Top 10 Charts of 2018
From the impacts of climate change and the human costs of air pollution to the effects of fuel economy regulations, EPIC faculty research has shed new light on some of the most crucial topics in energy this year. Often times, these insights are best illustrated through data presented in easy-to-digest charts. So, we've put together ten of our favorites from 2018.
Check them out!
It’s a chart. It’s a dynamic tool. It’s a new way to measure the impact of the deadliest threat to human health: particulate pollution. For these reasons and more, the Air Quality Life Index landed at the top of our list for the second straight year. Last year, we introduced a beta version. This year, we were proud to introduce the full Index, an interactive tool that allows users anywhere in the world to explore pollution where they live, map changes over time, and—most importantly—see its effect on their life expectancy. Because the AQLI presents data at a hyper-local level—the county level in the United States—this information can help to inform communities and policymakers about the importance of air pollution policies in very concrete terms.
The Index reveals just how deadly particulate pollution is—cutting global average life expectancy by nearly two years, with some of the most polluted regions of the world fairing much worse. India, for example, is one of the countries with the heaviest pollution. Particulate pollution is cutting the average Indian resident’s life expectancy by more than 4 years, up from 2 years just two decades ago as particulate pollution increased 69 percent in India. In fact, the impact of particulate pollution on life expectancy globally is greater than cigarette smoking, twice that of alcohol and drug use, three times that of unsafe water, five times that of HIV/AIDS, and 29 times that of conflict and terrorism.
#3: Will Global Warming Shrink U.S. GDP 10 Percent? It's Complicated, Says The Person Who Made The Estimate
The day after Thanksgiving, the Trump administration released the Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4), which detailed the latest estimates of the impact climate change would have on the United States. Media coverage following the release zeroed in on one statistic, which showed that climate change would “knock as much as 10 percent off the size of America’s economy by century’s end.” Critics—the White House included—used the statistic to paint the report as “radical” and “extreme.”
What’s the truth behind the stat? The stat comes from a Science magazine study co-authored by Amir Jina, an assistant professor at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy. As the chart shows, in one sense the 10 percent is an overestimate—representing the estimated damages for warming of 15°F above pre-industrial levels, which is unlikely. If the world adheres to the goals of the Paris Climate Accord, then a more moderate warming scenario would likely play out, with warming of between 2°F to 7°F. Under this outlook, the nation’s GDP would shrink by about one percent to four percent. At the same time, the chart shows how climate change will impact health, labor and agricultural productivity, energy demand, crime and coastal property. These are important, but leave out many other effects that could be as dramatically affected or worse, such as ecosystem loss, changes to water availability, wildfires, migration, and many others. Once all the impacts across the economy are tallied, 10 percent would likely be an underestimate.
When the global benchmark Brent oil price exceeded $85 a barrel earlier this year, Saudi Arabia rapidly increased its production to avoid further price increases. The oil price has since fallen rapidly, and Saudi Arabia is now considering a large production cut. But what about the United States? Can U.S. oil production quickly respond to changes in global oil prices, allowing the United States to play the role of a swing producer?
Ryan Kellogg, a professor at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy, and his co-authors studied how production responds to crude oil price swings using detailed well data from Texas from 1990 to 2007. They found that production from existing wells declines smoothly as reservoir pressure declines, showing no response to prices.
While bumping up production of existing wells is not an option, new wells could be drilled. As the chart shows, the drilling of these new wells follows oil prices very closely, with a lag of a few months as the new drilling takes place. Oil production from these new wells then follows, but gradually rather than instantaneously.
In recent years, slated nuclear plant retirements grab headlines. 2018 was no different, with several announced plant closures. All told, 35 percent of the country’s nuclear power plants are at risk of early closure or slated to retire. Faced with competition from cheap natural gas and increasingly from renewables, nuclear energy is having a hard time competing. And, without a price on carbon, that will likely continue into the future.
EPIC’s Director Michael Greenstone, the Milton Friedman Professor in Economics, laid out the numbers at a conference in Washington, DC jointly hosted by EPIC and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) this past May. He calculated the cost per megawatt hour of electricity for a natural gas plant with and without a price on carbon in the year 2040. He then compared that to the projected cost of several emerging nuclear technologies. While the nuclear technologies have a strong chance at competing when a carbon price is in place, they will require significant cost reductions to be competitive in the absence of such a price.
This year, China marked its four-year anniversary of declaring “war against pollution.” To coincide with the anniversary, EPIC’s Director Michael Greenstone, the Milton Friedman Professor in Economics, conducted an analysis using data from more than 200 government air quality monitors throughout the country. He and his co-author, Patrick Schwarz, found that air pollution decreased across the board in China’s most populated areas. Cities on average have cut particulate pollution by 21 to 42 percent in just four years.
As utilities try to reduce peak load, they may encourage consumers to conserve energy. What’s the best way to do this? A study by Koichiro Ito, an assistant professor at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy, finds that “dynamic” pricing is more effective than moral suasion on its own for changing customer behaviors in the long run.