Author Archives: Megan Geuss

EPA docs don’t show any scientific evidence for Scott Pruitt’s climate claims

By | August 8, 2018

Enlarge / Scott Pruitt during his confirmation hearings. (credit: Aaron P. Bernstein / Getty Images)

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has not been able to offer any scientific evidence for statements made by the agency’s former Administrator Scott Pruitt when he went on CNBC in March 2017 and said that carbon dioxide was not known to be a major contributor to climate change.

During a live interview last year on Squawk Box, the administrator stated: “I would not agree that [carbon dioxide is] a primary contributor to the global warming that we see,” adding, “there’s a tremendous disagreement about the degree of the impact” of “human activity on the climate.”

Pruitt’s statements contradicted overwhelming scientific evidence as well as everything the EPA had published before he took office. In response, a group called Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) formally requested any scientific documentation that might have informed Pruitt’s opinion, given the gravity of the about-face.

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Report: Tesla’s latest production troubles are happening at its solar factory

By | August 8, 2018

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images)

Tesla has spent the last year battling issues with the company’s Model 3 production lines, but beyond that limelight another production issue seems to be lurking. Reuters reports that Tesla’s Buffalo, New York, factory, which is run in partnership with Panasonic, is experiencing severe assembly line issues, especially impacting Tesla’s ability to manufacture solar roof tiles.

Reuters’ information comes from eight current and former employees of both Panasonic and Tesla. According to those sources, the aesthetic qualities of the solar roof tiles are among the issues holding up production. Tesla has allegedly been using cells from JA Solar instead of cells from Panasonic, because the JA Solar cells have the preferred level of reflectivity. Panasonic, meanwhile, has been courting offers to sell its cells to other panel makers.

In a statement sent to Ars, Tesla said: “We are steadily ramping Solar Roof production at Gigafactory 2 in Buffalo and are also continuing to iterate on the product design and production process, learning from our early factory production and field installations.”

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Recuperating power: Charging a prototype Audi e-tron with kinetic energy

By | August 7, 2018

Enlarge / A full side view of Audi’s prototype e-tron SUV. (credit: Megan Geuss)

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo.—Last week, Audi invited a handful of journalists to go for a drive down Pike’s Peak, one of Colorado’s many mountain tops that rise more than 14,000 feet above sea level.

We rose before dawn and shuttled up the mountain to a frigid July sunrise overlooking the world. Waiting for us at the top were four all-electric prototype vehicles, camouflaged against unscrupulous photographers. They were new e-tron SUVs, outfitted for a European market but with aspirations of becoming Audi’s American answer to Tesla’s Model X. With 248.5 miles (400km) of range, a 95kWh battery, and dual-motor all-wheel drive, the car has the potential to be an electric all-terrain vehicle suitable for ski trips to Aspen.

As the sun inched its way up over Kansas, my fingers began to freeze. The 3:30am cup of coffee and the winding drive up the mountain and the thin, dry air all conspired to make me start feeling a bit sick. I hopped into one of these inscrutably decorated vehicles, hoping to take shelter from the high-altitude wind, and quickly noticed touch screens and paddle shifters and thin, not-yet-legal-in-America side-view cameras sticking out of the sides of the vehicle where mirrors ought to have been.

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Fuel economy standards kill people, Trump administration claims

By | August 2, 2018

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images)

On Thursday morning, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed freezing fuel economy standards for passenger vehicles at 2020 levels, erasing the gradual fuel economy increases that were signed into law by the Obama administration just before Trump took office.

Former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt deemed the fuel economy standards too high in April and opened a formal rule-making process to revise the standards. Rule-making takes time, and undoing a law requires studies, documentation, and public comment periods. After Pruitt, facing ever-growing spending scandals, resigned in July, Deputy Administrator Andrew Wheeler became acting administrator and took up the mantle of rolling back fuel-efficiency standards.

The proposed rule published today (PDF) was issued in cooperation with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which maintains a parallel set of fuel economy standards. The rule also challenges California’s authority to set fuel economy standards that are more aggressive than federal standards, setting up a legal battle between the Golden State and the federal government.

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Tesla posts bigger-than-expected loss, bigger-than-expected revenue

By | August 1, 2018
Tesla's Model 3 page in July 2018.

