Leading the News
California’s Clean Energy Growing Faster Than Ability To Store It.
The San Jose (CA) Mercury News (3/27, Smuga-Otto) reports that “nearly 23 percent of California’s energy now comes from renewable sources such as wind and solar…but feeding all that green energy into the Golden State’s grid — without overloading it — has become a major challenge.” According to the article, “while the technology to generate clean energy is growing by leaps and bounds, efforts to store the power haven’t kept up,” and the dilemma “has forced the energy industry to rethink the way we make and use electricity.” The article reports that a “quick source of electricity could come from storage,” and while storage capacity isn’t there now, but the California Public Utilities Commission “has mandated that Pacific Gas and Electric, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas and Electric have a combined 1,325 megawatts of storage no later than 2024.”
California Hits Five Percent Solar Milestone As Hydroelectric Wanes. Bloomberg News (3/26, Randall) reports that, even excluding rooftop solar, “California is now the first US state to get 5 percent of its annual utility-scale electricity from the sun” even as years of drought have cut its hydroelectric power by move than half.
Zakaria Questions Focus On STEM Education.
The Washington Post (3/26) publishes an opinion piece by Fareed Zakaria, who laments America’s “obsession” with science, technology, engineering and math education, which he argues comes at the expense of “broad-based learning” and “puts America on a dangerously narrow path for the future.” To support his point, Zakaria highlights a recent speech by Jack Ma, who argued “that the Chinese are not as innovative as Westerners because China’s educational system, which teaches the basics very well, does not nourish a student’s complete intelligence.” He quotes Ma as saying “Many painters learn by having fun, many works [of art and literature] are the products of having fun. So, our entrepreneurs need to learn how to have fun, too.”
HBCU Presidents Oppose ED College Rating Plan.
In an op-ed in the New Orleans Times-Picayune (3/27), Xavier University President Norman Francis and Dillard University President Walter Kimbrough writes of the importance of the variety in the American higher education system, ranging from art schools, technical academies, and HBCUs like the schools they lead. The writers argue that ED’s proposed college rating system is ill adapted to work on such a diverse pool of institutions “serving millions of students with differing needs and aspirations,” noting that it would divide schools “into just three categories.” They write that colleges are “just too different to be rated and ranked on any one-size-fits-all scale.”
Report: Many College Students Graduate After Switching Schools.
The Cleveland Plain Dealer (3/27) reports that according to a new report from the National Student Clearinghouse Resource Center, many college students “‘hopscotch’ between community colleges or colleges in other states” before graduating, noting that in Ohio, roughly one-third of college graduates in 2013-14 “had taken classes at a community college.” The article notes that ED currently bases “college success” on “a six-year graduation rate” for “students who enroll as first-time freshmen.”
Research and Development
Bloomberg Analysis: Corporate America Saw Surge In R&D Spending Last Year.
Bloomberg News (3/26) writes that corporate R&D spending in the US rose 6.7% last year, which is “twice the previous year’s gain and the biggest advance since 1996,” according to data from the Commerce Department. The trend was underscored by a 14% “surge” in the fourth quarter signaling “additional increases are on the way.” Bloomberg News quotes Jason Cummins of Brevan Howard Inc, a hedge fund, as saying, “CEOs wouldn’t be paying all these researchers – which is where the R&D budget primarily flows to – unless they thought that there was something really interesting going on.” He added, “R&D surges like this sow the portents of better productivity growth three, five, 10 years later.” Bloomberg points out that pharma companies “were some of the biggest spenders on R&D in 2012, running up a $48.1 billion tab,” citing the most recent data from the National Science Foundation.
George Mason Engineering Students Develop Method To Extinguish Fire With Sound.
The Huffington Post (3/27, Mosbergen) reports that a pair of George Mason University engineering students have “developed a way to extinguish fire with sound waves” in the 30 to 60 hertz range. The technology “has only been utilized to put out small fires that use rubbing alcohol as fuel,” but the students “hope their invention might one day be adapted for consumer or professional use.”
TIME (3/27) reports that the students said in a press release from the university that the sound waves displace the oxygen molecules needed for combustion.
Report Warns Of Growing Tech Workforce Gender Gap.
