Promoting Energy Innovation

by Daniel Farber | April 13, 2018

An MIT professor has a great idea for a molten metal battery that could outperform lithium batteries. Of course, like many great ideas, this one might not pan out. But even if it does pan out technically, Grist explains one reason why it might never get to the commercial stage:

Ultimately, the thing that makes lithium-ion so tough to topple is something called the "experience curve." The curve maps how, over time, in many different sectors, increases in scale lead to a reliable and predictable decrease in price. It works for solar panels and semiconductors, even contact lenses and motorcycles, and it definitely works for lithium-ion batteries, says Chris Shelton, chief technical officer at energy company AES. In other words, every time you double the volume of lithium-ion battery production, you reduce the cost by more than 15 percent.

A 2017 paper by Liscow and Karpilow explains the problem more fully. As they explain, there are two other reasons why the innovation process tends to snowball, making it harder for newer technologies to take hold. The first is that an established technology has already been the subject of a lot of research and invention, so a new inventor has a lot of ingredients needed for taking another step forward. Inventions often involve taking existing ideas and putting them together in a novel way, rather than creating something new out of whole cloth. The second ...

Climate Change in the Courts

by Daniel Farber | April 02, 2018
There are three important climate lawsuits pending in federal court. Here's the state of play and what to expect next. In the first case, Oakland and San Francisco sued leading oil companies. They claim that the companies' production and sale of fossil fuels is a public nuisance under California state law. They seek an abatement fund to pay for sea walls and other infrastructure needed to address rising sea levels. This lawsuit was originally filed in California state court, but ...

Coal and Nuclear Plant Bailout Would Be Unjustified Use of DOE's Emergency Authority

by Joel Eisen | March 30, 2018
It's no secret that the Trump administration and coal companies have drawn a bullseye on reversing coal's declining fortunes in wholesale electricity markets, where competition and inexpensive natural gas have driven coal's market share down from 50 percent in 1990 to about 30 percent today. Feeling bullish about their prospects in a sympathetic administration, owners of coal and nuclear plants have tried to extract subsidies to prevent what they view as premature retirements of large power plants.  This January, the ...

County Prosecutor in Washington State Indicts Construction Company Owner for Trench Collapse Death

by Katie Tracy | February 01, 2018
On the morning of January 26, 2016, Seattle police were called to a construction site where a worker, Harold Felton, was trapped in a collapsed trench. By the time officers arrived, the rescue operation had turned into a recovery; Felton, 36, had died at the scene.  Felton was working as part of a two-man team employed by Alki Construction to replace a sewer line. According to the police report, 10 minutes before the trench collapsed, the man working alongside Felton ...

The Off-Switch Is Inside the Fenceline

by Daniel Farber | December 27, 2017
The Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan would require utilities to improve efficiency at coal-fired power plants and reduce the use of those plants in favor of generators using natural gas or renewables. Head of EPA Scott Pruitt claims EPA can only require CO2 cuts that can be accomplished by utilities “inside the fenceline” of a power plant. Under his interpretation, EPA could require a utility to increase the efficiency of a coal-fired plant. But, he assumes, his interpretation would rule ...

OSHA Delays Critical Protections as Worker Deaths Increase

by Katie Tracy | December 20, 2017
President Trump planned and then starred in his own ribbon-cutting ceremony last week, symbolic of all the safeguards for health, safety and the environment that he intends to shred while in office. This mockery of the administration’s obligation to ensure the public is protected from harm caused by corner-cutting businesses coincided with the release of the Administration’s fall 2017 regulatory agenda. What this political stunt — and the rhetoric that goes along with it — really means, however, is that ...

Trump's Newspeak

by Matthew Freeman | December 19, 2017
"You don't grasp the beauty of the destruction of words. Do you know that Newspeak is the only language in the world whose vocabulary gets smaller every year?" Winston Smith, 1984 Donald Trump has never been known for the breadth of his vocabulary. In his case, I’ve always assumed that was a marker of a not particularly curious mind. The guy’s openly contemptuous of higher education; he says he doesn’t read books because he gets what he needs to know ...

The Pull of Energy Markets -- and Legal Challenges -- Will Blunt Plans to Roll Back EPA Carbon Rules

by Hannah Wiseman | October 17, 2017
Professor Hari Osofsky of Pennsylvania State University co-authored this article with Center for Progressive Reform Member Scholar and Florida State University College of Law Professor Hannah Wiseman. It originally appeared in The Conversation on October 13, 2017. On Oct. 10, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt formally announced a repeal of the Clean Power Plan, regulation intended to curb greenhouse gas emissions from existing coal- and natural gas-fired power plants.  This follows a directive only a week earlier by Energy Secretary Rick Perry for the ...