Tesla’s Model 3 page in July 2018.

Tesla expects to be “cashflow positive every quarter from here on out, absent paying down a big loan,” said Elon Musk on a financial call on Wednesday.

The CEO came to the call contrite, apologizing to analysts that he had snapped at on last quarter’s call and offering subdued analysis for the quarter ahead. “Sorry if I sound a little tired I’ve been working like crazy in the body shop lately,” Musk said.

Tesla published its Q2 2018 financial statement this afternoon, and it was a mixed bag for investors. The company lost more money than it was expected to lose, but Tesla has finally hit the promised 5,000 Model 3s per week number this quarter. As a result, Tesla is slightly up in after-hours trading.

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Time is running out for dieselgate Volkswagen owners to get their money

By | August 1, 2018

Enlarge / Volkswagen AG Turbocharged Direct Injection (TDI) vehicles sit parked in a storage lot at San Bernardino International Airport (SBD) at dusk in San Bernardino, California, on Wednesday, April 5, 2017. Volkswagen agreed last year to buy back about 500,000 diesels that it rigged to pass US emissions tests if it can’t figure out a way to fix them. In the meantime, the company is hauling them to storage lots, such as ones at an abandoned NFL stadium outside Detroit, the Port of Baltimore and a decommissioned Air Force base in California. Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images (credit: Getty Images)

If you own a diesel Volkswagen or Audi that was affected by the company’s 2015 diesel scandal, and if you haven’t submitted the proper paperwork to receive compensation, you only have one month left to do so.

Two years ago, Volkswagen proposed a settlement with a consumer’s class-action group: the automaker would put up more than $10 billion to fix or buy back roughly 475,000 diesel Volkswagens and Audis outfitted with illegal software. The software allowed the cars to pass emissions tests under pre-arranged testing conditions, but the cars suppressed the emissions control system while they were being driven on the road in the real world.

After news of the cheating was made public, the value of the affected vehicles dropped dramatically. Vehicle owners filed a class-action suit in district court, and VW Group proposed its settlement nearly a year later. Customers would have two years to file a claim for restitution. They also had a choice: allow VW Group to buy back their car at the value of the vehicle before the news of the cheating was made public, or allow VW Group to fix the vehicle to bring it into compliance with federal emissions rules. All owners and lessees would receive an additional cash payout as well.

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Engine maker Cummins to recall 500,000 trucks after failed emissions tests

By | August 1, 2018

Enlarge / UNITED STATES – AUGUST 27: Engine blocks are moved by a forklift operator before the assembly process at the Cummins Inc. engine plant in Walesboro, Indiana, Monday, Aug. 27, 2007. (Photo by Tom Strickland/Bloomberg via Getty Images) (credit: Getty Images)

On Tuesday, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) announced that its real-world driving tests had discovered higher-than-expected emissions levels from medium- and heavy-duty trucks with Cummins engines.

Cummins cooperated with CARB and already has ways to fix the vehicles to bring their engines’ emissions numbers back in line. But the company will voluntarily recall around 500,000 trucks produced between 2010 and 2015 in order to come back into compliance with federal emissions standards.

You’d be forgiven for thinking this sounds like Volkswagen’s 2015 diesel scandal. VW Group also had about 500,000 cars implicated in the US after a series of real-world tests found that its cars were producing emissions in excess of what Volkswagen reported to the Environmental Protection Agency.

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Californian, Hawaiian homeowners charging ahead on residential batteries

By | July 26, 2018

(credit: sonnen)

A new report from GTM Research and the Energy Storage Association (ESA) says that US homeowners added 36 megawatt-hours (MWh) worth of batteries to their residences in the first quarter of 2018. That’s more than the previous three quarters combined.

The gains were driven by local and state policies that actually reduced the value of standalone solar installations, the report said. Where once a California or Hawaii homeowner might have received significant compensation from the local utility for producing rooftop electricity, now those programs are being limited, so homeowners are turning to batteries to capture excess energy made during the day. In California, utilities are adopting so-called Time of Use pricing, so investing in a battery can help homes continue to run when prices are highest. Consequently, “California and Hawaii together constitute 74 percent of residential deployments on the quarter,” according to the ESA.

