Carnegie Mellon University
Energy Policy and Economics

39-612 Energy Policy and Economics

Professor Jay Whitacre
5127A Scott Hall


This course will review how past and future energy technology trajectories are intertwined with pathways of economic development, business investment decisions, social needs, and political priorities. Emphasis will be placed on clean energy and promising technological trajectories for the future. This course will explore how a wide variety of policy mechanisms - technology policy, utility regulation and restructuring, emissions policies, multilateral interventions and agreements, and corporate strategies - can shape energy use and the environmental impacts of energy systems.  Study examples will draw from both developed and developing countries.  The class syllabus from Spring Semester 2016 is available for more information (pdf)

Text: Reading assignments of relevant papers and reports will be made weekly in-class and via blackboard

Course Topics (tentative weekly schedule)

1. Introduction:  Connecting energy technologies to economics and global politics.  Discuss major sources of primary energy and compare and contrast renewables vs. traditional fossil fuels.  What are the main "levers" that can be pulled?

2. A brief and relevant history of Energy policy.

3. Patterns of energy supply and demand:  Electricity markets and their component parts, wholesale and retail competitive pricing, transmission pricing and placement.  Current and future approaches to regulation, and associated political implications.

4. Electricity markets 2:  supply of fuels, generation mixes and costing, and comparing developed to emerging nation systems. Utility regulation and restructuring occurring in developed and developing countries. How regulation and restructuring can affect technology and fuel choices and the environmental dimensions of electric power.

5. Transportation fuels: markets, primary resource, refinement, costing, use, potential of fleet electrification.

6. Policies and strategies affecting energy use: utility regulation and restructuring, multilateral interventions and agreements, and corporate strategic decision-making and investment.

7. Primary energy source - based policies:  Examine the interplay between policy and fossil vs. renewable energy sources.  Study the pros and cons of each.  

8. Technology-based policies: Examine how policy can impact technological development in the energy use sector.  Cover both end use technologies as well as energy production and transportation technologies.

9. Emissions-based policies. Cap and trade/Carbon tax.  How emissions reduction policies for the energy sector affect fuel and technology choices and energy use. Clean air act, emissions limits and pollution control requirements, emissions allocation and trading systems.

10. Consumption-based policies:  mandating efficiency and consumption in both electricity and transportation sectors

11. International participation, collaboration, and competition in the energy markets: UN, World Bank, Global Environment Facility, OPEC, Central Asia, others.  

12. Comparisons between countries:  compare and contrast different approaches applied around the world, in the context of the material presented thus far.  

13. The role of government and private investment firms in energy technologies and policy:  Emerging trends, bridging the technology development gap for highly scaled new technologies.

14. The next 100 years of energy technology and policy:  predictions, risks, and realities.

Reading/Essay Assignments: Based on each reading/topic, a written assignment will be issued.  Students will be asked to write synthetic essays and/or complete problems pertaining to the reading materials.  There will be 4 of these assignments through the course of the class

Examination: There will be a final examination in the form of a take-home writing assignment


  • Reading content assignments:  50%
  • Final exam: 35%
  • Discussion Participation/Attendance: 15% (score will be supported by instructor documentation of participation and attendance, particularly during paper discussion days).