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May 2015

Energy and Environment

In the News

Satellite image of the United States at night

Nasa Earth Observatory/NOAA NGDC

Smart Grid Technology

Senator Lisa Murkowski, Chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, has made a comprehensive energy package a priority for the committee and expects that electric issues will be included in this legislation. As Congress examines the role that technological innovation can play in a broad energy bill, a new RAND report examining the potential benefits of developing smart grid technology can help provide insights into the debate.

A fully functional smart grid could offer great benefits to society through the ability to more efficiently manage transmission, distribution, and consumption of electricity. According to the report, the barriers to smart-grid technology development include: Full-scale adoption of smart-grid technologies and a move to real-time pricing would create both winners and losers among consumers, and inheriting the cost-plus-fair-rate-of-return pricing structure of the existing electrical grid can discourage investment in innovative technologies.

To help overcome the identified technological, economic, and regulatory barriers, researchers recommend that technological performance standards are developed at the federal level to decrease investment uncertainty, and that regulators consider forward-looking test cases, as historical data will not adequately represent the new functionality of a modernizing grid.

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Featured Research

Addressing Air Pollution in China

A man wearing a mask looks up as he walks on a street on a foggy day in Bozhou, China.

China Daily/Reuters

The Chinese government announced that Beijing will close the last of its four major coal-fired power stations in 2016 in an effort to reduce the city's air pollution. The closed plants will be replaced with natural gas-fired plants, which emit less pollution. While the Chinese government has been implementing anti-pollution policy measures like these, a RAND report shows that the government will need to be more aggressive in its approach to improve urban air quality to the point where pollutant concentrations do not exceed levels that harm human health.

According to the World Bank, the costs of air pollution for China has run 6.5 percent of China's gross domestic product each year between 2000 and 2010. These costs are continuing to rise as China's population becomes more urbanized and labor becomes more productive. To improve urban air quality to the point where pollutant concentrations do not exceed levels that harm human health, China will need to aggressively implement anti-pollution policy measures like the ones evaluated in a recent report by RAND.

The RAND report examines the costs and benefits of three measures to reduce air pollution in China. One of the report's recommendations was that China shutter half of all its coal-fired power plants and replace these plants with cleaner sources of electricity, such as renewables or nuclear power. The RAND report also evaluated the costs and benefits of ending the burning of coal, biomass, and plastic wastes in urban areas by residential and commercial users and removing highly polluting vehicles from China's highways.

Read the report »

Introducing RAND's Water and Climate Resilience Center

Dr. Jordan Fischbach and Dr. David Groves, codirectors of the RAND Water and Climate Resilience Center

Diane Baldwin/RAND

RAND has established a new Water and Climate Resilience Center (WCRC) to address one of the most significant policy challenges of our time: How do we plan, build, and organize our societal systems to become more resilient to the unavoidable impacts of climate change? Researchers working within the center will tackle issues such as freshwater supply, water quality assurance, flood risk management, and coastal planning.

The WCRC will be codirected by David Groves and Jordan Fischbach, who have worked closely together for nearly a decade to help decisionmakers address water supply, coastal resilience, and climate adaptation planning challenges. Current projects for the WCRC include supporting long-term coastal master plan development for the State of Louisiana, Jamaica Bay, New York, and the California Bay-Delta and measuring urban response and resilience to climate change and climate-informed stormwater planning in Los Angeles and the Pittsburgh metropolitan region.

Read more about the WCRC »

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Potential value of smart-grid improvements may be in the billions. But modernizing the grid has been slow, piecemeal.
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RAND Congressional Resources Staff

Jayme Fuglesten
Director, Office of Congressional Relations

Grace Evans
Energy and Environment Legislative Analyst

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