Our Vision & History

Our Vision & History

The Energy Markets & Policy (EMP) department strives to inspire and inform impactful solutions to existing and emerging global energy challenges through objective and timely research and technical assistance.

We seek an equitable, resilient, and sustainable energy system, grounded in science.

Our Approach

The institutions, policies, and economics that define the current “rules of the road” in energy markets are as vital to shaping industry outcomes as are the technological advances. Our goal is to be trusted experts that expand knowledge and imagine possibilities to solve the most pressing problems of the energy transition

To do this, we employ a range of interdisciplinary Energy Markets and Policy Team Eventmethods and tools appropriate to the topic at hand, including primary data, economic, and statistical analyses; modeling; and survey and interview-based research. We provide insight and information to public and private decision makers through direct technical assistance, publications, and presentations, and we make our work publicly-available to aid and inform all interested stakeholders.

Our Story

The origins of Berkeley Lab’s EMP department date to the mid-1980s, when researchers began evaluating the financial impacts of national appliance efficiency standards on electric utilities. These evaluations, which involved the development and application of tools to forecast end-use loads and simulate electricity production costs, formed the technical basis for modern integrated resource planning methods. This phase culminated with Berkeley Lab’s preparation of an influential resource, Least-Cost Utility Planning, A Handbook for Public Utility Commissioners, for the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC).

Throughout the 1990s, EMP researchers focused on technical, economic, and regulatory policy issues surrounding the implementation of demand-side management programs funded by utility ratepayers. Our contributions included:

  • assessing the total social costs of energy efficiency delivered through utility programs,
  • developing methods to estimate energy efficiency program impacts,
  • reviewing ratemaking innovations, such as decoupling and shared savings, to address utility financial impacts from energy efficiency programs, and
  • examining the enduring public policy rationale for utility involvement in promoting energy efficiency.

The EMP research team complemented these activities by conducting annual training courses for utility commission staff on integrated resource planning. In addition, the department completed early, pioneering assessments of:

  • the nascent energy services company (ESCO) industry,
  • competitive bidding processes from utilities to acquire supply- and demand-side resources,
  • wholesale electricity market design issues, and
  • the financial aspects and public policies affecting renewables development.

In the 2000s, EMP maintained its focus on ratepayer-funded efficiency programs while dramatically increasing its work on the many economic, grid integration, public acceptance, and policy issues related to renewable electricity resources. EMP also began publishing an influential series of annual renewable energy tracking reports, which have since expanded in both number and scope. Concurrently, the department examined program design and performance measurement issues for utility demand response programs in wholesale and retail electricity markets, furthered its work with regulators on utility resource planning issues, and initiated major new efforts on utility business model and regulatory issues, such as the Future of Electric Utility Regulation project, to support a rapidly evolving industry. 

EMP also expanded its research on issues related to reliability, conducting studies that quantified the economic costs of power outages to the nation. For the U.S. Department of Energy, our technical support included national studies on the transmission grid, the 2003 U.S.-Canada blackout, and congestion on the bulk power system. As advanced metering infrastructure and grid modernization initiatives took hold, EMP analyzed how time-varying rates could help maximize benefits from those technologies. Amid the constant growth of distributed resources on the electricity grid, EMP provided state regulators with extensive technical support on state-of-the-art distribution system planning and coordination with traditional integrated resource planning.

Today, EMP publishes an array of flagship annual reports with renewable energy data, including the Land-Based Wind Market Report, Utility-Scale Solar report, and Tracking the Sun, and helps produce the U.S. Wind Turbine Database. Similarly, EMP compiles and publishes key data on interconnection queues, hybrid power plants, renewables portfolio standards, and the relationships between wholesale prices and renewable energy. With a growing focus on communities, EMP produces empirical research on the impacts of renewables deployment, as well as siting, planning, and engagement strategies to improve community outcomes.

The department’s new name – we are now the Energy Markets and Policy Department – reflects the broad reach of our research, which extends well beyond electricity markets (our former namesake). It also acknowledges the addition of a new group of talented researchers who focus almost exclusively on energy market and policy issues beyond the United States. 

The Energy Markets and Policy Department is now home to about 70 staff, graduate student researchers, and affiliates. Our current research and technical assistance portfolio encompasses topics associated with:

  • power system reliability and resilience,
  • distributed renewable energy and storage,
  • efficiency, electrification, and flexibility,
  • energy equity, 
  • energy planning, 
  • utility regulation and business models, and 
  • utility-scale renewable energy and storage.