Outside of the residential sector, past policies have created the appearance of volatility in the energy storage industry. The market as a whole, including utility-grade storage and commercial storage (like batteries serving warehouses, for example), grew 26 percent quarter-over-quarter but declined 46 percent year-over-year in terms of megawatt-hour added in Q1 2018. This is largely due to the fact that California mandated that utilities build out significant amounts of energy storage in 2017, after the Aliso Canyon natural gas leak depleted the fuel that the state had stored.

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Coal company executive and lawyer convicted of bribing Alabama lawmaker

By | July 24, 2018

Enlarge / Coking coal. (credit: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

On Monday, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced the conviction of a coal company executive and a lawyer on charges related to bribing an Alabama state lawmaker.

The two men—David Roberson, vice president of Government and Regulatory Affairs for coal firm Drummond Company, and Joel Gilbert, a partner at law firm Balch & Bingham—paid Alabama State Representative Oliver Robinson $360,000 to oppose an environmental clean-up program near Robinson’s district.

In 2013, Drummond Company, a company that mines and processes coal, was alerted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that one of its subsidiaries could possibly be on the hook to help pay for the cleanup of an EPA-designated Superfund site north of Birmingham, Alabama. The site had tested positive for “elevated levels of arsenic, lead, and benzo(a)pyrene,” according to the Justice Department.

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Report: Trump admin has plan to end California’s emissions standards power

By | July 23, 2018

Enlarge / Car Exhaust With Two Tailpipes (credit: Getty Images)

The Trump administration will propose a plan to freeze emissions standards at 2020 levels while undercutting California’s legal waiver to set emissions standards that are stricter than those set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), according to three sources that Bloomberg spoke to.

The news of the Trump administration’s plan was leaked in late May, but Bloomberg spoke to people who had seen the plans recently. The proposed rollback of emissions standards is not expected to change substantially.

The Trump administration’s EPA has spent the past year and a half laying the groundwork to roll back emissions standards that were finalized by the Obama administration’s EPA during President Obama’s final month in office, although the rules had been years in the making. Obama’s plan would have required automakers to build cars that are increasingly more fuel efficient every few years until 2025.

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Student engineers build hyperloop test pods with commercial-class top speeds

By | July 23, 2018

Enlarge / All the action happened at this end of the 3/4 mile low-pressure test track. A pyramid and an obelisk of Boring Company bricks and EPFLoop’s pod cover can be seen beside it. (credit: Megan Geuss)

HAWTHORNE, CA—On a sweltering day in Southern California, 20 groups of student engineers gathered on a side street near the SpaceX headquarters to show off the Hyperloop pods that they had spent the better part of a year putting together.

The teams had spent the previous days showing SpaceX engineers their designs and testing them in vacuum chambers and on open-air tracks. The SpaceX engineers voted on their favorite teams, and the top three were awarded time on the three-quarter-mile low-pressure test track that SpaceX has built next to its headquarters. Delft University of Technology, École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPF), and WARR (a student group within Munich Technical University) were the three teams to win the coveted tube time.

WARR defended its two previous wins again: this time with an average speed of 284 miles per hour and a top speed of 290mph, according to SpaceX announcements during the competition.

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US considers tariffs on uranium imports

By | July 22, 2018

Enlarge / Rail trucks loaded with uranium ore wait for transportation at the uranium mine operated by Geam, a division of Diamo S.P. mining company, in Rozna, Czech Republic, on Monday, Dec. 13, 2010. Photographer: Vladimir Weiss/Bloomberg via Getty Images (credit: Getty Images)

This week, the US Department of Commerce opened an investigation into the nature of uranium imports, ostensibly with an eye to imposing tariffs on ore and other uranium products.

Uranium is used in the production of nuclear energy, and currently only five percent of uranium used in the US nuclear energy industry comes from the US. The remaining 95 percent is imported from a variety of countries, with Canada leading, followed by Australia, Russia, and Kazakhstan.

The investigation announcement invokes Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act, which allows the federal government to assess imports on the basis of national security. Section 232 has been seldom used since it was signed by President John F. Kennedy in 1962, but it was used most recently this March by the Trump administration to levy tariffs on steel and aluminum.

