New Energy: Conversations with Early-Career Energy Researchers

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Dates and Speakers at a Glance

Winter/Spring 2021 Speakers

  • March 3, 2021: D. Cale Reeves, Georgia Institute of Technology's School of Public Policy, "Generating Insight from the Bottom Up: Agent-Based Modeling of Home Energy Technology Diffusion." [REGISTER]
  • March 17, 2021: Roman Sidortsov, Michigan Technological University, "Stranded Assets, Path Dependencies & Carbon Lock-in: Implications of Oil & Gas Development in the Russian, Norwegian and U.S. Arctic." [REGISTER]
  • April 7, 2021: Sarah Kelly, Dartmouth College, "Institutional Surprises in the Water-Energy Nexus: How Markets and Indigenous Territorial Conflicts Shape the Dynamics of Small Hydro Development in Chile." [REGISTER]
  • April 21, 2021: Michael Davidson, University of California San Diego, "Carbon Neutrality in China: What's Behind the Numbers?" [REGISTER]
  • May 5, 2021: Gregg Sparkman, Princeton University, "Progress on the "Wicked" Problem: Overcoming Behavioral and Decision Making Hurdles to Address Climate Change and Decarbonize Society." [Registration posted soon]
  • June 2, 2021: Nathan Williams, Rochester Institute of Technology, "Necessary but Not Sufficient: Unlocking the Impact of Electricity Access" [Registration open soon]

12 -1 p.m. ET

March 3: D. Cale Reeves, Georgia Institute of Technology's School of Public Policy

"Generating Insight from the Bottom Up: Agent-Based Modeling of Home Energy Technology Diffusion"




D. Cale Reeves
D. Cale Reeves

D. Cale Reeves is a Visiting Assistant Professor at Georgia Institute of Technology's School of Public Policy. He explores the individual-level decision-making processes that drive emergent policy outcomes, focusing mainly on understanding the green technology adoption/diffusion system. As a computational social scientist, he enjoys applying cutting-edge methods such as agent-based modeling and natural language processing to problems that require broad systems-aware approaches, thus contributing to the search for solutions for so-called "wicked problems" like climate change. He hopes to understand how the exchange of information within social networks can be explicitly leveraged in intervention designs to achieve more effective programs and more efficient policy.

When he is not at school, Dr. Reeves is probably either fixing a 1969 Triumph 500 or riding a 2016 Zero DSR.

Modeling helps us to understand what things are like (to paraphrase Russell Ackoff). There is a vagueness in this statement that is fundamentally appealing: things can be like a lot of other things. Thus, there are many ways to model phenomena and each is capable of yielding important insights. Alongside top-down approaches that describe entire systems at a macro-level, there are bottom-up approaches – often operationalized as agent-based models (ABMs) – that treat macro-level system characteristics as emergent from micro-level behavior. Applied to the diffusion of home energy technologies (e.g. solar photovoltaics, high-efficiency HVAC, smart thermostats, etc.), ABMs can reveal novel and actionable insights that stem from a rich description of how people, embedded in complex system, approach technology adoption decision-making. In this presentation, Dr. Reeves will showcase findings from several such models, including insights into: 

  • disambiguating accelerated adoptions from additional adoptions 
  • practical tools to decrease informational barriers to adoption
  • expectations of the distributional impacts – i.e. equity – of policy decisions

The presentation culminates in an exploration of how modeling home energy technology co-adoption is like modeling COVID-19, where Dr. Reeves shows how lessons learned from epidemiology can set a path forward for modeling how individuals decide to co-adopt suites of related technologies.

12-1 P.M. ET

March 17: Roman Sidortsov, Michigan Technological University

"Stranded Assets, Path Dependencies & Carbon Lock-in: Implications of Oil & Gas Development in the Russian, Norwegian and U.S. Arctic"

Register for this talk.



Roman Sidortsov
Roman Sidortsov

Dr. Roman Sidortsov currently serves as an Assistant Professor of Energy Policy at Michigan Technological University and Associate Editor of Energy Research and Social Science, and Senior Research Fellow in Energy Justice and Transitions at the Science Policy Research Unit of the University of Sussex. Dr. Sidortsov's past academic appointments include a Senior Global Energy Fellow and summer and distance learning programs faculty at Vermont Law School, an adjunct professor at the Marlboro College Graduate School, and an Assistant Professor at the Baikal State University of Economics and Law. Prior to transitioning to academia, Dr. Sidortsov practiced law in Russia as in-house counsel for an American non-profit organization and in the United States as a transactional attorney. Dr. Sidortsov's research focuses on international and comparative energy law and policy with a special emphasis on the Russian Federation and the United States, revitalization of post-industrial communities through sustainable energy development, energy security and justice, risk governance in the energy sector, and Arctic energy development. He received an interdisciplinary PhD in Polar Studies/Geography from the University of Cambridge (Churchill College), a bachelor's and master's degrees in law from Irkutsk State University in Siberia, Russia, and a Juris Doctor and an LL.M in Environmental Law from Vermont Law School.

