The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Professor Christine Crago Among Researchers to Receive $6.3M Energy Grant

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Christine Crago, associate professor of resource economics at Commonwealth Honors College, recently received a $6.3 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) as a part of a team in the new Elevating Equity Values in the Transition of the Energy (ELEVATE) program at UMass. ELEVATE is an interdisciplinary program collaborating cutting-edge research experts in energy and technology, and world-renowned scholars in equity and social justice. The award  will go towards funding the post-graduate education of about 80 ELEVATE students.

“Our program is unique because we have equity as a core component of our training program,” Crago said. “We want to conduct research and train students to develop innovative technological and policy solutions that take into account not only the monetary cost of policies or innovations, but also how they would impact social justice and equity in our society.”

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns that the emission of greenhouse gasses from the energy sector needs to be cut drastically in order to quell the effects of climate change. Renewable energy should make up around 80 percent of the global electricity supply. The ELEVATE program is a multidisciplinary step towards reaching this goal, aiming to make clean energy more accessible and more affordable throughout. 

As an environmental, energy, and agricultural economist, Crago began her career studying biofuels. She transitioned to studying solar energy when she joined UMass and has always been interested in issues relating to poverty and welfare policies. The ELEVATE program will give her ample opportunity to combine her career interests with other experts.

“A lot of our most pressing social challenges like climate change can’t be solved just by one discipline,” Crago said. “In order to effectively transition to a renewable energy system, we need all the fields to come together. In our [ELEVATE team], we are engineers, social scientists, and computer scientists who will work together to address important questions related to the energy transition.”

For her role, specifically, Crago will analyze the impact of implementing renewable energy policies within different sectors of society, which is not a typical focus of economics.

“In economics, we want to maximize social welfare and achieve efficiency,” said Crago of her background. “But usually we are agnostic to the distributional impacts of policies. Bringing that into the discussion and policy making is going to be really important.”

Crago looks forwards to continuing to work with undergraduates on energy research. She has sponsored numerous Honors Thesis projects and will offer a new Honors Thesis seminar on the economics of the renewable energy transition next fall. Crago’s class will allow students to analyze the energy problem from a variety of different focuses. 

“I hope to recruit a great group of students from different majors, like engineering, chemistry, economics, business, to be in this class to discuss energy transition issues,” said Crago. “I’m really excited for it.”

Beyond ELEVATE and her teaching, Crago’s recent research work entitled “Motivating non-ratepaying households with feedback and social nudges: A cautionary tale” analyzes the split-incentive problem of paying for energy. Households who do not pay a monthly rate for their energy bill and instead pay a flat rate often overuse energy since they do not directly pay for it. Crago’s research investigates ways of getting households like this to conserve more energy.

“I like to remind students that energy is kind of an ‘invisible resource,’” said Crago. “We don’t really think about it because we don’t see it, yet it’s powering everything around us. I’d like to encourage students to pay more attention to their energy use. There are very low-effort ways to save energy that, if everyone engaged in, would have a really big impact.”

She encourages students to use smart power strips, unplug devices, and turn off lights when not in use as easy-to-do energy conservation solutions.

Students interested in Crago’s research and Honors course can contact her at ccrago@resecon.umass.edu. Students who are interested in pursuing graduate work as part of ELEVATE can contact team leader Dr. Matt Lackner at lackner@engin.umass.edu. Crago notes that the ELEVATE team is particularly interested in students with a strong commitment to equity and social justice.