Leading the News
US Considers “Safeguard” Tariffs On Imported Solar Cells.
Reuters (5/29, Miles) cites a WTO filing published Monday which shows that the US has notified WTO members that “it is considering putting emergency ‘safeguard’ tariffs on imported solar cells.” The move, which “raises the stakes in a global battle to dominate the solar power industry,” comes in the wake of the WTO’s ruling in September that “India was illegally discriminating against U.S. solar exports, while India launched its own WTO complaint about solar subsidies in eight U.S. states.” The temporary tariffs “may be used to shield an industry from a sudden, unforeseen and damaging surge in imports.” The Hill (5/29, Elis) reports that last month, “Suniva filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy” and “alleged in the petition that an increase in imports has taken marketshare from U.S. producers such as Suniva and SolarWorld, despite an overall growth in the U.S. market.” The petition contends “that 1,200 U.S. manufacturing jobs had been lost and wages had been reduced by 27 percent between 2012 and 2016.”
Siemens Apprenticeship Program Offers Path Into Advanced Manufacturing Jobs.
NBC Nightly News (5/27, story 8, 2:20, Diaz-Balart) reported that manufacturing positions “require a higher level of skill than in the past” and some companies are developing apprenticeships to provide the necessary training. NBC (Thompson) added, “At Siemens Energy Hub in Charlotte, North Carolina. I don’t see or hear those big machines that I think of manufacturing.” Judith Marks, CEO, Siemens: “Today’s manufacturing is pretty different. It’s custom, it’s quiet, and it’s all based on computers.” Thompson added that “finding workers to build gas turbines was one of her biggest challenges.” So, “to bridge the skills gap, Siemens started an apprentice program.” Thompson described one apprentice who explained that instead of going to college, Siemens is paying for his education at a local community college and paying him a salary. Thompson added, “After four years, he will have an associate’s degree, a journeyman’s certificate, a salary of at least $50,000, and skills crucial to the larger economy.” And “Siemens now has similar training at three more US factories.”
Cornell Campus In New York City Designed To Use Net Zero Energy.
The New York Times (5/29, Cardwell, Subscription Publication) reports on the process of Cornell University creating an applied science and engineering campus in New York City that would seek to produce as much energy as it consumed. The building is designed “to use as little energy as possible.” It “is squat, with a roof larger than the body, to maximize space for solar panels,” and houses “a geothermal heating and cooling system.”
Rokita, Hastings Introduce Bipartisan Student Loan Refinancing Bill.
The Indianapolis Star (5/27) reports Rep. Todd Rokita (R-IN) and Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL) have introduced legislation to “allow students and parents to refinance past loans at a lower interest rate.” The measure “would allow borrowers to refinance existing loans and take advantage of lower market rates” and “would also eliminate service contracts and reduce default costs that are paid by taxpayers.” The piece quotes Rokita saying in a statement, “We are putting money back in students’ pockets. Student loans are a burden for millions of Americans, but with our new legislation we will be able to help alleviate that burden by making it easier to refinance loans at a lower interest rate. We are creating flexibility that will help yesterday’s, today’s and future students.”
Commentary: ED Must Deny Student Loans For Schools With High Default Rates.
In commentary for The Hill (5/28) “Pundits Blog,” former SEC economic adviser Neil Baron writes the federal student loan program is “a failure on many fronts,” arguing that student loan programs are too prone to approving loans for schools that don’t prepare students for careers, resulting in high default rates. He writes that these high default rates are “mostly a reflection of schools’ failures to prepare their students for jobs, particularly those that need filling,” and echoes former education secretary William Bennett’s argument that increased availability of federal student aid results in sharply inflated tuition. He calls on ED to “more regularly and consistently deny loans for schools that fall short of” default rate benchmarks.
Lab Employees Question Safety Practices At Sacramento State.
The Sacramento (CA) Bee (5/28) reports some lab employees at Sacramento State “say they work in areas so poorly ventilated that acidic fumes corrode metal and rubber, and two workers claim that exposure to these substances and others may have led to their inability to have children.” The paper reports the California State University Employees Union “has filed multiple grievances questioning the safety of employees working in the chemistry stockrooms and the protocols for dealing with hazardous materials throughout the campus.” The article notes that concern over the issue was precipitated by an incident last year in which “lab technicians were called to an advanced chemistry class to clean up a spill. They say they were told the chemicals were acetone, a solvent used in nail polish remover, and ethyl acetate, another solvent used to decaffeinate coffee.” However, the workers say “the spilled chemical was a more dangerous solvent called dimethylformamide or DMF.”
Massachusetts Budget Proposal Calls For Overdue College Infrastructure Repairs.