Under the Radar: What States Are Doing about Energy and Climate

by Daniel Farber | October 04, 2017
What happens in Washington gets a lot of attention. You probably also follow what's going on in your own state. But it's very hard to know what's happening in states across the country. In an effort to get a better sense of that, I've explored state activity on climate change and energy in a series of posts. This wasn't a fifty-state survey, or even a statistically valid random sample. But it does indicate what's happening in a range of states, ...

Trump's Unified Agenda: Sending the Energy Sector Back to the Dark Ages

by Hannah Wiseman | July 26, 2017
President Trump's first Unified Agenda of Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions, released last week, aims to cut regulations across the board, but the broad swath of energy programs and regulations under the ax is particularly notable. The U.S. energy sector, finally catching up with the rest of the world, has modernized by leaps and bounds in recent years with the help of limited but targeted governmental support. But Trump's agenda would bring this all to an abrupt halt and send us ...

No Way to Make a Sausage

by Matthew Freeman | June 29, 2017
As appalling as the first five months of the Trump presidency have been to those of us who care about public policy and good government, we can't claim to be surprised. As Hillary Clinton memorably explained to historians last summer in Philadelphia, "There is no other Donald Trump. This is it." But what has been a surprise is how bad this Congress has been at legislating. Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell are hardly newbies to the Washington scene or the ...

The Message Congress Needs to Hear As It Debates Our Water Infrastructure Needs

by Evan Isaacson | June 22, 2017
Last fall, the Senate directed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to contract with the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) to conduct an independent study on affordability of municipal investments in water infrastructure. As someone who spent several years within the halls of the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University, I was honored to contribute to NAPA's research efforts by responding to a survey with suggestions for public administrators and communities struggling to meet the challenges ...

Slowly and Grudgingly, Change Is Coming to Coal Country

by Daniel Farber | May 30, 2017
A sign of the times: Fox News has reported, without comment, that the Kentucky Coal Museum is installing solar panels to save money. This is part of a larger trend. On Saturday, the New York Times reported on shifts in power production in states like West Virginia and Kentucky. For instance, Appalachian Power has “closed three coal-fired plants and converted two others to gas, reducing its dependence on coal to 61 percent last year, down from 74 percent in 2012.” In response to an ...

Trump Budget Would Rob Public Programs to Give Money to Private Corporations

by Katie Tracy | May 26, 2017
President Trump’s FY 2018 budget request may be DOA in Congress, but it nonetheless offers critical insight into how he expects to pay for his border wall, increase defense spending, offer up a trillion-dollar infrastructure plan, and carry out his other pet projects, all while cutting corporate taxes. The bottom line is that he intends to eliminate some public programs and rob many others, and give that money to private corporations. The Trump budget proposal to slash funding for the ...

New Amicus Supports Challenge to Trump's 'Two-for-One' Order

by James Goodwin | May 25, 2017
Yesterday, ten distinguished law professors, all of them CPR Member Scholars writing in their individual capacities, filed an amicus brief in support of a lawsuit brought by Public Citizen, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and the Communication Workers of America challenging as illegal and unconstitutional the Trump administration’s Executive Order 13771. The order requires agencies to identify at least two existing rules to repeal for every new one they seek to issue and to ensure that the money companies would ...

Trump's Fossil Fuel Dream Team Faces Climate Change's Checks and Balances

by David Hunter | May 05, 2017
Due to the blinders of his fossil fuel dream team and the industry's myths denying climate change (#ExxonKnew), President Donald Trump seems once again on the verge of withdrawing from the Paris climate change accord. That's a fool's errand. Withdrawal from the Paris Agreement would be a major blow to U.S. standing and leadership in the world. It would also slow our country's efforts to do our part in avoiding catastrophic climate change. So why is he even considering a ...

Trump's Plan to Dismantle National Monuments Comes with Steep Cultural and Ecological Costs

by Sandra Zellmer | May 04, 2017
Professors Michelle Bryan and Monte Mills of the University of Montana co-authored this article with Center for Progressive Reform Member Scholar and University of Nebraska—Lincoln Professor Sandra Zellmer. It originally appeared in The Conversation on May 3, 2017. In the few days since President Trump issued his Executive Order on National Monuments, many legal scholars have questioned the legality of his actions under the Antiquities Act. Indeed, if the president attempts to revoke or downsize a monument designation, such actions ...

Reaching Higher Ground in the Face of Climate Change

by David Flores | May 03, 2017
We've seen a flurry of news coverage in the last several weeks on climate migration, displacement, and relocation. In a new report published today, the Center for Progressive Reform explores these issues and examines tools and resources that communities can use when faced with the challenges of relocating out of harm's way.  The New York Times Magazine recently profiled one homeowner in Norfolk, Virginia, who purchased a home that had never been flooded, but in the ten years since has ...

Energy

When it comes to energy policy, the nation faces difficult choices. Researchers have made important strides on bringing renewable sources of energy into the mainstream, gradually replacing more familiar, but nevertheless unsustainable, high-polluting sources of power for our homes, cars and factories.

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