Selected Publications

  • SWITCH-China: A Systems Approach to Decarbonizing China’s Power System

    We present an integrated model, SWITCHChina, of the Chinese power sector with which to analyze the economic and technological implications of a medium to longterm decarbonization scenario while accounting for very-shortterm renewable variability. On the basis of the model and assumptions used, we find that the announced 2030 carbon peak can be achieved with a carbon price of ∼$40/tCO2. Current trends in renewable energy price reductions alone are insufficient to replace coal; however, an 80% carbon emission reduction by 2050 is achievable in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Target Scenario with an optimal electricity mix in 2050 including nuclear (14%), wind (23%), solar (27%), hydro (6%), gas (1%), coal (3%), and carbon capture and sequestration coal energy (26%). The co-benefits of carbon-price strategy would offset 22% to 42% of the increased electricity costs if the true cost of coal and the social cost of carbon are incorporated. In such a scenario, aggressive attention to research and both technological and financial innovation mechanisms are crucial to enabling the transition at a reasonable cost, along with strong carbon policies.

  • The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program: A central component of the social safety net

    IRLE Policy Brief, Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, UC Berkeley, April 2016.

  • Beyond Income: What Else Predicts Very Low Food Security among Children?

    Southern Economic Journal, April 2016

    We examine characteristics and correlates of households in the United States that are most likely to have children at risk of inadequate nutrition – those that report very low food security (VLFS) among their children. Using 11 years of the Current Population Survey, plus data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, we describe these households in great detail with the goal of trying to understand how these households differ from households without such severe food insecurity. While household income certainly plays an important role in determining VLFS among children, we find that even after flexibly controlling for income-to-poverty rates some household characteristics and patterns of program participation have important additional explanatory power. Finally, our examination of the NHANES data suggests an important role for both mental and physical health in determining the food security status of children. 

  • Long Run Impacts of Childhood Access to the Safety Net

    American Economic Review, 106(4):903-934. April 2016.

    A growing economics literature establishes a causal link between in utero shocks and health and human capital in adulthood. Most studies rely on extreme negative shocks such as famine and pandemics. We are the first to examine the impact of a positive and policy-driven change in economic resources available in utero and during childhood. In particular, we focus on the introduction of a key element of the U.S. safety net, the Food Stamp Program, which was rolled out across counties in the U.S. between 1961 and 1975. We use the Panel Study of Income Dynamics to assemble unique data linking family background and county of residence in early childhood to adult health and economic outcomes. The identification comes from variation across counties and over birth cohorts in availability of the food stamp program. Our findings indicate that the food stamp program has effects decades after initial exposure. Specifically, access to food stamps in childhood leads to a significant reduction in the incidence of “metabolic syndrome” (obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes) and, for women, an increase in economic self-sufficiency. Overall, our results suggest substantial internal and external benefits of the safety net that have not previously been quantified.

  • Switching to Sustainability

    Emerging economies will account for more than 90 percent of new energy-generation capacity by 2035, and Latin America is no exception to this trend. In the last 40 years, the region’s primary energy demand has more than doubled. In a global environment of increasingly volatile fuel prices, emerging technologies, and climate-change impacts, the continued increase in demand presents challenges and opportunities to Latin America and the Caribbean. To manage the next phase of development, the region’s governments will need to develop new energy sources and pay more attention to sustainability. By some measures, Latin America is already ahead of the game. The region has a low carbon footprint due to the large share of hydropower in its energy mix. Hydropower can’t be expanded indefinitely, however, and proposed mega-dams in countries such as Chile and Brazil have generated protests from indigenous and environmental groups. Developing alternative forms of sustainable energy will require focused effort. Challenges include the inflexibility of the region’s grid systems, the difficulty of siting new transmission lines, and the political and technical problems inherent in serving politically disconnected and geographically remote populations. Using examples from Chile, the Caribbean, and Nicaragua, we present energy technology and policydesign tools being developed at UC Berkeley’s Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory (RAEL) that address Latin America’s sustainability and development needs. 

  • Renewable energy sector development in the Caribbean: Current trends and lessons from history

    Island regions and isolated communities represent an understudied area of not only clean energy development but also of innovation. Caribbean states have for some time shown interest in developing a regional sustainable energy policy and in implementing measures which could help to protect its member states from volatile oil markets while promoting reliance on local resources. Here we examine four case studies of renewable energy advancements being made by public utility companies and independent energy companies in the Caribbean. We attempt to locate renewable energy advances in a broader historical framework of energy sector development, indicating a few policy lessons. We find that different degrees of regulatory and legislative sophistication have evolved in different islands. Islands should have specialized policy focus, contrasting the ad-hoc nature of current regional energy policy discussion. We also conduct a cost benefit analysis which shows that these early, innovative alternative energy projects show themselves to be both profitable and significant sources of emissions reduction and job creation. This lends support to the potential benefits of regional energy policy.

  • A household carbon footprint calculator for islands: Case study of the United States Virgin Islands

    Island regions are at a heightened level of vulnerability to climate change impacts and recently a great degree of political attention has been given to planning low-carbon economic strategies for Small Island Developing States (SIDS). To develop useful mitigation strategies, an understanding of greenhouse gas emissions currently attributable to various social sectors is necessary. We use consumption-based life cycle accounting techniques to assess the carbon footprint of typical households within the US Virgin Islands. We find the average carbon footprint in the territory to be 13 tCO2e per year per capita, roughly 35% less than the average US per capita footprint. Also, electricity and food are much larger contributors to total footprint than in the US. Results highlight scope for behavioral and technological changes that could significantly reduce the footprint. The model has been developed into an open access online tool for educational purposes.

  • Estimating biodiversity impacts without field surveys: A case study in northern Borneo

    In many regions of the world, biodiversity surveys are not routinely conducted prior to activities that lead to land conversion, such as development projects. Here we use top-down methods based on global range maps and bottom-up methods based on macroecological scaling laws to illuminate the otherwise hidden biodiversity impacts of three large hydroelectric dams in the state of Sarawak in northern Borneo. Our retrospective impact assessment finds that the three reservoirs inundate habitat for 331 species of birds (3 million individuals) and 164 species of mammals (110 million individuals). A minimum of 2100 species of trees (900 million individuals) and 17 700 species of arthropods (34 billion individuals) are estimated to be affected by the dams. No extinctions of bird, mammal, or tree species are expected due to habitat loss following reservoir inundation, while 4–7 arthropod species extinctions are predicted. These assessment methods are applicable to any data-limited system undergoing land-use change.