New Energy: Conversations with Early-Career Energy Researchers

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Dates and Speakers at a Glance

Spring 2021 Speakers

  • May 19, 2021: Gregg Sparkman, Princeton University, "Progress on the 'Wicked' Problem: Overcoming Behavioral and Decision Making Hurdles to Address Climate Change and Decarbonize Society." [REGISTER]
  • June 2, 2021: Nathan Williams, Rochester Institute of Technology, "Necessary but Not Sufficient: Unlocking the Impact of Electricity Access" [REGISTER]

12 - 1 p.m. ET

May 19: 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 Technology

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

Boston University Institute for Sustainable Energy

Carnegie Mellon University's Wilton Scott Institute
for Energy Innovation

Cornell University

Columbia University

Duke University's Nicholas Institute for 
Environmental Policy Solutions

ETH Zurich

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

Northeastern University

Penn State University

Princeton University's Andlinger Center
for Energy and the Environment

Stanford University

Technical University of Denmark

Tufts University's Center for Environmental and Resource Policy

University of Cambridge

University of Vermont's Gund Institute for Environment

View past talks here. 

Contact the Irving Institute