Energy Policy and Climate


Recent Submissions

Now showing 1 - 20 of 179
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    (2023-12) Yayue Huang
    As developing nations like China and India surge onto the global stage, their rapid expansion comes at a cost: a growing dependence on fossil fuels that fuels the looming greenhouse gas crisis. These two rising powers face the monumental challenge of energy transition, disentangling their economies from the carbon legacy of the past. Despite that China and India both put in enormous efforts in energy transition, they have different approaches. This paper focuses on the comparison of China and India in energy transition through analyses of data and policy frameworks. This paper also dissects the interplay of three key elements, which are regulatory structures shaping policy, technological advancements defining energy options, and financial mechanisms driving investments. This research discusses how the three elements interact and influence India and China in their path towards a cleaner and greener future by examining both quantitative data and qualitative factors. China benefited a lot from its centralized government because it can implement any infrastructure that can facilitate renewable energy deployment and advancement efficiently in a top-down manner. India, on the other hand, does not have the benefits of being a centralized nation. It still has fragmented regulatory frameworks that encourage innovation and entrepreneurial vigor in renewable technologies. Understanding China and India's unique energy transition journeys is crucial for policymakers, technology developers, and social activists to examining China and India’s successes and challenges to seek to break free from fossil fuel dependence. This thesis intends to provide actionable insights in policy design, technology deployment, and social mobilization, offering practical tools to build a sustainable future for all.
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    Evaluating the Role of Nuclear Energy in Virginia’s Zero-Carbon Electricity Future
    (2023-12) Victoria Higgins
    Virginia faces unprecedented load growth due to data center development in Dominion territory, a phenomenon which significantly complicates the state’s commitment to a zero-carbon electricity mix and creates enormous risk for Dominion ratepayers. This paper seeks to present stakeholders with a clear sense of the benefits and challenges of meeting surging demand with and without new nuclear facilities. First, I analyze Dominion’s 2023 Integrated Resource Plan to demonstrate the scale of the demand surge and the exorbitant cost of non-compliance with state climate laws. While alternative plans are presented, I find that they ignore real-world factors like local solar opposition and the eventual retirement of the state’s extensive natural gas generation fleet and nuclear plants. Two theoretical portfolios are examined – one which meets Virginia’s 2045 demand with only existing nuclear, variable renewable energy (VRE), and battery storage; and one which incorporates new nuclear. The VRE-reliant portfolio provides material economic benefits, but presents a greater reliability risk and is significantly more land-intensive. I conclude that to meet state climate goals while meeting demand affordably, a) utility planning processes must be more transparent and inclusive; b) local solar bans should be eliminated, while preserving localities ability to consider proposals on a project-by-project basis; c) the state should not permit utilities to gamble on major new nuclear projects in the short-term, and d) community engagement and planning should begin for new nuclear facilities in the medium-term as the demand picture and the economics of new nuclear become clearer.
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    24/7 Carbon-Free Electricity (CFE) in the US: Qualitative Research & Policy Recommendations
    (2023-12) Olivia Dawson-Olson
    With potential to transform how the clean energy transition unfolds, the 24/7 carbon-free electricity (CFE) movement has recently been gaining momentum in the energy and climate policy space in the US. The 24/7 CFE aims to better align clean electricity supply with end use including principles like temporal matching supply and demand, energy deliverability, and resource additionality. This research conducted literature review and a survey of thought leaders to synthesize a wholistic set of policy recommendations for 24/7 CFE in the US. The positive objectives of the 24/7 CFE movement are well established. However, additional streamlining and evaluation is needed to guide successful design and implementation. Additionally, integration of 24/7 CFE principles within the broader policy landscape warrants further consideration. This research is intended to aid interested parties in implementing 24/7 CFE in a manner promoting an effective, timely clean energy transition and decarbonization of the electric sector.
