Industry Program Director and Head of Modeling, Energy Innovation LLC
Year graduated from Carolina Planning: 2011
Specialization at Carolina Planning: Environmental Planning
Jeffrey works at Energy Innovation LLC, a non-governmental organization (NGO) based out of San Francisco. He helps policymakers around the world identify and implement policies that reduce pollution, save money, and mitigate climate change.
Why did I pursue a career in a planning-related field?
After finishing my undergraduate studies, I decided that I wanted to devote my career to solving one of the great problems facing society. While there are many worthy challenges to work on, I realized that working to prevent climate change is very urgent and is an excellent fit for my skills and values.
Though often seen solely as an environmental problem, climate change threatens to adversely affect human beings across the planet, and many of the earliest and worst impacts will be in developing countries, which lack the resources to cope. Food shortages, droughts, and flooding may lead to large increases in migrants and refugees, even as coastal lands and infrastructure are gradually lost to sea level rise. These stressors could lead to political instability and increase the odds that autocracies may displace democracies worldwide. The potential damages, both political and economic, are incalculably large.
Climate change is too big a problem for a single solution. Rather, the way forward is the combination of many smaller things, and good urban design is a critical piece of the puzzle. Wise city planning makes walking, biking, and public transit attractive and efficient, reducing the need for driving. Creating vibrant, mixed-use, dense development near public transit can increase the quality of life for residents (who avoid long commutes and traffic jams) while simultaneously reducing a city’s environmental impact.
I have a love for both public policy and for science, and I discovered the perfect blend of these two disciplines in environmental planning, where an understanding of natural systems (in both a local context, such as flood plains, and a global context, such as climate change) can be combined with an understanding of stakeholders’ needs and the political process to produce the best outcomes.
I enrolled as a dual degree student at UNC-CH, in DCRP’s joint program with the Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering. I received my M.C.R.P. and my M.S. in Environmental Sciences and Engineering in 2011.
Where am I now?
I work at a non-governmental organization (NGO) in San Francisco called Energy Innovation: Policy and Technology LLC. My work centers on helping policymakers around the world to identify and implement policies that will reduce pollution cost-effectively and efficiently.
My largest project since graduation has been the creation of the Energy Policy Simulator (EPS), a computer model that projects the impacts of packages of policies on emissions, cash flows, power plants, electric vehicles, and more. We released the model free and open-source. I’ve worked with partners in many countries to create customized versions of the EPS- so far, we’ve publicly released versions for Canada, China, Indonesia, Mexico, Poland, and the United States. Our in-country partners help us with collection of input data, build relationships with local policymakers and other key stakeholders, and take ownership of the project in their countries over the long term.
The computer model has achieved great success. For example, the Chinese central government used it to help select policies to include in their 13th Five-Year Plan and to assess ways to meet their commitment under the 2015 Paris Climate Accord. The EPS and its findings have appeared in many media outlets, including The New York Times, Vox, Bloomberg, and Forbes. You can try it out at www.energypolicy.solutions.
I’ve also spent about a year working on innovation (R&D) policy, written a dozen or so published articles, and I co-authored a book on energy and environmental policy design, which is coming out later in 2018.
What does the future hold?
In the course of my work on the EPS, it became clear that there is one area where greater efforts are sorely needed to accelerate the transition to a clean energy economy. The industry sector is where all of the products we use every day are created, and if we include the agriculture industry, it is where our food comes from, too. In many countries – including the U.S. and China, the world’s two largest emitters – the industry sector (including agriculture) is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than any other sector of the economy.
However, much less attention is paid to decarbonizing the industry sector than to the transportation or electricity sectors. Just think back to news articles you’ve encountered. How often did you read about electric vehicles, solar panels, or wind turbines? In contrast, how often did you read about ways to make assembly lines more energy-efficient, or to reduce process emissions from the manufacturing of cement?
I am launching a program within my company focused on ways to improve energy efficiency and reduce emissions from the industry sector. I’ll be looking into the technologies and approaches that can best reduce emissions and the policies that will help get those technologies into place. I am excited to embark upon this new challenge.
Although I’m not working directly in city planning, my graduate education at UNC-CH provided crucial skills that I use every day. I love my career, and I am grateful to my two departments at UNC-CH for making it possible.