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Xi Wang photographs group reflection on a concentrated solar power (CSP) site visit in Arvada, CO.State Renewable Portfolio Standards: Accounting for Adoption Differences


Featured Research from ICE CaPs Member Xi Wang by Shawn Olson

Photo: Xi Wang photographs group reflection on a concentrated solar power (CSP) site visit in Arvada, CO.

What determines how quickly a state is able to transition to a renewable electricity system? Xi Wang seeks to answer that question through her Masters research at the University of Colorado-Boulder. Technological sophistication and economic scalability certainly come into play, but how do we reconcile the vastly contrasting levels of renewable energy adoption among different states? Xi is particularly interested in understanding the political, social, and economic factors that determine whether or not a state adopts a Renewable Portfolio Standard (also called a Renewable Energy Standard, or RPS/RES).

An RPS sets mandates for the overall percentage of renewable electricity, and there is no national policy that regulates this. Currently, 29 states and the District of Columbia have an RPS and eight states have non-enforceable goals. Xi is also interested in understanding how and why different states adopt stronger or weaker standards - for example, Michigan requires all utilities to source 10% of electricity from renewable sources by the year 2015, while California's RPS is 33% by 2020.

To answer these questions, Xi intends to apply spatial statistical analysis of all U.S. states to understand what political and economic factors predict a state's adoption (or lack thereof) of an RPS bill. Xi postulates that, "the broad spectrum of RPS enactment across the 50 states creates an ideal environment for understanding what facilitates or impedes RPS-facilitated transitions to renewables."

Xi's work will seek to further research completed recently by political scientists Luke Fowler and Joseph Breen (2013), who conducted statistical analysis of all 50 states to try understand what factors of the state's character predicted its likelihood to adopt an RPS. Fowler and Breen showed that the states categorized as "moralist states" like California and Oregon (states that rely on the public good as a more democratic model of governance) were almost ten times as likely to have adopted an RPS than "traditionalist states" such as Texas and Georgia (states that rely on elitism as the source of democratic order and is more and are more inclined to maintain the status quo). Additionally, individualistic states like Colorado and Pennsylvania (that rely on the marketplace as the source of democratic order) were more than four times as likely to adopt some type of RPS than traditionalist states. "It is incredibly compelling that we can measure the influence political and social factors through this type of statistical analysis," Xi said. She hopes to further this work in a new analysis that incorporates the several new factors she think are important, such as economic factors, spatial regression that can account for the influence of neighbor states, as well as adding 'shades of grey' by factoring in the varying strength of each state's RPS targets.

Xi is also keenly interested in understanding how the public plays a role in state adoption of RPS standards. For example, in Colorado, the RPS was initiated by a citizen's referendum), while in Michigan lawmakers just attempted (and failed) to incorporate the RPS into the state constitution. "The public plays a variety of roles in mediating the presence and level of a state's renewable energy mandate," said Xi, "I'm interested in understanding both the strength and the texture of that role." She pauses, then laughs, "Though maybe I'll save that for my PhD."

Xi recently finished her first year as a graduate student in the Environmental Studies (ENVS) program at the University of Colorado-Boulder, and she is currently working as a renewables market and policy intern at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, CO. She is researching electric utilities' curtailment of renewables with higher penetrations of wind and solar technologies, and its impacts. Xi is also working with a team to develop and execute trainings for Tribal nations on how to develop commercial- and community-scale renewable energy projects. Prior to ENVS, Xi worked as a strategy and technology consultant at Booz Allen Hamilton in Washington, D.C. While there, she also engaged in social, food, and environmental justice activism. Xi has also worked at the Monterey Bay Aquarium as an environmental stewardship guide, and spent summers in southern Spain and Ecuador on organic and subsistence farms. Xi earned a B.A. in English from Cornell University.