Ben leibowicz energy institute the university of texas at austin gas prices in texas 2015

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As a professor in UT Austin’s Graduate Program in Operations Research and Industrial Engineering (ORIE) Leibowicz conducts research in several interrelated areas, including energy systems, energy and climate policy analysis, integrated assessment modeling, and sustainable cities.

Leibowicz’ research routinely features the development of sophisticated modeling programs used in analysis of complex energy problems. For example, researchers may separate the interplay of electricity generation and natural gas production, as well as how each affects the ways in which buildings use energy.

In addition to his primary research role within the ORIE program, Leibowicz holds a courtesy appointment in the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs and supervises student research in the Energy and Earth Resources Graduate Program. Open-minded research

He eventually settled on Stanford University’s Management Science and Engineering program – where he went on to earn his MS and PhD – because the multidisciplinary nature of the research featured there suited his desire to explore connections between varying fields of study.

For example, his research may encompass energy system modeling, optimization of energy systems, or using big models to evaluate energy policies by selecting varying technologies or allowing technologies to compete under different assumptions.

Rather than implementing far-reaching policies, such as a tax on carbon or Renewable Portfolio Standards, cities are initiating a broad range of non-traditional actions, including land use regulations, transportation planning, and building codes.

In his research, Leibowicz aims to go beyond determining whether such policies are solely reducing emissions. His work examines the relationship between local initiatives and other sustainability benefits, such as improved air quality and access to green space.

In his class, Leibowicz asks students to conduct a “thought-experiment” in which he has them consider the rapid rate of growth of cities in China and India. He prods them to ponder the implications if all of those cities developed to look like Austin, versus if they all developed to look like Tokyo, which he describes as a dense, “ultra-energy efficient” urban environment that boasts an extensive public transportation network.

“I’m increasingly fascinated with this area,” Leibowicz says, “because there are so many interesting connections and interactions between different goals or tradeoffs where policies might help you in one dimension and hurt you in another.” Big-picture connections

Leibowicz is integrally involved with the Energy Institute’s latest research project, the Energy Infrastructure of the Future, an interdisciplinary study aimed at developing an extensive understanding of existing domestic energy infrastructure, and exploring how infrastructure requirements influence the cost-effectiveness of alternative energy transition scenarios from the present through 2050.

Researchers are examining how various scenarios will reflect combinations of policy goals (e.g., greenhouse emissions reduction) and technology themes (a hydrogen-based economy or nuclear renaissance). Leibowicz’ role in the project is to model the technical requirements and financial opportunities associated with the extraction and processing of primary fuels, various types of power plants, and transmission and distribution networks.

After developing an extensive inventory of existing domestic energy infrastructure, the project team will develop methods and tools to model future infrastructure requirements, while also considering the effect of trends that are driving change, including decarbonization, electrification, market designs for electric grids, modularity of energy generation, abundance of hydrocarbon products, and information technology and automation.

Project leaders believe the research – which will include development of interactive tools that will enable public and private stakeholders to understand the implications of various energy scenarios – will be of value to utilities, manufacturers, financial institutions, policymakers, and consumers.

When not fine-tuning a promising theoretical application to his latest model, Leibowicz takes every opportunity he can to travel, chronically his journeys with photographs. Unsurprisingly, he enjoys trivia and crossword puzzles. He also loves to hike, and is a big sports fan, especially football and soccer.