The NBER, with the generous support of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, is launching a two-part research project on the distributional consequences of new energy technologies and policies. The project will be directed by Catie Hausman (University of Michigan and NBER) and Arik Levinson (Georgetown University and NBER). The first stage of the project, and this call for proposals, focuses on distributional issues related to new energy technologies; a second stage, with a separate call for proposals in fall 2021, will focus on new energy policies.

Rapid and widespread changes in U.S. energy markets have drawn research and policy attention to the role of new energy technologies, including rising use of natural gas and renewables and a decline in coal, better electric cars and energy efficient lighting, and new equipment such as smart meters and heat pumps. At the same time, an important part of the public discourse around this energy transformation addresses inequality. Some observers worry, for example, that distributed renewable energy disproportionally benefits wealthier homeowners, or that real-time electricity pricing imposes disproportionate costs on lower-income households. Others have emphasized changes facing workers in energy-intensive industries. In general, the costs and benefits of new energy technologies may not be distributed equally.

The NBER seeks proposals for research papers on the relationship between new energy technologies and distributional equity. Papers may address distributional issues in various ways: between producers and consumers, or between individuals who differ by income, race, age, and in other ways. Papers proposing new approaches to studying the distributional consequences of technologies, or assessing new underlying relationships between technologies and welfare, are of particular interest. Research topics that would be suitable include, but are not limited to:

  • Technological transitions and distribution. Under what conditions would a transition toward low-carbon electricity generation be regressive or progressive?
  • Distributional effects of declining energy-sector industries. Do changing market conditions have implications for inequality and labor demand? How can transition policies such as aid for declining industries help?
  • Distributed renewables. How does distributed renewable energy, such as rooftop solar, affect electricity prices, and what are the distributional consequences?
  • New energy pricing technologies. With smart meters and real-time pricing, which households will save money, and which ones will face higher costs?
  • Transportation and energy use. How do new transportation technologies—app-based ride-hailing, electric and autonomous vehicles, intercity rail—affect different populations?
  • Fracking and property rights. What have been the distributional effects of the expanded demand for mineral leases?
  • Responses to COVID-19. What are the potential long-run, energy-related distributional consequences of the pandemic, such as more telecommuting and a shift away from urban living?

Proposals may describe papers in various stages of completion. They must include a clear statement of a research plan, the data to be used (when relevant), and the potential contributions. The proposed research may not have been accepted for publication, nor may it subsequently be accepted and scheduled for publication before June, 2022. Theoretical and empirical research projects are welcome; they may use tools and methods from any field of applied economics, including energy and environmental economics, industrial organization, labor economics, and public finance. Submissions are encouraged from researchers with and without NBER affiliations, from academia, government, or the private sector, from early career scholars, and from researchers from under-represented groups.

Proposals will be evaluated for their capacity to advance understanding of the distributional effects of energy technologies by a review committee comprising Lala Ma (University of Kentucky), Sheila Olmstead (University of Texas), Tony Reames (University of Michigan), Ed Rubin (University of Oregon), and the two project co-directors.

Authors of eight paper proposals will be invited to participate in the research project. They will present work in progress at an on-line conference August 5-6, 2021, at which there will be guest speaker presentations on how to measure the distributional effects of policies and discussion of applications to the energy sector. Final papers will be presented at a capstone research conference in Cambridge, MA, June 23-24, 2022. Authors will be invited, but not obligated, to submit completed papers to a special issue of a peer-reviewed journal in energy or environmental economics. The NBER will pay a modest honorarium to the authors and will cover hotel and economy-class conference travel for up to two authors per paper. To be considered, proposals must be submitted by 11:59pm EDT, April 1, 2021, to:

All submissions must include a conflict of interest statement indicating whether any members of the research team have ties to the energy industry or any other potential conflicts that might bear on their proposed research. Decisions of the review committee will be announced by early May, 2021. Please direct questions about this project to