Energy Policy

Perspectives for Analysis


Now we're going to look at several different perspectives from which we can analyze energy policy. As you explore these different frameworks, think about their individual strengths and how they might apply to your Final Project. The important thing to remember is that while each perspective brings value, they should not be used in isolation from the others. They intertwine in many ways and so relying on one but not the others provides an incomplete picture.

Geographic Analysis

Many facets of energy policy necessitate an in-depth exploration from a spatial perspective. Whether it is assessing the siting feasibility for wind or solar installations, or evaluating the sub-national level impacts related to a changing climate, geography plays an important role in energy policy. Much geographic analysis can be done utilizing geographic information systems to visualize spatially-contextualized data. An important note, too, is that geographic analyses enable policy analysts to explore other types of data (like economic, demographic, and environmental) and visualize the results over space and time.

Throughout the course, we've explored the various roles different scales of government play in the development and implementation of energy policies. In additional to analyzing policies to determine if the scale of implementation is most appropriate, consider the following:

  • Virtually every aspect of energy policy we've discussed in this course is inherently geographical in nature. When we look at the types of fuels on which we rely to power our economy and our lives and the places from which we acquire them, we're analyzing energy policies from a geographic perspective. When we identify the mosaic of alternative energy solutions across the country, we're looking at the geographies of these places to determine which energy resources will work and which ones will not.
  • While it's necessary to employ federal standards and mandates for some issues related to energy policy (like best available technologies and practices for emissions controls at power plants or permitting specs for natural gas drilling), other issues necessitate a specially tailored highly localized approach that can only be achieved at a small scale. Maine and New Mexico will have very different needs and opportunities when establishing programs for enhanced energy efficiency.
  • The consequences of our energy policies have very real geographic implications as well. The natural gas boom happening in the northeast and out west is having very real impacts on those places. Short term economic boom, the creation of jobs in places that often need them badly, and environmental damages along the way are all part of the geographic landscape. On a longer horizon, the energy policies we employ today have very real consequences for our climate tomorrow, and the impacts of climate change could not be more geographic in nature. Coastal areas face concerns about rising sea levels and intensely destructive storm surges. Agricultural regions face changing growing seasons and suitable crops. Biologically sensitive rain forests face accelerated loss of biodiversity as plants and animals struggle to adapt to an artificially quickly changing climate.

The main thing to remember is that examining our energy policies from a geographic perspective enables us to holistically understand many facets of the consequences that policy may have.

Here are a few examples of geographic analysis of energy-related policies:

Economic Analysis

Economic Analysis is probably the single most common type of policy analysis you'll find when it comes to energy policy. Remember back to earlier lessons and the discussions about whether or not the United States should adopt a comprehensive climate policy. Proponents of the adoption of climate policy (such as an economy-wide cap on emissions and emissions trading scheme) suggested analyses purporting that this would be the least costly alternative to reduce emissions while also generating revenue to assist low-income families with higher energy bills through energy efficiency improvements (check out the Pew Center's The Case for Cap and Trade). Opponents of the adoption of a mandatory emissions reduction scheme offered their own analyses painting a very different economic future - one marked by excessively high energy prices and the loss of manufacturing-related jobs as companies left the US to produce goods in unregulated countries.

There is no shortage of examples of economic analyses related to energy and climate policy. In addition to the few listed below, I encourage you to look for one related to your Research Project. Whether we like it or not, economic feasibility is probably the single most influential factor in whether or not a policy makes it through the implementation phase.

Political Analysis

Political Analysis of energy policy works hand in hand with economic analysis in terms of determining an energy policy's overall viability. As you've been learning throughout the course, energy policy inherently dictates winners and losers, and those actors with a stake in the outcome of a policy initiative will work hard to ensure their interests are protected. If you look through the various iterations of any energy policy from its initial draft form through the finalized legislation, you will undoubtedly find political concessions along the way. The give and take necessary to ensure enough votes for passage means tough compromises on both sides.

Life Cycle Assessment

Life cycle assessment is a concept that is gaining a lot more traction as we begin to evaluate things from a systems approach. The best example of this as it relates to energy policy is the debate over whether natural gas or coal is the 'cleaner' fossil fuel. If we are talking strictly about the combustion of the resource to produce energy, natural gas produces about half the greenhouse gas emissions that coal does (on a per Btu basis). But if we start to take a step back and analyze the entire process from exploration and extraction through waste management, we begin to see a different picture in which those disparities in emissions begin to disappear.

Systems Analysis

Systems analysis offers a more holistic approach to examining an energy policy by considering all of the various interconnected systems in which energy flow occurs. From resource extraction, to processing, to transmission, to consumption - the flow of energy crosses many geographic and economic boundaries, and evaluating an energy policy effectively needs to consider the systemic effects across them all. A systems analysis approach focuses on identifying alternative courses of action and considering unintended consequences across technological, economic, environmental, and political variables.

Some examples of systems analysis work related to energy: