Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Nemet receives Carnegie fellowship for new solar energy project

Rohan Rao, right, serves as Greg Nemet's project assistant for a three-year study assessing the importance of knowledge spillovers in the solar industry and how policies can be designed to address them. Rohan Rao, right, serves as Greg Nemet's project assistant for a three-year study assessing the importance of knowledge spillovers in the solar industry and how policies can be designed to address them.

La Follette School faculty member Greg Nemet is one of only 35 recipients of the 2017 Andrew Carnegie fellowship. Nemet, an associate professor, will receive funding to support his research and writing on how a diverse set of policies and international-knowledge flows have led to inexpensive solar energy.

“I am extremely grateful to receive this tremendous honor,” said Nemet, who also serves on the faculty for the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. “I have been excited about this project since I wrote the proposal and am, thus, delighted to be able to now devote considerable effort to it.”

Nemet has been working on various aspects of the costs of solar energy for the past 15 years. However, he felt that neither he nor anyone else has been able to comprehensively answer the question – How did Solar Become Inexpensive?

This project will attempt to do so with an assessment that is truly global, documents the historical evolution of the institutional context in which solar has developed, and deals with the full supply chain of the industry—from sourcing silicon, the primary input material, to the activities of people installing panels on roofs and the motivations behind adoption behavior.

“While the work takes an international and historical perspective, the motivation for conducting it is to inform more immediate policy decisions, not only about solar but also other analogous technologies,” said Nemet, who chairs UW–Madison’s Energy Analysis and Policy certificate program.

Nemet also is part of a $1.25 million project at the University of Texas–Austin funded by the U.S. Department of Energy. For his part of the three-year project, Nemet hired La Follette School student Rohan Rao as a project assistant to analyze a dataset of 400,000 solar installations in the United States. Students Travis Shoemaker and Atiya Robinson-Siddiqi also serve as project assistants with Nemet. 

Nemet and Rao are using data about solar installations, their prices, and the characteristics of installers to demonstrate the extent to which solar installation companies learn from each other (knowledge spillovers). The project examines the importance, size, and mechanism of knowledge spillovers in the solar industry, specifically, how best practices – including installation processes, permitting processes, customer acquisition, and overhead costs – are transferred and reduce costs.

The recipient of a 2015 H.I. Romnes Faculty Fellowship, Nemet has been a contributor to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the Global Energy Assessment. He joined UW–Madison’s faculty in 2007 after receiving his master’s degree and doctorate in energy resources from the University of California, Berkeley. He teaches courses in policy analysis, energy analysis, and environmental policy.

“This is an amazing honor for Greg and for the La Follette School,” said La Follette Director and Professor Don Moynihan. “Greg is exactly the type of scholar that typifies La Follette: he does incredibly rigorous nonpartisan research that sheds new insights into some of our most pressing societal problems.”

Moynihan added: “While this award is for research, he is also known as an extraordinary teacher, working with student-led projects to provide practical insight on energy and environmental issues.”

Gregg Mitman, one of Nemet’s colleagues at the Nelson Institute, also received a Carnegie fellowship. Mitman is the Vilas Research and William Coleman Professor of History of Science, Medical History, History, and Environmental Studies and his project focuses on Forgotten Paths of Empire: Firestone and the Promise of Liberia.

UW–Madison was one of only seven schools to receive multiple awards. The others were Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Duke University, Yale University, Notre Dame University, Harvard University, and the University of California, Berkeley.

Launched in 2015 to boost the social sciences and humanities, the Carnegie Fellows Program provides the most generous stipend of its kind to support scholars, journalists, and authors in their research on challenges to democracy and international order.

“The health of our democracy depends on an informed citizenry, and our universities, academies, and academic associations play an essential role in replenishing critical information and providing knowledge through scholarship,” said Vartan Gregorian, president of Carnegie Corporation of New York. “The Andrew Carnegie Fellows Program is designed to support scholarship that brings fresh perspectives from the social sciences and humanities to the social, political, and economic problems facing the United States and the world today.”

The 16-member selection committee represents some of the world’s premier institutions of learning and includes 10 current or former university presidents.

Each year as part of the fellows program, the Corporation seeks nominations from more than 600 leaders representing a range of universities, think tanks, publishers, independent scholars, and nonprofit organizations nationwide. For the class of 2017, they nominated some 200 candidates whose proposals were reviewed and rated by one or more of the 33 prominent scholars, educators, and intellectuals who serve as anonymous evaluators.

The jurors were asked to consider the merits of each proposal based on its originality, promise, and potential impact on a particular field of scholarship. The anticipated result of each fellowship is a book or major study.