Call for Research Proposals: Economics of Energy Use in Transportation

More than one quarter of annual U.S. energy consumption is associated with the transportation of people and commodities. Gasoline and diesel fuel accounted for 77 percent of transportation-related energy consumption in 2015, with jet fuel another 11 percent and biofuels 5 percent. To investigate how economic forces, public policies, and technological change affect energy consumption in the transportation sector, the NBER plans a two-year project on “Energy Use in Transportation.” This project, which is jointly supported by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and the U.S. Department of Energy, will be led by Meghan Busse of Northwestern University, Chris Knittel of MIT, and Kate Whitefoot of Carnegie Mellon University. It will investigate the forces that collectively determine the level and mix of energy consumption in U.S. transportation. The project will consist of several distinct sub-projects carried out by college- or university-based research teams. The findings will help to inform the design of public policies during the coming decade.

The NBER welcomes research proposals on topics that include, but are not limited to:

*Changing Patterns of Vehicle Demand. How different are young people in their demand for vehicles from older generations? Do younger households have fewer vehicles, different vehicles, or less intensive vehicle usage? Have technological innovations, such as telecommuting, online shopping and delivery, or ridesharing, contributed to the changing patterns of vehicle demand, and if so, by how much? What effect does the availability of public transportation have on vehicle demand?

* Vehicle Electrification. What is the role of public policies in increasing the demand of electric vehicles? How does the specific design of these policies affect their efficacy? And how do these policy effects compare to other factors that influence demand of electrified vehicles such as network externalities for the availability of charging stations and maintenance services, social learning, and the existing portfolio of vehicles in a household? How will electrification affect consumer behavior? How have various supply-side policies, such as R&D incentives to speed the development of battery technologies, and subsidies for the construction of charging stations, influenced the cost and performance of electric vehicles and the charging infrastructure? What are the implications of electrification for overall fuel demand and greenhouse gas emissions? How do regional patterns of vehicle demand and time-of-day utilization patterns affect energy consumption and emissions?

* Demand Effects of Public and Private Infrastructure Investment. How much does new investment in different kinds of transportation infrastructure induce additional travel demand? To what extent does it change the choice of transportation mode? What are the fuel consumption implications? Are public and private infrastructure outlays complements, from the standpoint of energy demand, or are they substitutes?

* Energy Use by Commercial and Heavy-Duty Vehicles. How responsive is commercial and heavy-duty trucking to fuel prices? How do the short-run and long-run fuel demand elasticities differ, and how are they affected by factors such as tax policy that affect the net cost of vehicle replacement? On what margins, and by how much, would commercial and heavy duty trucking adjust to fuel or carbon taxes? How do current fuel economy standards for commercial vehicles affect fuel use and fleet composition?

* The Rise of Vehicle Automation and Ride-Sharing Opportunities. How do ridesharing services affect demand for other transportation modes such as single-occupancy trips, public transit, biking, and walking? How do automated vehicles affect these modes? How do substitution patterns vary across socio-demographic and regional characteristics? What are the own- and cross-price elasticities of demand? How do ride-sharing or automated vehicle attributes affect these elasticities and substitution patterns? How do ridesharing services affect the demand for an individuals’ or households’ vehicle miles travelled (VMT)? How do automation and/or ridesharing change consumer preferences for vehicle attributes?

* Fuel Use in Aviation. How do airline operations affect fuel consumption, and in particular, how will market adjustments to the NextGen air traffic control system affect fuel consumption? How much will technological innovation in aircraft design and materials affect aviation fuel usage, and over what time horizon? How does infrastructure spending on airport expansion and modernization affect fuel consumption in commercial air transport? Would modified congestion pricing for landing slots at congested airports have important effects? How will recent consolidation of the U.S. airline industry affect fuel consumption?

* Distributional Effects of Changing Patterns of Energy Consumption. What is the current pattern of energy use in transportation across households in different income strata and in different regions, and how might it be affected by various changes in the energy and transportation services markets? Do public policies that aim to reduce fuel consumption have differential effects by geographic regions or economic strata? Are there externalities associated with energy production for transportation that fall disproportionately on particular geographic regions or economic strata?

Researchers interested in studying these or other related questions may submit short proposals – no more than five pages, single spaced, including references, tables, graphs, and other supplementary material, in PDF format – by December 10, 2017. Proposals may be submitted at:

Each proposal should describe the research question to be studied, the data and methods, present preliminary findings if possible, and indicate the researchers who will be carrying out the project. It should also include a conflict of interest statement that describes any financial or other interests of the researchers that might bear on the proposed work, and in particular that discloses any ties to the energy industry. The co-organizers will evaluate the research projects. Proposals from researchers with and without NBER affiliations are welcome, as are proposals from early career scholars and from researchers from under-represented minority groups.

Researchers who submit proposals that are selected for inclusion in the project will be notified by January 31, 2018. For projects that are funded, the NBER will be able to provide up to $12,500 of salary support for research assistants, who will be employed by the NBER. Research teams that take part in this project will be expected to participate in a research pre-conference that will be held in Cambridge, MA, on Friday, April 20, 2018. There will be a capstone research conference in May 2019 at which researchers will share their findings with policy experts. It is possible that a refereed journal will be invited to consider the collection of research papers for a potential special issue.

The NBER will cover the cost of domestic travel and hotel expenses for up to two authors per paper and for discussants at the conference. Questions about this conference may be addressed to

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