What Does an Energy Economist Do?

Mary McMahon

An energy economist conducts research into topics related to the supply and use of energy worldwide. This is a highly interdisciplinary field that includes not just the economics of global supplies, but also issues like climate change, indigenous rights, politics, and sustainability. National governments make use of such economists to help them make policy and work with allies. These economics professionals also work for private companies, research institutions, and academic organizations with an interest in energy and economics.

An energy economist might study what happens to the environment when a hydroelectric dam is put into place.
An energy economist might study what happens to the environment when a hydroelectric dam is put into place.

Research areas within this field are quite broad. An energy economist may focus on traditional sources of energy like coal and petroleum products, while others study alternative supplies like wind and solar energy. They can look at the movement of energy within a nation as well as internationally, and also study demand. This can include analysis of sustainability and efficiency initiatives aimed at reducing the draw on the world's energy supply.

Some have an interest in environmental topics. They look not just at energy, but how the production, transport, and use of energy impacts the environment. This can vary from studies on pollution caused by coal-fired power plants to the analysis of what happens to watersheds and fishers when hydroelectric dams are put in place. From an economic perspective, it can be important for an energy economist to calculate the cost of environmental impacts to determine if production is financially sustainable, or needs to be adjusted to limit environmental costs.

Government agencies need the input of an energy economist for certain kinds of policy decisions. These consultants can provide advice and recommendations for energy and environmental policy, with an eye toward future economic stability and environmental sustainability. They can also provide cost-benefit analysis of different policy proposals and courses of action a government could take to address energy needs. This can include discussions of the social and environmental impacts of energy generation and use, to provide a complete picture of a government's options.

Utilities, environmental organizations, and other entities may need the services of an energy economist for their activities. An economist can help a company determine which energy investments to pursue, and how aggressively to pursue them. Economists can also help organizations with concerns about environmental impacts, by examining the economic costs and providing arguments for and against different kinds of energy development and use. Such analysis can be helpful for everything from mounting a protest against a planned development to guiding a company through changes to its energy policy to be more environmentally responsible.

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