About Our Research
Research is an essential component of the Baker Center faculty’s mission to provide critical insights on domestic and international challenges. In the area of research, the Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy has been awarded $6.76 million in grants from a variety of private sponsors, as well as from state and federal agencies, over the last 10 years (from 2011 to 2021). These grants have supported important policy-relevant interdisciplinary research and initiatives on a wide range of topics. Contracts are also frequently awarded to the Center’s faculty and fellows to facilitate targeted research on areas of specific interest to sponsors.
As Senator Baker’s policy interests naturally fell into three categories, the initiatives of the Baker Center do as well. Those categories are Energy and Environment, Global Security, and Leadership and Governance.
Latest Research in Energy and Environment
Coal-Fired Power Plant Retirements in the United States// Charles Sims, PhD; Rebecca Davis, PhD; Scott Holladay, PhD
We summarize the history of US coal-fired plant retirements over the past decade, describe planned future retirements, and forecast the remaining operating life for every operating coal-fired generator at each plant. Nearly one-third of the coal fleet retired during the 2010s and a quarter of the remaining capacity has announced plans to retire. We summarize the technology and location trends that are correlated with the observed retirements. We then describe a theoretical model of the retirement decision coal generator owners face. We use retirements from the past decade to quantify the relationships in the model for retired generators. Our model predicts that three-quarters of coal generation capacity will retire in the next 20 years, with most of that retirement concentrated in the next 5 years. Policy has limited ability to affect retirement times. A $20 per megawatt-hour electricity subsidy extends the average life of a generator by 6 years. A $51 per ton carbon tax brings forward retirement dates by about 2 years. In all scenarios, a handful of electricity generators remain on the grid beyond our forecast horizon.
Read the full report, here.
Studying Dynamic Pricing in Electrical Power Markets with Distributed Generation: Agent-Based Modeling and Reinforcement-learning Approach // Charles Sims, Scott Holladay, Islam El-adaway, Gasser Ali
Distributed generation (DG) refers to small-scale generation resources that are located at or near end-consumers, such as photovoltaic (PV) solar systems. DG systems have become increasingly popular in recent years owing to their economic efficiency, reliability, and sustainability. However, the increasing adoption of DG is creating new obstacles for system operators due to the uncertainty in forecasting future demand. One concern is the possibility of facing a utility death spiral as a feedback loop between, on the one hand, the increasing adoption of DG and increasing electricity rates to cover generation and transmission overheads with, on the other hand, reduced demand from the grid. The goal of this study was to investigate the effects of the penetration of DG on the power infrastructure and wholesale power markets considering the dynamic pricing of electric power. To achieve that goal, a complex system-of-systems (SoS) simulation for wholesale power markets and infrastructure is developed using agent-based modeling (ABM), Optimal Power Flow (OPF), and reinforcement learning (RL). The simulation framework is enabled by (1) consumer behavior that compares the benefits of installing DG versus the costs of conventional power from the grid; and (2) the dynamic pricing of electric power. Several RL algorithms are compared, including basic RL, multiplicative RL, Roth-Erev RL, a modified Roth-Erev, and a variation of the aforementioned algorithms using a Gibbs-Boltzmann cooling factor by means of a grid of learning parameters relevant to each technique. The results show that (1) low-cost generators, such as nuclear power plants, are the least affected by the penetration of DG, while high-cost generators are the most affected, (2) a utility death spiral is unlikely to occur, and (3) a modified Roth-Erev RL algorithm can be used by generating companies to maximize their gross profits by optimizing their supply curves considering the feedback effect on DG adoption rates. Overall, the proposed simulation framework can assist policymakers and future researchers in studying the interaction between dynamic pricing in wholesale power markets and the adoption of DG. By simulating the long-term effect of DG on the electric power infrastructure and market, policymakers can introduce regulations and incentives to strategically influence the rate of adoption of DG.
Read the full report, here.
Latest Research in Global Security
Rethinking Test of the IO Effectiveness Hypothesis: Evidence from Counter-Piracy Efforts in the Global South // Jon Ring, PhD and Gary Uzonyi, PhD
Scholars have long debated whether international organizations (IO) matter in international politics. Skeptics argue that power politics determine outcomes while champions see IOs as important, independently shaping outcomes and reshaping the structure of politics. Between these extremes, scholars have made numerous theoretical and empirical contributions to understanding under what conditions IOs make a difference. Yet, the fundamental question remains: when IOs identify a significant problem, can they solve it? We identify an underutilized analytical approach to understanding this broad debate. Specifically, we suggest scholars analyze this question by focusing on an IOs response to given crises to provide internal validity to claims throughout this debate. Furthermore, we encourage scholars to move beyond the oft-cited global or European cases to better incorporate insights from IOs in various parts of the world. Here, we explore the Southern African Development Community’s attempt to coordinate member states’ maritime strategy to solve the emergent piracy problem caused by the Somali civil war. In identifying these new directions for research, we demonstrate that IOs, even under difficult circumstances, are effective actors in international politics.
You can view the paper, here.
Interstate Hostility and Maritime Crime: Evidence from South East Asia // Brandon Prins, PhD, Aaron Gold, PhD, and Anup Phayal, PhD
Maritime Asia remains crucial to global economic growth and prosperity. Nearly 40% of the world’s seaborne trade transits the South China Sea each year, and nine of the top ten busiest container ports in the world are located in the Indo-Pacific region. But uncertainties also pervade the region as governments struggle to combat numerous security challenges while violent non-state actors and trans-border criminal groups continue to exploit the environment. In this study, we examine the nexus between maritime crime and inter-state security, centering on the tactical decision-making of non-state criminal actors. To avoid capture, maritime criminals locate their illicit activities near sea-boundaries where rival states aim to avoid regime confrontations that could escalate to more costly disputes. Pirates, smugglers, and illegal fishers can use these contested border zones as sanctuaries similar to guerilla forces fleeing across land boundaries to avoid pitched battles with regime military units. Using an original geocoded dataset on maritime piracy (MPELD), we find significant support for our hypothesis that conflict among states substantively influences the location of maritime crime. Our study has important implications for global efforts to counter transnational criminal organizations and their illicit activities in maritime spaces defined by territorial quarrels.
You can view the paper, here.