The Boston Globe (5/30, Krantz) reports Massachusetts Education Secretary James A. Peyser said funds from the state’s 2018 capital budget must be allocated to the $5.5 billion in overdue infrastructure repairs throughout the state’s public higher education system before building new projects. “The substructure” of the University of Massachusetts Boston’s underground garage “is one that’s the most urgent,” Peyser told the Globe. The Globe says the underground garage is “symbolic of the patchwork of overdue construction projects laid out across the state’s 29 college and university campuses, projects stalled for lack of money, attention, or sometimes because of political obstacles.” Gov. Charlie Baker’s budget plan, slated to be released in coming weeks, includes approximately “$190 million for the state’s five UMass campuses, nine state colleges and universities, and 15 community colleges, many of which were built 40 or 50 years ago.”
Research and Development
“Trolley Problem” Facing Robocars Already Solved By Lawyers, Not Ethicists, Engineers.
Wired (5/28, Marshall) reported that “at the dawn of the autonomous age” an ethical question has emerged reminiscent of a “60s-era thought experiment” that requires “you imagine a runaway trolley barreling down the tracks toward five people” and deciding whether to divert the trolley. A “similar conundrum” is now facing software engineers making robocars, with the piece asking if they “risk the lives of five pedestrians, or its passengers?” The piece says the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has “suggested creating something of an ‘ethical’ test for companies developing the technology.” Citing a paper by Stanford University researcher Bryan Casey in the Northwestern University Law Review, the article says that the “trolley problem” may be moot, as the law and not ethicists or engineers have already solved the problem.
Google Reportedly Follows TensorFlow Research Cloud With New AI Venture.
Venture Beat (5/26) reported, “Google has reportedly launched a new program to support promising AI ventures. The initiative will provide services ranging from mentorship to workspace.” Google “also recently introduced the TensorFlow Research Cloud, a free AI computing service for top researchers and organizations like Harvard Medical School who are willing to share the results of their work in an open source environment.”
Study: Few Banks Deliver On AI Ambitions.
Forbes (5/29) reports that despite announcements of ambitious plans to integrate AI and machine learning, banks, with the exception of a few outliers, have failed to ship to deliver. Most banks “lack the agility to fundamentally transform their business with modern artificial intelligence.” A recent study by National Business Research Institute and Narrative Science found that only 32 percent of financial institutions have used AI, such as “recommendation engines, predictive analytics, voice recognition and allied technologies.” Despite low adoption levels, the IDC still estimates that revenues from AI adoption will jump from $8 billion in 2016 to over $47 billion in 2020.
Boston Globe Analysis: iPhone Software On “Verge Of Becoming Medically Useful.”
The Boston Globe (5/28, Sheridan) reports the Apple software, ResearchKit, promised to turn an iPhone into a “powerful tool for medical research,” according to Apple. The software has led to “a number of studies” and, says the Globe, “seems to be on the verge of becoming medically useful” as it is being used to collect “new data on seizures, asthma attacks, and heart disease.”
Cornell University Awarded $2.5 Million Grant For Cybersecurity Software Development.
The AP (5/29) reports the National Science Foundation is awarding Cornell University $2.5 million to help finance “the research and development associated with new software techniques intended to protect computer networks from cyber criminals.” On Friday, Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand announced the Federal funding decision and “hailed the grant as an example of a smart investment in cutting-edge technology.” Schumer said the investment will further efforts to create technologies that will “stop hackers in their tracks.”
Apple Adds 8 Year Qualcomm Engineering VP To Wireless SoC Team.
AppleInsider (5/29, Dilger) reports that Apple has brought on 8-year Qualcomm Engineering VP Esin Terizoglu to join its wireless “System on a Chip” team. AI notes the move offers “additional evidence” of the company’s plans to “expand its internal chip development into Broadband Processors working as mobile modems.” Terzioglu confirmed the news via his LinkedIn account, stating, “After an amazing ~8 years at Qualcomm, it is time for me to move on to my next adventure. It has been my honor and privilege to have worked with so many talented and dedicated individuals at Qualcomm where we accomplished great feats as a team (10nm bring up was a doozy and the team did an amazing job bringing the first product to market!!!). I feel privileged for the opportunity to continue my career at Apple. Stay in touch.”
Engineering and Public Policy
Administration Plan To Rebuild Infrastructure Described.
