Parth Vaishnav

July 1: Parth Vaishnav, Carnegie Mellon University

"Electrify Everything"
Parth Vaishnav
Assistant Research Professor of Engineering & Public Policy, Carnegie Mellon University 

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About the Speaker: Parth Vaishnav is Assistant Research Professor of Engineering and Public Policy (EPP) at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU). His research seeks to understand behavioral, economic, and political barriers to the adoption of technologies that reduce the harm from energy production and use, with the goal devising strategies to overcome those barriers. He holds a PhD in EPP ('15) from CMU, and an MPhil in technology policy ('11) from Cambridge University. Parth has published in scientific journals including Energy Policy, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Nature Materials, Environmental Science and Technology, Environmental Research Letters, Sloan Management Review, and Research Policy. He has also published opinion pieces in Aviation Week and Space Technology, Issues in Science and Technology, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

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About the Talk: The transportation sector is the largest source of carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. The majority of these emissions come from light-duty vehicles. Many energy systems analyses suggest that light vehicle electrification is technically straightforward, and essential to decarbonizing the economy and averting dangerous global warming. In parallel with a rise in the market share of electric vehicles (EVs), autonomous vehicles (AVs) are being tested on public roads. Among other benefits, AVs offer the possibility of substantially reducing the 37,000 road deaths that occurred in the U.S. in 2018. The first case is a study that asks whether society can have the anticipated safety benefits of automation, while also fully electrifying light vehicle transport. While some commentators have suggested that the power and energy requirements of automation mean that the first automated vehicles will be gas-electric hybrids, our findings suggest that this need not be the case. A second case tests the feasibility of deploying heat pumps, which enable efficient electrification of space heating. Many integrated assessment models suggest that the electrification of space heating is essential to decarbonizing the economy. We find that, in some parts of the U.S., an immediate switch from natural gas to electric heat pumps would increase health and environmental damages from carbon dioxide (CO2) and other pollutants over the lifetime of the heat pump, even if electricity generation were rapidly decarbonized over that lifetime. A shift to heat pumps would increase household annual hourly peak demand for electricity in most parts of the country, potentially requiring an expansion of the electricity distribution system. The study concludes with analyses that suggest that unless carefully designed, policies to promote the adoption of even technologically straightforward interventions can hurt equity and face political hurdles.