USA Today (3/26, Guynn) reports on the challenges facing those who want the “culture of Silicon Valley to be more inclusive of women and people from underrepresented groups,” noting that despite relatively equal rates of math and science proficiency among male and female high school graduates, “boys are more likely to pursue engineering and computing degrees in college.” The gap grows at the graduate level and in the workforce, where “women are dramatically underrepresented in engineering and computing.” The paper reports that the American Association of University Women has released a new report warning that “the gender gap in technology is widening as women are being held back by stereotypes and biases.”
Engineering and Public Policy
Steel Makers Seek Congressional Help Against Foreign Rivals.
McClatchy (3/27, Ordoñez, Subscription Publication) reports that leading US steelmakers on Thursday warned members of the bipartisan Congressional Steel Caucus “about the dangers of foreign steel flooding US markets.” John Ferriola of Nucor said that steel mills “will continue to close and more Americans will lose their jobs unless the US government works to stop illegal foreign trade practices that he says are undercutting domestic steel manufacturers.” Steel makers “are essentially suffering because of the growing economy as foreign manufacturers” are able to undercut them, according to executives.
Rising Dollar Impacting Exports By Domestic Manufacturers. The New York Times (3/27, Schwartz, Subscription Publication) reports that as the dollar has risen sharply compared to many other key currencies, particularly the Euro, US manufacturers are finding it more difficult to compete with foreign rivals. European firms, for example, are taking advantage of the strength of the dollar “to reduce prices on the machines they export to the United States without squeezing profits.” Overall, the “sharp rise of the dollar threatens to undercut one of the principal drivers of the recovery in recent years: strong export growth for American companies.”
DOE Interested In Proposed WCS Facility For Nuclear Waste.
The “Morning Energy” blog of Politico (3/27, Dixon) reports that the Energy Department “and four top senators will work together in the coming month to determine what authority DOE may need from Congress in order to use a proposed private nuclear waste storage facility.” The Waste Control Specialists-proposed facility, “projected to come online in 2020 without any federal funding, would be licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.” WCS “hopes to snag DOE as a customer to store the nation’s growing piles of spent fuel there, which would likely require congressional approval.”
The E&E Daily (3/27) reports Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz told Senate appropriators that the DOE “is keen on learning more about Dallas-based Waste Control Specialists LLC’s proposal to build the nation’s first private, temporary storage site for spent reactor fuel in an arid corner of West Texas.” He told Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development chairman Sen. Lamar Alexander the proposal by WCS is “extremely interesting.” Moniz added, “We want to learn more about that.”
DOE Considering New Efficiency Rules For Clothes Dryers.
The Hill (3/27, Devaney) reports the Energy Department “is considering new efficiency rules for residential clothes dryers.” On Thursday, the DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy “issued a request for information…as it considers whether new energy conservation standards are necessary for residential clothes dryers. The results could lead to future rulemaking.” The agency “last updated the energy conservation standards for residential clothes dryers in 2011, and those rules just took effect in January.”
EPA Says Cars Are Exceeding Emissions Standards.
The Hill (3/27, Cama) reports that according to the EPA yesterday, cars sold in the US have “exceeded federal 2013 greenhouse gas emissions standards on average,” for the second consecutive year. The agency “said the figures show that the Obama administration’s aggressive efficiency and emissions standards are working better than planned.” In a statement EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said, “These findings are a terrific early success story for President Obama’s historic effort to reduce the pollution that contributes to climate change.”
USA Today (3/27, Woodyard, Today) reports the auto industry overall “stayed ahead of the national greenhouse gas emissions standard by 12 grams a mile, which equates to 1.4 miles a gallon, in the 2013 model year, says the EPA.” Car makers “are required to meet stricter standards through 2025.”
Kansans Appeal Lawsuit Over Evolution, Climate Change In Curriculum.
The Topeka (KS) Capital-Journal (3/26, Boczkiewicz) reports that the Citizens for Objective Public Education group will bring its claim that the Kansas curriculum will “instill ‘a non-theistic religious worldview’” in students to the 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals. The original suit, which stated student, parent, and taxpayer religious rights were violated by the teaching of evolution and climate change in the classroom, was thrown out because the plaintiffs lacked standing.
Robot Competition Hopes To Foster Love Of Science.
The Pontiac (IL) Daily Leader (3/26, Westermeyer) reports that the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology robot competition is helping to promote science and looking to inspire new generations to work in engineering and technology.
Thursday’s Lead Stories
• US Faces Challenge Of Nuclear Waste.