NBC Nightly News (5/26, Melvin) reported in its lead story on “a new warning about this country’s crumbling infrastructure.” NBC (Costello) added, “It’s really under strain from neglect, years and years, across the country. The summer travel kickoff, and the nation’s aging roads, bridges, railroads, and airports are again buckling under the load.” NBC added, “The White House solution – partner with states and the private sector on big projects in exchange for tax incentives and a cut of the profits. It’s already happening – from New York’s dilapidated LaGuardia Airport, now being rebuilt by a Swedish construction company, to the Presidio Parkway in San Francisco.” NBC concluded, “But the nation’s infrastructure is so bad analysts say it will ultimately take real tax money to get the work done.”
Seven Railroads Will Not Meet Extended Congressional Deadline For PTC Implementation.
McClatchy (5/26, Tate) reports seven railroads – CSX, Norfolk Southern, Metra, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, SunRail in Florida, Trinity Railway Express in Texas, and Canadian National – “will not meet” the 2018 deadline to install Positive Train Control, despite a congressional mandate. Trinity Railway will have PTC installed by 2019, while the other six will not have it installed before 2020. On the other hand, the story reports, “most railroads will have their PTC systems complete by the end of next year.” The story notes several prominent rail incidents that may have been prevented by PTC, also pointing to comment from former FRA administrator Sarah Feinberg and Sen. Richard Blumenthal that the railroads have had enough time to implement the safety system.
Trump Administration Moves Forward Three Obama-era Energy Efficiency Rules.
The Hill (5/25, Devaney) reports the Energy Department is going ahead “with three Obama-era efficiency rules.” Near the end of Obama Administration, the DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy “issued new energy conservation standards for various refrigeration products, dedicated-purpose pool pumps and residential central air conditioners and heat pumps.” After “a regulatory review by the Trump administration,” the DOE “said Thursday it will enforce these efficiency rules.” The Hill adds “the energy industry will have until October 2019 to comply with the refrigeration rules, July 2021 to comply with the pool pump rules and January 2023 to comply with the rules for air conditioners and heat pumps.”
Deepwater, US Wind Accept Maryland Terms For Offshore Wind Farms.
The Baltimore Sun (5/25, Dance) reports that “the developers of two wind farms planned off the coast of Ocean City are moving forward with their projects, accepting terms Maryland regulators laid out earlier this month in allowing them to collect subsidies from the state’s electricity customers.” The Sun adds, “Deepwater Wind and U.S. Wind have both notified the Public Service Commission that they have agreed to invest a collective $115 million in manufacturing facilities and port upgrades around Sparrows Point in southeastern Baltimore County, and to contribute $6 million to a state offshore wind business development fund.” The article also states that “the decisions mean Maryland is one step closer to being home to what would be the nation’s second – and by far its largest – array of offshore wind turbines.”
Solar Group Disputes Nevada Utility’s Analysis Of Net Metering Bill.
The Las Vegas Review-Journal (5/25, Whaley) reports the Solar Energy Industries Association “questioned figures from NV Energy that suggest a bill seeking to restart net metering in Nevada would cost ratepayers as much as $48 million a year.” NV Energy estimated costs of $63 million a year, but the Solar Energy Industries Association says that, assuming the utility’s data is correct, “the cost to the utility’s 1.3 million customers would be about $4 a month per customer if rooftop solar production reached 10 percent of peak load in 10 years.” While “NV Energy says the costs come from having to pay more in credits that the excess electricity is worth at market value,” the solar group argues that “NV Energy is paying more than market value now for many of its large solar projects” and that the analysis does not include the benefits “to the utility for rooftop solar generation, from helping reduce peak demand to environmental advantages such as no carbon dioxide production.”
Indiana High School Students Receive College Credit Through Career Center.
The AP (5/28, McCollum) reported 425 Indiana high school students in the Valparaiso area enrolled in career and technical education courses offered by Porter County Career and Technology Center for the 2016-17 academic year. Forty students from Boone Grove High School alone enrolled in the career center’s precision machining class, instructed by Greg Carmack. Carmack, who has taught at the career center for 15 years, “said classes at the career center are not regular high school classes but instead are career-based.” He explained while students cannot “earn high school credit for these classes,” the center has “arrangements for the kids to earn college credit. This allows kids to try out a career for a year. Sometimes they find that they like the class and they have a knack for it, sometimes they don’t. We don’t give you an F because it’s not your thing.”
Friday’s Lead Stories
• Energy Department Releases Funding For Small Business Innovation Research Grants.
• Students Watch Launch Of Rocket Containing Their Mars Rover Concepts.
• Researchers Develop Process For Combining PE, PP Plastics.
• Chinese Companies Partner To Begin 3D Printing Cars.
• Cleaner Electricity Production Leads To Rise In Demand For Electric Cars.
• Commentary: Hope Remains For STEM Gender Equity Under Trump.
• UC Davis Hosts Stem Event For Local Students.