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Carnegie Mellon University, United States

Why rapid and deep decarbonization isn't simple: Linking bottom-up socio-technical decision-making insights with top-down macroeconomic analyses


Energy-economy-emissions modeling has commonly projected that the rapid and significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) required to avoid the most significant consequences of climate change are, in theory, attainable with emissions policies and existing technologies. However, the assumptions of rates of change embodied in the technological deployments and retirements of these projections may not be consistent with existing socio-technical bottlenecks.

This paper proposes to evaluate the top-down projections of a Computable General Equilibrium (CGE) model—one of a number of energy-economy-emissions modeling approaches commonly used for assessing the impacts of decarbonization—with a bottom-up framework representing the aggregated effect of project planning and approval processes. The Socio-technical Decision-making Model (SDM) will be used to construct an upper-bound achievability limit for project developments, given timelines and constraints for regulatory approval, capital investment cycles, public acceptance, and other socio-technical considerations. Results from this framework can be used to develop energy and climate change policy targets more cognizant of the sensitivity of predictions to highly uncertain social, economic, and technical outcomes and adaptations.


Turner Cotterman is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Engineering and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University. His research focuses on employing engineering, economic, and policy tools in order to address the complex energy, environmental, and socio-technical challenges affecting the pace of a low-carbon transition. Turner recently completed a semester as a Visiting Research Student at the University of Queensland’s Dow Centre, where he assessed the rates and extent of decarbonization activities by linking macroeconomic modeling with project planning and approval processes. Prior to arriving at CMU, he earned his Master’s degree at MIT and, as a Tata Fellow, contributed to the development of an optimization model for planning rural electrification strategies in India, Africa, and South America. He also worked for a period of time at ISO New England to address wind resource curtailments. Turner holds a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from Clemson University with a focus on power systems and renewable energy technologies.

Turner Cotterman

Turner Cotterman