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    (2023-12) Mindy Mejia
    In order to reach their greenhouse gas emission reduction goals, the State of Washington passed the Climate Commitment Act, which took effect in 2023. The Cap-and-Invest program rising from the Climate Commitment Act has placed increased regulatory requirements and financial burden on the oil refining sector in Washington State. The high costs and cost uncertainties refiners face from the Climate Commitment Act, and other climate related laws, as well as impacts from the geographical nearness of California’s carbon market, have led to an uncertain future for the state’s refineries. The following analysis outlines the challenges refineries are now confronted with, including the cost uncertainties associated with allowance auctions, the future of cost-free allowances, the impacts of carbon market fragmentation, and the additional financial burden of compliance with the Clean Fuel Standard. It then offers policy and business solutions such as linking Washington’s program with California and Quebec’s carbon market, and encourages refiners to make decarbonization a priority. The offered recommendations could allow oil refineries to remain financially viable long enough to support the energy transition, and be phased out slowly rather than shutting down prematurely, thereby avoiding carbon leakage.
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    (2023-12) Michelle Thomas
    Heat kills more people per year than the combined total of floods, storms, and lightning. California is expected to face increasingly warmer temperatures, as well as more frequent and longer heat waves that can endanger the health of the public, and in some cases, cause death. Low-income and disadvantaged communities are likely to suffer a disproportionate amount of those deaths during extreme heat events because this vulnerable population is challenged with adapting to extreme heat. One of the most readily available heat adaptation technologies is air conditioning (A/C). However, this technology that is so ubiquitous to most people, especially those with more affluence, is not readily available to some low-income populations in Southern California primarily due to its high purchase and installation costs. Using several public information sources, this Needs Assessment identified 231 vulnerable census tracts making up 290,489 households, in a four-county Southern California region for which a percentage likely doesn’t have A/C. Further, available federal, state, and local programs that offer A/C to income-qualified households were inventoried to determine if there was enough funding and enabling policies to directly install A/C in the targeted households. The Needs Assessment concludes that there is a funding gap of $326 million up to $2.2 billion in current programs that could address this need and ensure the identified vulnerable population has the adaptive capacity for extreme heat.
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    (2023-12) Meadow Hackett Rutenbar
    The growing demand for sustainable business practices has led to the development of various environmental, social, and governance (ESG) reporting standards, frameworks, and taxonomies. Among these, the European Union's (EU) Taxonomy for Sustainable Activities stands out as a comprehensive classification system for identifying and financing sustainable economic activities. This research seeks to understand how and when the EU Taxonomy will impact U.S. companies as well as the preparedness of U.S. companies today. While U.S. companies are increasingly organizing to operate in a regulated ESG disclosure environment, alignment to EU Taxonomy objectives remain limited, which could negatively impact investor confidence, lead to reputational risks, regulatory non-compliance, and a competitive disadvantage in global market. Through a qualitative analysis of voluntary sustainability reports, this study finds that U.S. companies exhibit a significant lack of preparedness for EU Taxonomy-aligned reporting. The results indicated that despite widespread voluntary reporting with 100% of companies evaluated aligning with at least one voluntary sustainability standard or framework, only one company explicitly mentioned the EU Taxonomy. Further expanding the review, over half of the companies evaluated did disclose sustainable investments and up to 96% disclosed activities aligned with at least one of the objectives of the EU Taxonomy. The results suggest that U.S. companies may have eligible activities but are not sufficiently prepared for the application of the EU Taxonomy which requires aligning sustainable activities to financial statement line items: revenue, operating expenses, and capital expenditures. This assessment contributed a U.S. centric lens to existing research which has evaluated broader populations including an evaluation of challenges U.S. companies may face due to the complexity of the Taxonomy and eligible activities, data availability, and suggested next steps for enhancing readiness.
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    (2023-12) Joseph R. Paolino III
    As the United States increasingly deploys clean energy technologies, it will need to address its supply chain vulnerabilities. At present, minerals and materials activities—upstream, midstream, and downstream—are concentrated abroad, and mostly in China. This concentration portends numerous future energy security risks, particularly as the United States aims to decarbonize its economy. Increased domestic recycling of critical energy minerals and materials can reduce these vulnerabilities. However, the United States has a nascent clean energy recycling industry. Salient challenges to scale up clean energy projects and recycling facilities include the following: undeveloped markets, patch-work standards, uncertain community relations, permitting delays, and environmental concerns. Nevertheless, there is a unique opportunity to address each of these issues as the energy transition commences. Moreover, the United States can reduce its mining burden and supply chain vulnerabilities by incentivizing domestic recycling and innovations within the field. Achieving a circular economy is a long-term aspiration. The United States will not satisfy total demand for these minerals through recycling alone. But if public policy supports domestic recycling, then the United States can become a global leader in this sector, mitigate energy security risks, further reduce emissions and mining burden, and generate socioeconomic benefits in the process.
