Call for Papers
Economics of Innovation in the Energy Sector
Cambridge, MA
September 10-11, 2020

The last two decades witnessed massive innovations in how energy is generated and used. Hydraulic fracturing transformed global oil and natural gas markets, leading to sharp declines in the prices of some fossil fuels. Natural gas replaced coal as the primary fuel for electricity generation, helping to reduce carbon emissions. Solar photovoltaic prices plummeted, and new storage technologies that could make renewable energy generation more practical in large parts of the globe moved from the laboratory bench to demonstration projects. Despite these advances, achieving the extensive emission reductions required to transition to a low-carbon economy requires still greater innovation. Many questions remain about the determinants of technological change in the energy sector, and about the factors that support or hold back breakthrough energy technologies.

To promote research on these issues, the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), with the support of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, will convene a research conference in Cambridge, Massachusetts on September 10-11, 2020. The conference, which is the first in a multi-year series of meetings on the economics of innovation in the energy sector, will feature presentations of six research projects on energy innovation. The project will be directed by Ashley Langer (University of Arizona) and David Popp (Syracuse University and NBER).

The conference will draw together researchers from energy economics, innovation, industrial organization, productivity, and other related fields to address issues concerning innovation in the energy sector, with an emphasis on what can be learned from recent successes in energy innovation. The types of questions that could be studied include:
  • What are the historical determinants of energy transitions?
  • What are the respective roles of the public and private sectors in energy technology innovation?
  • How do state and federal policies interact to support energy and environmental innovation?
  • How do innovation policies interact with other energy policies, such as regulations on energy transportation or trade flows, and with environmental policies?
  • What are the implications of the global nature of energy innovation for domestic innovation policy?
  • How does market structure influence energy innovation? Does innovation respond to policy and market signals differently in regulated and unregulated energy markets?
  • What role to quasi-governmental entities such as regulated utilities, independent system operators, and transportation planning agencies play in energy innovation?
  • What are the consequences of using technology-specific or technology-neutral policies? How does economic evidence inform the choice of technology-specific or technology neutral policies?
  • How might energy innovation respond to a changing climate?
Proposals for both theoretical and empirical papers on these and other related topics are welcome. Proposals from scholars who are early in their careers, with and without NBER affiliations, and from researchers from under-represented groups are especially welcome. Please do not submit papers that will be published by September, 2020. Proposals will be evaluated by a committee consisting of the project organizers, David Hémous (University of Zurich), and Catherine Wolfram (University of California-Berkeley and NBER).

To be considered for inclusion on the program, abstracts of no more than two pages in .pdf format should be uploaded by October 31, 2019, to the following site:

All proposals must be accompanied by a comprehensive conflict of interest statement that describes any financial or other interests of the researchers that might bear on the proposed work, in particular any financial ties to the energy industry.

NBER will provide a modest honorarium to authors, and can also provide some support for project-related data purchase. Decisions about which papers will be included on the program will be announced in December 2019.

The NBER will cover conference hotel charges and economy class travel cost for up to two authors per selected paper. All co-authors are welcome to attend the conference; space permitting, other participants are also welcome. Please direct questions about this project to
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