Oil and gas exploration and development continues at a fast pace despite near global recognition of the ongoing energy transition. Based on the historic production and yet to be confirmed estimates, the Arctic has become an increasingly coveted region for finding and developing new hydrocarbon resources. A number of factors make oil and gas development in the region an uncertain if not reckless enterprise. Among them are: legal and regulatory risks due to existing and prospective carbon controls; rapidly changing Arctic landscapes due to climate change subjecting oil and gas infrastructure to significant physical impacts; high capital costs needed to develop remote and challenging fields; and oil and gas price volatility. Some of these risks such as shut in oil wells due to thawed permafrost have already transformed into impacts affecting the ongoing oil and gas activities and resulting in damage to ecosystems. With accelerating physical and policy changes, expansive and costly oil and gas production, transportation, and processing facilities are on track to become stranded assets impacting the socio-economic fabric of Arctic communities and fragile Arctic ecosystems.

The presentation is based on an ongoing study which is part of a Horizon 2020 project "Toward Just, Ethical and Sustainable Arctic Economies, Environments and Societies" (JUSTNORTH). This study aims to answer the following research questions: (i) In what ways and to what extent do stranded asset risks arising in connection with energy projects in the Arctic unduly interfere with the ability of any person to acquire those basic goods to which he or she is justly entitled? and (ii) In what ways and to what extent do stranded asset risks arising in connection with energy projects in the Arctic violate a derivative right to the energy service? Comparative in nature, the case study will examine the ethics of decision-making behind and the impacts of the Goliat offshore oil project in Norway, the Yamal LNG project in Russia, and onshore oil production in the Prudhoe Bay field near Deadhorse, Alaska in the United States.

12 - 1 P.M. ET

April 7: Sarah Kelly, Dartmouth College

Institutional Surprises in the Water-Energy Nexus: How Markets and Indigenous Territorial Conflicts Shape the Dynamics of Small Hydro Development in Chile




Sarah Kelly
Sarah Kelly

Dr. Sarah Kelly is a cultural geographer and postdoctoral researcher affiliated with the Arthur L. Irving Institute for Energy and Society and the Department of Anthropology at Dartmouth College. Her work investigates water, social studies of energy, and Indigenous geographies through community-based participatory research and mapmaking, principally with Mapuche-Williche communities in southern Chile. Her recent publications address the social and environmental impacts of small hydropower as well as discuss equity concerns in the market-based governance of the water-energy nexus. During the pandemia, Sarah launched two participatory research projects to support disaster risk management in Chile.

In this talk, Sarah Kelly, post-doctoral researcher in the Dartmouth Department of Anthropology, draws from ethnographic and institutional research to question the tendency in water–energy nexus scholarship to advocate for further integration of water and energy management. Internationally, small hydropower growth is part of a boom in renewable energy, yet in Chile the reality is more complicated. Kelly will examine the paradoxical trend of hundreds of stalled small hydropower projects that remain incomplete throughout central to southern Chile. These stalled projects indicate unexpected behavior in how water, energy, and environmental institutions interact, in Mapuche Indigenous territory specifically where projects are highly conflictive. Research findings inform debates regarding justice in the clean energy transition, and the use of markets to govern water and energy.

12 -1 P.M. ET

April 21: Michael Davidson, University of California, Sand Diego

Carbon Neutrality in China: What's Behind the Numbers?




Michael Davidson
Michael Davidson

Michael R. Davidson is an assistant professor joint between the School of Global Policy and Strategy and the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at the University of California San Diego. His research and teaching center on the engineering implications and institutional conflicts inherent in deploying low-carbon energy at scale, with a particular focus on China, India, and the U.S. He holds a Ph.D. in engineering systems from MIT and was previously a research fellow and associate at the Harvard Kennedy School Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. Prior to that, he worked for the Natural Resources Defense Council and held a Fulbright Fellowship to Tsinghua University.