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    Utilizing High School Environmental Science Capstone Projects to Support District-Level Sustainability Goals in Porterville Unified School District
    (2023-12) John Sherrill
    The integration of environmental sustainability into high school curricula has become imperative, emphasizing the significance of concepts such as climate change, biodiversity, and natural resource management for informed global citizenship. In particular, capstone projects have emerged as vital components of high school environmental education, offering opportunities to advance sustainability in local communities and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Porterville Unified School District (PUSD) has been partnering with the non-profit organization Climate Action Pathways for Schools (CAPS) to address environmental and sustainability issues, resulting in the formation of the PUSD Energy & Sustainability Program with overarching goals of reducing district greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2030 and achieving at least $500,000 in annual energy savings by 2030. CAPS has employed student interns to accomplish this task. The Environmental Science Academy (ESA), a cohorted program of study at Monache High School,within Porterville Unified School District, focuses on environmental education and activism, culminating in capstone projects where each student applies their knowledge to a real-world problem. This paper will make recommendations in order to utilize ESA capstone projects to help Porterville Unified School District meet district-level sustainability goals. The hypothesis is that in order to meet PUSD’s district-level sustainability goals as outlined by CAPS, student involvement needs to expand beyond limited student internships and include student capstone projects. The results of CAPS interns’ work were considered as a baseline for expanding sustainability initiatives into capstone project curricula. This work was reflected in the data collected from electricity and natural gas bills which were used to analyze savings and emissions since the baseline year. Effective integration of capstone projects is based on interdisciplinary collaboration, community involvement, and real-world alignment with current sustainability challenges. A structured approach to project development and evaluation is essential, ensuring the seamless synchronization between theoretical academic concepts and applied environmental conservation efforts. High school capstone projects have the potential to empower students, foster community engagement, and contribute to school districts' sustainability goals. These projects provide hands-on experiences, promote collaboration, and develop essential skills, preparing students for future career opportunities in sustainability-related fields. By actively engaging in research, data collection, and analysis, students gain a practical understanding of concepts such as energy conservation, waste reduction, and biodiversity preservation.
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    (2023-12) Jake Anders Swanson
    The transition to a sustainable energy future is a pressing global imperative, and regional electricity markets play a pivotal role in achieving climate goals. This paper explores the necessary policy changes and investments required by PJM Interconnection, one of the largest electricity markets in North America, and state regulators to align with its ambitious climate objectives by 2030. This study assesses the challenges, benefits, and opportunities associated with a focus on renewable energy integration, grid modernization, electrification of transportation, and energy efficiency. Drawing from extensive research and case studies, the paper presents policy recommendations aimed at streamlining regulatory processes, fostering financial incentives, promoting technological innovation, and increasing public and utility engagement. Notably, PJM and FERC must collaborate to reduce the backlog of energy projects waiting in the interconnection queue. While FERC Order 2023 and the establishment of a queue scoping tool by PJM are much needed steps in the right direction, the implementation of these instruments is crucial to achieving PJM’s climate goals. PJM must also focus on easing the renewable energy procurement process through improvements in their market design. Lastly, PJM needs to reduce barriers to entry and encourage participation in their stakeholder structure to incorporate the suggestions of new clean energy developers in the interconnection. These findings emphasize the critical role of regulatory changes in shaping PJM’s transition to a low-carbon energy landscape, highlighting the economic, environmental, and societal benefits that can be realized through timely and informed decision-making. As governments, industries, and communities seek pathways to sustainable development, the insights provided in this paper contribute to the broader discourse on achieving climate objectives through effective policies, governance, and investments.