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Judge dismisses New York City climate lawsuit against oil companies

By | July 20, 2018

Enlarge / A home at the corner of B 72nd Street and Bayfield Avenue is surrounded by marsh in Averne on the Rockaway peninsula in the Queens borough of New York, U.S., on Friday, Oct. 10, 2014. Photographer: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg via Getty Images (credit: Getty Images)

On Thursday, a US District judge dismissed a lawsuit from the City of New York against major oil companies BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil, and Shell. New York City had alleged that the oil majors created a nuisance by actively promoting oil use for decades, even after they were presented with significant and reliable information showing that catastrophic effects from climate change would result. The judge didn’t dispute the effects of climate change, but he did dispute (PDF) that courts exercising state law could remedy the situation.

In the January complaint, NYC demanded that the oil majors pay for the costs of adapting to climate change, like expanding wastewater storages areas, building new pumping facilities to prevent flooding, and installing new infrastructure to weather storms. The city stated that the oil companies named in the suit were responsible for more than 11 percent of carbon and methane emissions that had built up in the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution, more than all other individual industrial contributors.

The oil companies didn’t dispute that, and neither did the judge. As early as the mid-1980’s, the judge’s opinion states, “Exxon and other major oil and gas companies, including Mobil and Shell, took actions to protect their own business assets from the impacts of climate change, including raising the decks of offshore platforms, protecting pipelines from coastal erosion, and designing helipads, pipelines, and roads in the warming Arctic.”

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Rooftop solar could save utilities $100 to $120 per installed kilowatt

By | July 18, 2018

(credit: Lawrence Berkeley Labs)

When you install rooftop solar panels, the electricity you create cuts into the amount of electricity the utility must provide to meet your needs. Add up the reduced demand of all the homes with solar panels, and you’ve got a pretty sizable amount of electricity that’s no longer needed.

Researchers from Carnegie Mellon and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) quantified that reduced demand and found that solar panels installed between 2013 and 2015 in California saved utilities from having to purchase between $650 million and $730 million dollars’ worth of electricity. Those avoided purchases create slack in demand, pushing wholesale prices lower.

Lower wholesale prices “should ultimately reduce consumers’ costs through lower retail rates,” the researchers write (although whether and how those savings get passed on to retail customers is not discussed in the paper).

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An experiment in people-moving: Transit agency buys electric double-decker bus

By | July 12, 2018

Enlarge / This electric double-decker bus from Alexander Dennis and Proterra will be put into service with Foothills Transit by 2019. (credit: Alexander Dennis)

On Thursday, a Los Angeles county transit agency purchased the first all-electric double-decker bus in North America. The bus will be made with batteries from electric bus designer Proterra, and the carriage of the bus will be designed by Alexander Dennis, the company that supplies double-decker buses in London, Hong Kong, Auckland, Singapore, Toronto, Ottawa, Seattle, and Mexico City.

Buses are prime candidates for electrification: their diesel counterparts are considerably polluting, and buses travel extremely predictable routes at relatively low overall speeds, so range anxiety can be eliminated with route planning and heavier, more powerful batteries. Proterra has been making electric bus batteries for years, and the company recently broke a record for electric buses by traveling 1,101.2 miles on a single charge.

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US energy agency: Sorry coal, natural gas is having another record summer

By | July 11, 2018

Enlarge / FORT WORTH, Texas: The Barnett Shale Gas field at dusk, February 27, 2006. XTO Energy Inc. is extracting natural gas at this facility. (credit: J.G. Domke/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Between 2018 and 2020, natural gas is expected to continue to eat away steadily at coal’s share of the US energy mix, barring any regulatory intervention from the federal government.

The competition between natural gas and coal is especially fierce this summer: the former could set a record in terms of its contribution to overall US energy generation.

Another interesting prediction about fossil fuels: in 2018, the average price of a gallon of gasoline has been significantly higher than the year before, but that may not be great news for the oil industry, because drivers are already responding to higher prices. The amount of gas drivers will purchase in 2018 is expected to fall year over year for the first time since 2012. The contraction amounts to 10,000 barrels of oil per day not sold—a small change for the US economy but potentially a harbinger of things to come.

