Credible research and analysis have always been fundamental to achieving GPI’s mission of transforming the energy system to benefit the economy and environment. Yet while many know GPI as a convener and consensus-builder among diverse interests, we also have rigorous research and analysis capability in-house. That is why I am so pleased to announce that we have named long-time GPI colleague, Dane McFarlane, as our first director of research, elevating and making more visible GPI’s essential role in helping leaders make informed decisions.
During Dane’s decade-long tenure at GPI, he has played an increasingly central role in much of GPI’s work through the development of modeling tools, lifecycle assessment, geospatial analyses, and other original research. The creation of this position is a recognition of Dane’s contributions to GPI’s work and of the importance of research and analysis for GPI’s effectiveness.
Over the years, Dane has been integral to guiding research and developing analysis for our work with state, regional, and national decision makers and organizations, from years of contributions to Argonne National Laboratory’s GREET model to his most recent work with leaders in the Midcontinent to develop an interactive model that enables decision makers to explore decarbonization pathways for the region’s energy system.
I sat down with Dane to talk about how he sees his role and the importance of research and analysis in shaping discussions around transforming our energy system.
Q: How would you describe the role of research and analysis in today’s discussions about how we’re going to decarbonize the energy system?
A: Speaking first to its role in my work at GPI, research and analysis has always played an important role in helping stakeholders come to a common understanding of the challenge they’re working to tackle together. Objective analysis that’s put together with input from a broad stakeholder group can help people come to agree on a common set of facts, encourage greater collaboration and help a group travel the learning curve together—along with providing them with tools to discuss and weigh options that can involve a complex number of variables.
Q: You’ve done a great deal of work with stakeholders all over the country to develop system models that can support decision making. How can modeling support leaders in decision making when the energy system is undergoing such rapid change?
A: Models and projections are often wrong—it’s impossible to declare a single path along which our future will travel. And this is fine, because it’s not our role to tell leaders exactly what is going to happen and how much of each fuel and resource our citizens are going to consume. Models can, however, help us identify the key levers and pressure points that may be most effective in steering our world toward a better energy system.
It’s this suite of tools—technology, policies or incentives, and new business models—that our research provides to decision makers as they assess their options for accelerating the transformation of our energy system. By comparing the impact of each available strategy, we can help our leaders make decisions that most benefit the economy and the environment.
Q: When you develop a research product or modeling tool, what is your approach with stakeholders to ensure you’re developing a credible product that can be used by others?
A: Our stakeholders and advisory group members always have immediate access and input into the creation of our analyses and tools. We work with a lot of smart people in almost every sector of the economy, from industry, government, nonprofits, and academia. These colleagues are the key to ensuring that we’re making the right assumptions, not ignoring potential risks, and framing our analyses with the most relevant questions being faced across respective industries and levels of government.
Q: Good research and analysis sometimes ends up on a shelf. What is it about GPI’s approach that makes the use of our analytical work by decision-makers more likely?
A: Nearly all of our models, tools, and publications are completely open source—allowing anyone to download them, use them for their own analyses, and tinker with them or take them apart to see what makes them tick. This helps grow the longevity of our work, as input data and calculations can be updated when new publications are released or when real world events occur. In many cases, the open nature of our models has allowed other researchers to adapt them for their own work, including scientists at institutions such as Argonne National Laboratory, Los Alamos National Laboratory, the National Energy Technology Laboratory, and Princeton University.
Additionally, since much of our research and analysis is completed in conjunction with large, multi-disciplinary stakeholder advisory groups, the publication of our results often coincides with the release of consensus recommendations that have the backing of companies across multiple sectors of industry, governmental officials, nonprofit organizations, and other key stakeholders. Credible research paired with consensus-oriented stakeholder engagement is a powerful and mutually reinforcing combination: the research lends credibility to stakeholders’ conclusions and recommendations, and the publication of the stakeholder group’s conclusions and recommendations provides great visibility to the results of our modeling and analysis.
Q: What would you want GPI’s partners and potential fee-for-service clients to know about our research and analytical capability?
A: Our staff conduct analysis and research across many technical software platforms and often cover a wider array of geographic or methodological scope than ends up being published. This is a natural result of having to do our own due diligence on a variety of topics and conducting wide-ranging research before finally refining our message to answer the specific questions being asked. Additionally, we are always on the lookout for new types of media and ways to communicate our findings. As a non-partisan organization that works across sectors and geographies, we deeply value collaboration and shared leadership with external partners who are in a position to help transform the energy system and are committed to working together toward a better energy future.
Our analyses build off the knowledge we’ve compiled with our collaborative advisory groups and are implemented with the technical expertise we’ve built on a number of platforms—such as lifecycle assessment, geospatial information systems, electricity markets, next generation energy and grid management technologies, computer programming, and mathematical modeling through public or governmental databases. We routinely partner with industry members and government entities of all sizes and geographic scopes to offer our expertise on solutions for achieving a better energy economy.
Here are some recent examples of the work Dane has contributed to:
- Interactive website | “A Road Map to Decarbonization in the Midcontinent”
- Electric Vehicles Provide Large GHG Reductions in Minnesota
- Visualizing Pathways to Decarbonization of the Midcontinent’s Electricity Sector
- How Duluth’s New Mapping Tool Helps Predict Solar Energy Potential