Panel: Accelerating Adoption: Design and Impacts of Clean Energy Policy
(Natural Resource Security, Energy and Environmental Policy)

Thursday, November 2, 2017: 3:30 PM-5:00 PM
Stetson E (Hyatt Regency Chicago)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Panel Organizers:  Mallory Flowers, Georgia Institute of Technology
Panel Chairs:  Sanya Carley, Indiana University
Discussants:  Gabriel Chan, University of Minnesota

Knowledge Networks in the U.S. Solar Industry
Xue Gao, Mark Hand, Ariane Beck and Varun Rai, University of Texas, Austin

The design of effective policies promoting technology adoption is key to meeting clean energy energy goals worldwide. This panel offers lessons on the design of policy instruments based on observations from clean energy deployment across various scales of implementation. Each paper poses questions in energy and technology policy, matched with data uniquely situated to provide insights, analyzed through diverse methodological approaches including network analysis, agent-based modeling, and econometrics. Together, these papers inform the design of clean energy policymaking by filling gaps in our understanding of soft costs, lock-in, and the distribution of program impacts.

The first paper in our panel examines how ‘soft costs,’ a key barrier to the widespread adoption of solar photovoltaics, may be reduced through local and non-local knowledge networks. The authors develop a patent citation database to first offer insight on how firms rely on local versus non-local knowledge sources, and what this means for the cost of installation. Second, local network mapping for solar installations in Austin provides insight on the acquisition, production, and spillovers from knowledge flows. Together, these analyses draw on unique data to infer how policy designs can spur cost-reducing innovation and broader solar deployment.

Following this, the second paper assesses the relationship between solar deployment and the design of policy instruments. Drawing on observations from solar photovoltaic adoption under Germany’s feed-in tariff, the paper develops an agent-based model to evaluate adoption under counterfactual policy designs. Rich historical data calibrates the model, simulating technology adoption over nine years. The results demonstrate the importance of instrument design in policymaking, and suggest that this particular policy design favored one particular technology, creating a global lock-in effect. Based on modeling results, the authors develop recommendations for policy designs that facilitate technology adoption while avoiding premature lock-in.

Third, the panel examines technology adoption outcomes under flexible policy designs. Drawing on a high-resolution database of actions taken toward green building certification over eleven years, this work identifies technology choice convergence, inconsistent with technology learning. Results indicate organizational mimicry, by which firms ‘lock in’ on technologies that confer private benefits, despite program goals of producing public benefits. Analysis suggests that transaction and search costs may inhibit selection of some technologies that are otherwise cost-effective. The author asserts a framework to understand and predict both lock-in under regulatory flexibility, and evolving distributions of benefits related to green technology.

As the transition to clean energy accelerates, the fourth paper examines the distribution of related benefits, assessing equity impacts to complement existing research on market efficiency. The authors offer a framework for examining equity impacts based on policy designs. Three case studies offer cross-cutting analysis of equity in energy policies related to smart grid investment grants, utility smart-meter roll out, and green building adoption in cities. Results demonstrate racial or income-based inequalities in the implementation of each program. The authors connect the design of each policy instrument to the direct and indirect justice outcomes, offering lessons for equitable policymaking.