China has made some significant medium and long-term climate commitments, including to peak carbon emissions by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2060. These imply a massive shift in the direction of an economy that is still building coal plants and growing its fossil fuel use. Wind and solar installations will likely need to exceed 100 GW per year for decades. In this talk, we will explore the implications of meeting these long-term targets on planning and operations in the power sector. Rapid expansion of intermittent renewables can lead to excessively high curtailment rates without broader reforms to power sector institutions. Markets and business models for thermal power plants must adapt to changing demands from a system flexibility perspective. The development of transmission and distribution infrastructure will shape the available options to scale up low-carbon energy. We will go beyond the numbers to discuss what technologies and policies are really necessary, what are nice to have, and what are just red herrings.


12 - 1 p.m. ET

May 5: Gregg Sparkman, Princeton University

Progress on the "Wicked" Problem: Overcoming Behavioral and Decision Making Hurdles to Address Climate Change and Decarbonize Society



Gregg Sparkman
Gregg Sparkman

Gregg Sparkman is a postdoctoral research associate in the Andlinger Center at Princeton University. His research is focused on understanding social change, including the causes and consequences of norms shifting over time. He completed his PhD at Stanford University in social psychology, where he investigated how people are influenced by witnessing social change and how this can be incorporated into interventions in social, environmental, and political domains. Collaborating with non-profit, public, and private organizations, he uses national surveys and field studies to develop and assess social psychological interventions to meet social and environmental goals.

Climate change has been aptly described as a "Wicked" problem from a behavioral science standpoint as it thwarts key heuristics in our decision making and demands substantial change. One prominent challenge we examine here is how to motivate people to adopt novel sustainable behaviors, technologies and policy attitudes that go against current norms. We will discuss a novel approach to this problem: shifting people's attention away from current norms and onto changes in norms over time ("dynamic norm information") can motivate people to abandon current norms and adopt more sustainable alternatives. We also investigate a second major challenge: how do we ensure people consistently act across important climate domains, including both behavior and policy support? Past research warns that sustainable behavior may "negatively spillover" and lead people to reduce support for important decarbonization policies. In this talk, we will discuss under what (limited) circumstances this occurs, and how achieve "positive spillover" instead so that sustainable actions actually increase decarbonization policy support.

12 - 1 P.M.

June 2: Nathan Williams, Rochester Institute of Technologuy

Necessary but Not Sufficient: Unlocking the Impact of Electricity Access


Dr. Nathan Williams is an Assistant Professor at the Golisano Institute for Sustainability at the Rochester Institute of Technology. His research focuses on African energy systems with a particular interest in the use of renewable and decentralized energy technologies to expand access to electricity. His work has applied various methods including techno-economic modeling, risk analysis and machine learning. More broadly, he is interested in how infrastructure systems in the Global South can be planned in an integrated and sustainable manner to support social and economic development in underserved communities.


While access to electricity remains a major challenge in sub-Saharan Africa, significant progress has been made in rolling out new connections. The drive for universal access is underpinned by the assumption that these new connections will be harnessed to advance social and economic development, however the literature is mixed on short term impacts. Data from both national electric utilities and off-grid electricity service providers show low levels of electricity consumption and stagnant growth in newly connected communities. This state of affairs suggests that, while electricity access may be necessary for development, it is not by itself sufficient. For electrification programs to successfully foster development, more attention is required on the demand side of the electricity access problem. This talk presents findings from a set of studies on demand side challenges and opportunities for electrification programs in East Africa. The first project studies the effect of complementary infrastructure and services on the electricity consumption of grid connected small and medium enterprises in Kenya. The second study examines the effect of appliance finance and tariff subsidy programs on electricity consumption on mini-grids in Kenya and Tanzania. Finally, through case studies in Rwanda, Uganda and Ethiopia, geospatial and biophysical crop modeling approaches to identify opportunities for co-investment in electrification and small-scale irrigation will be discussed.

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About the Series

New Energy: Conversations with Early-Career Energy Researchers is a new online series featuring graduate, post-doctoral, and other early-career researchers sharing their discoveries and perspectives on energy-related topics. From policy to analysis to emerging research, this bi-weekly series will give anyone interested in energy the opportunity to learn from the rising stars in the field. 

This series is a collaborative effort between professors at Dartmouth College's Arthur L. Irving Institute for Energy and Society and the following colleges and universities:

Arizona State University

Penn State University

Carnegie Mellon University's Wilton Scott Institute
for Energy Innovation

Princeton University's Andlinger Center
for Energy and the Environment

Cornell University

Stanford University

Columbia University

Technical University of Denmark

Duke University's Nicholas Institute for 
Environmental Policy Solutions

 Tufts University's Center for Environmental and Resource Policy

ETH Zurich

University of Cambridge

Indiana University's Paul H. O'Neill School of
Public and Environmental Affairs

University of Vermont's Gund Institute for Environment

Northeastern University  

View past talks here. 

Contact the Irving Institute