Energy challenges that are less about technology and more about how people behave with technological innovations are the focus of a powerful new team of social scientists hired at the University of Michigan.
Known as the social science and energy cluster, three tenure-track junior faculty in economics, public policy and political science will be the latest in an academic arsenal aimed at reducing reliance on fossil fuels and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
This cluster hire, part of a university-wide initiative to recruit scholars to work across boundaries to explore significant questions or address complex problems, reflects U-M’s distinction, in energy research, said Dennis Assanis, director of the Michigan Memorial Phoenix Energy Institute, which helped coordinate the hire.
“The challenges in reducing the use of fossil fuels and reducing greenhouse gas emissions are among the most complex questions we face today,” Assanis said “We know that as crucial as technological advances are, it also is imperative we recognize that technology alone will not be solutions without considering the human and social behavioral side of energy. These three faculty members have impressive credentials both as individuals and in their potential to be strong leaders to help shape well-informed change.”
The new assistant professors are:
Economics: Shaun McRae, economics, Stanford University
His thesis estimates a structural model of household demand for electricity in Colombia. He uses this model to predict the change in consumption from upgrading households’ connections to the electric grid.
Public policy: Ashley Langer, economics, University of California – Berkeley
Her thesis focuses on understanding why different demographic groups pay different prices for new and used cars.
Political science: Brian Min, political science, UC – Los Angeles
His main interests are in the political economy of development and in ethnic politics. Using satellite imagery of nighttime lights and other high-resolution geo-coded data available across the entire globe and over time, he analyzed how political institutions affect the delivery of electricity to the poor, focusing on a comparison between India and China.
“There is a natural synergy and a natural complement among these three fields,” said Carl Simon, associate director of the Michigan Memorial Phoenix Energy Institute, who worked on the cluster hire. “All three departments bring individual choice into the picture in ways that are central to our understanding of how the energy crisis arose and how it might be overcome.”
The three will begin in the fall, and mechanisms are planned to coordinate their work and strategize on ways to engage the campus and energy community.
Sue Nichols, Michigan Memorial Phoenix Energy Institute, (734) 615-5678, email@example.com