Assistant professor, Department of Economics, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

2013-2014 Gilbert White Fellow, Resources for the Future.

Power market structures subthrust leader, Center for Ultra-wide-area Resilient Electric Energy Transmission Networks (CURENT), a National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center co-funded by NSF and US Department of Energy

Member, Environmental Advisory Committee of New York Independent System Operator.  This is the organization that operates the wholesale electricity market and power transmission grid in the state of New York.

Member, Engineering and Economics of Electricity Research Group.



The largest of my current research thrusts is the development of tools to enable and demonstrate substantially better decision-making in the planning, regulation, and operation of electric power grids.  The most important potential improvement in decision-making concerns pollutant emissions.  The health and environmental effects of emissions are real costs of power generation.  These health and environmental costs are largely ignored, even though at some power plants they may be an order of magnitude larger than the total cost of fuel, maintenance, and capital (Levy et al, Risk Analysis 29:7).  To the extent that some of these costs are currently regulated, they are regulated crudely.  My collaborators and I have coupled grid models with air pollution fate-and-transport models to enable the incorporation of health and environmental costs in decisions about which existing power plants should be used each hour, what new plants should be permitted, and where new transmission lines should be built.  In addition to considerably advancing overall societal well-being, these tools can be industry-friendly, as they reduce the cost of achieving society’s desired levels of environmental damage abatement and they provide a consistent, predictable, transparent framework for regulatory decision-making.

Our tools also incorporate a couple of other important improvements.  The first is to better estimate system-wide cost effects when optimizing and evaluating power plant and transmission investments.  The second is to optimize reliability rather than rather than relying on reliability rules of thumb.  My closest collaborators in this research thrust include Bill Schulze, Ray Zimmerman, Charles Marquet, Jubo Yan, and Bob Thomas of Cornell University; Daniel Tylavsky and Yujia Zhu of Arizona State University; Carlos Murillo-Sanchez of La Universidad Nacional de Colombia; and PhD students Biao Mao and Zamiyad Dar of Rensselaer.

My second research thrust, with Rensselaer PhD student Andrew Kindle, is a new one that involves empirically estimating the emission impacts of policy decisions.  The first publication from this thrust is a study that tests whether the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative in the northeastern United States has caused a detectable increase of carbon dioxide emissions from the neighboring state of Pennsylvania.  For this study, Kindle and I worked closely with Michael Swider of the New York Independent System Operator, Inc, which operates the New York state wholesale power market and power transmission system.  The second paper in this thrust uses time-series econometrics to carefully characterize the effects of power plant startup, shutdown, ramping, and generation rate on emissions.  The third paper uses econometrics and plant-level data to examine the claim that windfarms to not reduce emissions because they require fossil-fueled power plants to ramp and start up more often.

My third research thrust is the experimental testing of electricity market designs.  So far, this thrust is represented by a paper in the International Journal of Industrial Organization testing the rules used in New York and several other parts of the US for regulating the ability of power plant owners to raise power prices through the exercise of oligopoly power.

My fourth research thrust deals with human tendencies in making inter-temporal decisions, such as decisions about environmental policies, which typically involve costs in the near term and benefits in the longer term.  The first published journal paper from this research finds a striking difference between women and men in inter-temporal decision-making.

In addition to continuing the research thrusts above, I am gearing up for an expedition into electricity rate design.  Many prices in electricity markets continue to be the same across time and space within a system.  Such constant prices include not just generation charges but also distribution charges, taxes, system benefit charges, stranded cost charges, a portion of transmission charges, some ancillary services, most environmental cap-and-trade permit requirements, and other nonbypassable charges.  In many cases, these prices should instead vary by time and location to optimally reflect current marginal operation and maintenance cost, discourage congestion, improve reliability, reduce capacity and reserve needs, guide investment, and reduce environmental damages.  In some cases, this is already possible.  In other cases, it will be made possible by the expansion of real-time metering and system monitoring equipment such as phasor measurement units.

Pre-Academic Policy Work


I have worked in energy-and-environment policy since 1995.  I started as a researcher and writer for the US renewable energy industry associations in their Washington DC offices.  In 1998, I moved to the Tellus Institute, where I helped five states design successful restructured electricity markets and drafted the comments of the National Association of State Utility Consumer Advocates on national electricity policy regarding regional transmission organizations.

In 1999, I began three years with the Maryland Public Interest Research Group, leading the development of sustainable energy policies in Maryland.  We passed the nation’s first tax credits for hybrid vehicles (later adopted in other states and nationally); the nation’s first fully funded green buildings tax incentive; the first state law to use the LEED building sustainability ratings; Maryland’s renewable energy portfolio standard; Maryland’s environmental labeling of electricity; and a new set of energy efficiency standards for appliances and equipment which have since been emulated in other states and nationally.

Returning to school, I did my graduate studies, in economics, at Cornell University, learning from and working with economists and power system engineers including Bill Schulze, Bob Thomas, Tim Mount, Richard Schuler, and Ray Zimmerman.  I finished my PhD, and started as an assistant professor of economics at RPI, in 2008.

Curriculum vitae


Click here to access.



E-mail:  shawhd@[Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute initials].edu

Other documents and links


Online appendix of Daniel L. Shawhan, John T. Taber, Di Shi, Ray D. Zimmerman, Jubo Yan, Charles M. Marquet, Yingying Qi, Biao Mao, Richard E. Schuler, William D. Schulze, and Daniel J. Tylavsky, “Does a Realistic Model of the Electricity Grid Matter? Estimating the Impacts of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative,” Resource and Energy Economics, Volume 36 Issue 1, January 2014, pp. 191–207.

Dataset of the utility-scale, grid-connected electric generators in the United States, and some of the software used in creating it.