2010-2011 Fellows

Conor Gately

Degree Sought : Ph.D. in Geography
Research Focus: Determinants of efficiency of household energy consumption in large urban areas

School Name : Maynard Ecology Center
Teaching Partner: Susan Agger
Conor's Project GLACIER Site

With a rapidly growing proportion of the world’s population living in large urban areas, an analytical focus on the dynamics of energy and resource consumption is essential to properly inform policymakers who seek to address the multiple and related issues of energy security, air and water pollution and anthropogenic climate change. Understanding the specific effects of environmental, demographic and technological variables on the end-user consumption of fossil fuel-derived energy services is necessary for the formulation of policy instruments that seek to mitigate the negative effects to society of this consumption. I am particularly interested in the factors most influential to energy consumption by domestic households and the costs associated with improving energy efficiency at the household level. Due to the difficulty in inducing large changes in consumer behavior and the resource limitations on large-scale subsidy programs for energy efficiency or technology programs at the state and local level, identifying the most cost-effective policy instruments for a given urban area are critical to the efficient use of public funds to promote sustainable energy consumption. In some cases this means identifying the lowest efficiency consumers and targeting them with policy instruments. In other instances there may be effects due to particular infrastructure or demographic variables with a strong influence on energy consumption, and which can be assessed and addressed through other policy avenues. In all cases, policymakers will require analytically sound assessments of the costs and benefits to enacting a policy designed to improve the efficiency of consumer energy consumption. Estimating these costs and benefits is a prerequisite to transparent and effective energy policy at the national, state and local level.

One main thrust of my research is on the effects of energy policy on CO2 emissions, and by extension, the impacts of those emissions on anthropogenic climate change. Fundamental to this is the notion of coupled natural and human systems, i.e. that human society and its activities both affect and are affected by the natural environment. The lessons I have worked on for the 5th grade Weather and Water curriculum and upcoming lessons for the 7th grade Atmosphere curriculum emphasize the basic physical principles that govern cyclical processes in weather and climate systems. We have worked with lab materials that show the students how heat and pressure affect the formation of clouds, the evaporation and precipitation of water and the pathways in the water cycle that move water through the system. We have discussed how the driving forces in natural systems can be influenced by human activities such as the emission of greenhouse gases. We have also worked on groundwater models that show the effects of human development on the local water system – through runoff from agriculture, pollution from industry and commercial activity and the effects of land use change on water flows in the environment. In all of these lessons, I have worked to convey to the students the interconnectedness of the natural environment and the built infrastructure and activities of human societies.
Sponsored by the NSF GK-12 Program