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    Assessing the Bankability of a Floating Offshore Wind Project on California’s Coast using a Financial Model
    (2023-12) Ethan Anderson
    The purpose of this paper is to ascertain the “bankability” of a floating offshore wind project in California’s Morry Bay Wind Energy Area. This project will be considered “bankable” if it can achieve an 11% post-tax equity internal rate of return at a power purchase agreement price of $80 per Megawatt-hour. The Literature Review covers California’s emphasis and support for offshore wind development, current floating offshore wind technologies, and potential challenges facing future projects. A multi-step approach was used to qualitatively and quantitatively ascertain the required project assumptions to inform a financial model that would yield accurate results. The process of informing each assumption was nested in applying relevant literature on floating offshore wind to the specific site characteristics of Lease Area OCS-P0563. The assumptions were then used as inputs for the financial model to produce outputs for 4 scenarios that incorporated economic and supply chain conditions, while reviewing additional sensitivities regarding tax incentives. These outputs were used to determine the financial attractiveness of the project. The results showed that a floating offshore wind project in Lease Area OCS-P0563 would not be “bankable” in any of the four scenarios analyzed and within the strike price and post-tax equity internal rate of return target. However, instances of political willingness to offer higher prices for offshore wind electricity, despite additional costs to consumers, suggests such a project could be financially attractive at higher power purchase agreement prices.
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    The Potential for Hazardous Fuel Reduction Treatments to Produce Net Economic Benefits in California
    (2023-12) Erica Turner
    Modern wildfire activity in California has been characterized by large uncontrolled fires and significant economic burden. From 2017-2021, wildfires have resulted in an estimated $117.4 billion in annual losses for the state- accounting for structural damages, employment loss and disruption, and the loss of life. For more than a century, fire exclusion and immediate suppression were mainstays of fire management strategies in the United States. Though well-intentioned, these practices allowed for more compact and continuous forests that are more conducive to severe wildfires. Hazardous fuel reduction treatments, including mechanical thinning and prescribed burns, help to remove dead vegetation or “fuels” from fire-sensitive regions- minimizing large-scale destruction from uncontrolled fires. While the benefit of widespread fuel reduction is well understood, uncertainties regarding the return on investment still exist. To test the hypothesis that the economic benefits of reduced damage from fuel reduction treatments will be greater than the nominal cost of those treatments, we utilized a model of neural networks to predict Fire Radiative Power (FRP) if a fire was active under given conditions and estimate the resulting fire suppression costs. The fire suppression costs were modeled under two representative concentration pathways (RCP 2.5 and RCP 4.6) and two fuel reduction scenarios (no-change and widespread fuel reduction treatment). We found that the use of hazardous fuel reduction treatments resulted in significant cost savings totaling up to $34 billion on an initial $8.5 billion treatment cost- giving a benefit/cost ratio of 4x. Additionally, we found that fuel reduction treatments, rather than a reduction in emissions, are more influential on fire intensity potential projections. Lastly, while our findings suggest that large-scale hazardous fuel reduction treatments are more costly than fire suppression, there is evidence that fuel reduction treatments will ultimately result in a net economic benefit at the societal level.
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    (2023-12) Eric Karl Barradale, PE, CEM
    Decarbonization of the electric power sector in South Carolina will change the composition of generation and energy storage resources, how the system is operated, and how adequate levels of reliability are maintained by transmission system operators in the state. In an effort to reduce statewide carbon dioxide emissions, legacy coal-fired thermal generation plants will be retired and replaced with new lower emitting resources, renewable energy generation resources and energy storage resources comprised primarily of batteries and pumped storage hydropower. The three major electric utilities that own and operate utility-scale generation resources in the state, Duke Energy, Dominion Energy, and Santee Cooper, have all filed Integrated Resource Plans outlining pathways to reduce carbon dioxide emissions while concurrently generating more energy in the future to meet growing customer demand. This increased demand will result from population growth, expanding industries, data centers, artificial intelligence and cryptocurrency computing, electric vehicles, and general end-use electrification such as conversions of furnaces to heat pumps. To see what the future role of energy storage may look like in South Carolina, other states that have higher penetrations of renewable energy resources were examined. The research concluded that the need for new energy storage resources will vary by utility company. A large percentage of the energy generated by Duke Energy is derived from nuclear power, which is operated as a baseload resource and has a high capacity factor. In addition, Duke Energy relies heavily on pumped storage hydropower, so Duke Energy’s need for utility-scale batteries is not as great as Dominion Energy and Santee Cooper which both operate in the central and eastern portions of the state where the future penetration of utility-scale solar PV resources is forecast to expand greatly.
