Introductory Seminars for First-Year Students

Energy, the Environment, and the Economy

Economics 1 recommended (not required).

This course will examine the intimate relationship between environmental quality and the production and consumption of energy. A major source of frustration to promoters of environmentally friendly energy production and consumption is the inability of these energy sources to displace conventional sources to a sufficient extent to achieve tangible environmental benefits. Is this outcome the result of a level playing field for conventional versus alternative energy sources? Are conventional energy sources the most efficient way to meet the world's energy needs at the least cost, including the negative environmental impacts that are not currently explicitly priced? We will assess the economic efficiency and political economy implications of a number of topics in energy and environmental economics. These include the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR); congestion pricing for urban traffic; the "smart" transmission grid for electricity, nuclear energy, and waste; the real cost of renewable energy, corporate average fuel efficiency (CAFE), and low-carbon fuel standards (LCFS); energy efficiency investments; greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) control; and carbon capture and sequestration (CCS). Readings will explain the economics and engineering behind these topics, and class discussions will elaborate. 


Meet the Instructor(s)

Frank Wolak

Frank Wolak is the Holbrook Working Professor of Commodity Price Studies in the Department of Economics. He received his undergraduate degree from Rice University, and an M.S. in applied mathematics and a Ph.D. in economics from Harvard. His fields of research are energy and environmental economics, specializing in the study of privatization, competition, and regulation in both energy and network industries such as electricity, telecommunications, water supply, natural gas, and postal delivery services. As chairman of the Market Surveillance Committee (MSC) of the California Independent System Operator for the state's electricity supply industry, he has testified numerous times at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), at various committees of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, and at the California Senate and Assembly.