CHARLOTTE, N.C. – April 15, 2013 – As the world seeks ways to reduce energy costs and speed access to alternative energy solutions, UNC Charlotte researcher Deborah Strumsky is leading a team that will use modeling to forecast optimal investments for the array of solar energy technologies that are emerging.
A bit like people considering a wide range of complex, inter-related factors when building their retirement funds – such as what funds are available to them, the amount of risk involved and how long until they retire – Strumsky and her colleagues will consider how various factors impact the performance of solar technologies.
The project will receive $949,131 as part of the U.S. Department of Energy's SunShot Initiative, which is investing $9 million in seven projects nationwide.
Using new methods from network theory, performance curve analysis and techniques adapted from the study of biological and ecological systems, the research team will explore how solar technologies in the past have been influenced by improvement in related technologies, public and private research and development investments, and public policy initiatives. By analyzing hundreds of years' worth of patent data and historical cost and production data, the team will construct a network – called a "technology ecosystem" – to forecast and influence technological progress.
"New technologies arise out of the evolution of ecosystems of existing technologies," Strumsky said. "Our research under the SunShot Initiative will use innovative methods to analyze patent and industry data to provide a new detailed picture of the structure and evolution of the solar technology ecosystem."
They will use the data they dig out to analyze performance curves in technology and to forecast how policy investment decisions today would affect future technologies.
"Can we artificially stimulate or push the performance curve by interjecting investment, such as in research and development, for example," Strumsky said. "These models are trying to determine the best way to allocate your research and development dollars to get the best bang for your buck. This information can help businesses better focus their solar research and development efforts, and it can help policymakers design more effective energy policies."
Strumsky is a faculty member in the Department of Geography & Earth Sciences and also is affiliated with the Ph.D. in Public Policy Program. She will work with researchers from Arizona State University and the University of Oxford on the project, titled Forecasting and influencing technological progress in solar energy. Researchers from the other institutions are J. Doyne Farmer, Eric Beinhocker and Jose Lobo. Others from UNC Charlotte also will collaborate as the project evolves.
"Dr. Strumsky is noted for her knowledge and ability to shed light on complex, real-world problems. This project reflects UNC Charlotte's focus on connecting its research with pressing global and local needs," said Nancy A. Gutierrez, dean of the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences at UNC Charlotte. "Her efforts and the collaboration with colleagues at Arizona State University and University of Oxford will help scientists and communities find critical solutions for our world's energy needs."
Others receiving the Solar Energy Evolution and Diffusion Studies (SEEDS) awards through the SunShot effort are Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Yale University, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, The University of Texas at Austin, SRI International and Sandia National Laboratories.
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