Vision and Mission
My research addresses the challenges along with human energy use and its environment and climate impacts from the interdisciplinary perspectives of energy economics, modeling, technology, case studies and policy analysis. I'd like to bring the new economic thinking into my research, which to me is about human happiness and earth sustainability, and the reflection of the limits that “conventional” economic thinking in addressing the pressing challenges to achieve these two fundamental goals of the human being. I'm focusing on the developing world with special interests in China, given China's energy and environment challenges in its greatest socio-economic transition, and China’s growing impact to and rising role in global sustainability in the twenty-first century.
The Roadmap to Achieve High Penetration of Renewables and Low Carbon Power Supply in China
China’s power sector now is the world single largest coal consumer and as a result is the biggest CO2 emitter. The world’s largest power sector will have a significant impact on how China, and to a large extent, the world - uses energy and addresses climate change. My Ph.D. dissertation explores the roadmaps to achieve high penetration of renewable energy and low carbon power supply in China where coal dominates current supply mix. I work with the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory (RAEL) SWITCH team (Prof. Daniel Kammen, James Nelson, Josiah Johnston, Ana Mileva, Anne-Perrine Avrin) to develop and expand SWITCH-China (a loose acronym for Solar, Wind, Hydro, and Conventional generation and Transmission Investment) model to analyze least-cost generation, storage, and transmission capacity expansion for China under various policy and cost scenarios, especially with high penetration of renewables. SWITCH uses an unprecedented combination of spatial and temporal resolution with extensive data mining to design realistic power systems and plan capacity expansion to meet policy goals and carbon emission reduction targets at minimal cost. SWITCH provides a useful tool to simulate future scenarios, however, modeling is not enough to understand China’s energy reality. We explore the energy landscape change from political, economic and institutional perspectives beyond technology. Unless we get prices and policies right, a cost-effective clean-energy transition will not happen.
Coal in a Climate Constrained World
Coal is the fastest growing source of fossil fuel in the world, adding more to absolute world energy supply in the last decade than almost all other forms of energy combined. Coal is the big reality in a climate constrained world. Coal currently supplies 70 percent of China’s primary energy and 80 percent of its electricity. As the developing world industrializes and struggles to meet the seemingly insatiable demand for power, coal has become the unavoidable fuel of choice. My research with PESD colleagues and collaborators (Prof. David Victor, Prof. Frank Wolak, Richard Morse, Varun Rai, Mark Thurber, PENG Wuyuan, Dr. RUI Huaichuan, Kevin Tu) reveals the central role of the coal-to-electricity value chain in shaping coal market dynamics and policy implications in China as well as in other countries. Our focus on Chinese coal has given us a unique perspective on the prospects for carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) to dramatically reduce the carbon intensity of coal use in China, China’s coal import behavior as a cost minimizer, and the integration of the value chain and the dynamics of reforms in the coal and power sector.
International Climate Policy
The international climate regime has made limited progress over the past twenty years of long march of endless negotiation, while the impact of climate change has been increasingly reported in reality more than in the climate models. This brings up the interdisciplinary perspectives of politics, institutional, human behavior change, culture and religions in climate policy discussion. My research looks into how the environmental economic approaches are being implemented on the ground. Chinese wind CDM is used as a case to exam how international climate policy can be misinterpreted if it does not stress China national political economy and domestic constraints. I follow and observe China’s climate policy closely. For its own seek and interests, China has been quietly developing its leadership in clean energy and moving aggressively toward a low-carbon economy and society. China’s policy transformation shows a lesson to engage the developing world: policies that address developing countries’ own interest have better chance to win. All country has a role in tackling climate change but no country is more important than the U.S. and China, it is essential for the world top two economy and emitter collaborate and work together on energy and climate.
China's urban population surpassed its rural population historically in 2011, and about 300 million more people will move from rural to urban area, that’s almost the total population of the US! In the years to come, cities in China will face major challenges as their rapidly increasing population's burden already crowded infrastructure systems and exacerbate environmental and climate change issues, threatening public health and quality of life. If China, the world's top energy consumer, and CO2 emitter, can move toward a low carbon economy will have big implications for the global energy and climate policy: a series of comprehensive economic reform, development, and transformation for a low carbon future. My research with the China Energy Group at LBL (Dr. Nan Zhou, Lynn Price, David Fridley, Christopher Williams, LU Hongyou, Nina Khanna, HONG Lixuan, Cecilia Fino-Chen, Dr. Stephanie Ohshita) created a low carbon eco-city indicator system and an ELITE Cities tool to help policymakers to define a low carbon city, evaluate and compare with international best practices. I work with Prof. C.S. Kiang at the Sustainable Development Technology Foundation to promote U.S. - China cooperation on low carbon cities. I also worked with RAEL CoolClimate program (Chris Jones and Dr. Daniel Kammen) to study the carbon footprint calculations for cities, communities, and companies. We need to know where are the emissions come from and what are the potentials before we can manage global carbon emissions.
Climate Change and Land Use Change
Energy is a pivot, but we should not forget the other quarter source of the global carbon emission, the land use change. The process, scale, and pattern of global land use change are key to understand the driver of the regional impact of and response to global climate change. My research at Peking University College of Environmental Sciences then, and now the College of Urban and Environmental Sciences (Prof. CAI Yunlong, Prof. MENG Jijun, WAN Jun, PENG Jian, ZHU Xiaohua, Prof. LIU Hongyan) investigates the land use change in key western fragile ecosystem and around Beijing and their impact on rural poverty and urban sustainability. Scale effect is especially interesting to me as it reveals the different drivers and impacts at different scale level, it’s important to understand the scale effect and integrate theory and elements cross scales. Like price signal to the economic system, natural systems has a signal to govern the evolution of systems – complexity.
I’m extremely grateful to my mentors, colleagues, and friends for the advice, inspiration, and support that lead my path to the interdisciplinary research on pressing issues along with energy, climate and sustainability.