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    (2023-12) Emily Royal
    The long term management of legacy contamination at federally-owned Superfund sites does not yet have a defined process for incorporating the impacts of a changing climate into site remedies. The impacts at privately-owned Superfund sites have been considered by the Government Accountability Office. This research applies the methods which GAO used in their report to determine site vulnerabilities to federally-owned Superfund sites in the southeast. Using sea level rise and storm surge data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and flood data from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, this process determined that 16 out of 18 federally-owned Superfund sites in the southeast may experience impacts from these datasets within 1 mile of their primary geographic coordinate
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    Current Long Duration Energy Storage (LDES) Valuation and Compensation Challenges in California
    (2023-12) Diego Garrison
    This study reviews the valuation and compensation of Long Duration Energy Storage (LDES) within the existing market structures and regulations of the State of California in order to determine whether they are supportive of the deployment of LDES in the wake of the various incentives included for LDES in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021 (IIJA) and the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 (IRA). After conducting a literature review of 74 sources, this study finds that while California has been proactive in considering the need and utility of LDES, both the existing market structures and regulations within the State inadequately value and compensate the unique services LDES provide, and consequently, do not sufficiently support their deployment. The ultimate value and goal of this paper is the combination of knowledge and perspectives of the LDES industry, state and federal government, and the academic community to shine light on a new and evolving challenge with the hope of spurring additional research and action to ensure the full potential of the incentives under the IIJA and IRA are realized.
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    (2023-12) Destin Webb
    This report arrives at a critical juncture in corporate strategy, especially within the technology sector, where Net Zero is rapidly becoming a key focus. This report specifically examines the efforts of leading U.S.-based tech companies like Apple, Google, and Microsoft in their progression towards "Net Zero" emissions, a milestone that remains an ongoing challenge. This research aims to clearly articulate the nuanced differences between and pathways to achieving carbon neutrality, attaining Net Zero emissions, and taking actions that exceed these goals. The hypothesis of this report is that the leading U.S. technology companies, particularly Apple, Google, and Microsoft, are not merely aiming to achieve 'Net Zero' emissions but are actively pioneering a multifaceted approach towards this goal that other companies can learn from. The hypothesis also posits that the strategies, technological innovations, and policy frameworks employed by these companies are not only advancing their own sustainability goals but are also setting a precedent for the entire tech industry. This approach includes a progression from their current status to carbon neutrality — where emissions are offset by equivalent carbon reductions — to attaining and surpassing Net Zero emissions – where emissions are reduced to 95% below a 2018 baseline - through significant emission reductions. These companies are utilizing a combination of innovative technological solutions, robust internal sustainability policies, and leveraging external regulatory frameworks to not only reach but potentially exceed these sustainability milestones. Through a thorough review of these strategies, the purpose of this research is to offer actionable insights and strategies for other tech companies to emulate, aiming to contribute to the broader goal of a sustainable and environmentally responsible technology sector.
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    (2023-12) David Hampton
    This study intended to discover the financial feasibility of a community owned dispersed wind project using the System Advisor Model from NREL, while taking advantage of incentives from the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). At 80-meter hub height, it was determined that three of twelve scenarios were financially viable based on internal rate of return greater than 8.14%. The successful cases also had capacity factors above 30%, net capital costs below five million USD, project capacities between 1.65 MW and 2 MW, and individual turbine capacities ranging from 500 kW to 2 MW. Scenarios benefited from the assumption of a full USDA Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) grant and qualifying for several investment tax credit (ITC) bonuses. This, however, was weighed against a low average power purchase agreement for wind projects in the PJM region and a higher discount rate than in past years of 5.5%. In fact, a community wind project may prove more beneficial in a net metering scenario.
