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Durham, NC 27708
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STEVEN SEXTON

Energy and Environmental Economist

An assistant professor of public policy and economics at Duke University's Sanford School of Public Policy, Steven teaches public economics to undergraduate students and environmental and energy economics to doctoral students. His research employs big data, machine learning, and econometrics to analyze policy and consumer and firm behaviors at the intersection of agriculture, energy, and the environment. A UC Berkeley PhD, Steven's research and commentaries have been featured in leading popular press, including the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post. With experience working for California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, he has advised utilities and firms subject to California's Global Warming Solutions Act.

RESEARCH

 

OPTIMAL SITING OF ROOFTOP SOLAR PV CAPACITY

with Justin Kirkpatrick, Robert Harris, and Nicholas Muller
Working paper 2018

Federal and state policies in the U.S. subsidize electricity generation from 1.4 million rooftop solar arrays because of pollution avoidance benefits and grid congestion relief. Yet because these benefits vary across the U.S. according to solar irradiance, technologies of electricity generators, and grid characteristics, the value of these benefits, and, consequently, the optimal subsidy, are largely unknown. Policy, therefore, is unlikely to have induced efficient solar investments. This paper (1) provides the first systematic, theoretically consistent, and empirically valid estimates of pollution damages avoidable by solar capacity in each U.S. zip code, (2) relates these external benefits to subsidy levels in each U.S. state, and (3) estimates the share of these benefits that spillover to other states. It also measures the energy value of capacity across the U.S. and the value of transmission congestion relief in California. Environmental benefits are shown to vary considerably across the U.S., and to largely spillover to neighboring states. Subsidy levels are essentially uncorrelated with environmental benefits contributing to installed capacity that sacrifices approximately $1 billion per year in environmental benefits. Energy value is estimated to vary less than environmental benefits, while California rooftop solar is shown to generate no congestion relief.

DOES VISIBILITY OF ROOFTOP SOLAR AFFECT ADOPTION?

with Bryan Bollinger, Kenneth Gillingham and Justin Kirkpatrick
Working Paper 2019

The underlying mechanisms of peer influence in durable good adoption can lead to substantial heterogeneity in peer effects and the capacity of marketers to leverage them. In this paper, we exploit the plausibly exogenous orientation of solar panels sited to maximize power generation to determine whether geographically proximate peers' solar installations increase a household's probability of solar adoption more if they are visible from public roadways. We also examine heterogeneity in the effect of peer panel visibility due to the economic value of solar installations and the political orientations of potential adopters. Highly visible and proximal peer solar installations are shown to double the adoption probability relative to non-visible proximal installations. The effect of peer installation visibility is larger for households headed by voters registered as independents or Democrats, who are only influenced by the visible installations of their non-Republican peers.

HOUSEHOLD RESPONSE TO TIME-VARYING ELECTRICITY PRICES

with Matthew Harding
Forthcoming in Annual Review of Resource Economics 2017

The diffusion of smart-metering technology and intermittent renewable electricity generation capacity makes the deployment of time-varying electricity rates increasingly feasible and important to the functioning of electricity grids. Such rates, which economists advocate to more efficiently match supply and demand, remain rare, though experiments assessing consumer responses are not. This review synthesizes evaluations of these experiments in the context of a theory of consumer inattention and adjustment costs that posits a role for automation technology to boost the short-run price elasticity of demand and affect demand-side reductions that can lower generation costs.

MODEL UNCERTAINTY AND THE EFFECT OF CLIMATE CHANGE ON GDP

with Brian Prest and Richard Newell
Working Paper 2018

A growing literature characterizes climate change damages by relating temperature shocks to GDP. But theory does not clearly prescribe estimable forms of this relationship, yielding discretion to researchers and generating potentially considerable model uncertainty. We therefore employ model cross validation to assess the out-of-sample predictive accuracy of 400 variants of prominent models, identify the set of superior models, and characterize both model and sampling uncertainty. Estimates of GDP impacts vary substantially across models, especially those assuming temperature effects on GDP growth, rather than levels. The best-performing models have non-linear temperature effects on GDP levels, and imply global GDP losses of 1-2% by 2100.

To review Steven's complete published works, view his CV here and his Google Scholar page here.

TEACHING

 

PHD ENVIRONMENTAL AND ENERGY ECONOMICS

Spring 2017

Surveys the analytical tools and methods used to identify suboptimal environmental outcomes and policies to correct them. It also introduces students to energy markets and the economic and environmental regulations that govern them. Students will apply microeconomic concepts to contemporary challenges confronting the environment and energy market participants.

ECONOMICS OF THE PUBLIC SECTOR

Spring 2017

Applies tools of intermediate micro economics to the public sector. Develops economic justifications for government intervention into the economy and examines and evaluates various government policies and programs including regulation of externalities, welfare programs, social security and other social insurance programs. Provides a solid foundation for applied benefit cost analysis. Analyzes tax policy and other forms of government financing, both at national and subnational levels.

ENERGY ECONOMICS AND POLICY

Fall 2015

Introduces students to energy markets and the economic and environmental regulations that govern them. Students apply microeconomic concepts to contemporary challenges confronting energy market participants and regulators. Students learn how energy markets and firms are organized and why; how market power causes inefficiencies and how regulators intervene to restrain firms' market power; and how to apply microeconomic tools to analyze the efficiency and equity implications of energy policies.

EXPERIENCE

ASST. PROFESSOR OF PUBLIC POLICY AND ECONOMICS

Duke University

July 2014 - present

With a primary appointment in the Sanford School of Public Policy and a secondary appointment in the economics department at Duke University, Steven teaches undergraduate, masters, and doctoral students applied microeconomic concepts relevant to studies of public, environmental, and energy economics. His research explores contemporary topics related to environmental and energy economics and policy, using big data, machine learning, and econometric methods to inform policy and firm behavior.

FACULTY FELLOW OF THE ENERGY INITIATIVE

Duke University
July 2014 - present

Steven supports the research, teaching, and engagement missions of the Duke University Energy Initiative. He is faculty leader of the Energy Initiative Doctoral Student Fellows program that builds a community of researchers that encourages knowledge sharing for the betterment of student and faculty research.

ASST. PROFESSOR OF AGRICULTURAL AND RESOURCE ECONOMICS

North Carolina State University
July 2012 - June 2014

In his first job after completing his PhD at UC Berkeley, Steven taught environmental and resource economics to undergraduate and doctoral students in the Agricultural and Resource Economics department.

PRESS

 
 
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Wall Street Journal

California’s energy regulators effectively cooked the books to justify their recent command that all homes built in the Golden State after 2020 be equipped with solar panels. Far from a boon to homeowners, the costs to builders and home buyers will likely far exceed the benefits to the state.

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Wall Street Journal

The USOC and the 47 national sport governing bodies it oversees operate as government-granted monopolies by virtue of the Amateur Sports Act of 1978. The only path to an Olympic berth for American citizens—short of defecting to another country—runs through the USOC.

The Atlantic

Whether you follow a vegan diet or are a devoted carnivore, carry canvas or plastic, you are one of 7.5 billion people. The ecological effect of your choices is minuscule. And yet they have a big effect on how others see you, and how you see yourself. . . People in Washington State and Colorado were willing to pay a premium of $430 to $4,200 (results varied by zip code) for the green-signaling Prius over an equally efficient car that didn’t broadcast its virtue.

Washington Post

"Automatic bill payment programs free customers from having to regularly review their bills in order to transmit timely payments. And without that incentive, rational customers might stop looking at them, because attention itself is a scarce resource."

Wall Street Journal

With the recent release of another exhaustive report by the National Academies of Sciences attesting to the safety of genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, it is time for the food industry and advocates of genetically engineered crops to stand up for their products and put a label on them.

Wall Street Journal

It would take Michigan 14 acres to grow the strawberries California produces on a single acre. Fortunately, Michiganders only plant about 1% of total strawberry acreage in the U.S. They grow a plurality of squash, however, boasting the highest output per acre of any state, 20% higher than California.

Men's Health

Convenience might be costing you: People who automatically pay their electric bills use 4 percent more power each month—and consequently spend about $47 more per year—than those who write out checks or manually pay online, finds a new study from Duke University.

Elle Australia

"The gains from trade are probably greatest in agriculture because they're based upon natural resource endowments that are immutable to human powers."

Los Angeles Times

Chipotle's announcement this week that safety compelled it to remove all genetically modified organisms from its food is rooted either in ignorance or in crass profit-seeking at the expense of science. More than two decades of research indicate that GMOs are not only safe for humans and the environment, but also contribute to global sustainability and poverty alleviation.

The Atlantic

The mid-2000s Toyota Prius was a weird-looking box of metal: Viewed from the front, it sloped upward with swollen curves. From the back, it was chunky and pug-nosed. But from a marketing perspective, the Prius’s visual oddness was a selling point ... (A 2012 study) suggested that car buyers are willing to pay between $430 and $4,200 extra to buy a hybrid as evidence of their conscientiousness. The authors called the phenomenon “conspicuous conservation.”

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201 Science Dr
Durham, NC 27708
USA

(919) 613-9348