Leading the News
Puerto Rico May Be Without Power For Six Months, Officials Say.
The Hill (9/21, Henry) reports that according to the mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico Carmen Yulín Cruz “could be without electricity for up to six months following Hurricane Maria.” She told MSNBC yesterday that the residents of the island are “looking at four to six months without electricity” after the storm. She stated, “The San Juan that we knew yesterday is no longer there.” On Wednesday a spokesperson for Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said “we are 100 percent without power.”
Reuters (9/21, Kumar) reports US mainland utility crews on Thursday “were scrambling to Puerto Rico” and “many of its Caribbean neighbors, without power, according to officials.” The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority reported nearly “100 percent of its 1.5 million customers were without power as of late Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Energy said in an update on the hurricane’s impact on Thursday.” President Donald Trump yesterday “said that Hurricane Maria ‘totally obliterated’ the U.S. island territory of Puerto Rico with its electrical grid destroyed.” DOE announced that “energy support crews have been deployed to St. Thomas and St. Croix in support of Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) teams there, and others are prepared to deploy to Puerto Rico as soon as conditions permit.”
The Washington Examiner (9/21, Siegel) reports “the widespread electricity outages…could encourage reforms to the island’s bankrupt power utility and fragile electric grid.” Puerto Rico Clearinghouse founder Cate Long said, “This is like wiping the slate clean for Puerto Rico, which is good because all these problems the island faces are so intractable.” Long added, “It’s almost like the wind came in and blew the nonsense away. … In the long run, this could be very good for Puerto Rico.” As the island “moves from the assessment to recovery stage, some experts and lawmakers are looking deeper at how to improve the island’s energy infrastructure, which was already damaged by Hurricane Irma two weeks ago.” The Wall Street Journal (9/21, De Córdoba, Campo-Flores, De Avila, Subscription Publication) and a video on the CBS News (9/21) website are among the news outlets providing coverage of this story.
ED Inspector General Says Western Governors University Must Repay $713 Million.
The Washington Post (9/21, Douglas-Gabriel) reports ED’s Office of Inspector General has released an audit saying the department should “claw back $713 million in loans and grants from Western Governors University, claiming that the limited role of faculty in courses makes the online university ineligible for federal student aid.” The Post suggests that the recommendation “could threaten the future of competency-based education, a burgeoning field that believes students should learn at their own pace and move along as they have mastered the material.” The school has garnered bipartisan praise “for creating an innovative model” for CBE, but auditors say the courses “actually operate as correspondence courses that do not involve significant interaction between faculty and students,” meaning they are ineligible for federal aid.
The AP (9/21) reports that the audit says the school “did not have ‘regular and substantive’ interaction with students and its courses should be classified as ‘correspondence courses.’” However, Western Governors released a statement saying “it ‘vehemently disagrees’ and will resolve the issue with the Education Department, which will decide whether to follow the report’s recommendations and recover the money.”
The Chronicle of Higher Education (9/21) quotes Western Governors University President Scott D. Pulsipher saying the audit “It reflects a misinterpretation of the statutes and regulations that govern distance education, and while the OIG has an opinion, it doesn’t mean that opinion is right. I think WGU has long been focused on complying with the Department of Education regulations and guidelines, and we’ve been fully accredited by our” accreditor.
Inside Higher Ed (9/21) reports that in response to the backers “of competency-based education said the federal government should update its regular-and-substantive requirement, but in a way that prevents fraudulent, low-quality programs from taking advantage of students.”
Former Obama Officials Form Coalition To Combat Rollback Of Protections For Student Borrowers.
The Washington Post (9/21, Douglas-Gabriel) reports that a group of attorneys and policy advisors from the Obama Administration have formed a coalition “to do what they say Education Secretary Betsy DeVos seems incapable of doing: protecting students.” The “National Student Legal Defense Network” will “partner with state attorneys general and advocacy groups to combat what they describe as the erosion of civil liberties and consumer protections under the Trump administration.” The group’s creation “comes as liberal lawmakers and student advocates accuse the Trump administration of watering down the enforcement of regulations to safeguard student loan borrowers.” Under Trump, the Education Department “has withdrawn, delayed or announced plans to revamp more than a half-dozen Obama-era measures involving federal student aid this year.”
The AP (9/21, Danilova) reports that the legal aid organization is meant “to challenge the Trump administration’s policies on student lending and civil rights” and will “partner with state attorneys general and advocacy groups to file lawsuits on behalf of students who were defrauded by for-profit colleges or faced discrimination.” The AP reports that DeVos “has halted two key Obama-era regulations aimed at protecting students from fraud and predatory actions by for-profit universities and has frozen review of tens of thousands of student loan discharge applications.” Critics have complained that these moves suggest that ED “is looking out for industry interests” rather than those of students or taxpayers.
Small Kansas Campus Vows To Protect Immigrant Students.
The Kansas City (MO) Star (9/21, Williams) reports, “A small technical college in western Kansas is vowing to keep federal immigration officials off campus unless they have a court order.” Northwest Kansas Technical College President Ben Schears “said his school ‘would go to every effort’ to protect students who want to pursue an education, including students who are undocumented immigrants.”