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    (2023-12) Dana Mowry
    The United States is projected to see an increase of as much as 15% in energy consumption by 2050 because of the push toward electrification and additional needs for heating and cooling (U.S. Energy Information Adminstration, 2023). Utility administered energy efficiency programs across the country have successfully saved Americans money while reducing the demand on the electrical grid. The programs in Connecticut and Massachusetts are top producers among the country’s efficiency programs. Comparison of the two programs’ budgets, account usage and savings results reveal many similarities, however differences in funding mechanisms result in Mass Save in Massachusetts having greater financial resources than Connecticut’s Energize Connecticut program despite being similar sized states. Additionally, Massachusetts has created legislation that mandates municipalities implement energy saving measures and take steps to bolster clean energy generation. Additionally, Massachusetts offers funding directly to their municipalities to aid in these goals. Energize Connecticut would benefit from additional funding and would have higher program usage if their municipalities were similarly mandated.
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    (2023-12) Chelsea Legette
    Climate change is causing a rapid increase in the frequency and severity of natural disasters, including hurricanes and wildfires. Adapting to the impacts of more frequent and severe disasters will be a significant challenge in the coming decades. Homeowners’ insurance offers significant adaptive capacity to individual homeowners and the communities they make up. However, climate change has the potential to overwhelm the insurance industry’s ability to reduce risk for homeowners. Two states that are already experiencing these climate impacts are Florida and California. Florida, because of its unique geography, has always been at heightened risk for hurricanes, and has experienced decades of insurance market instability as a result. After a period of consecutive years of severe wildfires, California is beginning to show signs of potential instability in its insurance market. This paper sets out to examine the extent to which California is headed down the same path of market instability paved by Florida. To do that, the homeowners insurance market in the two states are compared across five metrics: loss ratios, premium rate increases, cancelation rates, the size of the residual market, and population growth. This paper finds that the ingredients for significant market instability are present in California, held in check only by the relatively low risk exposure in terms of the population of wildfire-prone counties. Intervention to stabilize the insurance market may be needed, but policymakers must do so carefully. Mitigation efforts to reduce the likelihood and severity of damage in the event of a disaster is one policy that could have a stabilizing effect on the insurance market.
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    (2023-12) Carrie Gannetta
    Climate change presents a complex nexus of challenges spanning environmental, social, and economic spheres, compelling global attention and action. Despite mounting commitments and awareness, a gap exists between current actions and there is a call for accelerated regulatory interventions to align with sustainable pathways. A crucial element in developing mitigation strategies involves understanding emissions contributions, facilitated by standards like the GHG Protocol. Increased corporate transparency on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions intensifies pressures for emissions reduction across sectors, enabling targeted focus on high-emission areas for accelerated decarbonization efforts. Recognizing the potential of insurance as a tool for influencing climate-positive behaviors, stakeholders are exploring avenues to leverage property and casualty insurance. While insurance traditionally served as a risk management tool, its role in addressing climate change impacts, through mitigation and adaptation, is gaining prominence. Insurance companies' ability to influence customer behaviors through products and pricing, though not traditionally aligned with climate change mitigation, presents a new opportunity. This paper seeks to explore insurance's role in steering climate-positive behaviors. It delves into the feasibility and impact of insurance as a behavior-influencing tool in climate change mitigation and adaptation. Examining whether insurance can effectively influence behavior will shed light on its potential role in climate change action, shaping future engagements between the insurance industry and climate change. The investigation encompasses regulatory aspects, existing insurance products, their influence on behavior, and their potential implications for climate change mitigation efforts, particularly focusing on shifts towards sustainable practices, like the transition to electric or hybrid vehicles.
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    Deployment, Managed Charging, and Equity: How can U.S. distribution utilities support and enable equitable electrification of transportation?
    (2023-05) Josh Cohen
    This study examines the critically important ways in which electric distribution utilities can support and enable the U.S. transition to full electrification of the transportation sector in an equitable manner. It evaluates the state of the market, reviews characteristics of charging behavior for different use cases and applications, and identifies what roles electric distribution utilities can, and should, play. The study finds that utilities have key roles in two broad respects: deployment and energy management. Without utility involvement in deployment of charging infrastructure, the electrification of transportation likely be inadequate to meet policy targets, and without utility involvement in managing the load, the electrification of transportation will require costly grid upgrades that will undermine the value proposition of electrification. Additionally, a cross-cutting theme applicable to both of these roles has to do with equity – ensuring that all demographics have access to – and can benefit from – transportation electrification.