Past New Energy Talks

July 1: Parth Vaishnav, Carnegie Mellon University

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

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.

Google Scholar Link

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.

June 17: Bjarne Steffen, ETH Zurich, Moderated by Valerie J. Karplus, MIT Sloan School of Management.

"The Role of Finance in the Low-Carbon Energy Transition"

Speaker: Bjarne Steffen 
Senior Researcher and Lecturer,
Energy Politics Group, ETH Zurich

Moderator: Valerie J. Karplus,
Assistant Professor of Global Economics and Management,
MIT Sloan School of Management

About the Speaker: Bjarne Steffen is a senior researcher within the Energy Politics Group at ETH Zurich, Switzerland, and a lecturer at the Institute of Science, Technology and Policy, also at ETH Zurich. His research addresses policies for low- carbon innovation. He is particularly interested in the role of financial actors (e.g., investors and banks) in the ongoing sustainable energy transition, and the role of the state in the finance and energy sectors more generally. To this end, he works at the intersection of economics, political science, and innovation studies. Bjarne was a visiting scholar at MIT's Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research, and worked for the World Economic Forum and the Boston Consulting Group. He holds a Master's in economics from the University of Mannheim and a PhD in energy economics from the University of Duisburg-Essen.

About the Moderator: Valerie J. Karplus is an Assistant Professor of Global Economics and Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management. She studies resource and environmental management in firms operating in diverse national and industry contexts, with a focus on the role of institutions and management practices in explaining performance. Karplus is an expert on China's energy system, including technology and business model innovation, energy system governance, and the management of air pollution and climate change. She works with a collaborative team of researchers to study the micro and macro determinants of clean energy transitions in emerging markets, with a focus on China and India. She holds a BS in biochemistry and political science from Yale University and a PhD in engineering systems from MIT.

Google Scholar Link

About the Talk: Given the magnitude of investment needs for clean energy infrastructure, the availability and cost of capital is crucial for successful energy transitions. For assets such as renewable energy projects that are typically realized in project finance structures, private banks play an important role, and public policy can take an active part in improving financing conditions. However, empirical research rarely addressed to role of financial actors and policies for the energy transition, and limited data e.g. on cost of capital is available for model-based research in the field. Drawing on recent work on several geographies (including Europe, Australia, and developing countries), the presentation covers new insights on drivers for the choice of financing structures, on how the cost of capital depends on technology maturity and experience in the finance industry, as well on how policy instruments like state investment banks can be used effectively. He will also discuss ongoing research to include finance into energy system modeling, and implications for research on the low-carbon energy transition more generally.


Previous New Energy Speakers

Learn more about the researchers and view recordings of our previous New Energy series events.

Wednesday, June 3: Gabriel Chan, University of Minnesota

Gabriel Chan
Assistant Professor
Humphrey School of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota

"Cooperative Electric Cooperative Research"


Join us for our first talk in the series with Gabriel Chan, Assistant Professor at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota. His research examines policies to stimulate innovation in energy technologies and mitigate global climate change in the United States, China, and internationally. Chan's research blends economic methods and theory with a broader set of social science and technical knowledge. He received his PhD in Public Policy from Harvard University in 2015 and bachelor's degrees in political science and earth, atmospheric and planetary science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 2009. You can view his UMN biography hereView his Google Scholar page here

About the Talk

Consumer-owned municipal utilities (munis) and electric cooperatives (co-ops) are important and understudied actors in transition dynamics of the U.S. electricity system, where investor-owned utilities (IOUs) have received significant policy and research attention. Across the U.S., more than 2,000 munis and nearly 900 co-ops manage almost a quarter of electricity sales and serve 36.6 million electricity consumers in primarily rural areas and small communities. Most munis and co-ops are distribution utilities with a strong focus on their local communities and a tradition of coordinating with other public or cooperative service providers for much of their generation and transmission services. 

Munis and co-ops are not required to generate profits for shareholders. They are public or nonprofit organizations founded on shared principles of democratic accountability, local governance, and local rate regulation (APPA, n.d.; NRECA, 2016). Renewable energy and social justice advocates are increasingly organizing around the potential for community-based democratic organizations to promote more sustainable and just societies. However, unlike the more recent expansion of renewable generation cooperatives in Europe, most munis and co-ops in the U.S. have served local communities since the first part of the 20th century when small towns and rural areas were first electrified. These utilities are embedded in centralized legacy structures and many have historically been heavily invested in fossil fuel-based electricity generation. In 2016, coal and natural gas accounted for 68% and 90% of the capacity owned by non-federal public power (serving primarily munis) and co-ops, respectively. (In comparison, IOU electric capacity was 74% coal and natural gas in 2016).

Munis and co-ops make decisions in fundamentally different ways than IOUs and to accelerate a sustainable transition, they require different pathways for navigating system change and different policy mixes. The differences between munis and co-ops and the systems that they are embedded in suggest new modes for academic research institutes to engage and leverage their research capacities. This presentation will discuss several recent and ongoing research efforts to engage municipal and cooperative utilities as research participants, stakeholders for research outcomes, and direct collaborators in research projects.

Read a recent paper by Chan and other researchers called "Municipal utilities and electric cooperatives in the United States:
Interpretive frames, strategic actions, and place-specific transitions" in Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions.