The Alternative Energy Future
The Alternative Energy Future project examines how to facilitate the adoption of cleaner and more efficient energy technologies using knowledge from the social and behavioral sciences.
Most climate and energy studies conclude that the United States will require a substantial transformation of its energy system in order to address pressing economic, environmental, and geopolitical challenges. But the widespread adoption of new energy technologies will also require a societal transformation. Through its Alternative Energy Future project, the Academy is working to develop a solid understanding of the legal, social, and economic factors that can either inhibit or facilitate transformative change in the U.S. energy system.
The project objectives are: 1) to demonstrate the value of social science in designing and adopting innovations in the physical energy system; and 2) to create a research program aimed at understanding how governing institutions and policy design must adapt to the demands of a changing energy infrastructure.
The complex issues shaping the energy future demand interdisciplinary analysis and new collaborations among professional communities. To this end, the Alternative Energy Future project brings together representatives from industry, government, academia, and the nonprofit sector. The Academy organizes workshops and publications to foster new research collaborations, develop agendas for future research, and explore how project findings can be integrated into existing and new policies and programs. For example, in 2017 and 2018 the project held events with state and municipal policy-makers and practitioners focused on three regions, California, the Great Lakes, and New England.
The 2011 report, Beyond Technology: Strengthening Energy Policy through Social Science, presents a social science research agenda on energy and recommends strategies for enhancing collaboration between social scientists and policy-makers. The report was cited in the Department of Energy’s (DOE) 2011 Quadrennial Technology Review (QTR) as evidence of the importance of applying social science expertise to the design of energy technologies and policies. The DOE used the report’s recommendations to establish a new SunShot program on Solar Energy Evolution and Diffusion Studies (SEEDS), which requires participating engineering teams to include social scientists as integral team members from the beginning of the project.
Coverage in the media has included The New York Times, Boston Globe, USA Today, and Energy Research & Social Science.
Learn more about the Alternative Energy Future project's activities and media coverage: