New Research

We raise for debate and discussion what in our opinion is a growing mis-control and mis-protection of U.S. energy research. We outline the origin of this mis-control and mis-protection, and propose two guiding principles to mitigate them and instead nurture research: (1) focus on people, not projects; and (2) culturally insulate research from development, but not science from technology.

Energy research is critical to continuing advances in human productivity and welfare. In this Commentary, we raise for debate and discussion what in our view is a growing mis-control and mis-protection of U.S. energy research. This flawed approach originates in natural human tendencies exacerbated by an historical misunderstanding of research and development, science and technology, and the relationships between them. We outline the origin of the mis-control and mis-protection, and propose two guiding principles to mitigate them and instead nurture research: (i) focus on people, not projects; and (ii) culturally insulate research from development, but not science from technology. Our hope is to introduce these principles into the discourse now, so they can help guide policy changes in U.S. energy research and development that are currently being driven by powerful geopolitical winds.

The utility business model and power generation industry are built upon a century-old legal regime. Federal and state laws are premised on power flowing from large-scale infrastructure to captive consumers paying regulated rates to a monopoly utility. Today, electric power and money can flow in the opposite directions. Services supplied through utility-owned distribution grids, including storage, energy production, and demand response, upend long-standing industry assumptions about infrastructure investments, consumer behavior, and rate setting. In doing so, distributed energy resource (DERs) threaten incumbent businesses and challenge entrenched regulatory regimes. Regulation of the electric industry is pervasive and will determine where DERs are deployed, the services they may provide, the prices they are paid, and who is allowed to own them. A threshold issue in addressing the future of DER regulation is the roles that federal and state regulators will play in making these decisions. This paper pieces together, from numerous FERC orders and federal court decisions, how the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) jurisdiction over interstate wholesale energy sales and transmission service applies to DERs. It finds that FERC has disclaimed authority over DER sales that offset a ratepayer’s retail consumption but federal law applies to other sales. FERC’s current approach to these other energy transfers splits authority with state regulators based on various factors, including technology and location on the grid. This fragmented regulatory regime could doom DERs to segmented markets, preventing the creation of a coherent framework for DER development. This paper suggests that FERC should simplify the overlapping web of state and federal regulation by disclaiming jurisdiction over DER energy sales. Doing so would allow states to regulate sales by all types of DERs to local buyers, such as a utility or aggregator. States would then have clear authority to develop comprehensive DER development models. It would also free FERC from the potentially onerous task of directly regulating millions of small-scale resources, while allowing FERC to invite aggregations of DERs to sell directly into regional wholesale markets.
Narayanamurti, Venkatsh, and Jeffrey Y. Tsao. 2018. “Nurturing Transformative U.S. Energy Research: Two Guiding Principles.” MRS Energy & Sustainability 5 (10): 1-8. Abstract
Energy research is critical to continuing advances in human productivity and welfare. In this Commentary, we raise for debate and discussion what in our view is a growing mis-control and mis-protection of U.S. energy research. This flawed approach originates in natural human tendencies exacerbated by an historical misunderstanding of research and development, science and technology, and the relationships between them. We outline the origin of the mis-control and mis-protection, and propose two guiding principles to mitigate them and instead nurture research: (i) focus on people, not projects; and (ii) culturally insulate research from development, but not science from technology. Our hope is to introduce these principles into the discourse now, so they can help guide policy changes in U.S. energy research and development that are currently being driven by powerful geopolitical winds.
Greenstone, Michael, Rohini Pande, Anant Sudarshan, and Santosh Harish. 2018. A Roadmap Towards Cleaning India’s Air: Evidence-Based Recommendations for More Effective Environmental Regulations. EPIC India and Harvard Kennedy School, Evidence for Policy Design. Publisher's Version Abstract
More than 660 million Indians live in areas that exceed the Indian National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) for fine particulate (PM2.5) pollution. Our research suggests that if India were to meet its own standards, life expectancy would increase by more than one year on average. Moreover, if India were to meet the WHO’s air quality standard, its people would live about four years longer on average. The economic costs of pollution, through its impact on health care expenditures and workforce productivity, will be significant. Ascribing a monetary value to all of the damages created by pollution is difficult, but an estimate from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) suggests that ambient air pollution alone may cost India more than 0.5 trillion dollars per year (OECD 2014).
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