Paige Weber: Faculty Spotlight

From an undergraduate in EneRes 100: Energy and Society to an ERG Assistant Professor! Get to know the Energy and Resources Group’s newest faculty member, Paige Weber.

1. What past experiences led you to becoming an academic?

It started with becoming fascinated by energy as a means to study inequality while an undergraduate at UC Berkeley. This was in no small part due to Professor Dan Kammen’s Energy & Society class, which I took on a whim to fill a breadth requirement. My undergraduate career culminated in a memorable honors thesis class with Professor Alan Karras. led me to want to learn more about energy systems and markets from the inside, so I took a job at Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) in energy procurement. That experience provided many valuable lessons, including a large investor owned utility’s responsibilities and constraints, their operations under a cap-and-trade program, and their strategy to decarbonize their electricity portfolio to meet renewable portfolio standards. During this time I became focused on questions about energy production and consumption that someone told me economists might have the tools to answer. For example, I wanted to understand: how consumers traded off preferences for lower prices and cleaner energy; how alternative climate change policy designs would impact long-term utility planning decisions; when consumers would choose dynamic retail rates, etc.

I started my journey to gain tools in environmental economics in the master’s program at the Yale School of the Environment (YSE). At this time I was curious about academia as a career path, but I also liked the pace of industry where analysis drove weekly and daily decision making (not multi-year research…). I also wasn’t sure how I would fare with the isolating components of academic research, and whether or not research made a difference in the real world. During the master’s I discovered that I have an inner hermit that thrives getting lost in research. And the interdisciplinary faculty there were generating impactful and policy relevant research that made me optimistic about the role of academic research in policy-making. With these concerns at bay, I sought a Ph.D. and academic career path with the intentions of, one, generating research that could support the design of equitable environmental policy, and two, staying in school forever.

2. What inspires you in your work today?

Over the last decade, there has been a surge of research in environmental justice, together with growing interest in this work on the policy side. Local, state, and federal policy makers are all now increasingly asking how they can incorporate equity into environmental policy. The demand for research characterizing and quantifying the tradeoffs between equity and other policy objectives makes for an exciting time to contribute to research in this area with tools in economics. Though, it is probably just as, or more important, when there is less interest.

3. What do you like about academic research?

 I like that it is a profession that requires creativity in all stages of work—from idea generation to research project execution to day to day workflow. I have the autonomy of both asking the question

 This was in no small part due to Professor Dan Kammen’s Energy & Society class, which I took on a whim to fill a breadth requirement…And culminated in a memorable honors thesis class with Professor Alan Karras. 

and figuring out how I want to answer it. Sometimes this involves assembling a crew of co-authors. Sometimes it involves toiling away by myself. Each stage of the research process requires unique skills, which makes me a forever beginner. For example, a day writing a research grant is quite different from a day solving a coding problem or a day figuring out how to make the results of a paper jump out of one figure. While I never get the feeling of mastery, it certainly makes for interesting work days. 

4. What led you to be interested in energy systems/the environment?

 I have always been interested in studying wealth inequality, but after taking Energy & Society 101, and then subsequently studying abroad in Cape Town, South Africa and working on sustainable transportation in Bangalore, India, I became increasingly interested in energy as a lens to understand wealth distribution. I find that the externalities of energy production and consumption illuminate the determinants, and contributing factors to, wealth inequality. I am also continually drawn to this area as the technical, cultural, and political aspects of patterns of energy production and consumption necessitate interdisciplinary approaches, which makes for a fun research community filled with different perspectives.

5. What are you most excited for the future in research/academia?

 I am most excited to be starting this new position at ERG! I am eager to get to know everyone here better and learn more about their fascinating and varied research questions and backgrounds. I am also excited to be starting a joint lab with Professor David Anthoff for ERGies interested in economics, ERGecon. Come join us for lab lunch on Tuesdays! In terms of research, I am currently working on a project that involves how people make residential location decisions trading off prices and pollution exposure, and I am excited about future research that similarly leverages this type of decision model.