Climate and Energy Program Focal Areas

Future of the Electricity Sector

The electricity sector is in a period of rapid change driven by a host of economic and regulatory factors—including historically low natural gas prices, dramatic reductions in the cost of renewable energy, and new and evolving environmental regulations. As a result, the sector is simultaneously grappling with coal plant retirements; the possibility of upcoming nuclear plant retirements; increased exposure to natural gas price volatility; maintaining diversity in the generation mix; integrating intermittent and distributed resources; and complying with a host of environmental rules. Responses to these dynamics will affect carbon dioxide emissions, public health, and energy prices for years to come. Work by the Nicholas Institute focuses on how the legal and regulatory landscape governing the electricity sector must adapt to this dynamic environment and how investments made to respond to these changes will influence environmental and economic outcomes in 2050.

Putting a Price on Carbon

Across the world, there’s been a growing interest in putting a price on carbon. As of August 2015, 39 national and 23 subnational jurisdictions are using a carbon tax or an emissions trading system that taxes polluters based on the amount of greenhouse gases they emit in an effort to reduce emissions. Work at the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions examines existing carbon tax schemes, assessing their environmental integrity, cost-effectiveness, distributional equity, and fundamental design.

Economic Modeling of Energy Policy, Technology

To address a wide range of energy problems the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions and its colleagues has developed several models that operate at different geographic, sectoral, and temporal scales. We have developed, or have access to via strategic alliances with other research institutions, a complementary suite of integrated models that include: a model of the U.S. national energy system, a dispatch model of the U.S. electric power system, a plant-level decision model for resource planning of electric power plants, a southern U.S. forest resource model for bioenergy resource analysis, spatial models for siting pipelines for carbon capture and storage, and a national model of the U.S. forest and agricultural sectors. 

Economic and Environmental Consequences of Bioenergy

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions is a respected voice—advising industry, government and NGOs on the likely implications of expanded by energy markets—in the often-contentious area of biomass energy production (particularly in the Southeast). Work by the Nicholas Institute has greatly increased awareness of the greenhouse gas implications of bioenergy use and has been cited by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and members of the Scientific Advisory Board on Biogenic Accounting as a key example of the type of research necessary to develop workable approaches to track bioenergy carbon emissions.

Climate Policy Under the Clean Air Act

Through detailed legal and economic analysis coupled with high-level stakeholder engagement, the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions identifies cost-effective options for using the Clean Air Act to protect public health and encourage deployment of innovative technologies. Since the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark decision in Massachusetts v. EPA, Nicholas Institute researchers have focused on identifying efficient, environmentally-effective options for regulating greenhouse gas emissions under the act.