Energy Initiative Marshalls Resources

Paul M. Gross Hall sits diagonally across the   street, just a short walk from the Sanford School. Over the last 18 months, the structure has been revitalized as the Duke Energy Hub—an active campus home for the university’s growing strategic initiative in energy.

  For Sanford School professors such as Billy Pizer, Alex Pfaff, Marc Jeuland, Stephen Kelly and Subhrendu Pattanayak the hub’s proximity is particularly handy. Sanford is an integral partner in the Duke Energy Initiative, along with Duke’s schools of environment, engineering, business, arts and sciences, and law. The network of partners also includes several campus-wide institutes and research centers. Pizer joined the initiative last summer from the U.S. Treasury Department. There, as a deputy assistant secretary, he led Treasury’s efforts relating to the nation’s environment and energy policies. His job included overseeing about $400 million in multilateral environmental spending and working with development banks such as the World Bank. 

   Coming to Duke allowed Pizer to rejoin Richard Newell, a friend, fellow economist and former Resources for the Future colleague who now directs the Duke Energy Initiative. Pizer is a North Carolina native, so it was also a homecoming; he attended the North Carolina School of Science and Math and began his career as a high school physics teacher. Newell, the Gendell Associate Professor of Energy and Environmental Economics at the Nicholas School of the Environment, returned to Duke in 2011 after leading the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) for two years. The EIA produces official U.S. government energy statistics and analysis.  

  “I came to Duke in 2007 and came back in 2011 because it was my sense that Duke ‘gets’ it: what it takes to make a difference in this area,” Newell said.   

   Most university-led energy initiatives have emerged from a purely technical perspective, inside schools of engineering. Because interdisciplinary teaching and research are “real strengths of Duke,” it is strongly positioned to help solve national and international energy problems, he said.   

   While the United States remains the world’s second largest carbon emitter, the greater challenge is meeting rapidly rising energy demand from burgeoning economies like China and India.  

 “The pressing questions are how to meet energy demands in ways that minimize environmental impacts, while considering the national security and foreign policy implications of energy choices. These are not trivial challenges,” Newell said. “Integrated solutions are not going to be found by focusing on individual technological, market or policy components in isolation.”  

  The Energy Initiative is building on Duke’s existing strengths in teaching, research and outreach. Undergraduates can earn a Certificate in Energy and the Environment. The environment and business schools offer master’s degree programs with a focus in energy, and a Sanford program is under consideration. Duke also offers the first PhD program in the world jointly coordinated by a school of the environment and a school of public policy. In the future, short courses and online courses may be developed as well, Newell said.

   A speaker series launched this year brought a number of high-profile lecturers to provide insight into current energy policies and innovations. Former U.S. Rep. Bob Inglis (R-S.C.) served as the Nicholas School Visiting Energy Fellow this spring and taught a short course on energy policy.

   Through the initiative, a Clean Energy Track was included in the 13th Annual Duke Start-Up Challenge, a student entrepreneurship competition. One of three teams of finalists in the Clean Energy Track will receive $5,000 and become eligible to compete in the $100,000 ACC Clean Energy Challenge this summer. The initiative’s three-pronged research agenda focuses on technology and systems, marketing and finance, and policy and society. Projects range from applied science—such as capturing sunlight and using it to drive solar fuel reactions or photovoltaic devices—to studying the cost-effectiveness of utility demand-side management programs for electricity energy efficiency. Many research projects are in development, Newell and Pizer said, but natural gas drilling and climate change are clearly on the list.

 “We should be able to listen to policymakers’ constraints and design policies that get the biggest bang for the buck, “Pizer said. “Cap and trade is off the table for now, and takes with it many carrots and sticks policymakers could have used. But we still need to make progress.”

This story was originally published in Sanford Insights