The URI PE will utilize the research strengths and analytic capabilities of the URI Department of the Environment and Natural Resource Economics (ENRE) to evaluate how economic forces and markets influence business and consumer choices with regard for energy. ENRE faculty members are recognized nationally and internationally for their work on a variety of issues including: trade and the environment, economic decision making, demand analysis and forecasting, valuation of non-market environmental goods, experimental economics and policy simulation. These researchers possess the skills required to understand and examine significant market, policy, and technology issues, and are able to assess the benefits and performance measures for existing and proposed URI Energy Center programs.
In addition to traditional theoretical policy analysis, ENRE's state-of-the-art Policy Simulation Laboratory (PSL) can be utilized to address technical and policy issues of significant interest to analysts and local decision makers. In PSL experiments, human subjects are paid to play the role of economic agents, such as household decision-makers or electricity generators, responding to the incentives presented by the institutions and policies being studied. Researchers can use this innovative tool to test hypotheses for economic experiments, evaluate elements of policies to detect unexpected outcomes before implementation, and predict outcomes of systems that are too complex for comprehensive theoretical analysis. For example, a current project examining competition among container ports competing within a cargo routing network could be extended to study the effect that an influx of small-scale community or household electricity generators might have on the market power afforded to well-located large generators by the structure of the transmission network. This study could be used to assess incentives for establishing household generation policies, and whether green energy programs lead to planned reductions at large carbon-intensive generation facilities, or whether these facilities do not change production to protect market power on the grid.
In the spring of 2008 the ENRE department will introduce 2 new courses focusing primarily on energy economics and policy. Professor Grigalunas will offer an upper-level undergraduate course on energy economics called “Energy Economics, Environment & Policy” and a visiting professor will teach a 500 level policy course entitled “Analysis into Action.” Students taking this course will have the opportunity to explore the real time decision-making processes involved in renewable energy planning and procurement.