Research and Development
NSF Gives Case Western Reserve Professor $5.5 Million To Research “Bioinspired Materials.”
The Cleveland Plain Dealer (9/21) reports that Case Western Reserve University macromolecular science and engineering professor LaShanda Korley a $5.5 million grant to study how “materials inspired by the sea cucumber, squid beak and pine cone could one day lead to a soft-sided worm-like robot that could crawl through blood vessels” and other innovations. Korley’s team will focus on “developing functional materials inspired by substances found in nature.” The paper reports that “bioinspired materials produced in the project will be tested in soft-sided robots, but are expected to have a wide range of practical uses.”
Crain’s Cleveland Business (9/21) reports the funding comes from the NSF Partnerships for International Research and Education program and “will support work from students and faculty at Case Western Reserve, the University of Chicago and the Adolphe Merkle Institute at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland.”
Cranfield University DARTeC Explores Key Aviation Challenges.
The Internet of Business (9/21, Vogel) interviews Cranfield University Professor Antonios Tsourdos, head of the Autonomous and Cyber-Physical Systems Centre and Director of Research in the School of Aerospace, Transport and Manufacturing, about the school’s “newly opened £65 million Digital Aviation Research and Technology Centre (DARTeC).” Funded by a consortium of companies “including Thales, Raytheon, SAAB, Monarch Aircraft Engineering Limited, Boeing UK and Aveillan,” DARTeC hopes to explore challenges facing the aviation industry, including using technology to increase efficiency at airports, “secure shared airspace through secure data communication infrastructures,” and increase the “reliability and availability of aircraft through self-sensing, self-aware technologies.”
Ford Uses Microsoft’s HoloLens To Speed Up Car Design.
ZDNet (9/21, Tung) reports that Ford will start using Microsoft’s Hololens “to accelerate its car design processes” after spending the last year testing the Hololens at its research center in Dearborn, Michigan, “where it’s been using a combination of traditional clay models and HoloLens holograms to test new shapes, textures and sizes of future vehicles.” Ford vice president of vehicle component and systems engineering Jim Holland stated, “It’s amazing we can combine the old and the new – clay models and holograms – in a way that both saves time and allows designers to experiment and iterate quickly to dream up even more stylish, clever vehicles.”
India, Russia To Build Nuclear Power Plant In Bangladesh.
Power Engineering International (9/21, Bayar) reports that India and Russia will collaborate to build India’s first nuclear power project on foreign soil at a plant in Bangladesh, according to the chair of the country’s nuclear watchdog. Dr Sekhar Basu “said the two countries will build the 2.4 GW Rooppur plant in Bangladesh’s northwestern region under a 2014 agreement to work together on third-country nuclear projects.”
Investors Bet On Lithium After Reports That China May Eliminate Fossil Fuels.
CNBC (9/21, Cheng) reports that investors have recently “poured about $143 million into the Global X Lithium & Battery Tech exchange-traded fund (LIT), according to ETF.com.” Investor interest in lithium spiked “after indications that China, the world’s largest market for the vehicles, may soon wind down production and sales of cars using fossil fuel.” Global X Fund VP and director of research Jay Jacobs said, “We’ve hit a clear inflection point in lithium demand.” The cost of lithium batteries “has halved over the last three years, making electric vehicles cheaper for consumers.”
BCG: Market For Autonomous Cars To Grow To $42B By 2025.
In an article on the market for autonomous vehicles, and their development, The New York Times (9/20, Metz, Subscription Publication) reports that “the market for autonomous vehicles will grow to $42 billion by 2025, according to research by the Boston Consulting Group.”
Engineering and Public Policy
Research Team Envisions Preventing Blackouts By Moving Electricity Intercontinentally.
The North Denver News (9/21) reports a team of researchers in the US and Europe “is poised to globally integrate electrical grids in a way that resonates with the creation of the internet more than 50 years ago.” The researchers will convene at Idaho National Laboratory “for a live demonstration of the Real-Time Super Lab concept, which shows how electricity can be rerouted across vast distances to address disruptions.” The team “envisions that large-scale blackouts can be prevented by moving electricity intercontinentally, the same way utilities currently do regionally, but at a much larger scale.”
Flint’s Lead-Contaminated Water Caused Rise In Fetal Death Rates, Study Finds.
The CBS Evening News (9/21, story 7, 2:10, Mason) reported a new medical research study found that contaminated water in Flint, Michigan has contributed to “severe health problems.” According to the study, “fetal death rates increased by 58 percent in Flint after the city switched its water source in April 2014.” Daniel Grossman, a co-author of the study, said, “Costs of this water change were not limited simply to affects on children and adults, but also lead to large decreases in fertility rates, which could have long-lasting effects on the city itself.”
Christopher Ingraham writes for the Washington Post (9/21) “Wonkblog” that Flint, Michigan, suffered “a ‘horrifying large’ increase in fetal deaths and miscarriages” after its 2014 change to lead-contaminated water. In a comparison with neighboring cities, the paper’s authors found “a substantial decrease in fertility rates in Flint for births conceived around October 2013, which persisted through the end of 2015.” The paper concludes that “between 198 and 276 more children would have been born had Flint not enacted the switch in water.”