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Chinese firm will build battery factory in Germany to supply BMW, Volkswagen

By | July 9, 2018

Enlarge / The Contemporary Amperex Technology Ltd. (CATL) headquarters and manufacturing complex is reflected in a mudflat in Ningde, Fujian Province, China, in January 2018. CATL already sells the most batteries to the biggest electric-vehicle makers in the biggest EV market: China. (credit: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

A Chinese battery company called Contemporary Amperex Technology Ltd (CATL) has chosen a site in eastern Germany to build a battery-cell factory that will help supply the country’s major automakers as they shift to building more and more electric vehicles.

Volkswagen Group, BMW, and Daimler have all set targets to make and sell more electric vehicles in the coming years, but making the economics work out on battery supply has often proven elusive.

According to Agence France Presse (AFP), German Chancellor Angela Merkel will meet with Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang today in Berlin. Reuters notes that the Chinese prime minister will participate in a signing ceremony related to the decision to build a CATL factory in Erfurt, a city in the German province of Thuringia.

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Wait—the RateMyProfessors.com “hotness” chili was about attractiveness?

By | July 8, 2018

Enlarge / So long, red chili pepper of hotness.

This week, Buzzfeed reported that RateMyProfessors.com was dropping its “hotness” rating for professors after an outcry from female professors who said that the rating was sexist.

RateMyProfessors was right to do so; professorial competence and perceived attractiveness have nothing to do with one another. The rating also disadvantages women, who are too often pressured to conform to absurd beauty standards, even in a professional setting where men wouldn’t feel the same pressure.

But this week’s news really baffled me, not because I fail to understand how sexism works, but because until this week I thought that “hotness” referred to how exciting a particular class was. Throughout my college years, I used RateMyProfessors.com to choose undergrad classes, all the while thinking a professor with a chili pepper gave… invigorating lectures. (I promise, that’s not a euphemism.) I mean, you’re rating professors with chili peppers! Chili peppers mean spiciness and excitement, not sex appeal! Right?! Right, guys? Back me up here!

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Monster energy project wants to use Loch Ness as a giant battery

By | July 7, 2018

Enlarge / Loch Ness, seen from Fort Augustus in Scotland. (credit: Getty Images (Jeff J Mitchell))

A company called Intelligent Land Investments (ILI) is proposing a huge 2.4 gigawatt-hour pumped hydroelectric project right next to the shores of Loch Ness in Scotland. The project, called “Red John” after the Scottish name for a source pool in the area, could deliver up to 400 megawatts of power for six hours—a feat that Wired UK says could double Scotland’s already-considerable wind capacity.

Pumped hydro is an old concept, and such systems have been used to store energy long before utility-scale chemical batteries were economically feasible. Pumped hydro projects need a lower reservoir as well as a higher reservoir. When electricity is plentiful, pumps work to lift water from the lower reservoir to the higher reservoir; when electricity is scarce, operators use gravity to send water from the higher reservoir through a turbine and back down to the lower reservoir, generating greenhouse-gas-free electricity.

A diagram of the Red John project.

A diagram of the Red John project. (credit: Intelligent Land Investments)

The advantage of pumped hydro is that it’s disbatchable. While wind turbines and solar panels require the wind and sun to make electricity, energy from pumped hydro is ready whenever we want it. Scotland in particular has been aggressive about adding offshore wind to its energy mix, but you can only build out so many wind turbines before you need to add energy storage or develop massive transmission projects, because if the wind slacks in one region, power has to be added to the grid to maintain a constant frequency.

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Trump tweet: EPA head Scott Pruitt is resigning

By | July 5, 2018

Enlarge / Former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency Scott Pruitt. (credit: Getty Images)

On Thursday, President Trump tweeted that Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt had submitted his resignation.

Pruitt had been considered among the most loyal of Trump’s appointees, but the former Oklahoma Attorney General made headlines over the past several months with repeated scandals over extravagant spending. Pruitt reportedly used agency funds to buy hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of tactical pants and other security-related items. He also used agency resources to help his wife find a job and even to help him purchase a used Trump hotel mattress. Questions about who Pruitt promoted and how raises were doled out also caused significant damage to Pruitt’s public image. Thirteen different federal investigations had been opened up into the administrator’s conduct.

Trump’s tweet mentioned none of this Thursday afternoon, however. “I have accepted the resignation of Scott Pruitt as the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency,” the President tweeted. “Within the Agency Scott has done an outstanding job, and I will always be thankful to him for this. The Senate confirmed Deputy at EPA, Andrew Wheeler, will…”

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