes: DOE Awards $60M for Advanced Nuclear Energy R&D; France Ink Nuclear Collaboration with US

  • The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has selected 13 projects to receive approximately $60 million in federal funding for cost-shared research and development for advanced nuclear technologies.
  • These awards are the first under DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy’s U.S. Industry Opportunities for Advanced Nuclear Technology Developmentfunding opportunity announcement (FOA)
  • Subsequent quarterly application review and selection processes will be conducted over the next five years.
  • DOE intends to apply up to $40 million of additional FY 2018 funding to the next two quarterly award cycles for innovative proposals under this FOA.

The selected awards underscore the importance of the private-public partnerships engaged in by U.S. companies in order to share expertise needed to successfully develop innovative nuclear technologies.

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Guardian: New satellite to spot planet-warming industrial methane leaks

Multimillion dollar project will scan and make public methane leaks from oil and gas plants that are a major contributor to global warming

Methane leaking from oil and gas facilities around the world – a major contributor to global warming – is set to be spotted from space.

The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) has announced it aims to launch a satellite called MethaneSAT by 2021 to scan the globe and make major leaks public. That information will then enable governments to force action, EDF hopes. Building and launching the satellite will cost tens of millions of dollars, but EDF says it has already raised most of the money.

Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, 80 times more powerful than carbon dioxide in the short term, and is responsible for about a fifth of human-caused climate change. The oil and gas industry is to blame for about a third of anthropogenic methane emissions, from fracking and other exploration sites, and from leaky pipelines. Read more

Popular Science: Air pollution might be the new lead

Scientists now think it might put young brains at risk.

Sometimes air pollution is easy to see. It billows off the top of smoke stacks, and out the tailpipes of cars zooming down the highway. Misty smog hangs in the air in cities like Delhi, Beijing, and Los Angeles, fracturing sunlight into a muted haze.

Most of the time, though, dirty air just looks like air. About 92 percent of the world’s population, and more than half the people in the United States, live in areas with unhealthy air quality. The World Health Organization calls air pollution the world’s “largest single environmental health risk,” and it leads to the premature deaths of millions annually. It’s a major public health problem for reasons you might expect: breathing in dirty air isn’t good for your lungs, and the the connection between the lungs and the cardiovascular system means it puts pressure on your heart, too.

But it’s increasingly clear that the effects of air pollution aren’t constrained to body parts below the shoulders—they can hurt the brain in a whole host of ways, many of which researchers are still trying to understand. One major area of interest? The way exposure to polluted air can affect the cognitive development of babies and children. Researchers aren’t shocked to find that an environmental toxin could harm young brains, because they’ve seen it happen before.

“To me, air pollution is kind of the next lead, in a way,” says Deborah Cory-Slechta, a professor of environmental medicine at the University of Rochester.
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HBS Op-Ed: Why Private Investors Must Fund ‘New Nuclear’ Power Right Now

by Joseph Lassiter

In June 2016, I gave a TED Talk called We Need Nuclear Power to Solve Climate Change. The talk discussed the world’s realistic options for reducing fossil CO2 emissions soon enough to contain climate change’s more severe effects. To my surprise, that talk has now been viewed more than 1.1 million times.

I have learned a lot from the many, many conversations that have emerged around the talk. Some of these conversations have made me hopeful, but most have made me realize how far we must go to meet society’s urgent need for both more energy and a cleaner environment. Solving either of these problems without solving the other may be a costly outcome, but it is not an informed choice. The world must have much better, low-cost, zero-carbon emission alternatives to meet the world’s urgent need for on-demand, around-the-clock power. And those alternatives need to be available now. Read more

NY Times: Greenhouse Gas Emissions Rose Last Year. Here Are the Top 5 Reasons.

by Brad Plumer

WASHINGTON — If the world wants to avoid drastic global warming this century, we’ll need to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions sharply in the years ahead.

For now, however, we’re still moving in the opposite direction: Carbon dioxide emissions from the use of coal, oil and natural gas increased 1.4 percent globally in 2017 after holding steady for the previous three years, the International Energy Agency reported on Thursday. That’s the equivalent of adding 170 million new cars to the road worldwide.

The energy agency, which called the findings “a strong warning for global efforts to combat climate change,” detailed several big reasons CO₂ emissions are increasing again. Here’s a look at the main ones:

Emissions are rising fastest in Asia

Roughly two-thirds of last year’s emissions increase came from Asia, where fast-growing countries like China, India and Indonesia continue to rely heavily on fossil fuels as they lift themselves out of poverty.

China, which is responsible for one-quarter of the world’s industrial greenhouse gases, saw its emissions rise 1.7 percent in 2017, fueled by rapid economic growth and an increase in oil and natural gas use. The rest of developing Asia, including India and Indonesia, saw their overall emissions increase 3 percent.

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Nikkei: Bill Gates and China spur development of next-generation reactors

BEIJING — The Chinese city of Cangzhou is known for its long tradition of martial arts mastery. If Bill Gates has his way, it will also be known as the birthplace of the nuclear power plant of the future.

TerraPower, a U.S. nuclear-reactor design company chaired by the Microsoft co-founder, is looking to build a new model called a traveling-wave reactor, or TWR, with state-owned China National Nuclear Corp.

The two entities set up a joint venture in November, answering Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s call for “breakthroughs through collective wisdom and international cooperation.”

Li said he hoped that a combination of advanced technology from the U.S. and “China’s rich talent resources” could make it happen.

Gates said the new nuclear technology is of great importance for the future development of energy and technology, ensuring a clean, safe and reliable energy supply.

“We are willing to turn common visions into reality with an open attitude,” he said at his November meeting with Li.

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The Verge: Katsuko Saruhashi turned radioactive fallout into a scientific legacy

Today’s Google Doodle celebrates Japanese geochemist Katsuko Saruhashi, whose research helped reveal the insidious spread of radioactive fallout from the US nuclear testing ground in the Pacific. If she were still alive, today would have been her 98th birthday.

In 1957, Saruhashi became the first woman to receive a PhD in chemistry in Japan. Her work focused on measuring the molecules in seawater, like carbon dioxide, oxygen, and also radioactive molecules like cesium-137. Just 12 years before she received her PhD, the United States dropped atomic bombs that devastated the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the US continued to unleash a torrent of radioactive fallout in the Pacific as it tested bigger and bigger bombs. By 1958, the US had exploded 67 nuclear devices around the Marshall Islands — leaving a long legacy of contamination behind.

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BRC Deal Tracker: Corporate Renewable Deals 2013-2018

The Business Renewables Center actively tracks new corporate renewable energy contracts as they are are announced. The chart below shows our analysis of all the public transactions during the past 6 years.