FPL Spends Bills To Strengthen Grid, Yet Widespread Outages Still Ongoing.
The Miami Herald (9/21, Nehamas, Dahlberg) reports that Florida Power & Light spent nearly $3 billion to strengthen its electrical grid over the past decade, yet damage from Hurricane Irma still resulted in widespread damages. Thousands of residents and businesses have been without power for more than a week, leading to questions about what all the money was spent on. “There is no such thing as a hurricane-proof system,” explained FPL spokesman Peter Robbins. FPL says the “the money paid for the strengthening of 700 power lines to critical facilities such as police stations, hospitals and gas stations; burying 60 power lines underground; clearing vegetation from 150,000 miles of lines; inspecting 150,000 poles per year; and installing 4.9 million ‘smart’ meters that can help predict and prevent power outages.”
Op-Ed: FPL Had Great PR Strategy, But Poor Actual Response To Irma. In an op-ed in the Miami Herald, (9/21) David Quiñones, a resident of South Miami Park, says that “as of Thursday morning, I was one of just 10 remaining, according to FPL’s outage map.” Quiñones says that FPL had an excellent public relations strategy for the restoration efforts, but that their actions for those without power “bred helpnessness, desperation.” He criticizes them for their unaccountability and issues with their infrastructure.
ITC Expected To Announce Decision On Solar Imports Today.
The Hill (9/21, Cama, Henry) reports the International Trade Commission is expected to announce on Friday “its initial decision on a petition from two domestic manufacturers for trade penalties on imported solar panels.” The ITC “will announce whether it has determined that the two companies, Suniva and SolarWorld, have been injured by imports.” If the commission’s “answer is yes, the commission will later recommend some penalties to President Trump, who has the ultimate authority to impose them.”
The Washington Examiner (9/21, Siciliano, Seigel) reports former US military officials on Wednesday wrote the ITC “urging it to reject a petition asking it to rule that the solar industry has been harmed by cheap solar imports.” The former DOD officials wrote the “proposed trade remedy would be harmful to the national and energy security efforts” of the military. They added “imported solar panels could double in price if the Trump administration decides to impose tariffs based on the ITC’s ruling.”
Battery Storage Relies On Solar Industry For Growth.
Bloomberg News (9/21, Eckhouse) reports that battery storage costs have fallen nearly 40 percent since 2014, but they are still expensive and don’t quality for federal tax credits on their own. However, “if a storage unit is charged at least 75 percent by solar, it can qualify for at least part of a U.S. subsidy enjoyed by those projects – the investment tax credit, according to David Burton, a New York-based partner at Mayer Brown LLP.” Thus, solar developers are increasingly exploring projects that include storage units and because “utilities usually prefer power plants capable of supplying reliable electricity at all hours.”
NSF Gives Baltimore $1.2 Million To Improve High School Chemistry Instruction.
The Baltimore Sun (9/21) reports that National Science Foundation has given Baltimore a $1.2 million grant to improve high school chemistry curriculum and instruction. The grant will foster “a partnership between the Baltimore Ecosystem Study and the city school system to design a course of study that infuses Earth science into chemistry classes.” Topics will be focused specifically on Baltimore.
ExploraVision Competition Open For Registration.
THE Journal (9/21, Schaffhauser) reports on the “ExploraVision” science competition, “open for registration from K-12 students until Feb. 8, 2018.” The competition is “put on by the National Science Teachers Association and Toshiba with a goal of encouraging students to learn more about STEM-related subjects.” It is for “teams of two to four students to research scientific principles and technologies to come up with innovative ideas that could be created within 20 years to solve problems facing the world.” The winners “receive savings bonds worth $5,000 and $10,000 at maturity.”
Also in the News
University Of Michigan Helping Benton Harbor Officials Improve Transportation, Water Systems.
The St. Joseph (MI) Herald Palladium (9/18) reports that officials in Benton Harbor, Michigan “are getting help from University of Michigan researchers to decide how to best improve the city’s transportation and water systems through the Urban Collaboratory.” Assistant professor Tierra Bills of the university’s Department of Civil Engineering and Environmental Engineering said, “We are a group of faculty at the University of Michigan working together to address, in general terms, civil engineering challenges of cities.” Bills “said the collaboratory’s goal is to not only answer fundamental questions, but to come up with solutions.”
Thursday’s Lead Stories
• Hurricane Maria Knocks Out Power To 100% Of Puerto Rico.
• GAO Report Criticizes ED’s Financial Oversight Of Colleges.
• University Of Nevada Engineers Text Bridge Designs With Simulated Earthquakes.
• Sexual Harassment In Scientific Community Drawing Greater Attention.
• University Of Glasgow Researchers Develop Novel Plasmonic Color Filter Technique.
• Data Suggest H-1B Applicants “Having A Harder Time” Securing Approval.
• Eighth Grader Develops Device To Make Solar Panels More Efficient.